Laughter in Summer

Summer should free us up to take deep breaths and engage in some silly fun that we might not have the bandwidth for during other times of the year.  Our dancing daughter is definitely the diva of our family and this article explains how we gave her a sweet scented surprise during her recent yoga class. What might you do this summer to spice up the life of a friend or family member? I’d love to hear your ideas. This article first appeared in the June issue of the Redbud Post magazine.

https://www.redbudwritersguild.com/laughing-with-you-not-at-you/#comment-16174

Yes, this is the victim of my prank described in the article:)

Why I Care About the Marvel Cinematic Universe

It’s easy to say with a cavalier pride in my own erudite literary interests that I have no time for and do not care about the Marvel Cinematic Universe. My typical quest continues to lead me in search of ether writing or reading the next great novel. Right now, I’m reading the Art of the Heist by Myles Connnor. Myles is a convict who is the likely mastermind behind the Gardener Museum Heist, but I digress. My kids begged and dragged me to see the Avengers movie in our basement on DVD, remember Guardians of the Galaxy? I confess to actually staying awake through the entire movie AND spending time thinking about the characters in this movie long after the sequel enticing credits rolled on, and on, and on, and on.  This weekend we are all going to see Infinity Wars. Yes, we are going to pay to see this movie which has now grossed over a billion dollars. I just wrote that sentence, a movie about galactic superheroes has grossed over a billion dollars. Our world is truly desperate for escape on a massive scale.

I’m actually excited to simmer down in my cushy seat at Studio Movie Grill and munch on galaxy nachos while watching the green goblin Gamorrah curse Thanos and fall in love with Starlord, Peter Quill. But their doomed love affair isn’t the main draw, it is GROOT! I wrote this piece for Relevant magazine so everyone could understand, although not necessarily agree with, why Groot is the greatest hero. This sentient, little tree is irresistible even as a teenager which is nearly impossible for that genre of life. How could you not agree? Enjoy the movie, even if you are on your third, fourth or fifth time seeing it and let me know who your favorite superhero is. Leave me a comment and let’s debate the merits of this cultural “marvel.” https://relevantmagazine.com/culture/film/groot-greatest-hero-marvel-cinematic-universe/

 

 

A New Book! “First Ask Why” by Shelly Wildman

My dear friend Shelly Widman is launching her first book today! This is always a big event which is the result of years of work, a.k.a. burning the midnight oil to address edits you may not even agree with, but your publisher insists on, hours of praying for the right words etc. Giving birth to a book can be painful, but when the arrival shines its beautiful front cover face into the world it’s so worth it. And…her book is fantastic. I respect Shelly and her husband because they’ve successfully raised all their kids to love Jesus and serve him–  no small feat in our day. Her book provides an intentional look into the why behind what we do as parents rather than the how. She also gives some great tips that I can still incorporate into our home even though our kids are older. Below are some thoughts from Shelly about why she wrote the book and links to getting it on Amazon or at your favorite local bookstore.

From Shelly:

I have a confession to make: I wasn’t the girl who always wanted to be a mom. I know lots of women who have dreamed of being a mother since they were little girls, who always cuddled and nurtured their baby dolls, and who played house for hours on end with anyone who would join them.

When I was a little girl, I lined up chairs, made worksheets, and played school. My poor baby dolls and stuffed animals sat in a classroom all day rather than getting cuddled! I always wanted to be a teacher; unfortunately, being a mom was not exactly on my radar.

So when I had kids, I found myself in waaaaay over my head. My husband and I had no idea what we were doing. We found ourselves reacting to situations as they came up, rather than planning ahead for what we wanted to see in our kids.

And when we consulted parenting books, we found that many gave us pat answers to the many complex questions that we had about raising our daughters. We didn’t need to be told how to raise our kids, we needed to step back and ask why?

Why were we doing what we were doing?

Why should we emphasize certain values? Were there others we should consider?

Why are we even here?

Here’s what we realized: asking why gets to our motivations. Asking why goes deeper than simply asking how. Asking why helps us understand our purpose and helps lead us to ways we can go about fulfilling that purpose.

Asking why makes us more intentional.

A couple of years ago I read a book that has really stayed with me. It’s called You Are What You Love, by James K.A. Smith. In this book, Smith helps his readers understand that where we spend our time, our money, and our efforts reveals much about our hearts. What I took away from the book was that the things we emphasize in our homes are the things that are ultimately important to us.

Are we encouraging our kids to worship? Why?

Are we spending all of our time running around from activity to activity? Why?

Are we talking about big, important cultural issues with our kids from a biblical perspective? Why?

. . . or why not?

Smith would say that we emphasize, or spend time on, those things that we love. If we take a look at our lives and what we’re pouring into our kids, what do we see?

As a young mom, I knew that we were here for so much more than just a shared existence, and that’s what prompted me to really look into the “why” of our family life. And beyond that, the “why” as to what we were doing to disciple our kids—the spiritual values that we were trying to instill in them.

Asking why helped us come a little closer to the purpose of our family. And that changed everything for us.

Shelly’s book, First Ask Why: Raising Kids to Love God Through Intentional Discipleship, releases on April 24, and is available for preorder on Amazon and Barnes and Noble or through Kregel.com.

Polar Plunging in the New Year!

As the LARGE bearded men gathered in their white robes on the beach of Lake Michigan, I had second thoughts. We’ve attended the January 1st Polar Bear Plunge over the years and laughed at the pounds of searing red flesh exiting the water and half naked people of all sizes standing in coolers of hot water to revive their frozen feet. This year was my year. No ice to be chopped up means no ice cutting through your shins and knees as you fly out of the water as fast as your near hypothermia muscles can get you ashore. Another edge, our friends who are seasoned plungers were going in and they knew the tricks, e.g. HOT water coolers, clothes waiting on chairs so they don’t get soaked, must wear shoes so you can run out more effectively and most important, go out in the front of the crowd to avoid the back up of tiptoers into the water who slow down the process to a polar crawl.

While festing at a New Years Eve party the night before a yogi was asked what she thought of the plunge, “I think it would be great for your lymph system.” Of course, this is the main reason to do it. All my lymph nodes will be excruciatingly squeezed and therefor detoxed for about two minutes. Sounded like a good idea, but then I could enjoy this benefit at my local juice bar while waiting for my cut of locavore salmon. Another compelling reason was provided by my girlfriend who served in the Marine Corp., (the real one, not the 35 degree water marine corp. we were about to dip into) “It propels you into the new year like nothing else. It kind of sets the tone for your whole year.” Hmmm. What might my whole year be like if I plunge? Visions of conquering new, unforseen heights and depths of creativity came to mind. Now that’s a benefit.

 

The “Jump Around” music blasted out of the speakers and we got psyched up by jumping around. The new years day countdown to plunge sang out and off we all charged into what might be our end. There are several ambulances and firefighters who stand waiting to retrieve the weak and frail, or the many Packer fans who are overloaded with holiday cheese curds and Cherry Bounce, yes they go in too and you can smell them on the beach before you hit the water. Here’s what I learned:

– 35 degree water is easy to run out in but it makes it hard to run back. Your system is so shocked that you can’t breath, but your muscles need oxygen to get you out. This is why the kayaks and fireman are in place so no one goes out too far.

– There is a camaradarie that comes with doing something stupid. My son plunged with me and we are now proud members of the Polar Bear Club. The organizers give you a certificate if you sign the waiver saying you won’t sue them if you die. I wonder how many plunges you need to get one of those white robes with the official polar bear patch on them? Those were impressive. If my son gets one before I do, I will be jealous.

– 25 degree air feels like 25 degree air whether you are wet or dry. The difference is that your body becomes stiff when wet so park your car CLOSE to the beach.

– Hot water filled coolers provide the difference between life and death.

I hope this inspires many of you to plunge next New Years Day! Here’s the video of our graceful water ballet if you need more motivation. God bless your 2018 with healthy lymph nodes and the fulfillment of all your resolutions. Check out the man in the tuxedo and top hat, he went in too. Now that’s Wisconsin!

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X5UGt6XD3Co

 

 

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Summer Reading – Not Required

Every year my favorite professor from college sends out her Christmas letter which includes her book list. I like knowing what she is reading because it reassures me that there is hope for the future of America. She is an octogenarian who still teaches college classes, reads fiction and gives great, reflective speeches when called upon to lend her dose of perspective to the cultural conversation. Putting such a list together at the end of the year, just not possible, but in these lazy days of summer, sure. You don’t have to read any of these books on my list, but I do hope you’ll pick up a collection of Everbloom and bask in some powerful stories of transformation.

The Benedict Option by Rod Dreher – I’m halfway through this book of “Strategy for Christians in a Post-Christian Nation.” His tracing of 500 years of history to postulate how we got here in America is interesting and helpful, but predicting we are on the threshold of a new Dark Age poised to last for hundreds of years is tinged with Nostradamus doom and gloom. Retreat! Retreat! Run for the hills and form your own liturgical communities a la Saint Benedict. This does’t jive too well with Paul’s words of gratitude in Romans 1 for “Greeks and Barbarians, wise and foolish people, I am a debtor. That is why I am so eager to proclaim the gospel to you who live in Rome too.” Yes, we may be living in modern day Rome, but these people need the gospel, not our withdrawal.

Sensemaking by Christian Madsbjerg – Help! How do I pronounce this guy’s last name? Being a believer in the Humanities, I love this book and especially the examples and explanations it provides about how some really crazy business people make do or die decisions. It serves up a strong case for why students of philosophy are still relevant in today’s big data driven business world i.e. George Soros.

Midnight in Sicily  by Peter Robb. Reads a bit like Upton Sinclair in its drowning level of descriptive detail, but Sicily is on my bucket list. Helpful research for the novel I’m working on this summer.

Fuel – Poems by Naomi Shihab Nye. Her poem about taking her son to his first Nutcracker ballet is killer. Such a blessing to connect with this fellow Trinity alum at a poetry event last spring. Naomi’s heart for the unseen and belief that beauty will change the world beats with every line.

To Walk in Rivers of Fire – Poems by Tammy Boyd. Written by a dear friend who is the editor/creator of the Mudroom blog. Tammy is funny and a survivor of brokenness many of us can’t imagine. Blessed to sit with her poetry this summer.

The Keeping Place – by Jen Pollack Michel. Can’t wait to finish it because keeping home forms so much of my life, yet our earthly home isn’t enough and Jen’s book refocuses my energy and vision on my home in eternity.

What? NO novels? So sad, but reading novels while writing one doesn’t work for me. What are you reading this summer?

A New Advent Tradition?

Holy Trinity Brompton Church in the Knightsbridge area of London. I’ve heard about this church for years because the Alpha course was born there and some friends used to attend. This is truly a church whose reputation precedes its reality in the sense that millions of people around the world have been touched by Alpha, but relatively few have attended a service where it all began. I visited today.

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The reality was quite different than what my imagination expected. My mind was conjuring a contemporary hipster church a la Nashville, not the traditional, moss covered walkway leading up to the scaffold clad ancient building. Lots of greeters chimed “HellO” as in “cheerio” as I walked through the arched entrance. The interior was buzzing with zillions of hyped up children who had already taken multiple trips to the sweets tables in the back. As I sat down a kind man in a Christmas sweater informed me that it was “Christingle today” so his kids were beyond excited. I thought he said “Chris Kringle” which struck me as a bit odd we’d be celebrating Santa in the middle of Advent, but this is England. Last night hundreds of teenagers were milling around downtown London, dressed in full Santa suits for St. Nicholas’s feast day. A somber Advent is not the tone here.

The entire service was run by kids with the exception of the narrator of the drama being one of the pastors. The donkey in the drama was a giant, goofy creature who could have been out of the movie Madagascar. His name was Keith. By this point I’m a bit disappointed. I was hoping for a killer sermon by Nicky Gumbel and transforming worship, but instead Keith the donkey is dancing his way across the stage to cowboy music (not kidding, as in Happy Trails to You). While shifting around in my seat, wishing I’d gone to Christ Church Kensington, a leader from the front announced that it was time for the children to get their Christingles. The place went silent, lights dimmed (10:00 in the morning) and I’m waiting for an Elf on the Shelf to start hopping about. The band played contemporized traditional Carols and parents left their seats to form a HUGE  line with their children approaching the front.

Something magical happened as the children returned to their seats holding their Christingles, in awe of their beauty and wonder. Amidst the chaos, our fearless leader explained that the orange represents the world, the toothpicks imply the message of Christ’s light going out to all the world, the candle is his light and it sits tucked into the orange with aluminum foil wrapped about to represent the metal nails that pierced Christ’s hands on the cross. On the end of each toothpick were marshmallows, symbolizing God’s provision for us. The whole thing is wrapped in a red ribbon to remind us that his blood was shed so our sins might be forgiven. Talk about a labor of love created by volunteers for every child in the building. Tingles ran up and down my spine as I witnessed how much joy these elaborately dressed oranges brought the children. They held God’s love in their hands. It was tangerine tangible and a new tradition was born in my heart and also in the church, taking your marshmallows on the toothpick and roasting them in the candle flame

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The Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, attended this church and 4,000 people throughout London participated in their Carol services last weekend. Perhaps a somber Advent isn’t the only way to prepare your heart for Christmas? Merry, Merry!

p.s. Just so the children wouldn’t be the only ones in a festive mood the pastor announced that mulled wine and mince cakes would be served in the guest house after the service. Only in England.

Creatively Capturing Summer

August 1st is the day we become painfully aware that summer is slipping through our fingers. Eager-eyed parents will be staring at me on August 25th Orientation, ready to hear about all of the challenges that their students will take on during the 2016-2017 school year. This leaves only 24 more days to savor the altered pace of summer. So before my calendar is covered in ink, I’m pledging to capture a moment of summer’s beauty in verse, image or prayer each day in order to have a tiny reservoir to draw from when leaves and then snow begin to crunch underfoot.

This idea came to me while reading and sleeping on my porch only to be awakened by a hummingbird zooming by. Details like this are full of beauty and glory, but we often miss them. Translating what strikes our heart chords into a poem or a photo also enables us to remember and hopefully not say, “Did summer even happen this year?” What glory sightings are you encountering this August? Create something that lasts from these moments and tell me about them!

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Awakened by Humming-

bird. Strumming through air,

shuddering summer beneath

sparkling silver Beech.

Your rumble of sound

enfolded by almighty, precious cielo.

I doze.

“Midnight in Sicily” flopped open

on sunscreen slathered legs.

Single strands of caressed hair

crossing and sticking fast to

sweat beaded face.

Your hum, breaking silence,

miniature freight train,

winged whir and whiz.

Heavenly music, drilling down

into scarlet Dahlia

one by patient one,

600 heartbeats a minute.

God’s alarm clock.

Arise. Summer is singing by.

 

Graduating Baby Corn Plants

Like millions of others, our youngest child graduated from high school this month. “Millions have done it before you and millions will do it after you,” my husband was told when he signed up for the Barbri course to prepare for the bar exam. There is something everyday, you’re just a number about graduating from high school. In the U.S. it’s common and rates are at an all time high with 81% of students graduating. As I hung graduation lanterns over the patio and sent out announcements I couldn’t escape the “been there done that” rudimentary feeling…until driving home from Wisconsin put me face to face with thousands of baby corn plants.

Their simple rows of lime green spriteness reflected hope. Each of them owned the potential to give something back to their planter and maker despite their soft leaved vulnerability. “Knee high by the Fourth of July” seemed impossible with only four inches of growth on Memorial Day. With the right conditions their single growing season will produce abundant food, about 800 kernels on a single ear of 16 rows. By November, those soldiers left standing dry, brown and brittle will blow over with the first winter blast. Left unharvested, their final act feeds the soil to strengthen the next crop. Our son’s eighteen years felt about the length of one growing season, but was it beautiful, rich and nourishing enough to grow a self-sacrificing adult?

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His little toe head of curls, one of which I keep tucked in a Limoges box on my dresser, felt the same as these first little corn leaves I stooped down to touch after pulling my car over. They also carry a soft curl before they toughen up in the face of sun, wind and rain. Making friends came easily for our young one and I wondered if these little plants become tight with their growing partners who share their space in just a few weeks. In every grade, desk partners and playground pals became friends out of convenience and necessity. He formed “The Purple Punk Club” with his skateboarding buddy in first grade – their mission – stealing the kindergartner’s ball. Naughty, but adorable boys. The corn plant doesn’t veer off mission unless deprived of nutrients and water. Did I water my little guy enough in those early years? Without water the tassels don’t form, there is no pollination, no kernels. I watered him with books and music, Berenstain Bears, Beatrix Potter and Yamaha Music School. As a graduate, he doesn’t read much for pleasure and would rather slam on his basement drums. Were those countless Berenstain bumbling stories enough to bear fruit in his developing soul? Well, drumming can be food for people. It aligns to their heartbeat and leads them into worship or it can offend and harm sensitive ears, a.k.a. his 82 year old grandmother. What happens with those drums is not my decision now.

Precious few of us know at eighteen what we want to be when we grow up. When he built his first drum set at three years old out of cookie tins and oatmeal containers we suspected. Dozens of concerts and thousands of practice hours later, our suspicion is confirmed. Come harvest time his hands and heart will be cultivating a new field in a new state with new gardeners, but the beating of the drum still pounds out his growing song.

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One proper growing season can produce millions of ears of milky white corn kernels, enough to feed a country for a year. One tiny house on the corner of President street and Liberty sends its youngest child off to college, but the tassel of golden silky hair remains in my Limoges box. The mother’s privilege is to take it out and ponder it’s possibilities when the silence of beating drums in this house produces a relieved sigh, an empty ache or a hunger. I’ll stop to savor a buttery rich ear of corn with a nice cold glass of pinot gris and toast the truth that although they all travel off to plant their own field, the farmer’s job is never done.

Geeking Out at Book Expo in Chicago

Imagine lines three people wide as far as you can see for Jonathan Safran Foer to sign his forthcoming novel, Here I Am. Think people rushing the entrance to get the coolest book bag swag from Sourcebooks, the free measuring spoons from Capstone. There were so many people in line to get in at noon when the Expo opened that I cut in, haven’t done this since grade school. It was easy. A group of unsuspecting book buyers were sitting on the floor studying the exhibitor map when everyone else stood up. I slipped in between them unnoticed. Bad girl! After two hours, my feet throbbing, I descended the 500 foot escalator for refuge on the second floor where I took off my black boots and looked over the almost dozen books I acquired free. Yes, new books – FREE! Books that haven’t come out yet – FREE!  I’m salivating. These booksellers are hawking their fall offerings with gusto. You can smell the ink of ARCs drying on pages. The enormous McCormick Place West arena filled to the gills with little elevated tables surrounded by four high chairs (not the kind you feed your kids Gerber Sweet Potatoes in, much cooler looking), with reps in suits talking books with even bigger Ingram reps with breast pocket kerchiefs. I actually met John Ingram who started the dominant world of book distribution ten years ago. If you haven’t heard of him, he is to book distribution what Michael Jordon is to basketball.Think every imaginable book nerd checking out the fall catalogues of everyone from HarperCollins to Double Dragon who publishes blood dripping horror.

I kept seeking out thick carpeted booth spaces to give my aching feet a break, not daring to sit in one of those high chairs out of fear of being identified as a bookselling poser. I’m not a seller, rather someone who is looking at trends in the industry and looking for something breakthrough beautiful. I’m already sick of adult coloring books so what is new out there? Surprise! What’s new is death and dying. Hasn’t that been around for awhile? But the Boomers are dying and they want to die well. End of life, preparing for end of life, what happens in the afterlife, are you ready to meet the “monster” of death books everywhere. Also, the look and style of creative visual compilations like John Derian’s (Artisan Books). He transports the nostalgia of 19th century flea market postcards into singular works of contemplative art, one gigantic image at a time. An eye. A pear. A paperweight per page draws the reader back in time to a restful place of savoring an object of beauty without looking at it on our phones.

I also went to meet my publisher, John Koehler of Koehler Books and my favorite agent, Don Gates. IMG953723John is a pioneer who realized that he can identify new talent and make deals on all fronts; traditional, hybrid and a recent self-publishing line with Ingram Spark. He is a special breed of publishing entrepreneur, professional boomerangist, Christian author and beach comber. I love his openness to trying new things, like embedding the classical music tracks in my novel. John rocks. He gives hope to the stodgy publishing world, now forced to undergo transformation due to the overwhelming influx of people writing books and self-publishing. Yes friends, several of the big five houses have self-publishing lines now. What a great way to make money when about 5,000 books are being published per DAY!

Books are alive and flourishing. Those silly doom predictors who said print was moribund, in permanent decline can forget it. In these days of Trump insanity, “HUGE” deals are still being made, bought and sold. Hundreds of readers are standing in line to get a signed copy of a yet to be released book and writers are dreaming up their next big story arc, all on the shores of Lake Michigan. Ha! Book Expo left New York for the Windy City. Perhaps the Cubs really are going to win the World Series.