Meatless Monday – Arugula-Lemon Pesto (vegan)

Light years ago (it seems), C19 did a science fair project that involved growing basil plants. We love basil–pizza or pasta margherita, bruschetta, pesto… Oh my seriously summer-loving YUM! We discovered (science fair whatever, though I do recall Kiddo got whatever credit/grade he needed) that basil grew well, during summer, in the planter on the side of the house facing the backyard. Goody on us!

I have been missing basil, missing pesto, because…January. Too cold.

Friends gave us the most incredible gift, a Tower Garden, at summer’s end. It had basil, for a time, until the weather turned. It also had romaine, which we ate nightly until it also passed. Now, arugula and mint proliferate.

Girlfriends came over this weekend. One mentioned having made an arugula-lemon hummus. I requested the recipe. Later, we moved to the deck where she noticed my arugula-laden Tower Garden and my small but heavy potted lemon tree. Clearly, I need that recipe! And yet…

Guy awoke in the middle of the night, feverish. He moved to another bed, and has lolled about throughout the day. His dinner tonight: ramen. It takes only minutes and it’s our go-to sick day comfort food.

Q13 and I wanted something just a little…more. I suggested arugula-lemon pesto pasta and he jumped at it. He’s at that age where he’s wanting to learn to cook (and wanting breaks from homework). So…

He cranked the tunes on his portable speaker. We harvested and washed arugula. We tossed ingredients in the Cuisinart, blended and tasted and adjusted, dancing all the while I made notes to capture what we were doing as we loosely followed other recipes.

We cooked the pasta (dance). We tasted the pesto (dance). We added pesto to pasta and fresh tomato to garnish and (DANCE) oh my. We high-fived over our newly created recipe.

Remarkably, since Q13 doesn’t love arugula in a salad. Too peppery. But he loves this!

C19 took the middle school Foods class twice because he enjoyed it so much. They no longer offer it, so I am Q13’s foods teacher. I don’t mind. We’re having fun and making memories. Love!

Arugula-Lemon Pesto

½ c toasted pine nuts (or combination – pine & walnuts)
2 c packed arugula leaves
3 cloves peeled garlic
½ lemon, zested
2 tsp Trader Joe’s 21 Seasoning Salute (or no-salt herb/spice mix)
½ tsp red chili pepper
1 ½ lemons, juiced (start with ½, and add as needed)
¼ c extra virgin olive oil
2 Tbsp water
4 drops Tapatio (hot sauce)
Cooked whole wheat pasta of choice
Chopped fresh tomatoes, to garnish cooked pasta

Lightly dry-toast nuts in a pan over medium heat just until fragrant. (Oh, the fragrance!)

In a food processor, combine arugula, toasted nuts, garlic, lemon zest, spices and juice of a half lemon. Pulse to combine.

While processor runs, slowly drizzle in olive oil, stopping to scrape sides as needed. Follow with water. When pesto has achieved desired consistency (add additional lemon juice and/or seasonings) add a few drops of hot sauce.

The kiddo and I suggest you cook some whole wheat pasta while you’re making this mess, because it will taste amazing when you throw it all together. We cooked a combo of rotini and penne because that’s what we had. Top with some fresh tomato for good, yummy, fun!

What’s Your Name? 1 John 2:2-17

Naming our big dog wasn’t difficult. We met her on a Wednesday and when we picked her up on Friday, our big kid declared: “Her name is Izzy.” We all agreed.

Naming our puppy? Not the same story. Oh for sure, C19 named him in seconds, but the rest of us took weeks to agree. We made a long list. We tried each out. We discussed and debated. Big Kid persisted, and the rest of us caved. Jasper it is.

But he’s also earned a handful of nicknames. Rascal, because he’s a curious, playful puppy. Dapper Japper, because he wore a plaid bow tie throughout the Christmas season and looked oh so dapper. Stinky, and Baby Dog, for obvious reasons.

My parents, Mom especially, gave me a bunch of nicknames. My baby brother couldn’t say my name, so Sisi (pronounced “SeeSee”), which sounds like my given name, is still in play. Others, I’m not even sure how to spell–Sivereno or Sisiliana–my parents making long my short name. My 80’s era camp name was Lambchops, because my white-blonde permed hair looked like lamb’s wool; my high school band nickname was Huggy Bear, because friends said I dropped my backpack every few steps to hug a friend.

Cute at the time, I’m grateful to have outgrown some of those nicknames. I’m hopeful Baby Dog will outgrow some of his as well (Stinky, especially).

Nicknames grow out of experience and relationship. When I call my kids by their full names (first, middle, last)–names I love, given with intention to children I love–I might do so out of exasperation. But when I call them Buddy or Lovebug, it’s true to our relationships. Lovebug may sound babyish, but even with teen boys I can hope they won’t outgrow those terms of endearment.

Some cultures wait to formally name a child until the child reveals his/her character. It seems we nickname based on character.

Our actions reveal our character. So perhaps our nicknames also influence our actions.

I still respond to SiSi because those who call me SiSi have known me from forever. They knew and loved me in good and bad and through it all. When I call my kid Buddy, he hears me calling him to make good choices to be his best self. He is my Buddy, and he knows I’m his biggest fan, asking him to live into his best.

The names we call each other make a difference. The name itself can call us forward.

So when John refers to Dear Children, or Fathers, or Young Men, it matters. Dear Children=all of us loved by God, whose sins have been forgiven, who can truly call God Father. The love relationship is mutual, complete, fulfilled. Fathers=those who have a lifetime of faith. Not just men (gratefully, not just men!, but using language of old, when masculine terms applied equally to women), but all those of a certain age and stage in life. Those who have weathered storms and held steady in faith. And Young Men=those young in life and faith (again, not exclusively male), whose youth fills them with vigor and verve to take risks for God.

The nicknames mean something. They directly connect with the message for those groups/individuals. But going forward, the message to all is the same: stay strong. Live into who you are, the best of who you are, and so remain strong in faith. Because the world will do its best to beat you, but you–in God’s strength, living into the terms of endearment God has for you–can be stronger than the strongest temptation.

Walk in Love
Week 4: The World’s Allure
1 John 2:12-17

Connect
Share a nickname you’ve earned and how you got it.

Study
Read aloud 1 John 2:12-17.
To whom does John write, and what does he say to each (vv12-14)?
What reasons do God’s people have to not love the world (vv15-17)?
What does love for the world look like according to John? What might it look like today?

Live
What does it mean to you personally to know God as Father? To know Him “from the beginning”? To be strong to overcome evil? Which description best fits you and which would you like to grow into?
How can God’s Word strengthen you to resist temptation?
How does your identity as a believer influence your behavior?
What gifts do younger and older believers have to offer each other?
What, if any, hostile threats do you perceive in the world? How do you manage them?
What is God saying to you through this passage, and what will you do about it?

Pray
Ask God to fill you with love for Him that crowds out the world’s distractions.

Thankful Thursday – 25 January 2018

What a week! One kid had a day off school while the other, too far away, landed in the ER with a mystery illness. Rain on and off, dogs didn’t get enough exercise, and I had sleepless nights and a migraine for days.

Still, as Kelly Corrigan reminds us, life is like that. And, as Seth Godin writes:

Beginning is underrated

Merely beginning.
With inadequate preparation, because you will never be fully prepared.
With imperfect odds of success, because the odds are never perfect.
Begin. With the humility of someone who’s not sure, and the excitement of someone who knows that it’s possible.

So, we begin. And we keep on. One foot in front of the other.

Things for which I’m thankful:

  1. C19’s health seems to be improving…?
  2. Q13 diving into a book I loved (Moon Over Manifest, BTW).
  3. Library books. I’ve been to the library three out of three days. Some wins, some losses, so many yet to be discovered.
  4. Consistency in important arenas, like Bible reading & my gratitude journal.
  5. A break in the rain and headache pain to walk the energetic pooches.
  6. The geniuses who thought through leash-splitters, Soda Stream to sparkle tap water, and at-home shiatsu back massagers.
  7. Verdant green grass and patches of blue sky.
  8. A night to cozy up at home, the weekend coming, and family who will be visiting.

And you? What are you thankful for this week?

Meatless Monday – Thug Kitchen 101

Two years ago my love whisked me away for a night in Mendocino. After a lovely afternoon walk on the beach, we ate dinner at The Ravens, a vegan restaurant so good you simply have to try it to believe it (especially if you think you don’t like veggies). While we waited for a table, we sipped chardonnay and browsed the bookstore. They had a great cookbook collection, and there I first encountered Thug Kitchen.

I don’t remember which of their cookbooks I picked up, but I couldn’t stop flipping the pages–these were the recipes I had been longing for as I increasingly leaned toward a plant-based diet. And the irreverence made me laugh. I’m not big on curse words, but the profanity makes it clear that the writers don’t take themselves too seriously.

Recently someone asked for veggie cookbooks recommendations so I grabbed Thug Kitchen 101 from the library. When my Guy saw how much I enjoyed it, he quickly placed an order for one more Christmas gift for me–yippee!

I don’t typically read cookbooks cover to cover, but I did with this one. I laughed. I experimented. I got my Tween in the kitchen cooking with me. I have made some recipes more than once. Others I’m still dying to try. As of right now, this is my favorite ever cookbook!

So far I have tried: flautas (where have these been all my Mexican-food-loving life? Note: make with leftover roasted fingerling potatoes), sun-dried tomato carbonara, skillet beer chili mac, coconut-lime rice, panko pasta topping, and 60-second parm. Not a miss among them.

Last night I had a killer headache and felt chilled to the bone after two hours of watching middle school rugby in a very gray San Francisco. I thought we had leftovers (Guy and Tween had taken care of those leftovers, apparently), so I needed to cook. It needed to be easy, fast, and comforting. Skillet Beer Chili Mac, I’m coming for ya…

You guys… So easy, so fast, comfort food at its best. The Kid and I had more for lunch today and Guy got jealous when he saw our dirty bowls because he forgot. We still have enough for tomorrow’s lunch and we might all drool on ourselves in anticipation between now and then.

The only things I did differently from the recipe: I cooked the onions without oil, added 2 cloves of garlic, and left out the maple syrup, oh, and I cooked the whole thing in my large soup pot. I used whole wheat curly macaroni and one can each of pinto and black beans (drained/rinsed). If you don’t do beer, you can sub another cup of veggie broth.

Skillet Beer Chili Mac
Serves 4-6

2 Tbsp mild chili powder
2 tsp ground cumin
2 tsp smoked paprika
1/4 tsp salt
1 c diced yellow onion (about 1/2 of a large onion)
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 red bell pepper, chopped
1 jalapeno, seeded and minced (mine was large; use a smaller one next time!)
1/2 c carrot (about 1 large or 2 small)
2 Tbsp tomato paste
1 15-oz can tomato sauce
1 c light beer
3 c vegetable broth
3 c small macaroni/pasta
3 c mixed beans (or 2 15-oz cans), like pinto or black
1/4 c nooch (nutritional yeast)
1 Tbsp lime juice
Optional toppings: sliced jalapenos, cilantro, red onion, avocado

Combine seasonings in a small bowl and set aside.

In a large soup pot over medium heat, saute onion for about 5 minutes. Add garlic, bell pepper, and jalapeno and cook for another 2 minutes. Add carrot, spices, and tomato paste and cook for 1 minute.

Add tomato sauce, beer, and veggie broth and bring to a simmer. Stir in pasta, cover and cook, stirring occasionally for 9-12 minutes until pasta is cooked. Remove from heat and add beans, nooch, and lime juice.

Adjust seasonings as necessary and serve with whatever toppings your mouth desires (avocado & tortilla chips for me!).

Link to the recipe as written (includes profanity)

J.O.Y.

I attended Jr. High at the beginning of the 80’s when Preppies ruled the school. I had one white Izod shirt and, though I stood several rungs down the social ladder from Popular, wearing it made me feel pretty.

I had a crush on an 8th grade boy who had expressed interest in me despite my 7th grade status. We talked on the phone for hours, the curly phone cord stretched taut from the kitchen across the hallway and into my bedroom.

When he invited me to join him at the roller rink, I wore my Izod and a pale pink lip gloss. I felt cute until I stepped out of my mom’s car. The boy’s eyes took in the little alligator logo high on my chest and his whole face fell. His disappointed eyes found mine, and I wanted to sink into a crack in the pavement.

I had blown it. The one thing the boy didn’t like: Preppies. Easygoing as he was, he hated Izods. I had heard him express disdain for people using money and status symbols to gain popularity and, despite the long phone calls and my interest in him, I had worn the one thing that marked me as not like him.

We skated for a couple hours. We talked a few more times. The relationship ended.

My Izod shirt was no moral failure, but wearing it on that occasion demonstrated that I had put myself before my friend. My desire to look cute outweighed his youthful stance on a social issue he felt concerned us both.

When we care about someone, we take into consideration the things about which they feel strongly.

Big segue: If we love God, we care about what He cares about.

God has taken great care to give us an entire Book filled with descriptions of what He cares about. He even boiled it all down a few times, in the Ten Commandments and even further in the Great Commandment.

Love God. Love others.

A few years before I wore an Izod shirt to a roller rink, I learned a Sunday school song that taught me that J.O.Y. came from loving Jesus, Others, and You, in that order. I no longer remember the tune, but the acrostic stuck.

We demonstrate that we love God by obeying Him, by getting involved in the things (and restraining ourselves from others) about which He feels strongly.

Chief among those: loving others.

Some people in God’s family can be hard for me to like, let alone love (of course others may feel the same about me). But God made them, God loves them, God included them in His family. God asks me to love them, so I work at it. I pray for a change of heart. I pray for them. I bite my tongue. I choose to serve them. I resist the temptation to judge them.

John wrote to help his readers know that God wants us to love Him–and so obey Him–and that an important way we obey Him is by loving those He loves.

Which we don’t do if we apply John’s message to others: See that guy? He says he’s a Christian, but look at his life! If he really knew God, he wouldn’t do that, and that, and that…

Nope. My job is to examine my life, to love God and let Him lead me to obedience. Some days, judging others comes far more easily than loving them. And that’s when I need to return to JOY–Jesus take the wheel, and help me love others as you have loved me.

Walk in Love
Week 3: Obey God
1 John 2:3-11

Connect
Reflect on the process of getting to know someone with whom you are close.

Study
Read aloud 1 John 2:3-11.
How does John describe believers (vv3-4, 6, 9) and what do those descriptions mean?
What assurance do we have of our relationship with God (vv3-6)?
Read John 14:15-17. Why does John emphasize the Truth of God?
How must believers live (in other words, how did Jesus live? v6)?
Why is it important to love other believers (vv9-11)?

Live
What’s the difference between knowing about God and knowing God?
How would you explain the correlation between knowing God and obeying God? Between knowing God and loving other believers?
Does John write to encourage self-reflection or judgment? What potential risks lie in applying this passage to others?
What actions have you taken to love those you find it difficult to love?
What will you do this week to obey God and love others?

Pray
Ask God to fill you with the strength and courage that come from knowing Him to help you obey Him and love others.

Walk in the Light – 1 John 1:5-2:2

One of my earliest childhood memories took place on a sultry Rhode Island summer night. My parents had friends over and all of us, adults and children, had congregated in the backyard. Did we eat outside? Possibly, as I have seen pictures of al fresco meals on other occasions. But in this memory, the sun had set too long ago for pictures.

Trees bordered the back edge of our yard; a short sloping dirt trail led down to railroad tracks. An open field connected our side yard to our neighbor’s so, despite the warning to stay away from the train tracks, we had plenty of open space to roam.

Swatting at the mosquitoes buzzing and biting our tender skin, my friends and I played Hide and Go Seek. How many hundreds of such games must we have played since then? But this one vividly stands out in my memory because, at only three or four years of age, being outside at night, way past bedtime, in the pitch dark, playing with friends while the adults contented themselves with their own conversations, well, this was novel.

We ran, hid, stifled giggles behind our fingers, then shrieked with wild joy and excitement. The unprecedented freedom of playing in the dark thrilled us almost beyond what we could bear. Our sweaty skin shivered despite the humidity.

But we froze when we heard it: “Oooo, watch out, I’m the Bogeyman…!” There…we heard it again: “Oooo, here comes the Bogeyman, oooo…!”

Our giggles grew nervous. I remember saying, first whispered to my friends, then louder: “What’s a Bogeyman?” before we all ran to our parents, who assured us that some teenager was hiding in the bushes, trying to scare the little kids.

The little kids who had felt like such big kids only moments earlier, squashed by someone else’s fun at our expense.

As I reflect on that night, a few things stand out that still ring true today:

Playing in the dark was exciting, precisely because it was dark, and because it wasn’t something we were typically allowed to do. (What kinds of darkness entice us today?)

The darkness hid potential dangers. (What dangers lurk in the tempting darkness?)

Playing in the dark gave us a new sense of freedom and independence, all good until we got scared and needed help. (How does darkness imitate light? And where do we find help when we need it?)

Walk in Love
Week 2: Walk in the Light
1 John 1:5-2:2

Connect
Reflect on a time when you have taken ‘a walk in the dark’ (literally or figuratively). What was it like?

Study
Read aloud 1 John 1:5-2:2
With whose authority does John write this letter, and why does that matter (v5)?
Explain the light/dark metaphor (vv5-7). Look up one or more of the following passages from John’s gospel: 1:4-5, 9; 3:19-21; 8:12; 9:4-5; 12:35-36, 46.
What deceit does John call out (vv6, 8, 10)?
What happens when we confess sin and live rightly (vv7, 9)?
What do we learn about Jesus in this passage, and why is that significant?

Live
Explain the attractions/detractions of light and darkness. In what ways do Christians try to stay in the darkness? Why is this so easy to do?
What makes it difficult to “come into the light” in our relationships with one another?
Is it possible to ever be done for good with sin? Why or why not?
How might fellowship with one another help us avoid sin and maintain fellowship with Him?
If you’re willing, share about a victory over sin that Christ accomplished for you.
What is God saying to you through this passage, and what will you do about it?

Pray
Thank God for His faithfulness to us even when we try to hide from God and others.

Books: end-2017 reading

Goodreads (jokingly) tells me there are two reasons to read a book: to enjoy it, and to boast about it. But Goodreads stats page isn’t working, so I can’t boast about my year-end reading results. I know I read 44 books, less than last year but enough considering the year it was. I think I’ve now read most of Fredrik Backman’s books (there may be a short story I haven’t seen). I’ve read a good balance of fiction and non-fiction, books for adults and books ‘for’ teens. I’ve always enjoyed fiction that takes me places I’ve never been and introduces me to people in situations I’ve never encountered, so little surprise that I’ve found my way to a few books about immigrants, especially given our world situation.

Below are the books I read October-December 2017. What are you reading?

Behold the DreamersBehold the Dreamers by Imbolo Mbue
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This. Book…!

Dreaming of a better life, a family struggles and saves to move from Cameroon, where they have no prospect of bettering their lives, to New York. To America, the land of opportunity. There they encounter other dreamers, Americans by birth, each of whom live out the American dream differently.

I have no idea what it’s like to be an immigrant, but this book helped me to imagine it, to see their perspective and my own privilege with new eyes and insight.

High school teachers and college professors: find a way to incorporate this book into your curriculum now! It deserves a place alongside American classics such as The Grapes of Wrath and The Great Gatsby.

My Not So Perfect LifeMy Not So Perfect Life by Sophie Kinsella
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Light, fluffy, funny–just the kind of simple-sweet escapist book I was looking for. Not perfect, but that’s fine by this not-so-perfect me!

 

The Art of Creative ThinkingThe Art of Creative Thinking by Rod Judkins
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book offers lots to chew on, 89 different ways to see things, in fact. I kept googling artists and art pieces because I had to see for myself the amazing work he described. I underlined so many quotes that I have four typed pages of notes! Some of the entries seem to contradict each other, but that’s okay, too, since creativity can be different each hour for each artist…

A few quotes:

“Creativity is not about creating a painting, novel or house but about creating yourself…” (vii)
“A creative mindset can be applied to everything you do and enrich every aspect of your life” (3).
“Put your personality before practicality and your individuality into everything” (32).

The Revised Fundamentals of CaregivingThe Revised Fundamentals of Caregiving by Jonathan Evison
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I’m not sure when I’ve read a novel about such sad and pathetic characters that held so much hope. Trev can’t help himself physically; Ben can’t pull himself out of life’s biggest emotional pit; together, they take a trip that changes both their lives. I didn’t always love this book–it was slow at times–but by the end I enjoyed it. The author tells more than one story, back and forth between short chapters; sometimes it gets confusing, but not overly. And it works to keep you turning pages.

“Listen to me: everything you think you know, every relationship you’ve ever taken for granted, every plan or possibility you’ve ever hatched, every conceit or endeavor you’ve ever concocted, can be stripped from you in an instant. Sooner or later, it will happen. So prepare yourself. Be ready not to be ready. Be ready to be brought to your knees and beaten to dust. Because no stable foundation, no act of will, no force of cautious habit will save you from this fact: nothing is indestructible” (236).

“Because I still care deeply… I’ll never stop caring. But the thing about caring is, it’s inconvenient. Sometimes you’ve got to give when it makes no sense at all. Sometimes you’ve got to give until it hurts. It’s not easy, and it can be downright thankless…” (275).

Tomorrow There Will Be ApricotsTomorrow There Will Be Apricots by Jessica Soffer
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Two women at opposite ends of life, both grieving from losses of different kinds, come together through cooking. A familiar premise, and the end was also a bit predictable, yet satisfying. This was one of the saddest books I’ve read in a long time, and I thought about putting it aside. I’m glad I didn’t. The heavy descriptions of grief, the ways people hurt one another intentionally and inadvertently, and the power we have to help one another heal even as we move ourselves toward healing–powerful.

“Happiness is an act of faith. But you can’t let it in and be done with it. Emotions come at you from all directions. I forgot to cover my head. It had been a while” (122).

The Sun Is Also a StarThe Sun Is Also a Star by Nicola Yoon
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I almost never reread books, simply because there are too many books to be read. But I liked this book so much I could imagine rereading it–even as I was reading it!

Do you follow your head or your heart?
Do you move with the wind or follow a plan?
Do you live to fulfill someone else’s desires for you, or your own?

Daniel and Natasha couldn’t be more different, and maybe that’s exactly what makes them good for each other. They represent different values, different cultures, a different way of moving through life.

I liked this book for so many reasons: short chapters kept me turning pages. Characters who obviously represent ideology, but passionately so. Daniel and Natasha come from different cultures (he’s Korean, she’s Jamaican), and their American-ness stands in contrast to their immigrant parents. The book read almost like a play, with bit parts fleshed out in significant ways to add nuance to the story. And I enjoyed the diversionary chapters that provided information on science, culture, back or future story, or fairy tales.

What Alice ForgotWhat Alice Forgot by Liane Moriarty
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

As we’ve passed books back and forth, my friend has been on me for some time to read this book. She was right (as always): my fav of all Moriarty’s books so far, better than Big Little Lies.

If you woke up and ‘forgot’ ten years of your life, what would you have missed? Who were you then, and who might you have become, and which would be preferable? What relationships would you miss, want to re-cultivate, to let go or rediscover? Even if you regained all those lost memories, what would you do differently going forward?

I’ve read a few amnesia books, but this was the best. The most thoughtful. The one about which I want to wonder, ponder, journal. Who was I? Who am I? Who would I like to be?

And entertaining read (thick book, quickly digested), with lots to consider.

“She had always thought that exquisitely happy time at the beginning of her relationship with Nick was the ultimate, the feeling they’d always be trying to replicate, to get back, but now she realized that she was wrong. That was like comparing sparkling mineral water to French champagne. Early love is exciting and exhilarating. It’s light and bubbly. Anyone can love like that. But love after three children, after a separation and a near-divorce, after you’ve hurt each other and forgiven each other, bored each other and surprised each other, after you’ve seen the worst and the best–well, that sort of a love is ineffable. It deserves its own word” (421).

Of Mess and Moxie: Wrangling Delight Out of This Wild and Glorious LifeOf Mess and Moxie: Wrangling Delight Out of This Wild and Glorious Life by Jen Hatmaker
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I liked For the Love, but I love Of Mess & Moxie! I’m convinced that Jen is my Southern, funnier, sarcastic personality doppelganger. We both write; we both married pastors; we both come from 3-sister/1-baby brother families; she is also an introvert who uses her phone as a phone never and married a verbal processor; and really, I think I’ve written less funny versions of so many of these chapters. She is just so real, so vulnerable, so the kinda gal I want to hang out with or, TBH, be.

Fav quotes:

“We have important memories from every house—some painful, some instructive, some delightful, some necessary. But how thrilling to realize that even now God is designing a new blueprint, tailor-made, and His creativity extends to the very trajectory of our lives” (9).

“…fear is a liar. It cannot be relied upon to lead well, to lead out, or to lead forward. It is an untrustworthy emotion, not of God, and it never leads to health, wholeness, wisdom, or resurrection….The truth is, God created us with resiliency. Mankind is incredibly able to heal, to rise back up, to stare down pain with moxie….Rather than cower under its weight, we force pain into a partnership, using it to grow, to learn, to catapult us into a deeper, wider, sturdier life” (39, 41).

“Love is a genuine solution. It breaks down barriers and repairs relationships. It invites in the lonely and defeats shame. It provides the lighted path to forgiveness, which sets everyone free. Love makes us brave, pulls up seats to the table, defuses bigotry, and attacks injustice. It is our most powerful spiritual tool. Do not underestimate it as the solution to almost everything that is broken” (82).

“I, too, just want to make beautiful things. Don’t you? Don’t we want our lives to be lovely and creative and productive and meaningful? Don’t we want to offer exquisite, sacred things to the world? This draw toward creation is important, worthy of our time and attention and nurture. We have these magnificent minds and hands and ideas and visions, and they beg us to pay attention, give them permission, give them life.
“I sincerely believe we are created by a Creator to be creative. This is part of His image we bear, this bringing forth of beauty, life, newness….That thing in you that wants to make something beautiful? It is holy” (94).

“…creators create and creating is work and work takes time” (97).

“I cannot write a good story if I am not living one” (99).

“Send kindness out in big, generous waves, send it near and far, send it through texts and emails and calls and words and hugs, send it by showing up, send it by proximity, send it in casseroles, send it with a well-timed ‘me too,’ send it with abandon. Put out exactly what you hoop to draw in, and expect it back in kind and in equal measure” (211).

Exit WestExit West by Mohsin Hamid
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

What a phenomenal book! Blending the world’s current volatile and distressing dystopian reality with just enough sci fi to allow us to enter in without risking too much, this book provides a personal and insightful look at the refugee/immigrant crisis.

Favorite quotes:
“…to love is to enter into the inevitability of one day not being able to protect what is most valuable to you” (165).

“…in Marin, Saeed prayed even more, several times a day, and he prayed fundamentally as a gesture of love for what had gone and would go and could be loved in no other way. When he prayed he touched his parents, who could not otherwise be touched, and he touched a feeling that we are all children who lose our parents, all of us, every man and woman and boy and girl, and we too will all be lost by those who come after us and love us, and this loss unites humanity, unites every human being, the temporary nature of our being-ness, and our shared sorrow, the heartache we each carry and yet too often refuse to acknowledge in one another, and out of this Saeed felt it might be possible, in the face of death, to believe in humanity’s potential for building a better world, and so he prayed as a lament, as a consolation, and as a hope, but he felt that he could not express this to Nadia, that he did not know how to express this to Nadia, this mystery that prayed linked him to, and it was so important to express it, and somehow he was able to express it to the preacher’s daughter, the first time they had a proper conversation, at a small ceremony he happened upon after work, which turned out to be a remembrance for her mother, who had been from Saeed’s country, and was prayed for communally on each anniversary of her death, and her daughter, who was also the preacher’s daughter, said to Saeed, who was standing near her, so tell me about my mother’s country, and when Saeed spoke he did not mean to but he spoke of his own mother, and he spoke for a long time, and the preacher’s daughter spoke for a long time, and when they finished speaking it was already late at night” (202).

“We are all migrants through time” (209).

The Storied Life of A.J. FikryThe Storied Life of A.J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Great book! A widowed bookstore owner, depressed and a little snobby, adopts a baby girl and falls for a publishing rep. Love changes his life, unsurprisingly. The book takes shape as A.J. recommends to his daughter his favorite short stories, like the “book talker” recommendations you see attached to bookstore shelves. Very readable, an easy recommendation to most readers, and a great way to stave off the post-Christmas blues.

Favorite quotes:

“No man is an island; every book is a world” (8).

“We read to know we’re not alone. We read because we are alone. We read and we are not alone. We are not alone” (249).

“We are not quite novels…We are not quite short stories…In the end, we are collected works” (249).

“…we are what we love. We are that we love….We aren’t the things we collect, acquire, read. We are for as long as we are here, only love. The things we loved. The people we loved. And these, I think these really do live on” (251).

“…we tell stories to understand the world. All stories–anecdotes, cave paintings, blog posts, book reviews, news articles, songs, poems–are attempts to explain the world to one another and for ourselves” –Conversation with the Author (266).

And Every Morning the Way Home Gets Longer and LongerAnd Every Morning the Way Home Gets Longer and Longer by Fredrik Backman
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This novella is imperfect, patchy and broken, and so lovely because of it. The author comments that he wrote it to personally process life’s big questions, never intending to send it forth in the world. The world is better for his having chosen to send it out.

As Grandpa comes to the end of his life, as his brain stops working, son Ted and grandson Noah (or “Noahnoah”–because Grandpa “likes his grandson’s name twice as much as everyone else’s”) look for ways to help Grandpa ease into Space. Meanwhile, we see Grandpa and Noah, and Grandpa and Grandma (who has preceded her husband into Heaven), enjoying time together inside Grandpa’s Square, the place of memories inside his brain. The Square gets smaller every day, while the road home gets longer. Ted and Noah have the sweet privilege of walking the long road home with Grandpa.

I don’t often reread books, since there are So Many Books, but I can foresee myself rereading this short gem. So many insights into life, love, and death. A sweet, perfectly imperfect last read of the year.

One bit of Grandpa’s wisdom: “The only time you’ve failed is if you don’t try once more” (29).