Review: The Turquoise Table by Kristin Schell + Giveaway

When we moved to this cul-de-sac, a friend posted an Instagram picture with the hashtag #frontyardpeople. I was intrigued. Our neighborhood is one where front yard living is alive and well. Judi often sits on her porch and if we can’t find our girls, there’s a 90% chance they’re sitting with Judi. Another neighbor’s grandkids and our girls have formed a little bike gang, speeding through the street and down the spillways. Because of this front yard mentality, we have gotten to know our amazing neighbors.

_140_245_Book.2295.coverSo when I heard that Kristin Schell, founder of #frontyardpeople had written a book about her turquoise table and the start of this movement, I knew I had to read it. The Turquoise Table: Finding Community and Connection in Your Own Front Yard is a timely and important book. In an age where we are constantly connected but not necessarily face-to-face, meeting people takes a lot of intention.

I’ve read other books about the importance of hospitality but this one grabbed my attention fully. Perhaps is that Schell offers such grace in the journey. She shares her own stories – both relatable successes and failures – as she found her rhythm living in her front yard. She also shares the stories of others living life with their neighbors and through this mix she gives permission to find your own path. For some, an actual turquoise picnic table in the front yard is a perfect tool to start conversations. For others, creating an intentional time to be outside may be how they connect. Schell reminds us that we are all different and our neighborhoods are different, so to try and recreate something exactly most likely won’t work.

Not only is this beautiful book filled with stories, but it’s also formatted as a guide to living an intentional life. Schell has prompts and questions to help the reader get started on a journey of living life communally. She also includes favorite recipes with each chapter to help inspire gathering around the table.

The book is filled with bright pictures and offers plenty of space for reflection. I think because it’s published as a “gift edition,” the idea of living out hospitality is acknowledged in the actual pages and style of this publication. If it hadn’t been printed as a gift book, I’m not sure I would have connected as deeply – the act of reading this book captures the idea of simple hospitality.

With summertime starting, it’s a natural time to move some of our regular activities to our front yard. Perhaps we’ll start small, with sitting on the front porch once or twice a week after bedtime. Perhaps we’ll grow bigger, with front yard barbecues and gatherings. However this plays out, I’m thankful that we live in a front yard neighborhood, and I know The Turquoise Table will infuse new ideas into our community.

What’s your neighborhood like? Do you think it would be easy to start a front yard community?

GIVEAWAY! I am giving away my copy of The Turquoise Table. Leave a comment about your experience connecting with neighbors and I’ll randomly select a winner on Friday, June 9, 2017. (United States addresses only.)

I review for BookLook Bloggers
I received this book free from the publisher in exchange for my honest opinion.

What Are You Reading This Summer?

Even though we still have a month until the summer equinox, we are in summertime mode around here. School is out, the pool is open, Memorial Day barbecues have IMG_4503happened. I have a stack of library books I’m working through (and have put all my holds on suspension until I get through these!) I was reviewing my recently read books and noticed I had a streak of three 5-star books in a row!

I thought I’d commemorate that with a post about my favorite 5-star books of 2017 (so far). Maybe they’ll inspire your summer reading list.

To the Bright Edge of the World by Eowyn Ivey
This novel about the first expedition to Alaska’s interior captured my imagination. Ivey uses a variety of styles, between letters, emails, journals, and museum documentation. She creates a world around Alan and Sophie’s separation in the late-1800’s and then jumps to the present. Sometimes this format can feel cumbersome or forced, but Ivey seamlessly weaves the plot lines together, creating a rich idea of what could have happened on those early expeditions.

Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi
This stunning debut novel and winner of the PEN/Hemingway Award deserves all of the accolades! The story follows two sisters and seven generations. One one branch, we follow Effia who marries an Englishman and stays in Ghana. The other branch follows Esi, who is captured and sold into slavery in America. Each chapter is the next generation’s tale. The writing is captivating and this is a powerful book about the deep roots of racism. It’s an important read and can bring to light systemic issues in ways that can only be done in powerful fiction.

Trigger Warning by Neil Gaiman
I love short stories and I love Neil Gaiman’s writing, so I had a feeling this would be a winner. If you like magical realism or slightly disturbing fiction, this is a fantastic collection. There are some familiar characters – one story is a tale of Sherlock & Mycroft Holmes; one is a Doctor Who episode; one follows Shadow from American Gods. Others where previously published and a couple are written for this collection. They all caught my imagination and drew me in to fantastic landscapes, which I love.

Girls and Sex by Peggy Orenstein 
This is the only nonfiction book to make my list (which is unusual for me!) and one that I am recommending to EVERYONE. If you’re a parent of girls, this is a definite must-read. But if you’re a teacher or a youth leader or you want to raise responsible boys, this is an important book. Orenstein’s dissemination of research is relatable and well gathered. This book has made me completely rethink how we’ll have these conversations with our girls and has reset my expectations for what life as a teenager looks like. It’s a lot to take in and I’m glad I read this before we enter this stage.

Currently Reading: On my nightstand right now are The Turquoise TableA Man Called Ove, Jayber Crow, and The Novel of the Century. I’m liking them all so far – maybe my streak will exceed three in a row?

What are some five-star books that you’ve read recently? What are your summer reads?

Welcoming the Stranger Introduction

I have the honor of introducing our May book club read over at SheLoves Magazine today. We’ll be discussing Welcoming the Stranger by Matthew Soerens and Jenny Hwang Yang. We’ll do most of our interactions over in our Facebook group and I’d love for you to join this discussion! (Here’s the link: Red Couch Facebook.) This book was filled with a lot of information and powerful stories, which makes it a timely and important read. Here’s an excerpt, but click over to read the whole post and join the discussion!

Red-Couch-Welcoming-the-Stranger-IntroductionMy family history is one of skirting modern-day immigration regulations. On one branch, my ancestors arrived soon after the passengers on the Mayflower, helping to build the new Massachusetts Bay Colony. Others arrived pre-World War 1 and worked their way to the Midwest. Regardless of route, my family arrived in an era when a boat passage was paperwork enough and they came from desirable countries that posed no threat to the white Protestant population.

In Welcoming the Stranger, Matthew Soerens and Jenny Hwang Yang remind us that people immigrate for a wide variety of reasons: from fleeing unsafe regimes to the prospect of higher wages and standards of living to reunification with family who live in America. Every immigrant has a unique story and journey that brought them to the decision to pursue life away from their familiar culture.

Soerens and Yang pack Welcoming the Stranger full of the debate on immigration. They feature personal stories, address misconceptions about contributions of immigrants to the economic and social aspects of our society, and cite religious precedents of caring for the foreigner. Intermixed with stories are facts and data and the appendices alone are worth the read. This is a manual for Christians to understand the actual impact of opening our doors to immigrants and retaining the United States’ foundations as a nation that welcomes all cultures.

I appreciate the depth and scope that Soerens and Yang bring to this conversation. They broke down a lot of misnomers about the effect of undocumented workers on our economy; of the actual crime statistics of those entering our country; and of the reality of working your way up in society. Read the rest and join the discussion at SheLoves!

What are some practical, real-life ways you get to know your neighbors? How do you listen to their stories?

Review: The Magic of Motherhood by Ashlee Gadd

As a new mom, my favorite books were not instruction manuals or sleep guides. Though these came in handy, the ones that I needed most and resonated with most were ones about the history of parenting (bottom line: you’re doing good) and raising kids the French way. They didn’t necessarily shape my own parenting practices but they reminded me that I was normal and tired and doing a pretty good job.

_140_245_Book.2209.coverThe Magic of Motherhood is a compilation of essays by the team at the collaborative mothering blog, Coffee + Crumbs. I’ve clicked over to this website a few times and I like the honest, chatty style. The authors do a good job of normalizing motherhood and reminding women that this is a tough road without much instruction. And that’s part of the magic.

Most of these essays focus on the little years. A few touch on the shift to mothering tweens, but most of the contributors are in the infant to early elementary school years. They are messy and emerging from sleep deprivation and close enough to the newborn years to not romanticize their sweetness.

Some essays were heartbreaking, of loss and infertility and navigating diagnoses. Others were funny and filled with wry observations of life with crazy small humans. My favorites were the ones in which I found myself nodding along. The one in which a stroller careened down a hill toward the river, babies strapped in, mom racing behind. I’ve never experienced this exact story but that feeling of, WHAT have I just done?! has definitely defined more days than I’d like to admit. Or the essay that reminded me that my husband and I really are in this together, even when we feel like ships passing in the night.

I think, as moms (both new and seasoned) we need to remember that there are more me too moments than we realize as this collection reminds me that I’m not alone and that I’m doing a pretty good job.

With Mother’s Day coming up next weekend, I’d highly recommend The Magic of Motherhood to a new mom in your life. I already know I’m gifting my copy to a friend celebrating her first mother’s day. I know she’ll laugh along and appreciate these essays as much as I did.

What is your favorite parenting book? How do you remember that you are not alone on this journey? 

I review for BookLook Bloggers
I received this book free from the publisher in exchange for my honest opinion.

The Art of Essay

Frank and I were sipping rosé with a friend this weekend and talking about genres of writing and reading. I was saying how much I love reading essays and that a goal of mine is to get better at writing longer essays. I think there’s something powerful in saying something in limited space but that is more formal than a simple blog post.

Frank’s favorite collection of essays is Down the River by Edward Abbey. (Most likely because he has gone down that same river quite a number of times, always relishing in the quiet adventure.) I thought this was interesting, as another friend just last week recommended Abbey’s collection, Beyond the Wall.

I started thinking about collections of essays that I love and thought I’d share just five of my favorites. There is a trend to compile a collection of essays, but often these feel like a series of blog posts (and sometimes, these books are literally taken from the author’s personal blog and compiled.) What I love about the following collections is that they feel intentional to the book. Which makes sense, because for three of these authors, the world of blogging played no role in their writing lives.

71nhadCDSTLEverbloom edited by Shayne Moore
I received an advanced copy of this collection by the talented women of the Redbud Writers Guild. It releases today and I’m excited to share the news of this book. I knew these women were incredible writers, but the stories of rootedness and faith, of solidarity and doubt have made me read these essays slowly. I want to savor the words and I think anyone who is looking for a powerful series on faith will enjoy this collection. Bonus? Each essay ends with a reflective question, which as allowed me to continue the conversation, in a way.

Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay
I am a fan of Gay’s writing style and this collection of witty, honest commentaries on culture had me nodding and laughing. I appreciate her point of view and journey that she brings to these essays. However, I recommended this to a friend who did not connect at all. I suppose, as with any of these authors, time and place and voice all play into our experience. But this is a collection I find myself recommending to all sorts of people.

Teaching a Stone to Talk by Annie Dillard
My college years were spent trying to emulate Annie Dillard and this is my favorite of her collections. These essays captured my imagination and Dillard’s descriptive language is unparalleled. I find myself drawn to authors who connect our humanity to nature and this series makes me want to rediscover myself on a trail.

You Learn by Living by Eleanor Roosevelt
I read this collection while pregnant with Elle (and thus, her namesake) and I connected with Roosevelt’s observations on life, mothering, and being a thoughtful human. Some of her lessons sound a bit dated to modern thought but the underlying themes are timeless and solid.

Walking on Water by Madeleine L’Engle
I first read this collection before I even thought to claim creativity as my own. L’Engle talks about the blurred area between being an artist who is Christian and a Christian-artist. Like so much of life and faith, L’Engle argues that one need not Write About God to write about God. Really, I could pick any of L’Engle’s collections but this one in particular has stood out as a pivotal read on my journey.

I was reviewing Book Riot’s 100 Must-Read Essay Collections and realized how few I’ve actually read. (And, upon reflection, how few men I’ve read…) So, my new reading goal is to always have a collection of essays on my nightstand. Whether by all the same author or a collection of voices, the essay format remains a powerful form of expression.

Do you enjoy essays? What are some of your favorite collections? What are your thoughts on blogs-turned-books?

Love Flowers Best in Openness and Freedom

Have you ever been to a place where your entire body exhales? Where you wouldn’t necessarily want to live year-round because you need a place to go and reset?

IMG_0021We were talking the other day about investing vacation homes instead of renting for a week and the discussion turned to finding a place that is incredible enough to return to again and again. Because, to invest in a vacation home means to invest time that could be spent exploring a new location.

There is one place I have gone, both when I was single and with my family, where my soul breathes. Where, upon arrival, I know that I can reset and reenergize.

Moab, Utah is about a six hour drive from Denver. It’s close enough to do in a day but as we drive from the city, over the mountains, into the canyons, and finally emerge in the red rock desert, it feels light years from our normal view.

I can’t put my finger on the exact reason I love this part of Utah so much. Maybe it’s the incredible red rock sculptures, so unique and different. Maybe it’s the dry desert air and the brilliant blue sky. Maybe it’s the fact that when we arrive, family time starts and we leave chores and “real life” behind.

Last year, we rented a condo for the week after tax season. We hiked in the mornings and swam in the afternoons. Bea scampered up the sandstone to Delicate Arch, pretending to be a mountain lion and only taking brief breaks to ride on Frank’s shoulders. We watched movies and grilled. The girls napped in the car after hiking Dead Horse Point and we spent that time slowly driving through the red canyons, dreaming about the future.

I’m reminded of what Edward Abbey says in Desert Solitaire,

“The extreme clarity of the desert light is equaled by the extreme individuation of desert life forms. Love flowers best in openness and freedom.”

Perhaps I’ve seen love flower best among those red rock canyons. When we dream about the future and of our family story, I can’t imagine it without repeated visits to Moab. I think I have found the one place I would visit again and again.

As we wound through those roads, girls asleep we added another goal to our ever-growing list: Save for a vacation home one day.

Do you have a place that you return to, where your soul breathes? Do you like the tradition of one place or the adventure of going somewhere new?

This post was inspired by Tsh Oxenreider’s new book, At Home in the World. It releases today and, while I haven’t yet read it, I am looking forward to her perspective on travel as a family and finding a place to put down roots. She provided this prompt in honor of her book’s birth-day: Share about a place you feel at home in the world.

Blood Brothers Discussion

I have the honor of leading the book discussion of Elias Chacour’s Blood Brothers over at SheLoves Magazine today. This is a challenging and thought-provoking book about the conflict in Israel & Palestine. Here’s an excerpt, but click over to read the whole post and join the discussion!

Photo-2017-02-28-10-29-25-PMNaïvely, I have always viewed the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in terms of Jews and Muslims. The descendants of Isaac and the descendants of Ishmael. Of course, nothing is as black and white and the conflict over Israel and Palestine impacts many more people than those two particular groups.

Elias Chacour’s memoir, Blood Brothers reminds me again and again that we are bound by much more than religion, political views, and geography. If we are to truly live out the upside down, peacemaking message of Jesus, it does us no good to divide into separate categories.

Chacour brings his own story of belonging to one of those other groups to life. As a Melkite Greek Catholic, Chacour imagines that his family, who had farmed the same area of land in Galilee, may have “eaten bread and fish miraculously multiplied by Jesus’s hand” (33). That is to say, his family have been Christians since the earliest followers of Jesus and they have lived in Palestine longer.

And yet, when the Zionists began claiming the land of Palestine in the 1940’s, Chacour’s family, supporters of their Jewish neighbors and those who wanted to settle in Palestine, were forced to leave and live out their lives as refugees.

I have a lot of mixed feelings about which “side” is the right side. Our neighbors are from Israel; my husband’s family is Jewish; I was raised with the Evangelical ideal that Americans support Israeli Jews without question. And yet, my heart aches for those who were forced to leave their homes and who have lived in exile for generations. I grapple with my belief that we are called to help the refugee, to pursue peace, to turn the other cheek with the complex idea of justice and how that looks for so many opposing sides.

What Chacour reminds me, is that this particular conflict is the work of politics, not of people.

Read the rest and join the discussion over at SheLoves!