Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Portals of Water and Wine book release party

This was Alonthiel, or as close to the world author R.L. Haas brought to life in her debut novel "Portals of Water and Wine" as we non-magic folk are likely to get.

It was a place full of people who love each other, of food and flowers and stories and song and wine – oh, so much wine.

It was the book release party for "Portals" that Mary Beth of Pink-Briefcase and I co-hosted earlier this month for Rachel at my Chicago apartment.

My husband and I have hosted album release parties before, but never a book release party: This is the kind of magic, though, with which I long to fill our lives and home. And so when Rachel announced the release date, I offered to throw the party. And so many people expressed their desire to be there from halfway across the country, we decided to try our hands at live-streaming the reading and question-and-answer part. We ran into a few technical difficulties (the wine may have had something to do with that), but we laughed it off and tried again and I tried to keep up with all the questions coming in for Rachel online, my smartphone buzzing to let me know more had arrived even as I was reading the last one to her.

I asked what she hoped we – as normal, unmagical readers – would take from the book, and this is what she said:

"The point I want people to take away from this book is I don't care if you can shoot fire out of your hands. I don't care if you've gone through the worst shit in your life. There's relationships, and that's the magic we all have. ... Alonthiel is everywhere. It doesn't have to be magic and forest and vines. It's everywhere, and you don't have to be a faerie to find it."

Watch a recording of the live stream here:

Mary Beth also shared the recipes she made for the party, here. (The party's signature cocktail was a Portals Prosecco Sparkler: a glass of prosecco or sparkling grape juice with an ounce of cranberry juice, a slice of lime and a couple of cranberries. I had rinsed the cranberries, tossed them in sugar and put them in the freezer overnight.)

And Rachel shared the experience of having her book in the wild, here.

You now can order "Portals" in paperback or e-book (only $2.99!) on Amazon, and add it to your "want to read" list on Goodreads. You also can continue submitting your questions to Rachel using the hashtag #POWAW on social media.

For more posts on this blog about "Portals of Water and Wine," click here.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the brands, products, or services that I have mentioned. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Photo: Joel Miller.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Gentler with us than we are with ourselves (guest post by Tara Ulrich)

I quoted Virginia Woolf at the beginning of my "31 Days for the Rest of Us ... and Beyond" series: "Words, English words, are full of echoes, of memories, of associations."

Since we each come to a word like "gentleness" with our own unique echoes and memories and associations, I wanted to include as many perspectives as possible. As fate would have it, Tara Ulrich and I both kept running into each other's blogs during those 31 days. And both of us had chosen "gentleness" as our "one word" for 2014.

So I asked Tara if she would share today what she learned about gentleness throughout the course of the year, undoubtedly a little different from what I've been learning even though the word is the same.

Tara Ulrich lives in Minot, North Dakota, where she serve at a church as the Director of Home and Family Ministry. She is a rostered Diaconal Minister in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. Prior to coming to Minot, she lived in Moorhead, Minnesota, and served at a church in Dilworth, Minnesota, for about six-and-a-half years. She is a graduate of the University of Mary (Bismarck, North Dakota) and Wartburg Theological Seminary. She loves to spend time with friends and family, reading, writing and so much more. You can find her online, Praying on the Prairie.

“What would you prefer? Am I to come to you with a stick, or with love in a spirit of gentleness?” – 1 Corinthians 4:21 (NRSV) 
“With all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love.” – Ephesians 4:2 (NRSV) 
“Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” – Matthew 11:29 (NRSV)

That is the thing, my friends: God is so much gentler with us than we are with ourselves.

As I have lived into my #oneword365 this past year, that is one of the biggest lessons I have found myself learning. Throughout my life, I have seen how God has been way more gentle with me than I have been with myself, yet it wasn’t until I found myself falling into this word that I truly began to hear that gentle voice speaking ever so loudly and even more clearly to me.

You see, God has this way of gently nudging us and reminding us how much God loves us. God has this way of continually showing us what it means to be gentle with ourselves and with one another.

And God truly does hear our every prayer and knows every desire of our heart. I often have found myself questioning that fact. Yet God continually whispers to me, “Be gentle with yourself. Be gentle with me. It will happen in My timing and not your own.” Or in the words of Max Ehrmann, “Be gentle with yourself. You are a child of the universe. No less than the trees and the stars. In the noisy confusion of life, keep peace in your soul.”

More often than not, it is so hard for us to hear those words. Yet God continually surrounds us with communities that are built around “being gentle with each other and building each other up in love.” I have been blessed with amazing friends who know when and how to be gentle with me when I am not being very gentle with myself. I am so very thankful for all the family and friends in my life who God uses to be gentle with me when God knows I am not at all being gentle with myself.

Gentleness is one of the many fruits of the Spirit that God has imparted through the power of the Holy Spirit. God uses gentleness to nudge us into being gentle with ourselves, with each other and with the world around us. God wants us to trust in a God who continually reminds us that when we are not gentle with ourselves, with each other and with the world around us, God still is there to be gentle with and for us. What an amazing unbelievable gift that is!

“By contrast the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against such things.” – Galatians 5:22-23 (NRSV)

For more from today's guest, Tara Ulrich, visit her website.

For more about gentleness, my "one word" for 2014, click here. I also am blogging through every Scripture about gentleness in my "31 Days of Gentleness for the Rest of Us ... and Beyond" series; you can read all the posts in that series, here.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the brands, products, or services that I have mentioned. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Photo: Caspe Sparsoe via Unsplash.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

de(tales): apple pie (Little Did She Know)

In you're visiting today from Little Did She Know, welcome!

In her book "Yes, Please," Amy Poehler describes how she is mistaken for her "comedy wife" Tina Fey all the time. The two often collaborate: They were castmates at Second City and on Saturday Night Live, they have appeared in each other's movies and they have hosted the Golden Globes together twice.

Instead of being offended by this, Poehler said, "it only made me happy."

"I'm happy that people call me Tina because she is my friend and she happens to be crushing it."

I know the feeling.

I had been told I needed to talk to Cara Strickland of Little Did She Know for an article I was writing earlier this year for RELEVANT, and things fell into place when I heard she also would be at the Festival of Faith and Writing this spring. But before Cara and I were able to connect at the conference, I was mistaken for her ... twice.

And I was so happy. Because, you guys, she happens to be crushing it.

Cara recently invited me to write a piece for her lovely de(tales) series, stories that use a single, small detail to tell a larger story. So I'm over at her blog today, writing about the Bucktown Apple Pie Contest. It's something that is a huge and ridiculous part of the rhythm of my year, one of those things I keep meaning to write about but just haven't gotten around to ... until now.

I thought for sure The Kraken was a winner.

It met all the criteria: Each slice held its shape after being cut, and the bottom of the tin didn’t flood with juice when it was removed. The fruit was evenly distributed. The crust was flaky and uniformly golden brown. The bottom crust wasn’t doughy and the edges weren’t burned.

It also had a dash of novelty, which the judges always seemed to appreciate, passing on to the next round of competition the pies that were decorated with food coloring and cookie-cutter stars or had clever themes. Not only did it have a good amount of Kraken rum in the filling, but also, I had carefully cut the top crust into the shape of its namesake mythological sea creature, its tangled tentacles forming the lattice. The flavors were a take on the Dark and Stormy, one of my favorite cocktails: rum and ginger and lime.

Plus, it was just a really good apple pie.

It was my idea to enter the Bucktown Apple Pie Contest the first time, according to my husband.

It’s the biggest apple pie-baking contest in the country, according to its organizers, and it’s held every year in the Chicago Park District fieldhouse two doors down from the apartment where Joel and his roommates lived before we were married.

What weird little traditions make up the rhythm of your year?

For the rest of this story, read de(tales): apple pie.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the brands, products, or services that I have mentioned. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Photo: Follow all my pie-baking tomfoolery on Instagram.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Gentleness for the Rest of Us: Restore your brother gently

This post is part of my "31 Days of Gentleness for the Rest of Us ... and Beyond" series. Yes, Beyond. I clearly didn't make it through all 31 Scripture passages in 31 days of October, so I'll be continuing the series with one or two posts a week through the end of the year.

Brothers and sisters, if someone is caught in a sin, you who live by the Spirit should restore that person gently. But watch yourselves, or you also may be tempted. – Galatians 6:1

Christians make the worst trolls.

This came up when I was writing about a Christian response to trolling for Christianity Today's Her.meneutics blog.

And blogger and author Dianna E. Anderson said it again in an interview with The Guardian that just came out last week.

Because it's true.

Not only do Christians have that natural someone-is-wrong-on-the-Internet impulse, but also we have – or feel like we have – a biblical mandate to correct them. After all, their very salvation could hang in the balance. And, St. Paul writes in Galatians, "If someone is caught in a sin, you who live by the Spirit should restore that person gently."

I'm never sure how snarky Paul is being, probably because I spend most of my time on the Internet. I want to read this passage as a dig at all those "spirit-filled" folks who are the first to "farewell" and decry as heretics and condemn to hell those with whom they disagree, a reminder to them to be gentle in their corrections.

Notably, his words are directed to "brothers and sisters," to Christians addressing other Christians. He's encouraging Christians to dialogue and to build each other up, not to seek out and hold others to a standard they haven't signed up for.

Paul cautions them to be gentle, and he cautions them to watch themselves "or you also may be tempted."

I don't think he means simply that they may fall into the same sin they are trying to pull their brother or sister out of. Certainly, that's possible. But more often what I see happen is they are tempted to harsh words and rash pronouncements. They are tempted to speak the truth, but without love. They are tempted to break the Golden Rule: to not love their neighbors as themselves, to not treat them as they would want to be treated. They are tempted to send that snarky tweet to all their followers, rather than to gently reach out to the other person.

As a social media manager and somebody who just is online... a lot... I can tell you I genuinely appreciate corrections, those messages letting me know a link isn't working or a word is misspelled or worse. I thank the person for letting me know, I look into his or her concern and, if it turns out he is right, I correct it and follow up with him again. More often than not, we have a pleasant interaction: we trade a joke and we both move on, feeling better for having had the conversation.

A gentle word opens dialogue. A curse word, an accusation, an insult – those shut down conversation.

And God forbid you were the one wrong on the Internet. Which would you rather receive?

How do you deal with trolls – and keep from becoming one yourself?

Read all posts in my "31 Days of Gentleness for the Rest of Us ... and Beyond" series here. Sign up to get every update in your inbox or favorite reader here, and find even more inspiration on my "gentleness" Pinterest board.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the brands, products, or services that I have mentioned. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Photo: xkcd.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

What I'm Into {November 2014}: Giving thanks and mourning with those who mourn

I've been in journalism for nearly a decade. I've done a lot of interviews in that time. One that's stuck with me was one I did with Hilary Shelton, Washington bureau director and senior vice president for advocacy of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.

Shelton called racism “America’s original sin,” and the truth of that statement has haunted me ever since.

It especially haunted me this last week of November, with the collision of Thanksgiving and the grand jury's decision in Ferguson.

It weighed so heavily on my mind, I had a hard time remembering what else had happened last month before last week: There was my sister-in-law's wedding in Ohio, then a visit with my family nearby. There were midterm elections and greasy pizza in the newsroom. There was a campfire and cocktails to celebrate my friend Kristin's birthday and a buffalo-style turkey to celebrate Thanksgiving with my family downstate.

There was mourning with those who mourned, but there also was rejoicing with those who rejoiced.

Things I love

Thanksgiving. Thanksgiving is pretty much an entire holiday devoted to hospitality, my favorite thing of all things, and every year I get wistful looking at table settings on Pinterest and longing for the day Joel and I live in an apartment big enough to host everybody for dinner. My parents hosted us downstate this year, but at least I convinced my mom to let us cook. Joel made a magnificent buffalo-style turkey and blue cheese mashed potatoes, and I made sweet potato biscuits and grated carrots for a carrot and chickpea salad while watching the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade on TV until I realized there was a Jurassic Park marathon on AMC. Afterward, we took my nephew, a real-life Buddy the Elf who celebrates Christmas all year long, to see Santa Claus for the third time this year. Back in Chicago, we invited our friends to bring their Thanksgiving leftovers to our place and turned them into poutine, which was genius and delicious.

Archbishop Blase Cupich. Pope Francis named Blase Cupich the new archbishop of Chicago, and it was like naming the pope of Chicago, except instead of white smoke there was some knocking and a cathedra and crozier. I watched the live coverage of his installation online and geeked out hard, live blogging it for the newspaper. Next up, I'm trying to get to Philly to cover the pope's trip there in September 2015.

Best food I ate/made. We spent most of the month visiting family or hunkered down at home as the cold set in, but we ventured out for that campfire and cocktail to celebrate Kristin's birthday at Table Donkey Stick. We also made it up to the North Side of Chicago one weekend afternoon, and I found purple sweet potatoes at an Asian grocery store. I'd just heard a segment on NPR about how they make the best gnocchi, so, of course, we had to try this. We had to add a bit more flour halfway through to get that perfect, pillowy gnocchi texture, but it's ridiculous how easy it is to make gnocchi and also ridiculously good; also, it's a little bit like playing with Play-Doh.

TV and Movies

The Newsroom. "The Newsroom" is back for its third and final season, and I know this show has its flaws, but I can't help but get excited watching a newsroom in action, even if it's fake. And so far this season has introduced a lot of really interesting topics, such as using social media in reporting, obviously of interest to me.

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, Part 1. My friend Linnea and I went to an opening night showing of "Mockingjay." I don't love this trend of splitting the final part in a series into two; in this movie, that meant very little action and ending in the But that also meant more time to explore some of the interesting, complicated topics introduced in the Hunger Games series, like how the good guys aren't always so good and how both sides use people and propaganda.


That's What the Old Ones Say: Precolonial Revelations of Christ by Chief Joseph Riverwind. There's a saying I've oft heard repeated by elders that Chief Joseph RiverWind shares in his book: "Creator made us with two ears and one mouth, and we are to use them in that order." If only we as Christians would listen to our Native American brothers and sisters. Many tribes have legends similar to Old Testament accounts like the flood, as well as prophecies about Christ. RiverWind weaves those stories with his own testimony in a beautiful call for reconciliation and healing, especially between the church and Native America. This is a book I have been recommending to friends from page one.

Launch: An Internet Millionaire's Secret Formula to Sell Almost Anything Online, Build a Business You Love and Live the Life of your Dreams by Jeff Walker. I hate everything business. Hate. It. But I'm trying to read more widely on digital topics since I work in that field and all, and I have to admit there's some good advice here for launching a new product or business online if you can look past all the self-promotion and the promises about changing your life.

Portals of Water and Wine by R.L. Haas. DON'T FORGET: Portals released Monday, and we'll be celebrating with a reading and Q&A with author Rachel Lee Haas on Friday, Dec. 5 at my apartment. If you're in the Chicago area, we'd love for you to join us (details here). If not, we'll be broadcasting live via Google Hangout on Air from the party, so you can tune in and submit your questions online (details here). And you should jump on this immediately: Rachel sold out the first two shipments of paperbacks she ordered to autograph at the party before the book had even come out!

There are at least four more books that came out this year that I really want to read before in the next month. Otherwise, how am I going to make a sequel to My 10 Favorite Books of 2013? It's still the most popular post on this blog. (Thanks for trusting my taste in books, and let me know what your favorite books of 2014 have been!)

On the InterWebs

Here are some of my favorites from the blogosphere this past month:
  • The First Thanksgiving and the Myth of America by Caris Adel. This is a powerful, thought-provoking series (now available as a PDF) exploring the Thanksgiving narrative. One takeaway: "The Pilgrims weren’t monsters. And if we can’t recognize their humanity, we won’t see ourselves in them."
  • When Saving the World Is Exhausting by Abby Norman of Accidental Devotional. "I take deep breaths and try to remember that I am being the change I hope to see in this world. I guess I just wish that someone would tweet about how tired it makes you." I mentioned last month Abby Norman was knocking it out of the park. Guess what? She still is. Also, I got to see her face in Chicago in November so everything is coming up Abby.
  • Why Thanksgiving is Radically Subversive {and Everything You Need to Have the Best Thanksgiving Yet} by Ann Voskamp of A Holy Experience. I have a hard time reading Ann Voskamp's writing because it's so poetic and I'm so practical. But there's so much good stuff here: "Anybody can be a cynic. Cynicism is laziness in every way. The real heroes are the ones who never stop looking for the possibility of joy," and, "Your calling is radically this: Gloriously hijack every darkness with grace."
  • On Doing & Being by The Nester. Scheduling in your own margin is "part of being a responsible adult." It's a good reminder, especially for this busy time of year.
  • To blog or not to blog? That's the question Elizabeth Esther asked in a pair of posts this past week: Is Blogging Dead? and 10 Reasons Why Blogging Is Better (for me) Than Facebook; aka "Blog’s Not Dead and Neither is my Blogging!"  It was a great discussion, and she shared a lot of examples from her own blog and social media profiles. Personally, I don't think blogging is dead, but I do think comments and engagement with blog posts largely have moved/are moving to social media.

What are the most thoughtful posts you've read about the grand jury's decision not to indict white Police Officer Darren Wilson in the shooting death of Michael Brown, an unarmed 18-year-old who was black, this month in Ferguson, Missouri?

Here are a few of the posts I've read over the past month:

On the blog

I'm still plugging away at my "31 Days of Gentleness for the Rest of Us ... and Beyond" series. We'll get through all 31 Scripture passages that mention gentleness yet!

I was most excited this month to welcome Brian Jennings to share a guy's perspective on gentleness

In other publications

My article "Have We Gotten Jesus Wrong?" is in the current November/December issue of RELEVANT.

It's generated some interesting discussion, including this one I had with John and Kathy of The Ride Home on WORD-FM in Pittsburgh:

What have you been into this month?

Linking up with Leigh Kramer's monthly "What I'm Into" linkup.

Photos: For more photos of my everyday adventures, follow me on Instagram.
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