What I’m Into, July Edition

Reading

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Apparently this month was a nice split between more serious books and cozy mysteries. You all have seen me mention Donna Andrews before–she is one of my favorite cozy mystery writers and her books are always a treat to re-read. Otherwise this month I read:

Convictions: How I Learned What Matters Most by Marcus Borg. It’s part spiritual memoir, part easily accessible primer of sorts on progressive Christian theology, and an engaging read.

City of God: Faith in the Streets by Sara Miles. Sara Miles isn’t your average Episcopalian (or maybe she is, is there such a thing as an average Episcopalian, especially in San Francisco?) and in this book, she reflects on her experiences taking the Ash Wednesday services to the streets and giving ashes to anyone who wanted them. The book is a meditation on the limits of church buildings, the power of liturgy, and what happens when you broaden the confines of your community.

Found: A Story of Questions, Grace, and Everyday Prayer by Micha Boyett. I read Micha’s blog for years but put off reading the book because as a single grad student/non-mom of small kids, I didn’t think it would resonate. Well, now that I’m about to enter the cult of motherhood and am even debating staying home with the baby for a while (gasp), the themes resonate a lot more. Micha writes candidly about her struggle to feel like her life is “enough,” that she is enough, that God loves her whether she’s a missionary in Africa or a stay-at-home-mom in San Francisco. As someone who is always afraid she’s squandering her potential, I found myself nodding at a lot of what she wrote.

Watching

What do you do when you are too pregnant to exercise properly (the most I can manage are short walks, or on a really good day, a 20 minute swim) but miss it anyway? You watch sports documentaries on Netflix.

I have a weird fascination with Crossfit. Every once in a while I google boxes near me and debate whether I’d like it or not and should try out a class. And then I settle for reading about it and watching documentaries, like this one, Fittest on Earth: A Decade of Fitness, that follows a series of athletes as they compete in the 2016 Reebok Games, but also offers a retrospective of sorts about the explosive growth of the sport in the last ten years. (If you liked this, there’s also an earlier one that documents the 2015 Games, also available on Netflix.)

I do not have a weird fascination with golf, but really enjoyed The Short Game too. This documentary follows world championship-hopefuls, but here’s the catch: these are kids. They’re all eight and under, and the documentary talks about their love for the sport, the pressures of being a child athlete, but also the opportunities being a golfer has given them.

We also went to see Spiderman: Homecoming while we were in Seattle on our babymoon, in a theater that had the nice luxury seats but was way overheated, and I was dying through most of it. Still, fun superhero movie. Hated that it technically didn’t pass the Bechdel test, loved that it had two WOC playing lead roles.

Listening

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This is clearly the Americanist in me, but I loved this series. It tracks the rise of Oprah and the Oprah Winfrey Show. Utterly random and utterly delightful:

“In this new WBEZ podcast, Oprah Winfrey tells the behind-the-scenes story of her iconic TV talk show, along with producers, staffers, TV executives, and ratings rival Phil Donahue. The three-part series chronicles the show’s scrappy roots in Chicago, its rise to daytime dominance, and the powerful sway Winfrey came to have in American life.”

 

Tell me, what you have you been into this past month? 

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two years ago

L. and I got engaged two years ago, in the rain, at Ikea. (It’s a whole story–ask me sometime and I’ll tell you.)

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It wasn’t a storybook engagement, or probably even romantic to anyone but us, but for me, it was perfect. It was both its own thing that reflected us so completely and the complete opposite of my failed engagement years earlier. (I say failed, but I should probably say successful, in the sense that breaking that engagement was one of the best decisions I ever made.) When my ex asked me to marry him, there was no joyful anticipation, no surprise. I vividly remember thinking, ‘no, don’t ask me this, don’t ask me this, don’t ask me this’ as he went down on one knee. But he did, and I said yes, because isn’t that what you’re supposed to do when someone asks you to marry him?

Don’t worry, I’ve learned a lot since then.

Saying yes to L. was a completely different experience, and it preluded an entirely different engagement period. I headed off to Europe for a couple months soon after that, and we spent a good chunk of the next year separated from each other by the Atlantic ocean, eight hours of time difference, and 5000+ miles. In some ways, I was saying goodbye to my old life as I was making plans for my new one. And sometimes (often), it’s hard to be so far away from friends and family and a culture that I love and miss dearly.

But meeting and marrying L. felt like coming home, and for that, I would happily travel thousands of miles more.

on self-care, resourcing, and giving yourself what you need (which isn’t what you want)

I read this post from Addie Zierman this week, in which she talks about the difference between ‘resourcing’ and ‘self-care.’ She’s talking in the context of the current political climate, but her conclusions put words to something I’ve been thinking about for a while.

She writes that where self-care makes her think of bubble baths and comfort food, indulgences and luxuries, resourcing is “plain and simple and unglamorous. It brings to mind grocery shopping and wood cutting and preparing food and pouring water.” Self-care for her means hiding in her house, introverting on the couch. Resourcing means going out into the world and doing something for others, something that gives her hope and keeps her grounded when things aren’t going well.

For sure, the distinction isn’t as cut and dry as the two terms would make it seem. And I suspect self-care in its classic form comes easier for introverts, most of us who have had to learn to set boundaries and take care of ourselves (ie, hide) in an extraverted world. But the article resonated with me because I struggle with self-care. Not because I don’t take enough time off (believe me, I do. I spend an inordinate amount of time reading cozy mysteries on the couch). But with the rare exception, I come away from those moments of ‘self-care’ feeling more frazzled than when I started.

As many of you know, I have a lot on my plate right now. Bubble baths are not the answer–at least not for me, and if only because I’d have to clean the tub first. It might be a minor difference in framing the concepts, but self-care feels like escapism to me, and resourcing means giving myself what it takes for me to be able to continue to show up tomorrow, and the next day, and the day after that. Addie writes, “Resourcing is not so much about giving yourself what you want. It’s about honoring what you need and doing the work to provide it to yourself.”

When I’m stressed, bubble baths don’t cut it. But extra sleep does, and sitting at my desk before and after work to get these chapters done, and taking Josie out for a walk in the sunshine does too. Sadly, resourcing means a lot less binge-watching of NCIS or Parks and Recreation, which is my normal response to stress and, as L. can testify, one of my favorite non-productive hobbies.

But this concept also resonated with me because I am turning 30 at the beginning of next month. I have no qualms about leaving my twenties. My twenties were better than my teens (anything was better than that), but they contained some extraordinarily painful lessons and experiences, and I am happy to leave them behind. But still, turning thirty means indulging in some self-reflection, and as I look to the future, I see more slowing down, more intentional living and decision-making and taking my time, rather than my usual “full speed ahead and let the chips fall where they may” approach. (That approach got me L., so it’s not all bad. It’s just also given me a lot of anxiety and fear, which is less good.)

Concretely, this means that I deliberately don’t have a fully-thought out, month-by-month plan in place for after the PhD, no lists to make and boxes to check, but am going to see what happens and what feels good then. It isn’t what I want–what I want is to know what is going to happen (or what I want to happen) and set goals and do research and make things happen, preferably yesterday rather than tomorrow. But it is what I need.

Deciding I didn’t want to try for tenure sent me into a tail-spin of sorts, in which I frantically (and fruitlessly) tried to figure out what I was going to do with my life, if I wasn’t going to be a professor and sacrifice all on the altar of academia. And while I’m very happy we moved to California, I won’t pretend it hasn’t been hard to move here as a trailing spouse. It’s been a rewarding, but also a hard year, is what I’m saying, and the years before that weren’t that easy either.

So I’m going to defend in June, and then I’m going to breathe. I know, I’m shocked too. I was very resistant to the idea when someone (ahum, several people) challenged me on my tendency to want to do everything now, all at once. But I sat with it for a little while, and I realized I also felt relief at the idea that I could maybe just be, just exist without having to prove my worth to others (or, you know, myself, if I’m being totally honest here, because that’s really the only person I have to convince, and also the hardest).

I’ll let you know how it goes.

 

What I’m Into | November 2016

What I’m reading

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This month’s theme seemed to be calling stories and anti-hagiographies. I picked up Nadia Bolz-Weber’s Accidental Saints: Finding God in All the Wrong People at the book store and finished it in two days. Sara Miles (of Take This Bread, one of my favorite finds of 2016) shows up in the book, and that didn’t surprise me in the least–the books aren’t the same at all, but there’s an undercurrent of surprise (of all the people you would expect to become religious in such specific ways, these are not two of them) and that really appeals to me. I also read Pastrix, the first book Nadia wrote. Then Jana Riess’ Flunking Sainthood, in which Jana tries and fails at all kinds of spiritual practices (the epilogue made me cry and I also felt a lot better at all the ways I fail, so thank you, Jana).

Lastly, one of my tutoring students was working on Toni Morrison’s Beloved, prompting me to read it too. It’s so intense, but so worth the read. The central questions (at least the way I read it) are: is there such a thing as an ex-slave? Can you ever escape your past? And what does it mean to be beloved?

What I’m watching

Besides the usual suspects (NCIS, NCIS LA, Hawaii 5-0, Scorpion, Criminal Minds (what a way to write Hotch out of the series..sigh), Brooklyn Nine-Nine):

Dr Strange, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, and Moana.

I liked all three of these movies. We caught an early viewing of Fantastic Beasts (10AM on a Saturday), and it was a great way to start the weekend. (My main complaint? Johnny Depp as Grindewald. The thing about evil is that it looks just like you and me–Grindewald didn’t need to be Johnny Depp-ed, in my opinion.) I went into Doctor Strange without any expectations, but turned out to really like the movie, although I rolled my eyes at all the Orientalism. And Moana was great. They did a much better job with the Polynesian aspects of her life than I honestly thought they would, and although there are certainly some valid critiques to be made, I really enjoyed it.

What I’m listening to

Slate’s Working podcast is doing a series of interviews with people whose jobs are going to become so much harder under a Trump administration. Last week, they talked to an abortion provider, and this week, an immigration lawyer working primarily with children. Both episodes are well worth the time spent.

What else I am doing with my life

Christmas, apparently! We got our Christmas tree the weekend after Thanksgiving. It’s a tiny tree, partially because we didn’t want a big one, and mostly because we have a smart car and the tree had to fit in the car, so a tiny tree it was! We decorated it that weekend, and so far, the animals have left it alone. (Let’s hope that stays that way.)

reflections on the election after a bad night’s sleep

I. I am a daughter of immigrants. I am an immigrant myself, and I know the beauty and the heartache that moving between countries and cultures gives you. My dad is the biggest defender of the American dream you will ever find, and for him America has been a land of opportunity, as it has also been for us. That is now over. My dad is grieving, and I am grieving. This is the not the world I want to raise children in. This is not the world I want for my students, or my friends, or my neighbors, or anyone in America who is LGBT, or Muslim, or Latino, or otherwise deemed a threat by people too ignorant to see how you are precisely what makes America better. You are loved, and we stand with you.

II. I am a white immigrant, and a European one. I am going to be fine. I have an accent, but it’s not a Spanish one, and thus nobody really cares, not even Trump. And yet I feel fear. I feel fear as a foreigner, as an outsider, as a woman who knows only too well that #yesallwomen. I have been different often enough to know what happens next.

III. A couple friends posted a verse from Exodus on their Facebook walls this morning:

Do not mistreat or oppress a foreigner, for you were foreigners in Egypt. Do not take advantage of the widow or the fatherless. If you do and they cry out to me, I will certainly hear their cry. (Exodus 22:21-23)

I take strength in this old, old story of liberation from oppression, and freedom where there had been slavery. And it tells me what we do next. We pray, and then we fight.

But we have seen periods of darkness before — segregation, McCarthyism, the internment of the Japanese, the Civil War, slavery. The American story is fitful progress punctuated by frequent reversals, some of which appeared at the time like they would last forever. None of them did. … fighting for democracy is part of America’s heritage, from abolitionists to suffragettes to the progressive reformers. Maybe you thought that fight was confined to history. It will go on. (Jonathan Chait)

three reflections on Sabbath

A couple weekends ago, Transfiguration held its annual parish retreat, up at the Bishop’s Ranch in Healdsburg, which is a lovely and particularly Episcopalian place to hold a retreat, nestled in the middle of wine country as it is. The theme was Sabbath, and we spent time in activity and conversation and reflection, thinking about all the different ways you can experience Sabbath: as rest and relaxation, but also in playfulness and silliness, community and solitude. These are mine.

I. On weekend mornings, growing up, my family would gather for breakfast. When we lived in California, we’d eat outside, venturing into the yard to pick an orange from the orange tree before returning to the picnic table. Much later, when we had moved to the Netherlands, we had a backyard with a little patio area in the back, and weather permitting (or, honestly, weather not permitting—my mother loves the outdoors and we would put on sweaters and join her, suffering more or less in silence), you would find us there. I’m pretty sure these were not all the kind of breakfasts memories are made of, as I’m also pretty sure there were plenty of arguments and tears and words said that perhaps needed to be said and perhaps did not need to be—that is how my family is. But we come together around the table.

I think of Christmas as my father’s holiday, and Easter as my mother’s. This may not at all be accurate, mind, but it’s a categorization my brain finds helpful, so, I run with it. I think of of Christmas as my dad’s and Easter as my mom’s, not because of any religious significance—both my parents are very lapsed Catholics that raised us with art, and music, and books, and science, and curiosity about the world around us, but not with religion—but because my father loves the magic of Christmas, the trees and carols and the presents you’ve picked out for each other. And my mother loves Easter breakfast and will load up the table with a million different little dishes and we’ll all have coffee and tea and fresh-squeezed orange juice and the butter will probably be shaped like a rabbit or there will be little fluffy chicks on the table. I distinctly remember feeling so homesick after skyping with my mom the first Easter I spent in Utah, because I had met Loel, and I knew I wasn’t going back to the Netherlands in any permanent capacity, as least for a good long while, and I knew this would mean I would not be sitting at my mother’s Easter table next year or the year after that, and I knew I would miss out.

When I converted and began to structure my life around church, all of us were still living at home and Sunday breakfasts were still happening. Every week, we’d say we’d start breakfast early enough so I could eat before church, and every week, something would happen and you would find me at nine o’clock, frantically biking to church, sometimes still with breakfast in one hand while I tried to pedal and breathe and eat at the same time. (It was good practice for weekday mornings, when I’d bike with my notes for that day’s French or Greek or Latin test in my one hand and half-eaten toast in the other.) I’d arrive feeling rushed and out of sorts and betwixt and between—no longer fully part of my family but also not an insider in this new community—as evidenced by the fact that I’d be the last in our pew at nine twenty (or, God forbid, nine-twenty-five, doing the shuffle of shame along with the other people too unrighteous to get to church at least fifteen minutes before the service began).

My family has found a good balance, I think, in accommodating my religious practices and keeping up old traditions. I usually attend church on Christmas Eve or Christmas morning, but not both, choosing to spend the other hours doing the things we always do—sing carols on Christmas Eve, squeeze orange juice in our pajamas on Christmas morning. We’ll pick out a music-filled late service for Christmas Eve, and one or all of them will come with me. Sabbath is where I first learned this balance—that sometimes I would pick church over family, and sometimes Sabbath meant skipping church and going camping, or to a museum, or listening to musicians play Bach with my dad, or sleeping late and eating breakfast in pajamas with my mother and my sisters. Sometimes I skip church and go adventuring with Loel, and sometimes Loel comes with me and sings the hymns but skips the prayers and the creed, and we laugh at the antics the kids get into together, and then stop at the board game and/or book store on the way home. It works, is what I mean, and it mostly works because Sabbath isn’t about rules and what you’re supposed to do, but a kind of reset and a way to practice what you preach and express the things you hold dear.

II. I know Sabbath is often supposed to be relaxing, and I try to leave it free. You’ll often find me on my bike on Sunday afternoons, cycling up the rolling hills of Portola Valley or Woodside, or on the wonderfully flat Bay Trail, or walking Josie, or at the library, or just sprawled on the couch, watching Jane the Virgin or NCIS or some weird documentary. But in a very important way, Sabbath isn’t relaxing for me. Sabbath is an interruption, and I think that is the way it should be.

I am an introvert. I am an introvert in so many ways, and Monday through Saturday I live an introverted life. I like it that way. I see friends, I see co-workers, I do not cut myself off from human contact, but after work most days? I read and I do puzzles and I go out on my bike by myself to recharge. I write, sometimes more successfully than otherwise. Loel and I go out for dinner and both bring a book (this sometimes puzzles the servers, and sometimes they love it). But on Sunday, I take a deep breath and enter into community.

In a lot of ways, the Episcopal Church is perfect for an intellectual introvert like me. I love liturgy. I love that everything we do has a meaning (even though I would be the first to admit I still need to read up on why, exactly, we do what we do). I love that some of our hymns celebrate nature, and others celebrate learning and knowledge and books, and I love that we are sometimes given complex music, and sometimes we sing a children’s song and find meaning in that. I love knowing that after the prayers of the people we move into the Eucharist and after the Eucharist follows the post-communion blessing and that the sermon will be short and meaningful and that I can participate in a way that works for me. Except for two things: the passing of the peace, and the Eucharist itself. Both terrify me and both have me coming back for more.

The passing of the peace is the most terrible thing you can do to an introverted, shy, socially awkward newcomer, because that is the moment you see community happening, and that is the moment you have to plug yourself into it and greet people you don’t know but that are still your brothers and sisters in Christ. (Honestly, usually I greet those directly around me but am too shy to move beyond my pew like other people do, freely hugging people on the other side of the room. How other people do that so confidently is beyond me). The other is the Eucharist, when we all move up to the front and receive the bread and wine from those presiding—there is no hiding in the pews there either. I’ve gone to churches where you receive communion from the priest, and to churches where it’s passed down the pews. The latter is safe, and that is why I prefer the former. This may only make sense if you’re made like me, but to receive something as meaningful and grace-filled and complicated like the Eucharist directly from someone’s hands, someone who knows you and will greet you by name, and then to walk back to your seat, tasting the bread and wine…it breaks down all my walls and defenses and makes me both confront my need for human connection and feel so, so loved. At that moment, I’m not thinking about the roles I have (grad student, wife, sister, daughter, teacher, nerdling), I’m not letting myself be defined by those roles or worrying about what I’ll do when one or the other falls away. I just am. It is, I think, the closest I get to feeling like enough, like I can just be present for a moment without worrying or planning or trying to control what is going to happen tomorrow or next week or next year.

And then Monday I go right back to my overachieving, type A ways, but if I’m really lucky, I can remember that feeling of being God-oriented, of being part of a story bigger than myself, and let go a little bit. Sabbath is the interruption that shocks me right out of my comfort zone and into a community trying to be his people in the world.

III. In some ways, I think Christianity itself is an interruption. In a theological sense, sure, in that the way I read it, Christianity is about siding with the marginalized and subverting existing power structures and feeding the hungry and giving voice to those that don’t have one but need to be heard. I’m a liberal for a lot of reasons, and one of them is my religion. When done properly, I believe that religion interrupts our cozy, comfortable little lives, in which everyone is like us and we can ignore those who aren’t. Religion forces me to see the divine in everyone I meet, whether it’s Loel or my best friends (easy) or that one co-worker I’d love to banish to the moon (harder) or a strict complementarian promoting patriarchy with simplistic theology (ugh, don’t get me started) or even Donald Trump proclaiming hate and walls and the gospel of greed (so hard. I fail at this, most of the time). Christianity is about seeing that we are all Other, and therefore no one is. N.T. Wright once wrote, “all are equal at the foot of the cross,” and that is the kind of theology that keeps me coming back for more.

But Christianity is also an interruption on a deeply personal level. I have tried so many times to quit church, to stop going and declare it all irrelevant to my life and move on and become spiritual but not religious or agnostic or a None. Church can trigger me and bring up all kinds of deeply traumatic and panic-inducing memories, and I have left the service crying more than once, or fled out the back hoping no one would notice. Some days, I want to proclaim that I quit and I will find meaning somewhere else (most likely in a library because forget Disneyland, those are the happiest places on earth). But I don’t. Because it keeps pulling me back. There are enough Sundays when I wonder whether I should be saying the Nicene Creed, whether I believe enough of it to say it, when I wonder if I would ever pass a litmus test if it was administered, when I wonder whether my baptism still counts since my theology has shifted so radically and I’ve changed so much since 2004. And then I take communion, and realize it doesn’t matter, because I am here and I am showing up to do the work and I am trying to be God’s hands and feet in the world and that it is worth it and that I hope I never stop. Christianity is an interruption in that it confronts me with my brokenness and moves me towards grace and wholeness. It—God—asks too much of me, sometimes, and sometimes it—God—gives me so much that I can barely hold the grace and the brokenness in one body and I marvel at it all.

my new favorite cookie recipe

You know what I miss since going dairy-free? Dessert. (Actually, a lot of things. But dessert definitely ranks high on that list.) Sure, my body didn’t need all that sugar anyway, and it’s a lot easier to say no to things that don’t fit my calorie or macro goals when there’s dairy in them too, and I definitely don’t struggle with decision fatigue anymore since at least three-quarters of the restaurant menu (and probably seven-eights of the dessert menu, basically everything that isn’t a sorbet) is off-limits to me now, but still. Dessert is amazing and I love baking and I don’t love figuring out vegan substitutes and pretending they taste as good as the real thing.

All of which is to say that I made chocolate chip cookies the other day, and they were amazing. They’re vegan, and gluten-free, and probably as healthy as a cookie can get, and L. absolutely loved them. And did I mention they’re easy? One bowl, one whisk, and ten minutes in the oven. Bam. I’ve found my new favorite chocolate chip cookie recipe.

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The recipe is from Oh She Glows, and I highly recommend you check them out. The base is rolled oats, which practically makes them breakfast food, right? (Please say yes, since both L. and I had one for breakfast on Saturday morning. hashtag adulting, but not really.)