Planet RMFO Blog

July 21, 2014


I Ache for a God My Size

I felt bruised when I walked into the sanctuary. I could feel it in my posture, arms wrapped tight across my chest. It had been a difficult week, and I longed for the things of home. Simple things like my coffee mug and the window in my bedroom that faced the mountains and let in the rustling sound of leaves. More complex things like the kind words of friends who knew me and believed the best of me and could tell by my crossed arms that I was frayed.

I slipped into a chair in the front row. I smiled shyly at the woman next to me. She was a well-known poet whose words I had read and loved. But as I sat beside her, her sleeve brushing my arm, I felt detached and unmoored. Even as a line from one of her poems came loose from a corner of my mind, I stared hard at the floor.

But I ache for a God my size to bring me hot chocolate, brush my hair, slip between my sheets, read to me in bed.”*

The service swirled around me, over me, near me, never through me. The poet stood at the front of the room and held a simple white bowl with a puddle of oil. I found myself standing in front of her. She placed her hand, cool and soft, on my head. She murmured words that I don’t remember, but can still feel the weight of. She dipped a finger in the oil, slid it over my forehead. Down. Across.

I walked back to my seat, and touched the spot where her smooth fingers crossed. The oil shone on my fingertips. I was surprised that it was a simple olive oil. It was neither cloying nor exotic. It was pure and rustic.

It brought me home. Standing in my bare feet in front of my stove, splashing oil into a pan from a slender glass bottle. Stirring in onions and garlic and pulling my hair back. The oil coating my fingers was what I mixed with spicy red pepper flakes and dried oregano on little white plates, served to friends with chunks of fresh bread. It was light and easy, friendships and grace.

The oil dipped with nimble fingers from an unassuming bowl was salve.

The poet came back to her seat. We all stood and sang together, the air thick with the fruity smell of olives. The song was familiar, one I had sung as a child standing between my mother and stepfather at church. But there were more verses, ones I had never sung as a little girl.

This glorious hope revives
Our courage by the way;
While each in expectation lives,
And longs to see the day.

I felt a hand slip into my mine, the same smooth fingers that had anointed my forehead moments ago.

“It’s a beautiful song, isn’t it,” she whispered, her own golden cross glowing from her forehead. I nodded. She gently squeezed my hand and then slipped out of the room.

I felt my body loosen. Arms hung , shining fingertips brushing against my side. I was ready for home–no longer as one damaged, but as one renewed.

*Omnipotence, by Luci Shaw


Copyright © brandy campbell [I Ache for a God My Size], All Right Reserved. 2014.

by Brandy at July 21, 2014 08:33 PM

Hands Off My Red Handle

I was 12, maybe 13 years old. It was winter, and my cousins and I had spent the morning sledding. We sat in the living room, cheeks burning, clad only in our long johns and T-shirts, our jeans thumping gently in the dryer.

“Here are your clothes,” Grandma said. One cousin grabbed my pants from the top of the still-warm pile. He held them up.

“Oh my gosh, these are huge!” he said, laughing. I snatched them away and quickly pulled them on, the metal button burning hot into my soft stomach. I pawed through the pile, looking for my sweatshirt, when I felt a poke to my upper arm.

“Geez, you have hamhock arms,” he said. And in that moment, I wanted nothing more than to hit him. Make him cry. Make him feel some fragment of the pain I was feeling. But I did nothing. Simply pulled on my sweatshirt and tried to tuck myself into the corner of the rough tweed couch. Tried to be small.

I thought of that girl, that shame, recently when I read an article on National Public Radio about what writer Linda Holmes calls “red handles.”

Read the rest at the Soulation blog.


Copyright © brandy campbell [Hands Off My Red Handle], All Right Reserved. 2014.

by Brandy at July 21, 2014 08:33 PM

Virginia Street

When I moved to Missouri in 2003, I was shaken and disoriented. It felt like I had been in a prolonged period of free fall, and Missouri is where I finally hit the ground. It knocked the breath out of me.

In that sleepy town on the muddy banks of the Mississippi, I felt loneliness and sadness and confusion with blinding clarity. It was as though every  nerve had migrated to the surface of my skin, and even the pressure of the humid air was painful.

Of course, I didn’t really let any of that on to the people I met. At work I was bright and cheerful, bringing in bundt cakes and pies to share–to win everyone ever. At church I smiled and was interesting, jumping immediately into serving in the children’s ministry.

But at home, in that quiet little townhome on Stardust Drive that I shared with two new roommates, I couldn’t always keep my mask from slipping. It was a season of crisis, of deathss and car accidents and sickness, all happening to family and friends in Virginia. The 900 miles between my family and me might as well have been a million. More than once the roommate whose room was next to mine slipped into my dark room and held my hand while I sobbed.

“I’m sorry,” I choked through the tears. She just nodded.

One day that roommate came home and told me she had a surprise for me. She was always up for an adventure, a trip to a darkened, supposedly haunted theatre, a late-night drive looking for the northern lights. Even her car was exciting, a low-slung yellow sporty thing that made me smile in spite of myself.

She grinned as she drove, and I fiddled with the air conditioning vent, hoping I could pull some excitement up past the sadness. She drove through a drive-thru and got us both ice cream. I licked a sticky blot of vanilla off of my wrist as she drove down St. Mary’s Avenue. Where was she taking us? We turned onto Bird street and passed blocks of worn, dingy houses. Mark Twain Elementary was quiet, the lawn patchy and dry. And then she pulled over, rolled down the windows and turned off the car. I looked around.

There was nothing here.

At first I was annoyed. I could still be sitting in my room feeling sorry for myself. But her wide smile told me I was missing something. Finally she pointed out of the window to the green street sign directly in front of the car.

Virginia Street.

“This is as close as I could get to taking you to Virginia,” she said. Her smile softened. Hopeful.

I dipped my face down, could smell the sweet vanilla from the half-melted ice cream in my hands.

This was the nicest thing anybody had ever done for me.

“Thank you,” I said quietly. She smiled, turned on the radio, and we sat in silence and ate our ice cream, a whispery breeze carrying the scene of fresh cut grass through the car.

I left Missouri seven years ago, but I still remember the kindness of that roommate. She saw my brokenness and pain, and instead of shielding herself from it, she walked into it. She took me home the only way she knew how.

I am reminded of her when I see people in my life who are sad and lonely and hiding. I think of her when I must make the choice. Do I turn my back?

Or do I go to Virginia Street with them?


Copyright © brandy campbell [Virginia Street], All Right Reserved. 2014.

by Brandy at July 21, 2014 08:18 PM

To Whom It May Concern–Now With Gifs!

Dear Movie Makers,
Look. You can make scary movies all you want. I have no doubt there’s a market for that. But give a girl a break! I go to great lengths to avoid things that scare me, and when I’m sitting on my couch watching “The Voice” or some equally mindless television show, the last thing I want is for a scary preview to come on. Because then I get all paranoid. And I have to go check and make sure that there some children of the corn haven’t moved into my basement. And then I can’t sleep because I’m pretty sure that some being is walking up my stairs. See. I just made myself scared. Sheesh.



Dear Spring in Colorado,
You know, for a while I didn’t think you were coming. I thought maybe you had decided to take the year off. I believed that Winter had possibly funded a long vacation in Paris for you. But I’m so glad you’re here, and that you brought your blue skies and blossoms and sunshine with you. Don’t tell the others, but you’re my favorite.

Your Friend,
The Girl in the Flip Flops

P.S. Could you maybe tell summer to hold off just a little while? I’m in no rush for bathing suit season.


Dear Person in the Red Honda,
I would like to sincerely apologize for the “incident” last weekend. You see. It was a lovely, Spring day. The windows were down. I had my new Patty Griffin CD. And I may have forgotten that the windows were down in my car. And I was possibly singing at the top of my lungs. Top. Of. My. Lungs. I didn’t mean to frighten you, or your small children. I just got a bit caught up in the moment. I will try to remember to put the windows up next time.

Loud, Off-Key Girl in the Green Saturn


Dear Self,
It seems that you are a bit out of practice in the kitchen. That, combined with your love for cooking shows, has perhaps created a perfect storm of disaster. This week alone you have burned, cut and spilled with abandon. But tonight, when you tried to flip a pancake without a spatula, because it looked “so easy” on TV, you perhaps paid the highest price. Pancake splattered on the floor, and cold cereal for dinner. I hope you’ve learned your lesson.

Crying Over Spilled Pancakes


Copyright © brandy campbell [To Whom It May Concern--Now With Gifs!], All Right Reserved. 2014.

by Brandy at July 21, 2014 08:17 PM

The Seven Stages of Workshopping (in gifs)

It’s pretty much a rite of passage for a writer. You write something–even if it’s a story about a unicorn who belches rainbows it’s personal, for the simple fact that YOU wrote it. And then, one day you send it to a group of strangers. It feels like sending your first-born child to summer camp. But somehow, it feels more fragile than that even. Your child is sturdy and strong and can make friends. Your writing feels more delicate than that, somehow.

And then, one fateful day, you sit around a table with those strangers. In their hands they hold your words, your story, your creation. And they workshop it. They hug it. They squeeze it. They slap it around a bit. And you sit there, a fake smile plastered on your face so long that your cheeks ache. And you go through…

The Seven Stages of Workshopping

1. Detachment–”I am a professional. I am distant and have no personal attachment to this writing. Nothing said can hurt me.”

2. Hope–”But I hope they like it. I think they’ll like it. Do you like it?”

3. Anger–”You don’t like it? HOW DARE YOU NOT LIKE IT! You have no idea what you’re even talking about.”

4. Ambivalence–”Whatever.”

5. Confusion–”Wait. That’s what you thought that meant? You thought the belching unicorn was a symbol of war? I…I don’t even know what to say.”

6. Shock–”Whaaaaa?” (While this stage is similar to confusion, it is more cold and sweaty.)

7. Exhaustion–”My brain is broken. I need a nap.”


And there you have it. The seven stages of being workshopped. (I mean, sometimes there are additional stages of growth and understanding and improvement. But there aren’t any fun gifs for those.)



Copyright © brandy campbell [The Seven Stages of Workshopping (in gifs)], All Right Reserved. 2014.

by Brandy at July 21, 2014 08:17 PM

Go To the Mountains

“Who has better mountains, Colorado or Washington?”

It was a throw-away question on a random couch in a stuffy room. Creative small-talk, a few steps above talking about the weather. But the dialogue was lively. We argued about vistas (grudging point to Washington), accessibility (point to Colorado) and aesthetics (a draw).

But days later, the idea of mountains has lingered, tickling on the edges of my mind. What makes me love the mountains of my youth in Virginia? What makes me miss the Colorado mountains when I travel? I crave the ocean, love visiting the shore and walking on the cool sand, satiny and slurping under my feet. But it is the mountains where I live.

I saw the Blue Ridge Mountains from a distance as a child. There were whispery gray, the color of blue afternoon mixed with purple twilight. The color of a bruise. In the summer, we drove the parkway, a cooler in the back loaded with deli meat, white bread and American cheese, grocery bags filled with apples and Utz potato chips. We put the window down and traveled the winding roads, the station wagon groaning in protest as it pulled us up the switchbacks. Finally we pulled over and set up at a picnic table, its wood soft from the fog and the rain and time. I can feel the weeds scratching my legs, smell the loamy leaves. The breeze was cooler here, the grass greener, the mountains bluer. I knew they were the color of the ocean before I had even seen the ocean.

I left Virginia when I was 22. And for four years there were no mountains to give me a sense of place or direction. Everything was flat and I got lost in the sameness. Some days, at sunset, if I squinted just right, I could pretend a bank of clouds were mountains. But in my heart I knew they weren’t.

I arrived in Colorado seven years ago. I flew in on a May afternoon, tired and overwhelmed. The mountains here were close, and shockingly brown. Pike’s Peak still had a thin cap of snow, but it was fading. I longed for the blue-gray mountains of my youth, the distance that allowed me to see them layered among one another, nestled and rolling and soft.

But these Rocky Mountains have grown on me. I have hiked to crystal lakes where veins of snow blend with wild flowers in ways that seem impossible. I still gasp on wintery mornings when Pike’s Peak is covered in snow–dressed for a party, it seems. I have camped by icy streams, stumbling out of my damp tent, rumpled and wrinkled, to watch the sunrise.

There is a favorite park in Colorado that I go to sometimes to walk. The views there are lovely, stretches of icy blue mountains–more the color of a thunderstorm over the ocean than a bruise. But what I love is the orange dirt I walk on. It reminds me of the mountains of my youth as I stand at the foothills of my present.

So, I will concede that the Washington mountains are lovely–spectacular even. They are craggy where the Blue Ridge are soft. They are lush where the Rockies are stark.

Let’s just call it a tie.

“Chasing angels or fleeing demons, go to the mountains.” ― Jeffrey Rasley



Copyright © brandy campbell [Go To the Mountains], All Right Reserved. 2014.

by Brandy at July 21, 2014 08:17 PM

Story Time With Brandy–The Almost House

As a child, I found that there was a slim sliver of magic just below the trailer we lived in. As an adult I tried to rediscover that magic, armed with a handful of markers and a dry-erase board :) Hope you enjoy!



Copyright © brandy campbell [Story Time With Brandy--The Almost House], All Right Reserved. 2014.

by Brandy at July 21, 2014 08:17 PM

Taste and See

I wanted to write a lovely post about strawberries. I wanted to talk about how strawberries, warm from some idyllic strawberry patch, bring me back to my childhood. I wanted to tell you a “Strawberries for Brandy” version of the children’s story “Blueberries for Sal” (but perhaps without the bear).

Alas. That was not my childhood. I don’t have many warm and fuzzy memories of food (although I did love working with my stepdad in the garden). Instead, I have memories of picking through my food. Of smashing everything flat on my plate so I could more easily drag my fork across stray onions and peppers, pulling them to the edge of the plate to grow cold and slimy. Of building carefully constructed motes between my mashed potatoes and meatloaf so they wouldn’t touch. Of realizing the delicious bread I had been eating had been contaminated with zucchini–and the thick throat and eye watering that comes just before throwing up the offending food.

I honestly don’t know how my mom did it. She had to chop vegetables more fine than even the most trained chef to hide them in sauces and soups. She watched without comment while I rinsed off my plate between every food item so I wouldn’t cross-contaminate them. And she waited, patiently, while I ate my fruit loops, one color at a time.

It would take a long time before food was something I would truly enjoy. I was in college when I first ate hot mushroom soup, chasing little round croutons across the surface with my spoon. I was working at my first job when I had jerk chicken, spicy and charred, scooped on a fork with rice. I’ve eaten Indian food with curry-stained fingers and Ethiopian food balanced carefully on tangy injera.

I think much of my pickyness as a child resulted from a desire for control. There was so much I couldn’t control–but food was easy to spit out, to hide under a napkin. Perhaps, as an adult, those illusions of control have dimmed. That desire to deny myself the good things, full of flavor and heat and complexity, have diminished.

So, I may not have a “Strawberries for Brandy” story from my childhood. But I have the adult version. Of sweet strawberries mixed with tangy rhubarb. Of strawberries nestled in orange scented cake, sprinkled with sugar and baked into little pockets of jam. I have found a way to taste and see. And it is good.

 photo 2-1


Copyright © brandy campbell [Taste and See], All Right Reserved. 2014.

by Brandy at July 21, 2014 08:15 PM

Take a step

It was the winter that I was 3 years old. Maybe 4. My mom had recently married Dennis, and we had moved into his little trailer, situated among soybean fields and curving country roads. That winter was one of wool mittens drying on the wood stove, their scent spicy and musty. The chill from outside seemed to leak into our house, and the floors and walls always felt chilly. I sat close to the stove, and my hair always smelled smoky.

A winter storm blew in, dumping snow, then ice. It hid everything that was familiar, the grass and mud, and drifted up to the bottom of the tall window in our living room. One morning mom put on my favorite blue coat, my brown hat with the pom pom on top, my fuzzy snow boots and my mittens. Dennis opened the window, removed the screen, and lowered me the few inches to the snow.

I held my breath. Everything was beautiful and glittering and terrifying. I could feel the thin sheet of ice settle under my feet. And the deep snow underneath was waiting. I couldn’t move.

I am a fearful person. The things that keep me up at night burrow deep in my mind. These are not unique things that I am afraid of. I am afraid that I will get sick. I am afraid that I will be hurt. I am afraid that I will lose loved ones. I am afraid of being alone. Some nights, in those dark seasons, the fears take my breath away.

It’s not always at night. I can be sitting across from a friend, laughing and talking, when I feel the icy cold fear. What if I mess up? What if they leave? What if I break things beyond repair? And just like the little girl in the bright blue coat, I am paralyzed by that fear. I can almost feel the ice shift under my feet, afraid that one wrong move will ruin everything. But then I remember.

I craned my neck and looked back towards the window where Mom and Dennis stood, smiling and waving.

“It’s fine,” Mom called. “You won’t fall.”

I took one small step forward, my boot sinking just an inch in the snow. The thick crust of ice held me up.

I took another step.

Slowly, slowly, I made my way. My steps were the first on the fresh snow, and everything, from our old shed to our skinny crab apple tree, was draped in shimmering frost. I explored the yard until my cheeks burned and my nose began to run, until the chill reached through my mittens and to my fingertips.

And then I came home.

At the window, Dennis leaned down and lifted me up. My mother peeled off the layers of bulky winter clothes and I listened to my mittens sizzle on the wood stove.

I don’t think I knew what the word brave meant as I sat on the couch, an afghan spread over my lap, and drank hot cocoa. But I do remember smiling so broadly that my chapped cheeks burned. I knew what it meant to be paralyzed by fear that day. To lose my breath and stand frozen.

But I also knew what it felt like to take the first step.


Copyright © brandy campbell [Take a step], All Right Reserved. 2014.

by Brandy at July 21, 2014 08:14 PM

2013 in Lists and Gifs

2014 is going to be a brand new year on this blog! But I’ll tell you all about that later. Because first, I must give you the obligatory list of my favorite things of 2013 (along with some gifs for your amusement and joy).

Top 5 Books I Read (note, not the top 5 books of the year, because I like to read things way after they’re popular)

5. The Fault in Our Stars I stayed up way too late to finish this book and then ugly cried. So yeah, loved it!

4. A Girl Named Zippy Even though someone told me “You should read this book, she’s doing in her memoir what you’re trying to do” I didn’t hold it against the author. Really enjoyed this one :)

3. Gone Girl I waited a while to read this one, but really ended up enjoying it!

2. Miriam’s Kitchen It’s about food and religion and family and culture and so beautifully written.

1. To Kill a Mockingbird How in the world had I not already read this? I loved it so much and am wondering what other classics I’ve missed out on!

Top 5 TV Shows I Obsessively Watched on Netflix

5. The Walking Dead Yes, I hate scary movies. Yes I’ve made it through a season of this show. I’m a walking conundrum. But it says so much about human nature and protecting self and loved ones. But I can’t binge watch it. I learned that quickly!

4. Orange is the New Black Okay. So I wondered about putting this show on my list. It’s pretty risque. But I found it completely fascinating, and I think I watched the entire season in a two-week span while I was sick. I’m curious to see where they’ll go in season 2.

3. Parenthood I’m not really sure why I never watched this show, but I’m really enjoying the first season. Great characters, and an honest portrayal of family, in my opinion :)

2. 30 Rock I only watched this show sporadically the first few seasons, so it’s been fun binge watching it on Netflix :)

1. Scandal Oh this show slays me! So so good! And it was perfect to work out to because it gets my heart rate up. Literally.

Top 5 3 Movies I Watched (um, apparently I don’t watch many movies)

3. Iron Man 3 What can I say, I’m a sucker for Robert Downey, Jr.!

2. Captain Phillips I went into this movie with no expectations, and walked out loving it! Such a fascinating movie, and the final scene had me in tears (and renewed my love for Tom Hanks!)

1. Saving Mr. Banks I really loved this movie! I just saw it this week, but it has so stuck with me. Loved the characters. Resonated with the idea of writing something and then being scared to let it go.

Top 5 Things I Cooked

5. Strawberry Rhubarb Crisp Strawberry + Rhubarb + Orange = I can eat the whole pan

4. Turkey Pumpkin Chili I never actually posted a recipe for this (except maybe on Facebook?), but trust me, it was tasty :)

3. Roasted Strawberry Cake See #5

2. Triple Berry Lemon Cake This cake is summer, pure and simple. Sometimes I make it with frozen berries when it’s cold out just to pretend like it’s summer. It’s that good.

1. Brown Butter Soft Ginger Cookies Two people told me “These taste like Christmas!” That was enough to put them in the #1 position :)

Top 5 CDs I Listened To

5.  What We Saw from the Cheap Seats, by Regina Spektor Regina Spektor is deliciously weird. Her CDs are always a mix of “Wow!” and “Huh?” for me, but even the off moments are so delightful. I especially liked Small Town Moon on this album.

4. Five Good Reasons to Meet Me, by Over The Rhine I was just introduced to this duo over the summer and really love their songwriting. Wonderful lyrics with lots of intensity. Good stuff :)

3. CMYK Project, by Justin McRoberts I was a fan of Justin McRoberts for a long time, and then he sort of slipped off my radar. But when he came and performed at my work a few weeks ago, I immediately purchased his latest project. Incredible stuff!

2. American Kid, by Patty Griffin I am never more happy than when a new Patty Griffin CD comes out :) That Kind of Lonely was one of my favorite tracks on this one.

1. The Civil Wars, by The Civil Wars I really really love this album. I know there was lots of drama, but man, some really good music. So glad I got to see them before they broke up. Favorite track is a tie between From This Valley and The One That Got Away.

Top 5 Places I Visited This Year

5. Virginia In January, had a sweet visit with my family that included road trips and laughter and my sweet niece’s face.

4. Emily Dickinson’s  House While at a conference this summer, I was able to visit Emily Dickinson’s house on a free day. I stood in her bedroom and even sloshed through a cemetery to pay my respects at her grave-site. Highlight: Sneaking a picture of myself in her “no photos allowed” bedroom :)

3. Baltimore While Baltimore is a lovely city, it was more the occasion of my visit that made this one so special. Highlight: Graduating from Goucher College with my MFA! Oh, and head-banging in a bar with my lovely friend Beth to Bohemian Rhapsody.

2. Boston Traveled here for a conference, and as always had an amazing time. Boston is one of my favorite US cities–not least of all because of the food :) Highlight: Finding Dr. Quinn’s house (or her street at least :) )

1. Bolivia Was able to get my international travel fix for the year by traveling to Bolivia for the first time. Cochabamba was my favorite stop, such an amazing place! Highlight: The kids, of course. I love traveling for work and loving on adorable kiddos!

So what are your “top 5″ lists for the year?


Copyright © brandy campbell [2013 in Lists and Gifs], All Right Reserved. 2014.

by Brandy at July 21, 2014 08:13 PM


on taking a break from church (a review of how to be a christian without going to church by kelly bean).

I haven’t been to church in a couple of months. I needed a break, not from God but from some of the dynamics that inevitably appear when you attend a church for over a decade.

It’s been nice in some ways, a relief. But in other ways, I feel a little bit unmoored. My Sundays have no particular shape, so I end up feeling even more disappointed on Sunday night when I have to go back to work on Monday. I have been a churchgoer all my life, so this much of a break is a big change, and I am not sure it is for me. I think I might be a church girl, and I have been glad to have the chance to figure that out for myself. Those uncomfortable dynamics aren’t going to be fixed when I decide to go back, but it’s nice to feel that I can choose them for myself rather than feeling stuck inside of them.

Soon after I decided to take a break, I requested a review copy of How to be a Christian Without Going to Church by Kelly Bean. I did it sort of as a joke, so I could read it and Mike could raise his eyebrows at me. (He’s been going to church a little bit.)

christianwithoutchurchThe book, as you might imagine, is about what it looks like for many people who are faithful believers but who no longer see traditional church as a priority. I should say that some of the most faithful Christians in my life are not regular churchgoers, so it was not difficult to convince me that there are other options than showing up in nice clothes at 11:00 on Sunday morning. Bean writes about other ways that practices and faith are possible even without Sunday morning services and Wednesday night Bible studies. These are not necessarily mind blowing things – home services, gathering for meals, and serving your community are not new ideas, but I appreciated how she framed them as opportunities for connection and spiritual growth. I was also challenged to consider how much I compartmentalize my church life because I can easily return to it every Sunday rather than letting it be a natural outpouring of my daily life.

One of my strongest objections to the book as I was reading it is that the author had experienced a certain amount of privilege in the ways that she experienced “church” even as a nongoer (her term). For example, they had a home large enough to house people who needed it and money and food enough to share as well as time to give. I was impressed with how she addressed this at the end of the book after experiencing some financial setbacks within her family.

I think How to be a Christian Without Going to Church addresses issues of vulnerability and authenticity (even though those are kind of cliches) that many people feel when it comes to living out their faith. It’s a good read even if you are comfortable with your church attendance because it offers so many practical suggestions for connecting with those around you. Even though it turns out that I am probably a church girl, I enjoyed reading this book and having the opportunity to figure that out for myself.

I haven’t been to church in a couple of months. I needed a break, but I think I will go back. Reading this book helped.

Does the title of the book still bug you? Kelly Bean addresses that well here.

I received a copy of this book through NetGalley but my opinions are my own.

by Kari at July 21, 2014 07:42 PM

July 20, 2014


what I have been reading (beach reads edition).

The Cuckoo’s Calling by Robert Galbraith (aka J.K. Rowling) (via the public library)

I probably don’t need to say much about this book since it’s by J.K. Rowling, but I enjoy a good mystery novel and this one hit the spot. I could sort of see the pieces coming together but couldn’t quite guess how it was going to work out, so the reveal at the end was satisfying and enjoyable. It did drag a bit right in the middle, but I was reading it so quickly that that hardly mattered. Recommended for: mystery enthusiasts, people who like to discuss celebrity culture.

The Feasts: How the Church Year Forms Us as Catholics by Donald Wuerl and Mike Aquilina (via NetGalley)

This book listed a different subtitle on Goodreads, but I think this one is slightly more accurate – the book is more specifically tailored for Catholic readers than Protestants or other faiths. I was hoping for some ideas about church year practices that we might include in our family celebrations, but it wasn’t structured quite like that. The first half was a discussion of the history of feasting in the church and the second half did get into more specifics about some holy days. I learned several things about the Catholic church that I had not known but didn’t pick up anything for our family. Recommended for: people wanting to learn more about celebrations within Catholicism.


Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (via the public library)

Americanah is about two kids growing up in Nigeria and it follows them as one, Ifemelu, travels to America for college. Obinze, her boyfriend, is not able to get a visa and instead spends time in London. I enjoyed Ifemelu’s story (and her blog posts on racial issues in America) more than Obinze’s, especially in the middle of the book when he was bogged down in legal/visa issues. Recommended for: basically everybody, because this is a great book about the modern-day immigrant experience.


Spiritual Misfit by Michelle DeRusha (via Blogging for Books)

I read Michelle DeRusha’s blog a few times many years ago when it was called Nebraska Graceful. I remember enjoying her sense of humor and her way of looking at the world, so when I saw that I could request a copy of her book, I was excited to do so. Michelle grew up in the Catholic church but did not consider herself a person of faith. After some conversations and experiences at church with her family, she decided to be more open to spiritual ideas and began to see God moving in unexpected places. This is her story of faith and doubt and not fitting in. One of the things I liked about her blog bugged me a little bit while I was reading the book – she is great at finding the humor in situations and is careful to make herself the butt of the joke and to protect her family. After a few chapters, I began to wish we had had more information on the people around her to balance out her portrayal of herself as a bit of a grumpy goof. The book quotes a lot of authors I have read (especially Kathleen Norris) and there were times I felt that she was not adding a lot to those quotes. Still, I would recommend this for people who have struggled as outsiders in their faith, especially those who converted as adults.

The Misfits by James Howe (via my own shelf even though I had never read it)

I decided to read this one because I am thinking about doing a book club with it next year, focusing on students who are outsiders and possibly doing our own No Name-Calling Week. If you have read this and have ideas for me, let me know! If you haven’t, it’s a good middle grades book that helps students think about bullying.

A Beautiful Disaster: Finding Hope in the Midst of Brokenness by Marlena Graves (via NetGalley)

Marlena Graves grew up with an alcoholic, mentally ill father which has helped her to see how God is present in the wilderness. She writes about different ways that God has spoken or moved in her life in the wilderness and testifies to the faithfulness of God using scripture and examples from her own life and others. I found the first half of the book to be slow and I couldn’t tell where she was going or understand what point she was making. The book picked up about halfway through, but even so, I wished there had been a stronger structure on which to hang the book, because the wilderness metaphor did not seem quite right for a lot of her stories. In the end, it didn’t feel a lot different than other books that I have read about trusting God in difficult times. I saw so many good things online about this one, but I have to say it didn’t work for me.

The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls (via the used bookstore)

I’m probably the last person in the world to read this but in case you don’t know, it’s about Walls’s experiences growing up in neglect and poverty in Arizona and in West Virginia. I had put off reading it because I had heard people say it was as tough as it sounded like it would be. Agree, but it’s also a captivating story, and it’s made easier because you know she managed to pull through (since she did write the book and all).

Some of these books were provided to me by the publishers (as indicated above) but my opinions, as always, are my own.

by Kari at July 20, 2014 04:02 PM

July 10, 2014

Jeff H.

Silverbacks vs. Fire – US Open Cup


This has been the summer of soccer. The World Cup has been on TV in our house all month and I, like most everyone in our country, was held captive by the US Men’s National Team as they advanced into the Round of 16.

In a couple years, the MLS is coming to Atlanta and we will have a team in the big leagues to root for. Until then, our local NASL club, the Atlanta Silverbacks are doing a pretty good job themselves. In the US Open Cup, they had already defeated two MLS clubs and were looking to get a third scalp from Chicago Fire. I rode over to the stadium with a friend and saw my first game in action. The impressive run ended with a loss to the Fire, but it was really closer than the 3-1 score indicated as it was tied up until the 82nd minute and Atlanta held possession for large parts of the game. I had a lot of fun and maybe when the NASL kicks off again in the fall I’ll try to get to a game or two.

In the meantime, enjoy my photos from the game!

by jholland at July 10, 2014 06:22 PM

July 04, 2014


the world cup at our house.


I never updated about how Atticus’s soccer season went, and that is because it was bad. He did okay, for the most part, but he is stubborn and a little bit nervous around crowds. I think that even if he had had a coach who was good with his age group and who had shown up to all the games and practices, he would have been shy about the part where everybody runs together to get the ball. But the problem was that he didn’t have a coach who showed up for all the games and practices, so he never really got a chance to get comfortable. It was a disappointing shame, and if you live in my town, I don’t recommend the YMCA soccer program.

I wanted him to play soccer because the idea of it was so cute with the little jerseys and the shin guards and the running. There is something more, too, and I can’t quite explain except to tell you that he was in my stomach kicking away four years ago and I watched those World Cup games and hoped he was taking them in. Those were my first ever soccer games, and loved watching them with my friends (and Twitter). I dreamed of watching the games with him in 2014, of cheering on the national team and showing him the countries on the map. Signing him up for soccer seemed like a good way to encourage that.

Before the 2010 World Cup, soccer was something that was sometimes on at other people’s houses. I have a hazy memory of being in a friend’s apartment for what must have been the 1999 women’s world cup, but I didn’t watch the game. All I could see and think was that the field seemed so big and that no one seemed to really have control of the ball. I am a basketball girl at heart, raised on Dean Smith and his four corners and a 45 second shot clock. I couldn’t get my mind around soccer and I couldn’t understand what all the fuss was about.

I have thought about that a lot over the past few weeks, that sense that the game was too big and wild. Soccer still seems like that to me when I turn it on, but after a while I get into the rhythm of it and I see the fluidity as a beautiful thing rather than a barrier.

There are many things in my life that seemed big and out of control until I was able to focus in and understand. In my teens and 20s, I think I made a lot of decisions based on fears of wild, untamed feelings and places I wasn’t sure how to handle. It was only when I saw the wildness as a welcoming place, a place where understanding could be found, that I was able to heal.

I have learned to enjoy soccer for the quick touches and the long game, maybe even as a metaphor for life, the ways that things might seem out of control until we look from a different perspective. I think learning about the World Cup in 2010, entering into that confusion, was good practice for me as a parent, because those are skills I have used many times since.

Atticus has not watched an entire game during this World Cup, but he has seen a lot of soccer over the past few weeks. We have talked about good guys and bad guys and goalie goals and believing that we will win. It has exceeded what I hoped for him four years ago when everything I knew about him came from his active kicks. I don’t know if we will sign him up for soccer again but watching the game with him has helped me get over the bad experience we had with the YMCA, reminding me that taking steps into things that you don’t understand can turn out to be pretty fun after all.

by Kari at July 04, 2014 02:05 PM

Jeff H.

Cornerstone Memories (Again)


It’s the week of Cornerstone Festival again and there is no Cornerstone. I am looking forward to a weekend in Savannah with my family and think we will have a good time, it’s a different fourth of July celebration that what I’ve been used to, but we will enjoy it.

In the meantime before we leave, I need to get my mind off everything else on the Internet today. So, since I’m feeling the ache of an empty cornfield in Illinois, I thought it would be fun to write up a quick take about every year I went to Cornerstone Festival.

1998 – My first year at the festival! My friend Joel and his friend Elaine were my guides to aid me as a newbie. My biggest memory, other than just taking it all in for the first time was the Rich Mullins Tribute as his friends played his songs for three hours.

2000 – David and I drove up together in my little car for this one. Of all the years I went, I think this year might have had the best lineup. There was a great mix of old bands and new bands. I remember having to make the agonizing choice between Over the Rhine and The Choir on the final night and I’m glad that I now have full recordings of each show.

2001 – This is the first year that I rode up with Jerry and I rode with him every year after this one. I remember Stryper on the last day was the big topic of discussion. I’m not a huge Stryper fan and I actually ended up skipping the show to see The Violet Burning (who were freaking amazing.) I was really into Over the Rhine at this time and this was the third festival in a row that they were the final show of the festival for me.

2002 – Adriene went with me this year, the only year she went with me to the festival. It was a total sauna. My favorite memory from this year was on the last night at the Sixpence None the Richer show. Adriene and I relaxed on a blanket on the hill and looked at the stars while they played and there was not a care in the world for one evening.

2004 – There was a lot of rain this year, so much that the rain leaked between the seams of the tent during Over the Rhine’s show. I remember the pyro-technics from the P.O.D. show. I also the remember the last day at the Gallery stage had a fantastic lineup of Denison Witmer, Unwed Sailor, and Ester Drang. The tent was full and buzzing with teens and I remember thinking this must be what it’s like to be with the cool kids.

2006 – This was the year where Mute Math broke Chuck’s brain. This was also the first year I started to blog for the festival and I really enjoyed getting to know the organizers of the festival and learning how the festival worked from the inside.

2007 – The sunsets this year were the most of amazing of any year I went to Cornerstone. In between shows I couldn’t resist standing outside and taking picture after picture. One of my favorite memories was between shows. The sound crew played Bon Jovi’s “Livin’ on a Prayer” and kids that weren’t even born when the sound was popular were singing right along, even taking over when he cut the volume.

2009 – I skipped 2008 due to the birth of my girls, but in 2009 Adriene and her mother held down the fort so I could go. This year was weird because it was so cold and windy. This was also the year the generator stages started to take over. I saw a lot of bands I didn’t recognize at all. The deluge of rain on the final day sealed the fate of the location of mainstage down by the lake, but it also gave us a surreal final day of hardcore music on the normally mild-mannered Gallery Stage.

2010 – Switchfoot kicked off the new mainstage location and did a fantastic job starting off a new era at Cornerstone. I also remember Paper Route having the best show at the festival, leaving everyone speechless and amazed. I was also sick for a majority of the festival so now I guess this is what it’s like to go to a music festival under the influence because I was pretty incoherent for most of the festival.

2011 – The Jesus Music day was pretty special this year. I got to see a lot of artists that I had never seen before and might never see again. I also remember getting a call from home on the last day that my grandmother’s death was imminent. Michael Gungor’s worship music was a healing for me as I prepared for a week of grieving.

2012 – The last festival was a particularly poignant one. Even with only two main stages and a bunch of generator stages, there was still a lot of good music to remember. The heat this year was oppressive and it was hard to think about anything other than the heat. When the festival was over, it was hard to process the mourning of the end of Cornerstone because I was just so glad not to be subjected to the weather. The Viking Funeral was a strange, but totally Cornerstone way of having closure and The Choir, the first band at the very first Cornerstone, gave a nice bookend as the last band at the last festival.

Those were my memories in short takes. Please, share your memories of your years at Cornerstone!

by jholland at July 04, 2014 02:31 AM

June 30, 2014


god and the gay christian by matthew vines.

god and the gay christianSince I bought Torn by Justin Lee, my copy has been passed around and my best guess is that it’s been read by eight or nine people. I think the combination of Justin’s story (I call him Justin because he lives in NC and therefore we are basically buds) and the seriousness with which he talks about his faith make that book a winning combination, but the analysis of scripture is only a part of the book rather than being the main focus. While our lived testimonies are an important part of Christianity, the gap between what people believe the Bible says about being LGBT and what they hear from their friends about their lives is confusing to many.

Enter God and the Gay Christian by Matthew Vines, which takes a full chapter for each of the “clobber texts” that are often used to condemn LGBT relationships and discusses them in depth. He also takes on some of the ideas about gender that influence the ways that we talk about relationships and marriage. Vines considers the words that are used in scripture and also brings a lot of information about the context of the day and time that are helpful. If women are considered to be less than men (and, let’s not be coy, they were in Bible times and continue to be in many denominations despite linguistic trickery like “first among equals” and “equal worth, different roles”), then it is considered a degradation for men to take on a “women’s role” in a relationship. If you believe that men and women are actually equals, there is more room for relationships founded on love and mutual respect regardless of gender.

I was a little bit concerned about reading this book because I listened to an interview that Justin Lee did with Matthew Vines and I did not think that Vines came across very well. (To be fair, I think Justin Lee is possibly the nicest person on the planet, so maybe all of us would suffer in comparison with him.) In this book, though, Vines puts forth a view of scripture that appears to be even more explicitly conservative than Justin’s, and he seems kind and thorough.

Should you read God and the Gay Christian? I say yes, even if you are convinced that you will never change your mind about LGBT relationships and the church, because this is the most comprehensive take I have seen that is written for the layperson, and I believe it is better to read and understand for yourself. The scripture analysis will not be new for people who have already looked into this topic, although I did learn a few new things about the history of same-sex relationships, and I enjoyed the fresh appeal to the egalitarians among us. (Interestingly, I think that is the part that has his critics the most nervous as it undermines their theology in multiple ways.) I also recommend Torn, and these are great companion books to one another.

Other resources for you:

-This the study that I did at church a few years ago when Mike and I were first reconsidering this topic (it has been updated a little bit).

-Matthew Vines’s video (and transcript) that were the basis for this book.

I did receive this book for free from the publisher but I was not obligated to review it. As always, my opinions are my own.

by Kari at June 30, 2014 03:46 PM

June 29, 2014


the cross and the lynching tree by james h. cone

the cross and the lynching treeWe have been watching a lot of the World Cup here. Atticus, who is very into superheroes, wants to know about the good guys and the bad guys. That hasn’t been a big deal to me until the USA/Germany game when I noticed that there were some jokes about Germany being bad guys on Twitter. Nothing too extreme – nobody went so far as to actually reference Hitler, but it’s clear that those of us who grew up learning about WWII and the Holocaust have some conflicted feelings about how to talk about Germany.

I’m not going to claim to be an expert on an enormous topic like WWII and the Holocaust, but I do think it’s interesting to see that we as a country are more comfortable referencing the difficult history of another country than we are with our own. In my education, the treatment of Native Americans and the history that Ta-Nehisi Coates discussed in his reparations article were covered and dismissed as quickly as possible. Let’s face it, when the majority gets to write the history books, the stories of the minority are going to continue to be marginalized. Those of us who grew up with these imperfect understandings of the relationships between different racial and ethnic groups in our own country should take it upon ourselves to seek out other perspectives.

One book that I recently read from a different perspective was The Cross and the Lynching Tree by James H. Cone. Once you consider the idea, it is not a stretch to see how the lynching tree, where innocent men and women hung after being tortured by angry mobs, could be connected in the minds of many black Americans to the cross on which Jesus died. The book explores the lynching tree in the black community and makes a powerful case that it should be a more prominent symbol in American Christianity as we wrestle with our sins as a nation and specifically as white Christians who did not act against this terror.

I came away from this book with a strong sense of how white my Christianity has been, and a desire to broaden my perspective. It is challenging and moving to read about other ways to view God, especially when you suddenly see through the eyes of the oppressed rather than that of the oppressor. This is a short book but not a light read. I hope you will consider reading it, and I would love any similar recommendations of books that have challenged you to see history or your own faith from a new perspective, especially from a minority perspective.

by Kari at June 29, 2014 06:23 PM

what I have been reading (falling into summer edition).

Speaking Christian: Why Christian Words Have Lost Their Meaning and Power – And How They Can Be Restored by Marcus J. Borg (via the used bookstore)

The title basically says everything here. The book covers ideas like redemption and sin as well as words like mercy and belief and tries to put them in a biblical context rather than the cultural one we are most familiar with. Would make a good Sunday School or small group study for a progressive group that is interested in reclaiming and/or reevaluating Christian language.

Drama by Raina Telgemeier (via my school’s library)

I assigned myself some school summer reading, including a few graphic novels. This one is a delightful school story about drama – both relational drama and actual theater. Recommended for middle and high schoolers, especially the theater ones.

Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass by Meg Medina (via another school’s library)

This is another one I assigned myself because I want to know if I should purchase it for my middle school. A high school librarian kindly let me borrow it over the summer so I could see. As you can probably tell from the title, it is about bullying, but I thought it was more realistic about what it looks and feels like to be bullied than many of the books I read on The topic. I felt as I was reading it as if I was stuck in that same overwhelming situation with Piddy. I liked how it was resolved without everyone hugging and making up and that the consequences of what happened would continue. I think it would be a good fit for my school.

Mortal Blessings: A Sacramental Farewell by Angela Alaimo O’Donnell (via Netgalley)

Early in this book, O’Donnell quotes Andre Dubus: “A sacrament is an outward sign of God’s love, they taught me when I was a boy, and in the Catholic Church there are seven. But no, I say, for the Church is catholic, the world is catholic, and there are seven times seventy sacraments, to infinity.” A few paragraphs later, O’Donnell says, “Holy objects or ‘sacramentals’ hint at this presence of the divine in the ordinary, but an imaginative engagement of the world enlarges our ability to see that all objects are potentially holy–or ‘sacramentals’–as are all human activities and, most important, all human beings.” This book is the way that O’Donnell explores these thoughts about finding the sacred in the moments of caring for her ill mother. The topics vary from the serious to the somewhat silly, from the importance of speaking to and with her mother to the afternoon they spent watching Dirty Dancing. (Any book with a section entitled, “The Sacrament of Dirty Dancing” is going to be okay by me.) Mortal Blessings is a thoughtful book that I would recommend for anyone who is caring for an ill parent.

The Rise and Fall of Great Powers by Tom Rachman (via Netgalley)

I never finished Tom Rachman’s first book, The Imperfectionists. I checked it out from the library and had to return it before I was done and never felt compelled to get it again. I found the characters in this one, especially the main character, Tooly, to be more interesting but the book takes its time letting you know what is going on and how all of the story fits together. Recommended for: people who are willing to be a little bit lost during the story, people who admire well-structured books.

How to Teach Your Children Shakespeare by Ken Ludwig (via Blogging for Books)

Mike and I both read this one because we were intrigued by the idea of teaching Atticus Shakespeare. Ultimately I think this is probably a little bit more intense than we want to be about teaching him passages, but it has great tips on how to work on memorization that I can see us using for important texts – Shakespeare, yes, but also poems and speeches and the Bible. I feel like I have an adequate knowledge of Shakespeare, but there are some big plays that I have never read, and Ludwig explains the plots and the importance of some famous speeches with great enthusiasm and passion. I learned a lot from the book and am glad I read it. It would make a great textbook for a high school or college class on Shakespeare as it puts so many of the plays and lines into context. I could also see it being a big hit in homeschool groups. The resource list at the back is excellent.

I received copies of some of these books from Netgalley and Blogging for Books, but all opinions are my own.

by Kari at June 29, 2014 01:26 PM

June 18, 2014

Daniel -

YouTube & its Indie Labels, or, A Long Slide Into Evil

I’ve been covering the deteriorating situation at the once-golden Google and its various products for quite some time.

Now this: Google is set to block Indie label content on YouTube. Over licensing terms for a new service.

Now, as an article by The Guardian points out, this might be a misunderstanding. There are a few options:

One: YouTube is indeed threatening to block the videos of indie labels: if they don’t sign up to the terms of its new paid music service, their videos will be removed from its free service too. Although Vevo-run channels seem likely to stay up.

Two: YouTube will block indie labels from monetisation of their videos on its free service. It’s possible that YouTube will leave labels’ videos up, but block them from making money from ads in and around those videos – as well as from using its Content ID system to make money from ads shown on videos uploaded by YouTube users featuring their music.

Three: This is all just a big misunderstanding. If indie labels choose not to sign up for YouTube’s new paid music service, their videos will be blocked on it, but left alone on the existing free service.

I think it’s probably a misunderstanding, too. As Chris Hubbs said on Twitter, it’s hard to imagine Google giving up its “YouTube is all the videos” platform just to squeeze some indie labels.

But it might, right?

So I expected to hear Google & YouTube put out a strongly worded statement to the contrary. But, to the contrary, this is what they said:

“Our goal is to continue making YouTube an amazing music experience, both as a global platform for fans and artists to connect, and as a revenue source for the music industry. We’re adding subscription-based features for music on YouTube with this in mind — to bring our music partners new revenue streams in addition to the hundreds of millions of dollars YouTube already generates for them each year. We are excited that hundreds of major and independent labels are already partnering with us.”

Now that, my friends, is a absolutely shitty non-response. It’s the sort of thing that makes you think… Oh. Maybe it’s true after all.

Two points. One, Google of today is not the Google of yesterday. And I’m not even talking about whether they used to have ideals but now don’t, blah blah blah. I mean they used to get good press and now they don’t.

Say what you will about Apple, they get a metric shit-tonne of good press, so much so that the bad press is pretty much drowned out. Google doesn’t get that. These days they pretty much just get bad press. This is a pretty fantastic change from a few years ago when Google was the open-source idealistic saviour of the internet.

Two, they should have been out in front of this, offering a plain, frank denial. Even if that denial was a half-truth. Instead some intern was given the task of crafting their message, which was basically “talk about something else”.

We’re not stupid, we can tell when you’re trying to “change the message” or “redirect the conversations” or as we call it, “change the subject”. Especially when done abruptly and awkwardly.

by D.S. Deboer at June 18, 2014 09:20 PM

June 16, 2014


what I have been reading (summertime is upon us edition).

El Deafo by Cece Bell (sample via NetGalley, whole book via publisher)

This is a charming graphic novel about a young girl who loses her hearing at the age of four. When she starts school, she has to wear a hearing aid. This is okay when she is in kindergarten with other kids just like her, but when she begins a mainstream class the next year, she faces difficulties and embarrassment. One way she deals with her feelings is by imagining what her alter ego, El Deafo, might do in these situations. This book would be really cute for middle grades. I thought the subject was explained well and in an engaging way. I loved the section on context clues – great thoughts for conversations as well as books, and a good way to remind kids how to be thoughtful and to pay attention. It would also be a great discussion starter for how to speak to and about people with disabilities, and a good way to explain to kids that a disability doesn’t keep people from having regular feelings like friendship and crushes. It’s also just a sweet and funny story and I liked the pictures. (I got a sample of this book from NetGalley but it didn’t say it was just a sample, so after I finished those 50 pages I asked the publisher where the rest was because I was enjoying it so much. Thanks to them for sending me a copy.)

Seamless Faith: Simple Practices for Daily Family Life by Traci Smith (via NetGalley)

I loved these ideas for families to practice faith and follow the church calendar. The different activities are marked by age and offer variations. I will be picking up a physical copy to put on my shelf with To Dance With God by Gertrud Mueller Nelson and The Circle of Seasons by Kimberlee Conway Ireton. I love all three books, but this is the one that is the most activity-based. If you are familiar with the rhythms of the calendar year and are simply looking for ways to celebrate it, I highly recommend this as an option.

A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman (via NetGalley)

I mean, if you have read a book about a curmudgeon who is saved by the quirky family who lives next door, then you are familiar with what happens in this story. But it’s sweet and funny and well-executed. And, dang it, I totally cried at the end. It really should be made into a movie.

The War for Late Night by Bill Carter (via the public library)

I don’t think my parents watched The Tonight Show, so the whole Leno and Letterman thing was not really on my radar. When I met Mike, he explained to me that I had to be a Letterman person to be married to him, and I happily agreed. In our younger and more vulnerable years, we did stay up late and watch Letterman (and we went to a taping once, which was very cool), but we are much too old for that now. I never watched Jay Leno on The Tonight Show, but I do feel very strongly that Conan got screwed over by Jay/NBC. This book is very insidery and I did have a hard time keeping all the lawyers and publicists straight but I enjoyed it a lot. I thought it was very fair to everyone involved (and includes coverage of people like Kimmel and Letterman and Stewart) and made it clear that Jay is not some kind of monster, just that he was kind of a workaholic. I wish Carter had gotten Jay to articulate why he didn’t want to leave – that was the one thing I think wasn’t explained well. In the end, it seemed like Conan cared more about The Tonight Show as an institution than Jay and NBC did, and I think that was his downfall. (I have to admit I cried when I read the account of Conan’s last show and his reminder to work hard and be kind and not to be cynical.) The only bad thing about this book for me is that it sent me down a rabbit hole of internet clips. Other than that, solid and fun read.

by Kari at June 16, 2014 07:01 PM

June 15, 2014

Daniel -

A visit to the walk-in clinic

Today Laura and I took Audrey to the walk-in clinic. She’s running a fever and tends to get ear infections so we took her in just to be safe.

It was a bit of a hassle. We went to our usual walk-in and there was a wait, so we went to the other on across the street where we waited 15 minutes or so. The doctor told us to give her some ibuprofen (done!) and lots of fluids (done!) and sent us on our way. No ear infection, no bad news. We were in and out in a half hour, just presented her health card and away we went.

I had a moment of disorientation leaving the clinic. It seemed wrong somehow that we were leaving without paying. Every other time I leave a place like that I end up paying for something, whether it’s a grocery store or a hardware store, I have to pay.

But here we go leaving the health care store (I like to call it that) and we pay nothing.

I think that’s fantastic.

So when I talk to people about Ontarion’s healthcare system I get all the usual responses. There’s a sort of love-it/hate-it spectrum. I’ll enthusiastically agree with people who love it. I’ll have a conversation with people about what needs fixing–as with every system everywhere, there’s something to fix of course!

If you hate it, well, I don’t like to denigrate opinions, but your opinion sucks. It’s a stupid opinion. I’m not saying you’re stupid. I’m saying you’re wrong. The data on this issue is immensely and frighteningly on the side of socialised health care.

I’ll never say that in person, of course. I’ll say something different. But when I do say something, no matter how nice, I get one of two responses. Either I get the whole politicised diatribe about how (what they think is) socialism is bad, laying bare the ideological clockwork that allows them to believe against their own interest…

Or I get an anecdote. Now if you’ve read this blog for a while, you already know what I think about ideology, or you can probably guess.

But anecdotes. Man… they’re everything that’s wrong with the human condition.

I don’t really care to get into the healthcare debate. As far as I’m concerned it’s not a debate. It’s just a matter of time. I would like to talk about anecdotes, though. This is a bit of an odd direction to take this, but bear with me.

Humans are pattern observers. We look for patters in everything, no matter how insignificant the thing or non-existent the pattern. This means we’re really good at staying alive on the savanna but not terribly good at public policy.

An errant patch of grass moving against the wind is could be a predator. (At least that’s how I imagine staying alive on the savanna might be. I’m not an expert here!) This is only a single data point, but it’s a very important one. It potentially means life or death for you.

Your aunt who had a bad experience in the hospital is a single data point as well but (sadly for her) not an important one. And if we take the anecdote of her experience as a signpost for how we deal with an entire healthcare system full full of people, it means life or death for someone else.

It means life or death for a couple who have a child. The child gets sick, but not very sick, at least not at first. They delay going to the doctor because they can’t really afford to pay the deductible. Or maybe they can afford it but it’s just enough disincentive. The child gets sicker and sicker until when they finally do make the move, it’s too late.

That story is a load of hogwash. I mean, it could have happened, but it didn’t, at least not to me, and not to anyone I know, and probably not to anyone you know either. But to me, it has the same value as an anecdote. You seek out anecdotes to confirm your beliefs, I write a story to confirm mine.

Data doesn’t lie.

You can make it lie. You can make it do all kinds of things, especially when it’s that sort of slim, unsubstantial data that might say any number of things. But you can’t make a preponderance of data lie.

Once you’re confronted with the evidence, you only have ideology to fall back on. Once the anecdote is stripped away, the clockwork of ideology is revealed.

But that’s a post for another day.

by D.S. Deboer at June 15, 2014 02:58 AM


a poem for father’s day.

From “Listening” by David Ignatow

Standing beside you,
I took an oath
to make your life simpler
by complicating mine
and what I always thought
would happen did:
I was lifted up in joy.


by Kari at June 15, 2014 02:45 AM

June 11, 2014

Daniel -

Everyone’s Got One

You shouldn’t have married that early, I say,
because I didn’t marry that early.
It should be at the right time, I say,
otherwise my timing was wrong.
You should stop eating so much bread, I say,
to ease my burden of not eating bread.
You have too much money and should give some away, I say,
because I can’t afford a brand.

I call you

When I could call you

You’re always exactly the same, I say,
looking at the ever-shifting ground.
You never change, I say,
looking at myself.

by ddeboer at June 11, 2014 09:05 PM


Who told you
you’re not welcome?
As always the self-appointed gatekeepers
admit only themselves.

You are:
I admit that.

by ddeboer at June 11, 2014 08:56 PM

June 09, 2014


in defense of young adults and their literature.


I try very hard to be a parent who respects her child and sees his intelligence as he figures out the world around him. It’s made easier by the students I have worked with over the years, the ones who make bright and funny observations all the time and who have taught me to give them more credit than we usually do in our culture. There are things that we lose as adults that children and teenagers can remind us: the immediacy of the world, the imagination that it takes to live in it. There are big questions about who we are and how we figure out our places in the world that we adults are supposed to have figured out.

This is part of what troubled me about Ruth Graham’s piece last week that stated that adults should be embarrassed to read YA literature. Graham made it clear that she’s not an expert on the topic. Well, I wouldn’t call myself an expert, but I do work in the field, so I have to be more qualified to talk about it than she is. I took grad school classes on YA literature and I participate in discussions of it every year. I read it, both because I like it and because it’s my job. I defend it not simply because I enjoy it but because I believe it is worth defending as art and as literature.

I agree with many of the other critiques of her article, such as the ones that point out that books for children and young adults are often dismissed because they are written by women (see also every discussion about John Green that ignores all the great female authors writing YA) or the ones that point out that she didn’t even seem to understand the very smart books she was putting down or that there are YA books beyond the bestseller lists. She also seemed to dislike any happiness or resolution in a story while not noticing that some of the most popular series (I AM LOOKING AT YOU, HUNGER GAMES) don’t exactly have satisfying endings. I especially agree with the very nice people who have calmly pointed out that we who work with teenagers mention To Kill a Mockingbird and Catcher in the Rye not because they were published as YA books but because they would surely be marketed as YA now, as they are coming-of-age stories told by young people. But other people have gone over that stuff. There’s just one other thing I want to say.

To me, the YA debate is a question of respect. If you believe that children’s literature and young adult literature are so far beneath you that people should be ashamed to read from those categories, then you are saying that children and young adults are beneath you. You are saying that their concerns are no longer important in your life. You are saying that their literature is stupid because that is the only level they can comprehend. You aren’t giving kids enough credit—any credit—and I hope you don’t work with them or have any of your own. I don’t feel defensive about YA literature because I work with it. I feel defensive about it because to dismiss it out of hand is to be disrespectful to young people who deserve our respect. The teenagers in my life are smart people who are learning about the world and who are asking big questions. One of the ways they do that is through books. It is a privilege to be able to do that along with them.

I learned about that respect both when the adults in my life did not belittle my reading choices and when they handed me different things to read. I learned about it by being reminded (by John Green) to take teenagers’ feelings seriously. And I learned about it from Madeleine L’Engle, who always advocated for treating the children who read her books as smart.

“You have to write the book that wants to be written. And if the book will be too difficult for grown-ups, then you write it for children.” – Madeleine L’Engle

“The writer whose words are going to be read by children has a heavy responsibility. And yet, despite the undeniable fact that the children’s minds are tender, they are also far more tough than many people realize, and they have an openness and an ability to grapple with difficult concepts which many adults have lost. Writers of children’s literature are set apart by their willingness to confront difficult questions.” -Madeleine L’Engle

“We need to dare disturb the universe by not being manipulated or frightened by judgmental groups who assume the right to insist that if we do not agree with them, not only do we not understand but we are wrong. How dull the world would be if we all had to feel the same way about everything, if we all had to like the same books, dislike the same books . . .” -Madeleine L’Engle

I don’t know yet what kind of reader Atticus is going to be, but I hope he has teachers and librarians in his life who respect him as a reader as well as a person. I hope they encourage him to ask big questions rather than putting down his interests and tastes. I hope he knows that learning isn’t just an adult-to-child activity. And I hope he tries new things and rolls his eyes at the gatekeepers. I hope I do, too.

by Kari at June 09, 2014 06:04 PM

June 08, 2014


what I have been reading (almost summer edition).

Let’s Talk About Love: Why Other People Have Such Bad Taste by Carl Wilson (purchased a copy)

I heard the author of this book interviewed on this episode of the Slate Culture Gabfest and I think I ordered the book before the interview was over. It sounded so fun and interesting and it did not disappoint. It’s about looking at taste and snobbery by examining Celine Dion, who you will probably see in a different (more sympathetic) light after reading more about her life and her fans. I love books that challenge expectations, and this one is marvelous. The new edition has essays by different authors who respond to the book, and those are hit or miss but I did enjoy some of them. Recommended for: music snobs, people who secretly sing along with that one Celine Dion song when it comes on the radio.

Why Do Buses Come in Threes: The Hidden Mathematics of Everyday Life by Robert Eastaway (via NetGalley)

You have probably seen some of those math problems on Facebook where people are outraged at how their children are being taught through Common Core. Besides being totally out of context, those people are missing the fact that the problems are focusing on number sense, understanding how numbers work and how they fit together. This book is basically about number sense and how it applies in the real world, covering things like cooking and traffic and botany. It reminded me of The I Hate Mathematics Book by Marilyn Burns, which I loved as a kid. I could definitely see a teacher or a parent talking about these ideas with kids.

No One Needs to Know by Amanda Grace (via NetGalley)

Olivia and Liam are twins who fall for the same girl. The novel switches from Olivia’s perspective to Zoey (the aforementioned girl) but the transitions are not completely smooth because the characters aren’t fleshed out enough to remember which one is which (except that one girl is rich and one is poor). I was struck by the banality of it all – apparently we as a culture are ready for LGBT teen romances that are just as formulaic as the straight ones. Quirky younger sibling: Zoey’s younger sister is not so much quirky as fragile.

Of Scars and Stardust by Andrea Hannah (via NetGalley)

This book is about a family that was torn apart by wolf attacks even though wolves supposedly don’t live near their small town. My big problem with the story is that the description of it seemed at odds with what was happening in the first few chapters, so I spent a fair amount of time being confused. Once I finished it, I understood why some of that had happened, but it was still pretty frustrating as it was going on. I can see this being a big hit with high school students who enjoyed books like Shiver by Maggie Stiefvater or who enjoy thrillers or mysteries. Just make sure they know to hang in there even if they are not totally sure what is going on. Quirky younger sibling: makes crafts to protect them from the wolves, has gone missing and left clues as to where she might be.

Words and Their Meanings by Kate Bassett (via NetGalley)

Anna had an uncle who was raised as a brother to her, and she idolized him. In the year since his death, for which she blames herself, she has practiced “coffin yoga” by lying still every morning and by turning herself into Patti Smith. There is a mystery aspect to the story as she realizes that she didn’t know everything about her cousin, and there is a nice romance (that I did not totally buy even though the character was sweet). I enjoyed the story until the end, when something is revealed about her cousin’s actions that I found to be totally jarring and unbelievable. I also raised an eyebrow at the idea that Anna spent all this time on Patti Smith’s words but hadn’t read Just Kids, which turned out to be part of the resolution. There were a lot of vivid and interesting things about this book, but the end fell flat for me. Quirky younger sibling: a sister who likes to hide in small spaces, even the oven.


Life After Death Row: Exonerees’ Search for Community and Identity by Saundra D. Westervelt and Kimberly J. Cook (purchased a copy)

I go to church with Saundra and taught her son in Sunday School. What a gift it is to know people who are so smart and who share their expertise. Saundra and her friend conducted interviews with people who were wrongly convicted and sentenced to death but then subsequently released. There is no automatic compensation for them, no assistance as they transition back into the outside world, and there are barely any apologies from the state. Exonerees, though they were wrongly convicted, have to go through a complicated legal process to get their records expunged (and if they don’t, their records will be flagged when potential employers run background checks). If they do receive compensation, it takes an average of four years for the money to get to them, but of course it’s needed much earlier as they are trying to find housing and start over. The parts of the book that I found most moving were when the exonerees discussed their conversations with the victims’ families and how much those apologies meant to them. I also really enjoyed the discussion of the ways that exonerees deal with the pain of their wrongful convictions. Some of them turn inward and believe that there were things that they needed to learn or that God used that time to teach them certain lessons. Others take that pain and use it to fight against the death penalty and for more assistance for other exonerees. This is a smart, well-organized discussion of the exonerees and their experiences, and I recommend it for a peek into the injustice of our justice system.

Some of these books came from NetGalley but my opinions are my own.

by Kari at June 08, 2014 02:29 PM

June 06, 2014

Jeff H.

SHEL at Decatur Court House


I haven’t figured out the right age or band for my daughters’ first concert. I heard about a free concert in downtown Decatur by the Colorado band named SHEL and I thought that would be perfect. However, we played pretty hard during the afternoon and by the time the evening came around they were already starting to wear down and I decided it would probably be smarter to leave them with the grandparents. It was probably the right decision, I think they would have enjoyed the show but I don’t think they would have had the patience for the whole thing.

That’s too bad, because SHEL probably would have been the ideal band to see. The band is composed of four sisters with bluegrass influenced pop. I compare them to a less technical, more whimsical version of Nickel Creek. That’s not an indictment on their talent. There’s not any Chris Thile-like fretboard runs, but they still make beautifully interwoven music on mandolin, piano, violin, and drums. The youngest of the sisters even adds a little bit of beat-boxing, which makes me laugh for some reason. Their songs range from light-hearted songs like “The Latest and Greatest Blueberry Rubber Band” to the more serious “Try To Scream.” There was a short intermission and while the sponsors raffled off some prizes, the ladies milled around the stage, even posing for pictures and letting little girls try on their custom designed hats.

Atlanta is not as quirky as a city like Austin or Portland, but if there is an unusual part of town, it’s Decatur. I enjoyed people-watching during the show. There was a guy with the Coors tall boy dancing around by himself and I was afraid there was going to be an incident when he approached the stage. He asked the mandolin player a question and I don’t know what her response was but he laughed and walked away. There was a bride and groom that emerged from the courthouse, going around the building and back in, presumably to their reception. In the middle of the concert he shouted out to everyone, “WE JUST GOT MARRIED!” I also like spotting the people who were on “date night.” There were the couples that were on that Date Night, the one you get every couple of months thanks to the babysitter. Then there were also the couples that clearly weren’t married yet and were still dressing to impress each other.

The only complaint I had was that the band wasn’t really visible in the gazebo (as seen in the picture above.) The fence around it made it difficult to see very much unless you walked right up to the stage, and I wasn’t going to be that one creepy guy standing at the front staring at four teen/20′s girls. That’s a small complaint though. The night seemed certain to be rained out but instead I enjoyed a pleasant night on my own on the square in Decatur.

by jholland at June 06, 2014 06:33 PM


#weneeddiversebooks like the great greene heist by varian johnson.


Last month, I followed and participated in the #weneeddiversebooks discussion that was sparked (at least in part) by Walter Dean Myers’s article in the New York Times.

This is a topic close to my heart because I am constantly searching for books that reflect my students’ lives and their experiences. Like all middle school students, they love books that feature “drama.” And I’m sympathetic, because I don’t always enjoy reading books where nothing happens. When you are 12 years old and everything seems extreme, of course you want books where extreme things happen. But, to be honest, it bugs me that the books that feature characters who look like my students will often have plots that feature violence or teen pregnancy. Many of my students live in difficult situations and I want them to see that there are stories about people like them. But that is not all of who they are, and I wish for them to read about other, less charged drama, too. I thought about this a lot this winter when we read The Snowy Day to Atticus and I marveled at how it portrayed a young boy just being a kid. My students deserve to read books about kids being kids. They deserve funny books and science fiction and fantasy. They shouldn’t be relegated to the “urban” section.

great greene heistThat was one reason I enjoyed The Great Greene Heist so much – it was about a diverse group of kids dealing with a rigged election at school without having anything to do with darker kinds of drama. School drama is drama enough sometimes! Especially when you, like Jackson Greene, come from a family of con artists. Echoing Ocean’s 11, Jackson gets his team back together to pull the con to end all cons – re-rigging the election that the principal has already rigged, thanks to a generous donation from a parent.

I think that this is a book that will appeal to a lot of smart middle school students (especially the troublemakers). There were a few parts where it was a little bit challenging to follow until I read the passages with Oceans 11 in mind. It was obviously written with that tone: funny and sharp with great pop culture references. And it features a diverse cast of characters without feeling forced. I hope there are more books featuring Jackson Greene and his friends, because it was a pleasure to read. (And Mike enjoyed it, too!)

I received a copy of this book from NetGalley but I also purchased a copy of my own (from our local independent bookstore).

by Kari at June 06, 2014 05:08 PM

Daniel -

they have no jesus

they are small
& have no jesus
to swoop down in glory
separate the sparrow from the hawk
& gather them under

this man
who is not anything
sits in a place that is not anywhere
and distributes

christ-sized bits of bread
into their open

by ddeboer at June 06, 2014 02:47 PM

June 03, 2014

Daniel -

April 30 is over

It only took me 3 weeks longer than I wanted. But it’s done. At the beginning of April I committed to write at least something ever day. It went well for a while. But then I got sick. I haven’t been hit that hard for a long time.

I feel a bit like I’m eulogizing myself right now. But don’t worry. I survived. I finished the task. And here, friends, are the links:

  1. “I”
  2. The Story Has Been Told
  3. The Scapegoat, Lifted High
  4. We Forgot The Kettle
  5. Some Advice About Length
  6. Benefit Cheque
  7. Weather
  8. Nothing When It’s Done
  9. A Burn Victim
  10. Clutched Prize
  11. Gold Fillings
  12. Last Year
  13. The Face
  14. Story I
  15. Story II
  16. Story III
  17. Story IV
  18. Jump, Fly
  19. Last Horse
  20. Kenosis
  21. Minimum Wage
  22. The Lamb
  23. North
  24. Inflationary
  25. Senseless Beast
  26. My Liking Precedes Me
  27. Butterflied
  28. The Wine of Now
  29. Viscous Liquid
  30. Sonnet XI

I hope you enjoy reading them as much as I enjoyed writing them.

by D.S. Deboer at June 03, 2014 01:00 PM

May 31, 2014

Daniel -


more and more
now the wick

that was
but not is

who murmurs

a dark smudge
of breath escapes

who orders


who waxes
on and on

by ddeboer at May 31, 2014 01:10 AM

May 30, 2014

Daniel -

Viscous Liquid

Inspired by Value.

In the cup of my palm
an opaque, viscous liquid.
It defeats economists:
Common but incalculable.
There’s no market for that,
no currency except

by ddeboer at May 30, 2014 04:48 PM

Sonnet XI

The house falls down. There’s nothing to be done
about that. She reclaims the things they stole.
Studs rot. Drywall crumbles. Her fingers run
up walls to grasp, down foundations to hold.
Whole continents move. Even those whose bone
lies calcic in its unmarked, homemade tomb
are ground under. Part limestone or part loam,
all lost. Yet vacant bellies hold a womb
whose children are a million years apart.
Gills or no they swim to fill the sea
with grandchildren. They casually discard
that parent who they curse as absentee.
Beside her deathbed they erect a town,
but she’ll outlive them all to tear it down.

by ddeboer at May 30, 2014 04:44 PM

The Wine Of Now

So many words
How could you have said anything
We have
left off paying in volume

Then sit in silence
As worship
this is among
As fealty
this is also

The moment of bread
The wine of now

The gifts
intentionally confusing
of who
for who

Are those strings
full of electric words buzzing
We have
left off singing in volume

by ddeboer at May 30, 2014 03:53 PM


The body
injected with plastic
cracked open and
vaguely obscene
organs arranged
some of them even

This is the kidney
you need just one
but you have two

It occurs to me that
if you take slices
close enough everything
resembles everything else

But if you take a slice
here and a slice there
everything is different
and you might ask

How can these things
fit together?

Which is an honest question
and the honest answer is
there’s a lot of same old same old
until everything has changed
and you just didn’t notice it
because you think about it
too much you think about it
all the time you think about it
and it makes you think about it
deeply think about it
madly think about it

by ddeboer at May 30, 2014 03:50 PM

May 26, 2014


strength and honor (a review of the little boy in the tree by roland russoli).

image I do not know very much about the military or about military service. Memorial Day and Veteran’s Day have always just been days off from school. That’s why I thought Memorial Day weekend would be a good time to read my friend Roland Russoli’s book about the years in his life after his son Andrew, a marine, was killed in Iraq.

I did not know Andrew very well. I saw him at church a few times and shared a meal with him the summer before he died. My church community was proud of him and has grieved him, and I have borne witness to their grief because I see the hole that he has left in their lives even though I was not so personally affected.

Roland’s book is structured around the emails that he sent to his friends and family after Andrew died. These emails, sent early in the morning and late at night, were honest and witty and descriptive. At the time, Roland and his wife lived overseas, first in Mongolia and then in Mauritania, so his stories are peppered with those experiences. Although he does not specifically say this, I am sure it was hard to be so far away from friends back home, but the differences he faced seemed to help him grieve this terrible change in his own life.

Roland has been a great encouragement to me as a parent and a reminder to be patient with my own little boy who likes to climb trees (and pews and furniture). On a recent Sunday, when Atticus was a little more squirmy than I wanted him to be, I specifically thought about how Roland might want me to respond, which helped me take a breath and remember that Atticus has a place in the community, too. One day soon we will tell him about Andrew and his motto, Strength and Honor. I hope Atticus learns that he is beloved in the same way by our community.

I recommend Roland’s book for people who have experienced grief, especially the pain of losing a child, or who are walking through it now. It is a powerful reminder of the very real cost of war.

by Kari at May 26, 2014 01:57 PM

May 23, 2014

Daniel -

My Liking Precedes Me

Among the somethings never
before said, this.
It wasn’t difficult to write,
except that it’s balanced
finely on two decades
of effort,

a culmination.
It provokes at the same time
pride and envy.
I have done this,
though not to my liking.

My liking precedes me,
a small dark smudge of feathers
whose words are mine but not mine.
I chase it as it narrates the future
and mocks the past.

You should be anyone other than yourself,
it says.

Among the few things never
before admitted, that.
It was difficult to write,
balanced finely on two decades
of failure.

by ddeboer at May 23, 2014 09:01 PM


moral monday 2.0


I went to Moral Monday this week. There were lots of television cameras, and the reporters kept asking the participants why they were there. I studiously avoided them all because the idea of me breaking into tears while trying to explain that I want a better world for my son was beyond embarrassing. But I do want a better world for my son. That is why I was there. And if I am crying about it right now at least none of you can see me.

It was a powerful rally that included a symbolic shared meal that echoed Jesus’ feeding of the 5000: when we share what we have, there is enough to go around. When we break bread together, we are more able to listen to one another and recognize our common humanity.


The words of Dr. Barber on acknowledging our common humanity were on my mind last week I read Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove’s new book, Strangers at My Door, which I got for Christmas (but didn’t want to read because I didn’t want it to be over). He has been a powerful teacher to me in the past few years as I have begun thinking more deeply about poverty and race. His humble example has guided me through some difficult days and conversations. And the fact that he is a North Carolinian is an added bonus for me. Strangers at My Door is about welcoming the people around us who are in need and seeing their humanity rather than their statistics or their list of misdeeds. It’s about seeing that they too are created in the image of God. Wilson-Hartgrove lives these principles out by living with his family and other families in what is called an “intentional community” in one of Durham’s poorest neighborhoods. Not only do they share their house beyond their family unit, but also by opening their house to the people around them. In the book, he tells stories both good and bad about what he has seen and experienced. I loved it for his gentle, thoughtful style, but I loved it even more for the fact that he doesn’t say (or believe) that this is what God is asking of all of us. What he does challenge us all to do is to see the stranger before us in our own lives and consider how to welcome him or her like Christ. I thought about these words from the closing paragraphs on Monday as I sang and prayed and protested a little bit, hoping for a different sort of world for my son.

This strength to build a new world is itself a gift. It comes to us from beyond, from the spring that is the source of every living thing. And it comes to us through people who know down in their bones that the world is not as it was made to be.

Somehow the fire that stirs in them sets you and me aflame, and we are, together, like the bush that Moses saw in the wilderness–burning, but not consumed.

We are becoming an eternal flame. -Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove, Strangers at My Door

At the end of Moral Monday, we all danced. Well, not me, because I can’t really dance. But there were people around me who had moves and those who were pretty goofy, but they all welcomed me anyway. I stood and swayed awkwardly, accepting my limitations, but feeling accepted as part of the beloved community just the same. Building a new world together.

by Kari at May 23, 2014 01:33 AM

May 22, 2014


dad is fat by jim gaffigan (guest review by mike).

imageWhen I requested Dad is Fat, I had some vague plan to read it on the sly where Mike wouldn’t see me. And then I could give it to him for Father’s Day! This plan was brilliant except for one thing: Mike always gets the mail. And, let’s be honest here, he loves to open mail, so when he sees things that he thinks might be books, he opens them before I get home. Instead of finding a package on the counter, I found the book on the counter. He looked at me sheepishly then accused me of not telling him not to open my mail. Do you guys see what I have to put up with?!

Since he was already totally excited about it, I let him read it first. There were tons of giggles from his end of the couch and his side of the bed, and when I asked him to read me the funny parts, he said, “Everything I’ve read is funny.” Here, in his own words (lightly edited by me for clarity), is Mike’s take on Dad is Fat:

If you like Jim Gaffigan, you will like this book. I like him because he finds the humor in some of the terrible parts of parenting like living in a two-bedroom apartment with five kids and because he tells stories that make his wife sound great. I had heard some of this beforehand his standup routine but still enjoyed reading those parts. My favorite stories were when he took all of his kids to the park alone and the trip to Disneyland. Everyone should buy this book because Jim Gaffigan needs to be able to afford a bigger apartment.

Takeaway: Don’t open other people’s mail even if they don’t ask you not to. And read this book. Or give it to your dad.

I got a free copy of this book from Blogging for Books but opinions here are our own.

by Kari at May 22, 2014 12:30 AM

May 18, 2014

Daniel -

Senseless Beast

The sea turtle mounts the beach
and the cycle continues.
The senseless beast who knows nothing
but to return once a year
to this place and no other.
We who look on are able
to nudge driftwood aside,
allowing a few more children
to make it.

A desert monument loses its features
and the cycle continues.
The senseless beast carves another
a kilometer away.
This one will endure, though it
is the same stone.
To we who look on this seems
different somehow,
though it is not different.

by ddeboer at May 18, 2014 02:30 AM


One of the risks of living in an inflationary universe
is a growing collection of strangers
who like nebulae drifting apart
only weakly interact.

I imagine there might be a universe
in which accretion happens naturally
and all the things and people
gather in the same place.

It might collapse into a singularity,
sure, but at least it wouldn’t be
the cable guy laying wire down
as if that’s enough.

by ddeboer at May 18, 2014 01:15 AM

May 16, 2014

Daniel -


The glaciers retreat.
Skeletons beneath, ground to dust bloom.
The impossible seed, the mosses
who wouldn’t die

A word echoes in the calving frenzy.
The sounds we know,
if not the cadence.
If we could understand,
what would we know?

Those who spoke died, and those who listened.
From their bubbling organs
a new and better tune:
A mist that rises and
continues to rise.

We who listen will die.
The palm trees marching north will
swallow our bodies.

For now, I stand on the corner of this and that,
I hear everything and know nothing,
or I hear nothing and still I know nothing.
I am a short spool run out of thread
too soon.

by ddeboer at May 16, 2014 02:55 AM

May 14, 2014

Daniel -

The Lamb

The dazzling lamb–
who has the right to look upon
its roots?

Even its shade as the sun:
We tear away our second skins,
we peel them back to reveal
the bloodied underbelly.

The water clogged with
our viscera– now-skeletal
we present ourselves
to the book,

the word. You must have even
new bones, its says,

and the pain
begins afresh.

by ddeboer at May 14, 2014 04:14 PM

May 12, 2014


what I have been reading (it’s been a while edition).


Learning to Walk in the Dark by Barbara Brown Taylor (purchased)

I’m only mentioning this here because it was so good that I want everybody to know how good it was. Five stars! Go read it! I can’t summarize it but there were beautiful thoughtful things on every page!

Cartwheel by Jennifer duBois (via the public library)

I didn’t pay a ton of attention to the Amanda Knox thing when it was happening, so I don’t have hugely well-informed opinions about the case. I will say that when the prosecutors are saying that what took place was a sex-crazed satanic ritual, I am likely to be skeptical. Anyway, Cartwheel is not about Amanda Knox, but it is a fictional version of something very similar – an American exchange student whose roommate is murdered. I liked it quite a lot, more than I maybe should have, because I loved how we as the reader could see what different characters were thinking and what their motivations were. That device is often used to piece together “the truth” but in this book, like the Amanda Knox case itself, the truth remains a little murky at the end. Recommended for: a good summer beach read!

The Circle of Seasons: Meeting God in the Church Year by Kimberlee Conway Ireton (purchased)

This is a great little book on the seasons of the church calendar. I have learned most of these things through loosely practicing them at my church but it would have been a perfect book for me a few years ago. Excellent as an introduction and for parents who want practices to include for home. Though I didn’t need an introduction, I can see myself pulling it off the shelf to get some ideas of ways to celebrate certain seasons with Atticus. Pairs well with To Dance With God by Gertrud Mueller Nelson. (You can order it directly from the author herself and she will sign it for you.)

Roomies by Sara Zarr and Tara Altebrando (borrowed from a friend)

My favorite of Sara Zarr’s since Once Was Lost. It’s about two girls who are assigned to be roommates for their freshman year of college and the emails they send to one another. I really enjoyed how their lives paralleled with summer romances and conflicted feelings about leaving their parents even though they lived on opposite coasts. A super enjoyable read for me.

Born Confused by Tanuja Desai Hidier (via NetGalley)

Aargh, you guys. I am so conflicted about this book. It’s about a girl named Dimple whose family is from India, but she is American. Of course she feels pulled between her family and her culture, not fitting in fully in either place, which is why she feels like she was “born confused”. On one hand, I loved the main character and her almost Elizabeth-and-Darcy meeting with a friend of her parents. I loved this particular expression of what a lot of teenagers feel, whether their families are immigrants or not. And I loved how she began to find a place for herself with others who feel the same way. But. I didn’t like her best friend at all and I thought in many places it was hard to read and understand. I think it would make a good audiobook because you would be able to hear the inflections that were intended that were not always clear to me as I was reading. In the end, I will remember it as a sweet book about a character I really liked but that was frustrating to actually read.

The Book of Not-So-Common Prayer: A New Way to Pray, a New Way to Live by Linda McCullough Moore (via NetGalley)

Linda seemed like a nice person but a little bit rigid and I didn’t find her suggestions extremely helpful. I wasn’t sure what was so uncommon about her prayer life or her advice, because I didn’t feel as if there were tips I hadn’t heard elsewhere. I kept hoping there would be one section I might recommend but that never came. Overall not a winner for me.

Mommy Man: How I Went From Mild-Mannered Geek to Gay Superdad by Jerry Mahoney (via NetGalley)

Mommy Man is the story of Jerry and his partner Drew and how they got together and decided they wanted to have kids. They chose surrogacy and I enjoyed the discussion of the fertility issues because I have several friends who have done IUIs and IVF as well as some LGBT friends who have adopted or used sperm donors. The story pretty much ends with the birth, so it’s not about parenting as much as it is about becoming parents. I really did laugh and cry while I was reading it. I read this on Mother’s Day and it was a perfect reminder of the miracle of life.

I received free copies of some of these books from NetGalley but my opinions are my own.

by Kari at May 12, 2014 03:03 PM

May 11, 2014


on motherhood.


Yesterday I spent a good chunk of time weeding a bed in front of our house and placing bricks around the edge. Then we had a giant thunderstorm and it flooded. After the skies cleared, Atticus in all his wisdom decided to move all my carefully placed bricks into the mud and throw some of his toys in there, too. When I tried to put the bricks back, I had a “helper” who wasn’t too jazzed about the idea (“no, I want the bricks in the mud!”) and then decided he should be the one to use the hammer (which I find fairly terrifying, especially when the target is near my toes). Plus, I dug through dirty buggy wormy mud and didn’t manage to find all the toys. Whatever Atticus got me for Mother’s Day, I earned it. Four words: mud in my underwear.

As I was looking for that one final toy, I knew that I could tell the story in a way that could be played for laughs or that would paint me as a harried mom. But the truth is that, yeah, it was kind of irritating to see him destroy all my hard work, but he didn’t do it out of malice. He saw me digging in the dirt and playing with bricks earlier, and he wanted to try it, too. Toys are fun, mud is fun, why wouldn’t toys in the mud be ultra fun?! It doesn’t help any of us if I yell at him for not seeing the world the same way that I do. I get to learn how to communicate a little more clearly and he hopefully learns some things about other points of view (and maybe that mama makes a mean mud pie).


I am telling this story because I want to stand up for motherhood a little bit. I read one too many articles this week on how hard and difficult and draining it is and I mean, of course it is. Of course I don’t enjoy every minute. But everything I do these days seems kind of hard so I am not sure why this is the thing that should be different . . . except for the fact that our society likes for motherhood, especially Mother’s Day, to be all rosy cheeks and smiling perfection. That or the frazzled mom with Cheerios stuck to her shirt, that’s all we get.

Shockingly, real life is a little more nuanced. I have a three-year-old who is beyond stubborn but yesterday he also watched a thunderstorm with me on the couch and we made snowman pancakes and mostly things are pretty good. These are the things I remember about being a child: my dad holding me during thunderstorms, my mom’s pancakes. I hope it’s what Atticus remembers, too. It might not look like much, but it adds up to the beautiful muddy frustrating exhilarating life we share together, one that brings us joy. I want to bear witness to those small stories because they are where we live and what I find life-giving right now.


I might be here to stand up for motherhood but my general ambivalence about Mother’s Day continues. Mother’s Day is a painful day for far too many of my friends for me to feel comfortable making a big deal about it. Here are three links that have helped me rethink Mother’s Day:

Nine Ways to Have an Empowered Mother’s Day by Megan @ SortaCrunchy (Wouldn’t it be nice if Mother’s Day was more like Wonder Woman Day where we did things to empower each other?)

Why I Hate Mother’s Day by Anne Lamott (Hate is kind of a strong word but I completely agree with her points.)

An Open Letter to Pastors (a non-mom speaks about Mother’s Day) by Amy Young (Thankfully my church doesn’t do the Hallmark holidays but it’s a good reminder of the various situations the people around you might be experiencing.)

Happy Mother’s Day to my own mother and my wonderful aunts and grandma. And happy Mother’s Day to all the mothering hearts out there. We see what you do and we appreciate you.

by Kari at May 11, 2014 10:18 AM

May 09, 2014

Daniel -

minimum wage

we so often forget
it’s hard to move
to ask to move

ladders made
of bootstraps
one can climb

as above
many splendoured emperors
trickles down

save for your retirement
they say

your replacement is a robot
they say

the world isn’t fair
they say

skinless grapes pressed to their lips
half-drunk juice of rubies and emeralds

litter held aloft on
minimum wage

by ddeboer at May 09, 2014 04:37 PM


library secrets: the bottom shelf.

I had to gather some books for a teacher this morning. I enjoy that sort of thing because I get the opportunity to see the collection in a different way. Oh, I didn’t realize that book had information on that topic, good to know. But here’s what I don’t enjoy: the books that I need are always on the bottom shelf so that I have to squat to get them.

I know what you’re thinking. They can’t always be on the bottom shelf unless you work in a magical Harry Potter library where the books shift themselves. Well, maybe I do work in the Hogwarts library, because whenever I need to pull a book, I swear to you that I will find it on the bottom shelf.

Is it a conspiracy to get me to exercise more? A conspiracy to make me fall down sometimes? A conspiracy to make me feel like I am a little crazy? Possibly it is all of those things. Conspiracies are real and I am living in one that requires me to awkwardly balance myself in a squatting position on a regular basis.

Today’s library secret is brought to you by someone mean like maybe Jillian Michaels. I bet she is moving the books while I’m not looking. I bet she laughs at me when I fall down, too.


by Kari at May 09, 2014 04:31 PM

Daniel -


How to write and be read–
this is the million dollar question.
The first answer is always,
Don’t worry about it,
as if we live in that sort of world,
If it’s meant to be,
when for most it isn’t.

The second answer is,
Adjust your expectations.
It’s an honourable anonymity,
a kenosis of ambition.
Get to know your neighbors,
who are the only ones, after all,
who are close enough.

The third answer is,
Do it for yourself,
which is true enough,
as far as it goes,
a little ways,
Do what makes you happy,
out of context, out of mind.

The fourth answer is,
Stop writing.

by ddeboer at May 09, 2014 03:48 PM

Last Horse

The numbers didn’t change, just the lines.
The faces didn’t change.

If you don’t think about it,
it goes away.

What are the chances? That last horse,
your stable mate.

The letters didn’t change, much,
except by attrition.

The first creaking open of a gate,
galloping into the night,

to find a world of corrals.
A world of well-fitted bits.

by ddeboer at May 09, 2014 03:38 PM

May 07, 2014


two awkward conversations I had at the polling place.

(AKA why I can’t go places.)

This one was my fault for stirring up trouble.

POLL WORKER: Remember, in 2016 you will need your ID to vote.

KARI: And how do you feel about that?

POLL WORKER: I’m not allowed to say. I can’t talk about it. We’re not allowed to talk about it. But if I see you at the grocery store you can ask me.

KARI: Well, maybe we will make some changes before then.

POLL WORKER: I’m not allowed to talk about it. Ask me at the grocery store.

I did not ask her where she shops, but now I wish I had.

This one was not my fault in any way, shape, or form.

GUY STANDING OUTSIDE HOLDING A SIGN: Thanks for voting! Does your shirt say Let’s Be Still?

KARI: Yes.

GUY STANDING OUTSIDE HOLDING A SIGN: Is that like, be still and know that I am God?

KARI: No. It’s a song.

GUY STANDING OUTSIDE HOLDING A SIGN: Oh, I thought it was from the Bible.

Good thing I hadn’t voted for the person on his sign, because I would have had to go back in and demand my vote be changed because of awkwardness.


by Kari at May 07, 2014 01:16 PM

May 06, 2014


library secrets: secret page twenty-nine

I am lucky to have had great people to teach me the tricks of the library trade. There are a lot of little things that librarians have to do that nobody else knows about, things that keep stuff running behind the scenes. Some of those things are more important than others – the state report that must be turned in every year, for example, or inventory. Both of those are more important than what I am about to tell you.

When I order books for the library, I get them with processing already done, meaning the spine label and the barcode are in place. But that doesn’t mean we don’t do anything in house, because we do. Either my trusty volunteer Vicki or I will stamp the books with the library name and address and write the barcode number on the inside cover. Inevitably Vicki will ask me to remind her about the secret page. “It’s secret page twenty-nine!” I say.

We stamp the books on secret page twenty-nine and write the barcode number so that even if the cover of the book was lost, I would know that it was mine.


Secret page twenty-nine is one of those things that is already drifting away with things like graphic novels (there is often no place to write the number without messing with the story) and will be completely gone when ebooks rule the land. I think it is my favorite of the library secrets because it’s my way of shepherding the books that are in my care, and because I learned it from other librarians (although not every library uses the same page). I am the only librarian in my building, so when I stamp secret page twenty-nine, I feel connected to the greater community of people who help connect the books with the readers again and again and again.

If you are a librarian, do you have a secret page?

by Kari at May 06, 2014 04:21 PM

May 05, 2014

Daniel -

Jump, Fly

I don’t have much time
so I’ll make this as short
as possible:

A man comes to a cliff’s edge.
In his chest lives a hawk
or a seagull, something
made of wings that urges,
Jump. Fly.

He doesn’t jump.
He doesn’t fly.
He knows, like every other man
who approaches this cliff knows,
that the fall will kill him.

This sense of mortality
grows as he ages:

One day he is unable to
cross the street
and doesn’t find
that unusual.

by ddeboer at May 05, 2014 02:43 PM


library secrets: let it go.

This year, I have been diligently weeding (library word for discarding old or worn out items) the library’s collection because we have a bunch of really old books and equipment that I have to dig through when I want to, you know, do my job. There are all different kinds of librarians–I know this might be a shock to those who think we are all the bun, sensible-shoe-wearing, glasses type. Some are more like Boy Scouts, keeping everything so they are prepared for every situation. I admire the heck out of those people but I think I am a little too disorganized too be one of them. I have to throw things away so I don’t get overwhelmed. The good news is that it’s extremely rare for me to throw something out and then need it, and that the more I get rid of, the more I am able to find the things I do need.

I worked in collection development (buying books and weeding the collection) way back in my public library days, and I loved that job a lot. That collection and I had a real understanding of each other, and it was a great honor to be its caretaker for a while. I am still getting to know the collection at my school, partly because there is so much of it that goes unused. That’s the part I am getting rid of, and as I free up the space, I have found that the books are speaking to me more than ever, as if they can finally breathe again. I imagine weeding is what being a sculptor is like, shaping the wood or the marble until you can see what is inside. Or you can picture me like Queen Elsa singing “Let it Go” to the books. Actually, that’s not a bad comparison, because I have had to learn not to mind what people say when you discard things, even broken computers or fifty-year-old books that are covered in dust. Or laserdiscs.


Letting all that stuff go makes me feel like I can breathe, too. Weeding the collection is always a good reminder of how great it is to make space, both to enjoy the things that I already have and so I can see where the collection needs to grow. If you need me, I’ll be the one covered in dust with a big smile on my face.

by Kari at May 05, 2014 01:59 PM

May 01, 2014


every common bush afire.


From “Aurora Leigh” by Elizabeth Barrett Browning

Earth’s crammed with heaven
And every common bush afire with God;
But only he who sees, takes off his shoes,
The rest sit round it and pluck blackberries

by Kari at May 01, 2014 02:06 AM

April 30, 2014


what I learned by giving up meat for lent.

I rarely talk in detail about my Lenten disciplines because they feel private and revealing, but this year I decided to give up meat because that’s a very common thing to give up and I had never done it before. And for once, I didn’t mind talking about it because I felt so connected to the global church (mainly my Catholic friends) by giving it up. I missed meat a lot, but I felt connected to my body in a different way that was cool.

In no particular order, here are some things I learned.

1. When you say you are giving up meat for Lent, the first question you get every time is, “Are you eating fish?” Mike and I don’t eat a lot of fish (because we don’t like to cook fish at home) so I hadn’t planned to. Isn’t fish meat? I thought it was so I gave it up.

2. Food really fuels your body, you guys. I gave up eating meat while I was in the middle of training for a half marathon, and all of a sudden I had less energy and had a terrible 11-mile run. During my terrible run my thoughts mostly centered on the fact that I was going to fail at half-marathoning. But then after I got home I realized that I had only had a salad the night before and I needed to feed myself a little differently before a run. Here, let Andy tell you about it for me.

3. The things that really got me through the day were eggs, spinach, and quinoa. I had to particularly think about how to get a good amount of protein before the long runs. I rediscovered the joys of spinach ravioli.

4. Giving up meat was emotionally tied to the half-marathon for me, so it seemed kind of redundant that last week (the half-marathon was on Palm Sunday). We were in Florida during Holy Week, and I ate fish and I didn’t even feel guilty about it. Fish on Good Friday feels practically holy.

5. It’s easy to think that changing up your diet will cause you to lose weight but that did not happen. In fact, neither did running a half-marathon. But there’s more to being healthy than just weight, and running and fueling my body well has made me strong. That’s something to be proud of. I can do hard things like running a lot of miles and changing up my diet.

6. I am not cut out to be a vegetarian.

7. I wouldn’t say that it caused me to reflect in spiritual ways, but I was mindful about my eating practices and more amazed than ever at how our bodies function. It was a really positive experience for me. And now I am eating all the meat, all the time.

I know this is a little bit late for Lenten reflections, but I had to have the experience and then have time to reflect on it, so we’re drifting into Eastertide. Anybody else learn anything during Lent? Anybody want to speak up for vegetarianism?

by Kari at April 30, 2014 05:45 PM

emerging from the night and heart of me.

Hard Night by Christian Wiman

What words or harder gift
does the light require of me
carving from the dark
this difficult tree?

What place or farther peace
do I almost see
emerging from the night
and heart of me?

The sky whitens, goes on and on.
Fields wrinkle into rows
of cotton, go on and on.
Night like a fling of crows
disperses and is gone.

What song, what home,
what calm or one clarity
can I not quite come to,
never quite see:
this field, this sky, this tree.

by Kari at April 30, 2014 01:42 AM

April 29, 2014


how weightless words are when nothing will do.

“Gospel” by Philip Levine

The new grass rising in the hills,
the cows loitering in the morning chill,
a dozen or more old browns hidden
in the shadows of the cottonwoods
beside the streambed. I go higher
to where the road gives up and there’s
only a faint path strewn with lupine
between the mountain oaks. I don’t
ask myself what I’m looking for.
I didn’t come for answers
to a place like this, I came to walk
on the earth, still cold, still silent.
Still ungiving, I’ve said to myself,
although it greets me with last year’s
dead thistles and this year’s
hard spines, early blooming
wild onions, the curling remains
of spider’s cloth. What did I bring
to the dance? In my back pocket
a crushed letter from a woman
I’ve never met bearing bad news
I can do nothing about. So I wander
these woods half sightless while
a west wind picks up in the trees
clustered above. The pines make
a music like no other, rising and
falling like a distant surf at night
that calms the darkness before
first light. “Soughing” we call it, from
Old English, no less. How weightless
words are when nothing will do.

by Kari at April 29, 2014 01:51 AM

April 27, 2014


it might have been otherwise.

“Otherwise” by Jane Kenyon

I got out of bed
on two strong legs.
It might have been
otherwise. I ate
cereal, sweet
milk, ripe, flawless
peach. It might
have been otherwise.
I took the dog uphill
to the birch wood.
All morning I did
the work I love.

At noon I lay down
with my mate. It might
have been otherwise.
We ate dinner together
at a table with silver
candlesticks. It might
have been otherwise.
I slept in a bed
in a room with paintings
on the walls, and
planned another day
just like this day.
But one day, I know,
it will be otherwise.

by Kari at April 27, 2014 09:34 PM

April 26, 2014


a blessing for wedding.

We are going to a wedding today!

“A Blessing for Wedding” by Jane Hirschfield

Today when persimmons ripen
Today when fox-kits come out of their den into snow
Today when the spotted egg releases its wren song
Today when the maple sets down its red leaves
Today when windows keep their promise to open
Today when fire keeps its promise to warm
Today when someone you love has died
or someone you never met has died
Today when someone you love has been born
or someone you will not meet has been born
Today when rain leaps to the waiting of roots in their dryness
Today when starlight bends to the roofs of the hungry and tired
Today when someone sits long inside his last sorrow
Today when someone steps into the heat of her first embrace
Today, let this light bless you
With these friends let it bless you
With snow-scent and lavender bless you
Let the vow of this day keep itself wildly and wholly
Spoken and silent, surprise you inside your ears
Sleeping and waking, unfold itself inside your eyes
Let its fierceness and tenderness hold you
Let its vastness be undisguised in all your days

by Kari at April 26, 2014 12:22 PM

April 25, 2014


on turning ten.

This is the poem Mike carried yesterday. He teaches ten-year-olds. He said it might have depressed them a little bit.


“On Turning Ten” by Billy Collins

The whole idea of it makes me feel
like I’m coming down with something,
something worse than any stomach ache
or the headaches I get from reading in bad light–
a kind of measles of the spirit,
a mumps of the psyche,
a disfiguring chicken pox of the soul.

You tell me it is too early to be looking back,
but that is because you have forgotten
the perfect simplicity of being one
and the beautiful complexity introduced by two.
But I can lie on my bed and remember every digit.
At four I was an Arabian wizard.
I could make myself invisible
by drinking a glass of milk a certain way.
At seven I was a soldier, at nine a prince.

But now I am mostly at the window
watching the late afternoon light.
Back then it never fell so solemnly
against the side of my tree house,
and my bicycle never leaned against the garage
as it does today,
all the dark blue speed drained out of it.

This is the beginning of sadness, I say to myself,
as I walk through the universe in my sneakers.
It is time to say good-bye to my imaginary friends,
time to turn the first big number.

It seems only yesterday I used to believe
there was nothing under my skin but light.
If you cut me I could shine.
But now when I fall upon the sidewalks of life,
I skin my knees. I bleed.

by Kari at April 25, 2014 09:56 AM