November 25, 2011

Holistic Reading...and Living

Can you read just one book at a time?

I can't, unless it's impossibly engrossing (the last one was Here Burns My Candle, a Scottish historical novel by Liz Curtis Higgs).

I don't always mean to get started on so many books. But I love them because they speak to my heart and mind. They wriggle past the outward fronts I put on and give me sharp lectures or hope-giving inspiration. They're companionable when I don't feel like talking. They're adventures that come cheaper than a plane ticket. So I put a good read on my nightstand...and then add another...and another...and so it goes.

Really, though, I think I read multiple books at a time because real life has many parts. I am more than just a learning brain: I am also an imagination, a soul, and a body. I am a worker, a server, a dreamer, a pilgrim, and I stand in need of beauty as well as instruction. I read multiple books simultaneously for the same reason I schedule more than one type of activity into my week. I lesson plan, but I also watch movies. I have coffee with friends, but sometimes I'm alone in the quiet house. I spend time both praying and walking. We are whole people with multiple areas of life, and each of those areas has different needs.

I suppose you could call it holistic reading. The good part about it is when I have a moment to read, I almost always have something I  feel inclined to read right then, no matter what time of the day or week.

The downside?


Just as I sometimes schedule too many activities into a week, however holistic they may be, sometimes I take on more reading than I can actually handle. Ever have that feeling? The spines look so pretty, all fitting snugly together on the shelf, until you realize you haven't opened any of them in a week. Or more. And that even when you do snag a stray hour for reading, you spend a quarter of it in paralysis before the bookshelf, worrying and wondering over which volume you should spend the time on.

Right now, for example. It started out as a very holistic plan, with some books for each different area of life. It went like this:


Island of the Blue Dolphins by Scott O'Dell

Hatchet by Gary Paulsen

Devotional books:

A study on the book of Isaiah by Navpress

Grace for the Good Girl by Emily P. Freeman (who, by the way, has a great blog:

Fun Stuff:

Cover for 'Phoenix Feather' 
Phoenix Feather by my dear friend Angela Wallace (


The Pilgrim's Progress by John Bunyan

Nighttime reading:

101 Famous Poems (see "Why Busy People Need Poetry"

Whoops...suddenly I'm reading 7 books. And my "To Read" stack is still growing. 

Perhaps there's balance to be found in this reading mania. There are so many great books to read, each equipped to meet different needs. Maybe the key is to limit the number of categories...and the number of books per category...and the number of times I say "yes" to a new book...

The challenge is to remain holistic without becoming overextended. Sounds a lot like my life. 

Imagine that.

What are you reading right now? Do you have a one-book-at-a-time policy?

November 19, 2011

Cooking Up Some Creativity

Cooking, for me, is like writing. More than just a way of putting food on the table, it’s play: from visualizing a new dish off a recipe card to shopping for a tantalizing array of colors and flavors to actually transforming the textures and smells of the ingredients into a beautiful, edible finished product. I have a few staples that I make over and over for their yum value, but I really enjoy the discovery process of experimenting with new recipes.

It’s a good thing, too, because I’m on the last three weeks of a 2-month gluten-free, low-glycemic diet (“paleolithic” for those interested), which my doctor ordered for health reasons. That means no flour products of any kind, almost no sugar, and limited amounts of any starch (brown rice, sweet potatoes, etc.). Fun, right? It’s been tough to keep coming up with new recipes, but at the same time, it’s challenged me to try some dishes that push the boundaries of normal.

This week? Pumpkin soup. Normal was definitely pushed. 

I found the recipe in a stray copy of Sunset magazine. You can find it here (I skipped the pesto, though). 

The adventure started with the shopping. The Halloween pumpkins I was planning on using turned out to not only be the wrong variety, but were also all rotten and squishy on the bottom. Gross. Went to the store to buy a new pumpkin. While I was there, I also found a large nub of fresh ginger—something I’d never cooked with before! Threw it in the shopping basket.

Next up: no coriander in the house. Mom thinks it tastes nasty. So last Saturday, I made a visit to Penzey’s Spices in Palo Alto with my gourmet friends Whitney and Jordyn. What an amazing place! I’d never seen whole vanilla pods or knew that there were four colors of pepper before. When we were done making ourselves sneeze on the wonderful aromas of lavender, cinnamon, and ground ancho chilies, I came away with a mix called Balti, which included coriander and more ginger as well as some less familiar names, like dundicut chilies, fenugreek, and charnushka (hope you don’t get stuck with those on your next spelling test).

Assembling the ingredients felt like play, but the actual cooking felt like a long trek uphill: a bit like the writing process. It will be a long time before I attempt to peel and cube a pumpkin again. After an hour, I had a bowlful of misshapen orange blocks, but I also had a cramped right hand, two blunted knives and a peeler, and pumpkin shrapnel all over the kitchen. And I do mean all over.

Not to be beaten by a squash, however, I began to sauté the onion and ginger. Lots of ginger. Having never cooked with this science-fictiony brown root before, maybe I got a little over-eager. What was I going to do with a bunch of leftovers, anyway?

When the blended soup finally made it onto the table, the kitchen smelled great. That is, until the taste of gunpowder eliminated our ability to smell anything. All that ginger I’d gotten excited about? Plus the coriander-ginger spice mix? Whoops. Even yogurt couldn't cool it down to safe levels.

I must say, my family is one of the most patient and longsuffering I know. They courageously finished their bowls, and didn’t even throw them at me. But the remainder of the pumpkin soup certainly traveled with me to Bible study on Wednesday night, where the adventurous Jordyn kindly took it off my hands.

I guess part of experimentation is making mistakes. When you try recipes that are off the beaten path, it’s a risk: not every one will be the next family winner, or even taste like human food. Some will be a constant circus of mishaps (e.g.: continuing to find flecks of pumpkin peel stuck to the window).

But it certainly keeps life from getting boring. Maybe I won’t be making this particular pumpkin soup again, but I’ll keep playing with flavors and textures. It keeps me from getting stuck in ruts (and certainly beats airline tickets for budget adventures).  

And maybe creativity feeds more creativity: the day after my pumpkin soup adventure, I wrote the first words of Draft 2 of my children’s novel!

What's your latest creative endeavor? Successful or otherwise? I'd love to hear your story!

November 11, 2011

Measuring Progress

In the academic world, progress metrics are plentiful. I think that's why many people never leave school. You go to class, you put in the work, you get the grades, the grades become GPA. Boom, you can translate your effort into a percent, a couple of honor cords, a piece of paper on the wall. And you get some self-esteem out of it, too.

In post-academic life, however, progress can be harder to get your hands around. You can count the hours you spend working, but how do you measure the fruit of those hours? For smaller endeavors, it's not as difficult. Summer working retail = money for study abroad. But when you're working towards a more distant goal, one that requires immediate investment for a very delayed payoff, how do you tell if you're moving forward?

For example, let's talk about writing a book (how funny! something I've spent quite a lot of time doing this week). What do you have to show for 8 hours of completely internal concept work that doesn't translate into a paycheck or even a page count? Not instant gratification, that's for sure. But if I'm ever going to finish the novel, I have to have faith that it will matter, and that it's worth the present sacrifices.

In fact, I think some of the most important things can't be quantified at all in the short term. Think about growing a prayer life or spending time with friends and family. You can't measure your investment until you enjoy the final result: a sweet relationship with God or other people. Even though it can feel like wasted time in the right now, it's much more valuable to do things that matter in the big picture than to be able to instantly prove yourself by the numbers.

Now, with all that said, this week God has given me some progress signposts that give me hope. My big-picture goals may still be far in the distance, but these are good reminders that I'm at least on the way.

1. Adding some great resources to my collection at the library sale

2. Applications from 2 new tutoring students (hopefully this isn't what my hair looks like!)

Free Student Clipart
Source: Clipart Pal

3. Having lunch with my mom in mid-November rather than taking midterms

Source: Aqui

4. Writing "owner" after my name on an application for a tutoring business license

5. And last but not least, finding a perfectly-sized coffeepot to fuel my continued endeavors! 

November 4, 2011

The Call of the Wild...and Candy

This week I put on my literature teacher hat and attempted to lead a discussion that would leave my students rapt, enlightened, and in awe of the guiding power of literature on life.

The book was Jack London's The Call of the Wild. It follows the story of Buck, a soft Californian dog who is kidnapped and transported to the Gold Rush Yukon. In that hostile environment, he learns to survive and ultimately becomes like the wolf his ancestors were. Relatively short and jam-packed with dogs, wilderness survival, and fights to the death, this novel was sure to be a success with 7th-grade boys, right?


Unfortunately, when I first attempted a literary discussion last week, I forgot one salient fact: these students are 7th-grade boys. They could barely remember the main character's name, let alone discuss the author's commentary on human nature. I came home discouraged, wondering how on earth my college professors had executed their scintillating discussions.

My mom, as usual, had some pertinent words of wisdom for me. Human nature isn't naturally nice, right? We're naturally selfish, right? So these students aren't going to scramble for literary comprehension unless there's something in it for them, right?


Fortunately, Monday was Halloween, and there happened to be quite a bit of leftover candy lying around the house. Concealing the silver-wrapped morsels in my tutoring bag like a stash of doubloons, I sat down across the table from my charges. I placed my copy of The Call of the Wild on the table. And I announced that this week's discussion would include a new element.


With a sugary reward going to anyone who answered a question, the discussion bubbled like a hot spring. The boys racked their brains for scenes from the book. I saw the 7th-grade cogs and wheels turning as I probed for the meaning beneath the text. They even invented facts when they couldn't remember. We steered through the survival setting of the book and talked about the way it reveals the fundamentally selfish nature of dogs...and humans.

They may have missed the irony, but as their candy wrappers crackled, I savored it.

Do you have a story, funny or otherwise, about encounters with human nature? I'd love to hear it!