reading round-up (1.17.14)

As I’ve alluded to before, it’s pretty cold. People who voluntarily move to Minnesota at Christmas are not really allowed to complain about this, so I am trying to find ways to celebrate the season. Of first importance, we celebrate that Max is pretty confidently adapting to using his doggie door, which makes the most annoying part of puppy-raising require less time out in the cold for us. Secondly, I’m really enjoying Six Classical Music Portraits of Winter from The Imaginative Conservative. Let me know if you have a favorite!

I really appreciated 5 Tips for Loving People through the Loss of a Marriage. It makes my stomach turn when I think of how much pain I’ve watched friends experience in divorce, and when the people who should be able to love them best don’t know what to do, it seems even worse. I especially loved her points about the importance of avoiding assumptions (you do not know all the details, ever), validating a person’s experience without jumping to advice, and being a safe presence for the long grief journey.

Looking around at this new house splattered with stuff I can’t figure out how to organize, and a non-working dishwasher, I’m grateful (and most needful) of the encouragement about keeping a clean home from Emily. I definitely recommend all four parts of her series, and hope to get to a point where they can be implemented here soon!

I can’t decide which of these pictures I like best. The duck? The St. Bernard? The bunnies? Maybe the bunnies. Agh. So cute.

Aaron’s birthday is next week, and I’m very excited to be substituting these wonderful Chocolate Peanut Butter cups in place of his usual request (“Buckeye Peanut Butter Balls”), because they taste the same and are so much easier to make! Also, significantly less messy. The only question is: big or small muffin cups? I could see this going both ways.

USA Today shares their reader’s photos of extreme weather, which recently featured “my” lighthouse in Michigan. I find some comfort knowing it’s really cold there, too.

photo by Ted Swoboda]

reading round-up (1.10.14)

As more of our friends are having children, and therefore statistically we have more friends with children who are special needs, I really liked this article about kids with disabilities. I feel like a klutz sometimes when this comes up — I can’t even figure out how to comment on this without fearing that I’m saying something wrong. I’ve enjoyed reading about how some of my friends from high school are discovering a beautiful life with their new little boy who has Apert Syndrome, and if you get technical about the meaning of names, I love that their blog title “Don’t Doubt Jack,” really means “Don’t Doubt that God is Gracious.” In a world that very often “terminates” unborn babies for the slightest disappointing ultrasound report, I’m glad to see parents celebrating the victory of their kids’ lives. It’s good.

On a less serious note, I loved almost everything about Coffeedoxy and Heterodoxy, except their derogatory comments about eggnog lattes. Those things are almost the coffee version of the incarnation, the perfect culmination of eggnog AND espresso, and I would drink them year-round.

With a new puppy, we also have a rediscovered passion for Dog-Shaming.

Since I’ve, uh, had a few things going on, I forgot to link this earlier:  I guest posted for my friend Emily while she was busy having her two babies. (And learning to write shorter posts is my 2014 blogging resolution…!)

Boston Review’s The Truth about GMO’s was a great read. The author does a great job of explaining how the technology of modern genetic engineering is actually altering less of the genetic code than cruder methods used during the past few thousand years of crop development.



{concerning vocation} reading round-up (11.22.13)

A few links on dealing with difficult jobs to follow up with what I shared earlier this week… enjoy!

The Gospel Coalition has written several articles I think are great here. Is Your Job Useless? tackles the idea of doing God’s work in your job, even if it doesn’t seem like purposeful or enjoyable work to you.

 Five Ways to Find Joy in a Job You Don’t Love is particularly helpful with practical suggestions for difficult situations. I love the point about looking for what aspect of God’s character is exalted in your tasks, even if they don’t seem meaningful or fulfilling to you.

How to Humanize the Workplace is a great look at healing for brokenness in messy workplaces.  This is probably most helpful or useful if you’re in management, but I would have had more productive discussions in my circumstances if I had been able to explain my perspective with the sorts of terms used in this article.

Following up on that note, this article about investing in your work highlights some important things to think about for long-term career growth, especially that making significant sacrifices for a job where your bosses, managers, and coworkers do not make decisions that honor your dedication and position disrespects the dignity of the life and vocation God has given you.

I actually haven’t read Tim Keller’s book Every Good Endeavor, but Aaron’s going through it with his men’s group and I have appreciated what he’s shared from it. It’s at the top of my list for Christmas vacation reading!

In Quitter, Jon Acuff tackles several practical aspects of getting from your day job to your dream job. His admonition that dreams are only worth chasing if you’re willing to chase them with all your spare time was the kick I needed to start teaching piano in the evenings, even though I was exhausted. Guess what? It ended up being not-that-exhausting… The mental and spiritual boost of working to get where I needed to go was immensely encouraging.

Finally, a solid exhortation from Albert Einstein. (Or maybe just Pinterest. Be sure to read what Abraham Lincoln said about quotes on the internet.) My life improved dramatically when I stopped buying the lie that my challenges were the result of a bad attitude. I realized I needed to think outside the box to discern the opportunity in the difficulty.


reading round-up (11.15.13)

Conversations at home are talking a lot about risk right now, especially since I have come to describe life not as “stressful,” but as “risky,” and aim to have “the courage necessary to live well in risky situations.” I loved so many thoughts about how risk is The Surprising Ingredient to Creating a Pro-Life Culture from Tristyn Bloom, a junior at Yale.

Nearly two years ago at Christmastime, I sat at a cafe table with my friend Elyse, and while we hadn’t seen each other in four years, we have the sort of connection that allows (perhaps insists?) that the “synopsis of my spiritual journey since we last spoke” conversations should launch as soon as the coffee is poured. The discussion was refreshing and encouraging, and now you have the chance to get a small peek of what she shared there reflected in her article about how beauty and tradition in worship reflects the incarnation. While we don’t see exactly eye-to-eye or attend the same type of church, I’m enjoying so many thoughts she shared about the intersect of matter and spirit. The following commentary is particularly insightful in light of our recent unwelcoming church visit:

If church sanctuaries are merely places to hear music, see friends, and enjoy our morning coffee, there are other places where the music is better, the coffee is fresher, and the fellowship less forced.

(Special note – relevant because of her article’s content and title – we met doing drama in high school, playing Nuns in The Sound of Music. She is now married to the guy who played Captain Von Trapp. Ha!)

One of the books that didn’t survive my pre-moving purge was Sarah Young’s Jesus Calling, which I received as a gift several years ago, and I’ve wondered since if it would have been better in the recycling bin than as a Goodwill donation. (Not the first time I’ve dealt with discarding bad books.) My friend Emily and I lamented once that it embodied everything wrong with evangelical women’s ministry, promoting the idea that reading the actual Bible is too hard for girls and that in our supposed delicacy we can only be drawn closer to God by reading fluffy things about how much he loves us. Not, of course, that Scripture isn’t hard, or that God doesn’t love us. But. You know. There is just a lot more grit and salt and excitement in all the fullness and sufficiency of what God has already communicated. Also… there are major, major issues with someone claiming to speak the words of Jesus. Problematic all around! So I loved discovering this article by Kathy Keller that lays it all out there, and I feel so relieved to know I’m not just being cynical about popular devotional materials!

For some animal funnies, we both laughed at these Elk in someone’s backyard. I’m not saying he’s fat, just that he’s probably over the weight limit on that trampoline…

reading round-up (11/08/13)

Well — life has been exciting around here lately. There is a new home for us with a very exciting story coming. There is also the tiny detail of, oh, having a Doctor around all the time now, which is relieving and exciting  after  five-and-a-half years of slaving.
For some reads to tide you over until I can think coherently enough to finish other posts  soon…

Many of my friends blog and I just can’t get over how awesome it is to read something that makes me think, “I wish I knew them!”  when I actually do know the person. Reading this post on housekeeping from my friend Bethany provided one of those moments this week.

“Whether you are home during the day or not, we are all home-makers. …Adults do chores. End of story.” 

Amen. If you need me, I’ll be Pledge-ing in my kitchen.

I had some Bad Experiences with theological debate in high school and sometimes shy away from talking about theology because I don’t feel like it’s worth stirring controversy, but I was so excited reading this post describing how the Cross is not the whole sum of the Gospel. It was like reading a secret journal entry I haven’t writen yet. (It made me think of this clip from The Office.)  Back on topic – the fact that scripture starts off with “There was evening and then there was morning,” and takes us all the way to “If Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain” leads me to believe that God points us not just to the cross, but to a different (though very closely related) event as the crescendo of salvation and history.  The salvation story doesn’t end at the cross, and we shouldn’t talk about the gospel as though it did.  The crucifixion and Good Friday are only “good” through the lens of Easter Sunday. Since by man came death, by man came also the resurrection of the dead!

You can count me a huge fan of Wendy Alsup’s blog, and I really appreciated her post about growing hard-hearted in suffering. I have often said (complained) to my husband that this a very poor season to be wrestling with fresh grief again. Not that true grief ever really goes away, but a fresh heap put on top seems excessive, and this encouragement is timely.

On that note, I loved this description of grief as an air horn.

Finishing out as we started, with talk of homemaking, preparing for a new house means digging around for some extra decor/DIY inspiration. I’ve been enjoying a few ideas from Liz Marie, Remodelaholic, and some Apartment Therapy home tours like this one with cool built-in storage (be warned – sketchy items in their “decor”).

reading round-up (10.25.13)

Passing time makes my college education more precious and valuable to me. I’m really grateful I went to Hillsdale and got to study with this guy, and I think his advice to families and high school Seniors in choosing colleges is most wise. I am occasionally asked how on earth  Aaron and I ever got together when our studies, future careers, and many of our hobbies did not seem to overlap. But I think the answer lies in the outcome of a true liberal arts core education — we have wrestled with the same Great Conversation, so we understand the foundation of each other’s perspective on life, which seems to be serving us better in a life where enjoying an interesting conversation over a cup of french-press coffee is actually a little more practical than both enjoying, say, Scuba Diving. Additionally, I think studying a few things we may not have signed up for trains us to be more adventurous and willing to try new things in all of life. Guess what? I think target practice, kayaking, and cross-country skiing are really fun, and Aaron has a special place in his heart for the composer Hector Berlioz. I think taking those “extra” classes in Literature, History, Politics, Economics, Art, and Science gives each of us a greater appreciation for the vast wonder of the world God made. Yes, studying those things makes me a better musician, business owner, home-maker, friend, and wife. It makes Aaron a better scientist, student, hunter, gardener, and husband, too. It’s the Liberal Arts that best explain what it means to be human, and it’s valuable for musicians and scientists alike.

You can take a test to figure out which state would make you feel most “at home.” While I should fit in reasonably well in Minnesota, apparently Utah matches my personality best. I am a little unnerved that Minnesota is considered more neurotic. I don’t really know what makes a state neurotic, or how anyone could judge that, but it’s definitely concerning.

Moving to Minnesota in the winter makes me think it would be best to marvel at the beauty of snowflakes so I don’t get too discouraged by their excessive presence in the next few years of my life.

reading round-up (10.18.13)

A few read-worthy finds from this week’s browsing…

Now that we’re house-hunting in earnest, these “Terrible Real Estate Agent Photos” are a perfect combination of hilarious and horrifying.

Woah! Technology always demonstrates profound beauty and intelligence in nature. Behold,  a chorus of crickets! (Hearing crickets always reminds me of my best friend from high school, because she hated them intensely.)

In terms of my business and ministry objectives, I’m already feeling a lot of self-pressure to be “even more awesome” when we move to Minnesota -I know, seriously, pull yourself together, Abby– and I really appreciate the admonition, Stop Trying To Be Awesome. I have way too many interests and ideas about what the next season might hold for me, but I want to remember how “classical philosophy held that limits are the precondition of beauty,” and keep these obsessive thoughts about accomplishments in perspective. (Also, I sort of know the author from my home-school group growing up. She was always much smarter and more eloquent than me.)

This girl grew up in the wilds of Africa. I wonder what those freaked-out ListServ parents who were concerned about the safety of mowing lawns would say about this…

I loved how accurately the advice about conservatism from Louis Markos at The Imaginative Conservative nails a description of human nature, political philosophy, and community:
“I want to draw you to something deeper, a way of life that is grounded in essential truths about God, man, and society. The true conservatism I would steer you toward begins with a foundational truth that is revealed to us in the Bible but which has always struck me as the height of common sense: namely, that we were made in God’s image but are now fallen. The first part is the ground of all human dignity and intrinsic worth. Apart from it, we are nothing more than great apes with no ultimate claim to specialness. The second part is the reality check, the reason why we need laws and limits, checks and balances. …Never forget that you are both the glory and the scandal of the universe: neither beast nor angel but an incarnational mix of the two.”


reading round-up (10.11.13)

It’s been a very busy week for us, with listing our house for sale and taking a weekend trip — more updates on those things will certainly come! For now, a few reads from this week…

My Bible study group is going through Matthew’s Gospel this year, and I was struck by the passage about worry and food in relation to the articles I posted about the GMO crop debate last week. I appreciated a post about people who can’t afford “organic food,” with the caveat that I don’t even think the idea of organic is as admirable as the author. Plenty of things considered “organic” fertilizer/herbicide can be harmful for our bodies, too, and frankly, after living in a 3rd-world country as a child, obsession with this just seems like affluent narcissism. My motto? Eat delicious food that comes out of the ground before you eat food that comes out of a box when possible, and in the words of Jesus…

Do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more important than food?….Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life?”  – Matthew 6:25-27

In preparation for listing the house, the past few weeks have included significant clutter purges and more deep-cleaning than I have done in the entire first four years we lived in the house. My favorite blog for encouragement on this topic is Small Notebook, and I owe a significant debt to whoever figured out Pledge furniture polish works better on Stainless Steel appliances and sinks than specialty cleaners. It really works, and I’m a fan. Most surfaces in our house are wood or stainless steel, so I’m like the dad from My Big Fat Greek Wedding who loves Windex, only with a spray bottle of lemon-scented oily wonder.
windex(This is probably the first and only time anyone will get cleaning tips from me.)

reading round-up (10.04.13)

Too bad it’s controversial to argue that the primary purpose of high school is educating students. Here’s an article I found really interesting about a school that ended their high-school sports programs in favor of a (much cheaper) school-wide fitness initiative. Most of my teacher friends say school sports should be abolished in favor of intramural or club teams, which would take no money from the school and no class time away from the students, and I would love to read about more schools trying this!

This month my piano students and I are celebrating “Bach-tober,” in honor of the German composer Johann Sebastian Bach. I enjoyed reading about the Resurrection themes of his life and music. Anyone interested in a further look at his life might enjoy Evening in the Palace of Reason, by James R Gaines, and anyone just wanting to listen to some cool music should check out the Bach-stiftung YouTube channel.

So, speaking of education and music… Why Tough Teachers Get Good Results explains a lot (to me) about what worked and didn’t work in my academic classes last year, and Peter Lawler’s follow-up Teaching As Shouting is helping me evaluate my philosophy as a music teacher. Private music lessons are still mostly a “bonus” activity for many families, and I’ve always had the impression the kids who most need some straight talk about their work ethic or focus are the ones with parents who would withdraw them from the studio if they ever cried during or after a lesson.
Lawler also had some interesting comments on stress. I found the first sentence alarming and the rest encouraging: “The best way to handle stress is to routinely experience it. [OH NO!] As Aristotle says, the best way to come to possess the moral virtue of courage is actually to be in situations where courage is required to live well. The more the virtue becomes your own, the easier it is to keep your head, choose well, and even be happy in risky situations.” I think instead of saying my life feels stressful right now, I want to start saying it is full of risky situations. That sounds more adventurous.

Debate about GMO crops hits close to home for us because of Aaron’s research in that field and, contrary to some public opinions, actual scientific research about the safety and benefits of crop engineering has been overwhelmingly positive!

reading round-up (9.27.13)

(Here’s a round-up of some recent reads I thought worth sharing – enjoy!)

There are, apparently, still people in the world who think daughters should not seek higher education or employment and career under any circumstances. I won’t rant about all the logical fallacies that position yet, but I’m glad there are people who do a great job of poking fun at this foolishness, exemplified in “Six reasons not to send your SON to college!” 

I’m relatively unimpressed by hip baby photography with props and contortions and unrealistic settings. My “newborn photo” was taken by a hospital nurse on the day my parents took me home and even though one of my eyes was closed — talk about “unflattering” — I haven’t felt like it really hurt me in any way later in life. However. I just found this article about a woman who had “newborn style” pictures taken of her teenage son right after he was adopted and now I can’t stop laughing. 

I appreciated this memorial for Sheldon Vanauken (1914-1996), who was the author of one of my favorite books: A Severe Mercy. (Anyone who has loved someone, and loved — or hated — God should read the book!)

This article about kids and safety made me especially grateful for parents who valued adventure, hard work, and responsibility over false safety nets. Yes, I may have buzzed myself with a screwdriver near a live outlet and my sister accidentally somersaulted a full 360′ flip off a roof once. (We didn’t tell Mom about that one until we reached adulthood, for obvious reasons.) We put the sprinkler underneath the un-netted trampoline. Our life on the mission field wasn’t safe and sterile. I’m convinced this prepared us for life much better than an artificial safety umbrella would have. (Also, I began using power tools from a very young age and I’m really proud of that.)