Wednesday, March 4, 2015

What I'm Into: Book nerd problems {February 2015}

I wasn't lying when I said things could get a little quiet around here for a while.

But if there's one thing this last miserable stretch of winter is good for, it's this sort of thing: the hunkering down and the working hard and the thinking deeply. Also, soup dumplings. Lots and lots of soup dumplings.

Things I love

Verifiably awesome! I finally got my Twitter account verified, along with the rest of the Chicago Sun-Times staff. Which is a total nerd thing to be excited about, but, whatever, my husband Joel and I went out for champagne and fried chicken to celebrate.

Hope for the First Nations. I've written a few times here about my work with Hope for the First Nations, a nonprofit some friends and I founded right after I graduated high school that partners with the Anishinaabe people of the White Earth Reservation. At the last board meeting, I was voted in as president, although my friend Ricky says I should call myself "ogichidaakwaa" (warrior woman) or "ogemaaekwaa" (woman chief), which makes my heart so full, I start to think I just may be up to the task.

February Feast. The dinner party I hosted last month for some artist-friends as part of Awake the Bones' annual Story Feast went so well, we brought it back again this past month. Our topic for the evening was establishing a creative and contemplative practice in the busy-ness of everyday life, and even if we didn't actually discuss that very thing, that's really what our whole time together was about. It was swinging by Trader Joe's for microwave appetizers and fresh flowers on my way back to the city from visiting my paranormal investigator friends in the suburbs. It was sharing what we were working on while artichokes were steaming away on the stovetop for dinner. It was reading old prayers and singing new hymns.

Ancestry update No. 2. My Ancestry DNA results came back, and, well, they're exactly what we thought they would be: German, Polish and Irish. The one thing that has surprised me as I've been tracing our family tree, though, is how far back my dad's roots stretch here in America. I'm so used to thinking of my mom's family when I think of family because I grew up with the Polish jokes and the golabki and the stories about the grandma who insisted in broken English, "Eat! Eat! You too skinny," and, you know, my face.

Best thing I made/ate: Small Town Brewery's Not Your Father's Root Beer now is in stores. Or maybe it has been for a while, and I've just noticed it. Whatever. It's my new favorite thing of all things. Joel and I also had auspicious sushi for Valentine's Day dinner at Arami and made a late-night Super Dawg run for Chicago-style hot dogs when Jennifer Upton and Alison Luna were in town last week. And between the Souper Bowl and Lunar New Year, we rolled a lot of soup dumplings this past month.

Music and Podcasts

I listened in on a lot of Social Media Week New York this month. One of my favorite sessions was Return of the Podcast with Alex Blumberg of Gimlet Media. I didn't put two-and-two together at first that Gimlet was the one behind my favorite podcast, Reply All. Now I've started its other podcast, Start Up, from the beginning.

I also cashed in most of my credit card points this month so I could preorder all the books and music, including these two albums.

Transgressor. "Transgressor" is a lot like Quiet Company's previous album, "We Are All Where We Belong." It's raw, honest, "screaming at the top of my lungs" lyrics impossibly presented in catchy, sing-along melodies. But also "it's leaner, it’s louder, it’s more compact, and it’s by far their easiest to connect with immediately, as my friend Andre Salles of Tuesday Morning 3 a.m. describes it. You probably just should read his review.

"No Shade in the Shadow of the Cross" by Sujan Stevens. Let's talk about this interview with Sufjan Stevens about his upcoming album, "Carrie & Lowell," for Pitchfork, and this delicate review of the first single. Or let's just listen to it.

TV and Movies

I lost my mind over the Saturday Night Live 40th anniversary special, and I've managed to keep up with all the new episodes of Expedition Unknown, which is a real accomplishment for me.


Damaged Goods: New Perspectives on Christian Purity by Dianna E. Anderson. I've written before about Christian purity culture and the conversations that need to happen there, even with people who think differently from you – maybe especially with people who think differently from you. Dianna E. Anderson is one of those people who thinks a little differently from me about this, and I'm grateful for her new perspectives. She writes graciously and gives us all the vocabulary needed to have the conversation.

Yep. That's the only book I've read in its entirety this month. Mostly because I got too excited about too many different books, and now I'm a couple chapters in to The Artisan Soul: Crafting your Life into a Work of Art by Erwin McManus, The Best Yes: Making Wise Decisions in the Midst of Endless Demands by Lysa TerKeurst, Scary Close: Dropping the Act and Finding True Intimacy by Donald Miller, The Art of Work: A Proven Path to Finding the Work You Were Meant to Do by Jeff Goins and A Lily Among Thorns: The Mohawk Repatriation of Káteri Tekahkwí:tha by Darren Bonaparte.

Book nerd problems, you guys.

On the InterWebs

Here are my favorites from the blogosphere this past month:

  • Rohr for Writers: Stop calling yourself a writer – you are loved by Ed Cyzewski. I love this whole "Rohr for Writers" series from Ed Cyzewski, and I especially have been reminding myself of this truth: "Your identity should never hinge on something that you have to do." Man,  do I struggle with this!
  • Lent Madness is back! The hardest matchup so far has been between David Pendleton Oakerhater, the first Native American saint in the Episcopal church, and St. Teresa of Avila, who guided me through my year of gentleness. (For more ideas for observing Lent, Rachel Held Evans has a great list, as per usual.)
  • How One Stupid Tweet Blew Up Justine Sacco's Life by Jon Ronson via The New York Times Magazine. This is my nightmare. It is the thing that causes me to lose sleep at night and grind holes into my own teeth. And it's why you won't see me joining in public Twitter shaming. Treat others as you would like to be treated. Or maybe tweet others as you would like to be tweeted. (For a Christian perspective on Twitter shaming, check out this perspective by Luke T. Harrington for Christ and Pop Culture: "The thing people love about Twitter is also what makes it terrifying.")
  • Beyond the Crunch by Sarah Smarsh via Aeon. This, times a million. This is like my manifesto. An excerpt: "Today you have probably encountered more news of the world outside your immediate experience than most humans did in an entire lifetime. Did you feel much? Probably not. Information without context strikes the mind but peters out before the heart."
  • Blankets, Burrowing and Being There by Tammy Perlmutter via Circling the Story. Tammy shared this tender story with us at our first Story Feast: Chicago. It's about her daughter, The Most Interesting Girl in the World, and expressing the right emotion, at the right time, in the right context.

In the paper

Here are a few of the things I've written this month for the Chicago Sun-Times – besides tweets:

On the blog

When I first started my job as social media editor, there were plenty of resources available to help navigate the latest changes to Facebook's algorithm and keep on top of trends. But I quickly realized staying on trend wasn't the biggest problem I faced. What I needed were resources to help me stay positive in the face of the overwhelming negativity of the Internet. (Read the comments on any news website or Facebook page if you don't know what I'm talking about.)

I've been looking for a way to help others in the same position, and I've decided to start with a TinyLetter: a monthly email packed with tips on how to Internet, as much about the latest tools as how to use them without losing your mind – or your soul.

It's called Get the 'Net, and if it sounds like something you need, too, you can read more about it and sign up here. Issue No. 2 should be out in the next week.

In other publications

The Mudroom, a new contributor blog by my friend Tammy Perlmutter, she of the best of the InterWebs listed above. The Mudroom launched this past month, and I'm honored to be a part of this amazing community of storytellers. You can read the behind-the-scenes story from Tammy here.

You also can read my first post for the blog, about why we all need to take a break from technology sometimes.

What have you been into this month?

Linking up with Leigh Kramer.

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."

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

Monday, February 9, 2015

What I'm Into: In like a lion {January 2015}

This year roared in like a lion, full of friends and family and all kinds of new freelance opportunities.

I'm not sure how much time I'll have to write about them all in the months ahead. Things could get a little quiet around here for a while.

But in the meantime, let's finally catch up on what happened in January.

Things I love

Christmas Party. Munich was getting ready for Oktoberfest when we were there this fall, and everything we saw, we thought, "Wouldn't it be awesome if we recreated this for our Christmas party?" So we did. We made dishes from a Biergarten cookbook we had brought back from Germany with us (more on that below) and jerry-rigged our own Feuerzangenbowle, a tongues-of-fire bowl, with a spaetzle maker balanced over a fondue pot. Then, of course, we had to finish the night watching the 1944 cult classic "Die Feuerzangenbowle" (more on that below, too).

And, yes, we had our Christmas party in mid-January.

Story Feast. I also hosted a small dinner party for several of my friends in the Chicago area who are talented artists and storytellers, part of Awake the Bones' annual Story Feast. We all got to share what we were working on. We got to encourage and be inspired by one another. And we're hoping to make it a regular thing.

Ancestry update No. 1. Word got out to The Fam that I was researching our family tree, and now pictures and names and stories are coming in. There's the photo of my great-great grandpa in the German calvary, his company posed with swords and steins. Also, the addresses of my grandpas and great-grandpas I pulled off their draft cards – all blocks from where I live now in Chicago.

Best thing I made/ate: There was beet ginger coconut milk soup for the Story Feast and Bavarian dishes for the Christmas party: porchetta, sausages, spaetzle, beet-pickled eggs, quark dip with radishes cut into flowers, soft pretzels strung from a wreath like a chandelier and, of course, the Feuerzangenbowle. We mixed scotch cocktails with the honey-rosemary syrup a friend brought as a hostess gift and drank Bell's Mercury-inspired beer from The Planets series while listening to Gustav Holst's orchestral suite on vinyl with friends in town.

A video posted by Emily Miller (@emmillerwrites) on

Music and Podcasts

"Christian Celebrity" via The Liturgists Podcast. So much good stuff in this episode, like not being "work gnostics" and how being approached for autographs and photos has more to do with that person's experience of God through your work than it does with you.

"Icons (or, Praying with Pictures)" via Something Rather Than Nothing with Preston Yancey. If  you've been following me on social media or this blog for any amount of time, you've probably picked up on my love of iconography. Preston Yancey offered some thought-provoking words on the subject in his weekly podcast.

"Anxiety Box" via Reply All. What happens when you outsource your anxiety to a bot? Well, it turns out, "You're not as important as you think you are, nowhere near as terrible as you think you are and actually fairly ridiculous."

Since I pasted that link into this post as a draft, it also has been included in a can't-miss episode of This American Life, which also includes a heartfelt story from Lindy West about that one time a troll actually apologized to her.

I hit the Nesmith motherlode at Laurie's Planet of Sound: I've never actually seen a Michael Nesmith or First National Band record in store, and I always check. Earlier this month, I stopped into Laurie's while Joel and I were up in the German neighborhood shopping for our German Christmas party, and I found three: Pretty Much your Standard Ranch Stash (the best of the bunch), From a Radio Engine to a Photon Wing and Live at the Palais. I also grabbed Native North-American Child by Buffy Sainte-Marie and Bobby Brown's "On Our Own" single, the theme song to Ghostbusters 2.

Oh, and if Justin Timberlake just could do an entire album of folk songs...

TV and Movies

Expedition Unknown. Josh Gates, the host of "Destination Truth," is back with a new show in which instead of investigating legends about cryptozoological creatures all over the world, he is investigating historical mysteries, like the disappearance of Amelia Earhart or Jesse James' missing treasure. I'm not much of a TV watcher, but it already has worked its way into our routine, and I have to admit: it feels good to have a show to look forward to each week.

Family Tree. This is a weird and weirdly heartwarming mockumentary-style show directed by Christopher Guest, starring Chris O'Dowd and the usual cast of Christopher Guest mockumentary characters. Chris O'Dowd's character inherits a mysterious chest of curios that sends him around the world, exploring his family tree and his own identity.

Black Mirror. It's a modern-day Twilight Zone, he said. It's about technology, he said. Well, my husband and I only got through one-and-a-half episodes of this show before it got so disturbing, we had to shut it off. It's just a little too real when you do technology for a living.

Die Feuerzangenbowle. This is, apparently, Germany's answer to "The Rocky Horror Picture Show," a cult classic shown on college campuses at Christmastime with its own set of callouts and props. We showed it at our Christmas party, setting off all the obnoxious ringtones on our cell phones every time an alarm rang, shining flashlights at maps and toasting each other when the titular fire punch bowl made its appearance.

Selma. I want to say I can't believe these things were happening in our country as recently as the 1960s, but it's clear they still are – just a sobering film that earned its best picture nomination in every way.


Our Great Big American God by Matthew Paul Turner. The latest from Matthew Paul Turner was entertaining and engaging from start to finish – probably not what you would expect from a book tracing how America's view of God has changed throughout its history and how that, in turn, has impacted the country. But this isn't a dense theological or historical work. It's clearly told from Turner's point of view, which includes its fair share of broad brushstrokes and sweeping conclusions. It might have benefitted from a brief explanation of that point of view at the outset, some sort of framework for understanding the author's interpretation of theology and history (although, if you've read his previous books or blog, you probably already have a pretty good idea). Still, it's a compelling introduction for those who might want to dig deeper into the topic.

The Beginner's Guide to Building an Audience by Jeff Goins. There's nothing earth-shattering in this slim, new e-book, but it's a good pep talk and a good reminder to add value, whatever you do. Give, don't take.

Journal of a Solitude by May Sarton. I adored this book. Reading it – even during scattered moments on the train – felt like a quiet weekend at home, writing, watering my plants and curling up in a cozy blanket on the couch. It's primarily a story about May Sarton's relationship with her house, with pets and people as minor characters, and how those everyday things, that sense of place, winds its way into the artist's work.

The Marshmallow Test: Mastering Self-Control by Walter Mischel. My one word for 2015 is "self-control," and I figured this would be a good place to start. You probably have heard of the marshmallow test. In this book, the researcher behind that test details how kindergarteners' ability to wait for a treat correlates to their success later in life. I didn't find it full of practical applications (which may be my fault for listening to so dense a work on Audible), but it still gave me a lot to think about, like the idea self-control isn't just an across-the-board trait: it depends on our goals and what we apply ourselves to. And this: A life lived with too much self-control can be as sad as a life lived with too little.

I also stopped into the library to pay off my $4.30 in fines from last year and have the librarian remove several books that have been on hold for about a year and apparently were lost in transit. Because I maxed out my holds list adding titles from everybody's Best of 2014 reading lists, and I need those spots.

On the InterWebs

Here are my favorites from the blogosphere this past month:

The 1 Secret to Squashing Anxiety this Year by Ann Voskamp of A Holy Experience. "The answer to anxiety is the adoration of Christ."

Feelings Need Felt and not Fixed by Abby Norman of Accidental Devotional. I feel like I really should call this "Your Monthly Post by Abby Norman" at this point, but, you guys, she just consistently kills it. Her "one word" for 2015 is a secret, but apparently it's making her feel her feelings, which sounds a lot like "gentleness" was for me last year.

Praying for the Internet by Preston Yancey via The High Calling. Do you pray for the Internet? Preston Yancey says we should pray like God cares about it – because He does. I know that's two links from Preston this month. Again, when you're killing it, you're killing it.

On the blog

I've been looking back on the past year in this space as I make big plans for 2015; most popularly, in this list of my Top 10 blog posts of 2014.

In the paper

Most of my time this month at work has been devoted to live-blogging the Chicago Sun-Times editorial board's endorsement sessions with alderman candidates, all linked up here.

If you don't live in Chicago, or if you already know who you are voting for, you may be more interested in these stories:

In other publications

I have an article in the current issue of RELEVANT Magazine called "Fellowship of the Ring: Inside the Church's Growing Culture of Hypermasculinized Faith."

My next assignment for the magazine is about churches that get it right. If you go to or know about a church you feel is getting things right – whether that's embracing diversity or feeding the poor or celebrating the arts – I want to hear about it. The Facebook thread already is a huge pick-me-up.

What have you been into this month?

Too late again to link up with Leigh Kramer, but you get the idea.

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."

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

Saturday, February 7, 2015

A clean break from technology (The Mudroom)

If you're visiting today from The Mudroom, welcome!

I'm excited to be part of The Mudroom, which launched this past week. It's a contributor blog, an amazing community of storytellers gathered by Tammy Perlmutter – and you're invited, too. It's for all of us who feel like there isn't room for us at the table. It's skipping the table and running to meet each other even as we're still struggling with our snowy, messy boots in the mudroom. And it's accepting submissions for Women's History Month in March.

I'm sharing a bit more about my trip to Rome today. There are some writers who share about the exotic vacations they take all the time and leave me feeling a bit less-than. Hear me: That isn't me. This was my one, big dream vacation – and I almost missed it, my nose pressed into a screen.

I hope you get to unplug a bit this weekend, to relax and be restored. 

The thought came to me in Rome, sitting on a small balcony overlooking the dome of St. Peter’s Basilica.

The shell windchimes hanging just inside the window of the apartment we’d rented for a few days were tinkling on a soft breeze carrying the peal of church bells from across the Eternal City. There were plump figs our hostess had brought from Umbria on the kitchen counter and bottles of sparkling wine and fresh-pressed melon juice in the refrigerator she had made us promise we’d drink—for our health.

My husband was sleeping off jet lag in the other room, the heavy wooden shutters angled to block the sunlight. And I was turning another year older.

I’d meant to write a short blog post before I left for the first two-week vacation of my adult life, just to let my readers know I’d be taking a break from blogging over the next few weeks as we traveled through Italy. But, in the whirlwind of packing and planning that didn’t slow until we’d boarded the airplane, that didn’t happen.

So I thought I’d bang it out right there.

On my birthday.

On my dream vacation.

That’s when I realized I had a problem: I needed to log off, needed a clean break from the technology that had taken root and grown, long and twisting, into every part of my life, from work to social interactions.

That’s not easy to do when you’re social media editor for one of the largest newspapers in the United States. I’m a Type A personality, a 3 on the Enneagram: the classic “Achiever.”

I’m the type who catches up on emails and blog posts while brushing my teeth in the morning. I constantly am checking social media, tapping my phone screen while waiting in line or on a train or—and this is when you know things are getting desperate–for a page to load on another device. I work all day and then come home from work and work for fun.

And I know I’m not the only one.

For the rest of the story, read "A clean break from technology."

For more thoughts about using technology without using your mind – or your soul – sign up for my email newsletter, Get the 'Net.

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.

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Introducing... Get the 'Net, a TinyLetter for those of us who read the comments

Nobody talks about soul care for journalists – probably because nobody thinks we actually have souls.

I didn't think much about this until I attended the Festival of Faith and Writers last spring, and I noticed it included sessions like "The Facts about Faith: Journalism and Living a Meaningful Life." I noticed it because it was so unusual. I've been to conferences for writers, and we talked about faith, but we never talked about journalism. I've been to conferences for Christians, and we talked about writing, but we never talked about journalism.

I've been to conferences for journalists, and we talked about writing, but we never talked about faith.

Journalists talk about accuracy. We talk about ethics. We talk about thinking first before sharing graphic images of mangled body parts in the wreckage of downed airliners because we don't want to needlessly upset people.

We don't talk about the fact we've seen those pictures. We don't talk about the fact we're people, too, and we can be upset.

We don't talk about what it does to you to sit side-by-side with a woman your own age, married at the same time as you, who just has lost her husband in a war overseas; to gently ask the questions, to feel her anger and her grief, to feel the weight and responsibility of telling her story and to hold it with care. Or what it does to you to bear the news of the 33rd child victim of homicide in your city this year. Or to wade into the deep end of Internet negativity every day, and you can't log off and you can't not read the comments because THAT'S YOUR JOB.

In her autobiography "Talking Back," NBC News Chief Foreign Affairs Correspondent Andrea Mitchell writes about the emotional toll of covering the Jonestown Massacre, her first big story. Later, she told Washingtonian:
"Only after I got out of the taxi from the airport, walked onto my front porch, and started crying did the enormity finally hit me. You can’t forget that these are families—mothers and fathers and children. It’s important not to be deadened to the suffering involved."

Nobody ever talks about finding that balance, about being human without being crushed.

I thought about this just over a year ago when I transitioned from being a reporter to the social media editor for a newspaper.

I expected to miss the writing. What I didn't expect was the negativity of the Internet.

Or rather, what I didn't expect was the toll the negativity of the Internet would take: The vertigo. The anxiety. The way it affected the way I viewed humanity after floundering all day in the deep, dark waters of personal attacks and poor grammar in the comments.

Again, I discovered plenty of resources that talked about how to navigate Facebook’s latest algorithm change. That talked about best practices. That talked about the latest social networks, their tools and features, the ways others have used them well – maybe even the comments on those networks.

But I didn’t find many resources that talked about what to do with those comments, how to respond to them and care for yourself. How not to become some sort of weird, futuristic brain in a jar sending electronic impulses to a keyboard. How to stay positive without becoming "a sticky-sweet Candy Land of willful ignorance and self-flattering 'positivity.'"

It’s important not to be deadened.

So, over the past year, I’ve been trying to think of ways to bring together all the tools I felt like I needed to Internet without losing my mind – or my soul.

And I thought of collecting them all in a monthly TinyLetter, because that’s something that feels personal from me to you: A short article I've written you won't read anywhere else (except for this one, which you are reading here). Some tips and tricks curated from around the Internet. And a monthly mantra for when the going gets tough.

Because we all apparently are reading emails like it's 1998. It's finite, unlike the endless stream of social media. It's more direct than social media. It seems to coincide with the death of Google Reader. It's not quite public and not quite private.

And, hopefully, this one will be just what you needed, too.

(Also, shorter in the future. Definitely shorter.)

Click here to read the first issue of Get the 'Net, and click below to have it delivered directly to your inbox every month.

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Tuesday, January 20, 2015

My 2015 reading list (and other things I'm looking forward to this year)

I read about a book a week in 2013. I wrote a lot of book reviews. It was something I was intentional about, something I made time to do.

I didn't really continue that practice in 2014 – but it seems like maybe I really wasn't supposed to.

One book I had agreed to review for a publisher mysteriously never arrived in the mail. Another was supposed to come as an e-book, and I never got an email with the download. I was approved to review two more on NetGalley – after they already had been archived.

Maybe that was part of my gentle year, taking that one demand off myself and allowing me just to enjoy what books I did read that weren't part of research for articles.

But there are so many books I'm looking forward to this year. As I printed release dates into my planner, I told my husband, "2015 is going to be THE SINGLE BEST BOOK FOR YEARS," and I hadn't even been drinking. So I'm planning to start reviewing again in the coming months.

Here are some of those books I'm looking forward to in 2015:

Wearing God: Clothing, Laughter, Fire and Other Overlooked Ways of Meeting God by Lauren F. Winner. I read "Girl Meets God" and "Mudhouse Sabbath" when I was in college, and they changed everything, the way I thought about faith and writing. "Still" came out just as I was getting married and as several loved ones were divorcing, and it challenged me to radically love rather than pass judgement on others' experiences of marriage. Lauren F. Winner's latest book will explore metaphors for God, which sounds all kinds of nerdy and awesome.

Searching for Sunday: Loving, Leaving and Finding the Church by Rachel Held Evans. Rachel Held Evans structured her book around the seven sacraments and, really, what more do you need to say to sell me on a book?

Out of Sorts: On Being Comfortable with Unanswered Questions by Sarah Bessey. Sarah Bessey's "Jesus Feminist" was my favorite book of 2013, and I can't think of anybody who better could do justice to the mystery of God, to the questions He leaves unanswered – one of the topics I've been most interested in these past few years.

Scary Close: Dropping the Act and Finding True Intimacy by Donald Miller. I liked "A Million Miles in a Thousand Years" even better than "Blue Like Jazz," so I have high expectations for Donald Miller's latest.

Embracing the Body: Finding God in Flesh and Bone by Tara Owens. Tara Owens and I are members of the same online writing group, part of Awake the Bones, and she read part of her book at our our meet-up last spring at the Festival of Faith and Writing. I have been on pins and needles ever since.

I'm trying to keep this to a Top 5, because my ENFJ/3 brain likes things that way, but Pope Francis and Richard Twiss both have new books coming out this year that I undoubtedly will read. I also have review copies of Dianna Anderson's "Damaged Goods" and Jon Acuff's "Do Over" on my nightstand, waiting to be read, and there are exciting rumblings coming from the women in my writing group.

And if you're still setting reading goals for your year, you might want to check out Modern Mrs. Darcy's first-ever reading challenge.

Other things I'm looking forward to in 2015:

Carrie & Lowell by Sufjan Stevens. It's Sufjan Stevens' first album since "The Age of Adz" nearly five years ago, and it sounds like a return to his folksy "Seven Swans." It's coming out the same day as "Wearing God" – new releases from my favorite author and favorite musician on the same day! – and I just may pass out from excitement.

Transgressor by Quiet Company. The two best concerts I saw in 2014 were Pocket Vinyl and Quiet Company, both small shows that packed a big, emotional wallop. I listened to nothing but Quiet Company's "We Are All Where We Belong" for weeks afterward and have been looking forward to "Transgressor" ever since.

Jurassic World. Because Jurassic Park was my favorite thing when I was a kid.

Star Wars VII: The Force Awakens. Because Star Wars was my other favorite thing when I was a kid.

The World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia. Specifically, the part where Pope Francis visits the U.S. I'm angling hard to be there and cover this for the Chicago Sun-Times.

Why Christian? Rachel Held Evans and Nadia Bolz-Weber are planning an event together the weekend before the World Meeting of Families, which means I may have to fly straight from one in Minneapolis to the other in Philadelphia. That's totally not a crazy idea, right?

What are you looking forward to this year?

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."

Photos: Amazon.
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