Stephanie Rische

Stubbing My Toe on Grace

Friday Favorites for January January 17, 2014

Filed under: Friday Favorites — Stephanie Rische @ 8:03 am
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For readers from any state in the US…

I loved this—a map with the most famous book from each state. It kind of makes me want to move out of Illinois though. The Jungle? Really? Famous Books Set in Every State Map

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For word lovers…

Are you feeling gusted, gruntled, or sheveled? I didn’t think so. Here’s a list of words with a negative but no opposite: 12 Lonely Negative Words

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For nostalgics with a funny bone…

I promise these photos of people recreating family photos from their childhood as adults will make you laugh. And maybe even try it yourself: Recreating Ridiculous Family Pictures


For anyone who needs encouragement to do the right thing…

Great parental advice: “You can’t come in without going out, kids. Always go to the funeral.” Always Go to the Funeral


For anyone who has ever felt pressure for their marriage to look one particular way…

Refreshing insights about what spiritual leadership looks like in real life: Spiritual Leadership: A Movement in Three Parts


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Virtual Book Club: Wonder January 3, 2014

Thanks to everyone who joined us for our first young adult novel discussion. This month we’re talking about Wonder by R. J. Palacio, which I introduced here.


Here’s how it works: I’ll throw out a few topics for discussion, and you can write your responses about these topics (or others you’d like to discuss) in the comment section.


Discussion #1: The Best and the Worst in People

In this novel, Augie goes through a more extreme version of what everyone experiences at some point—the agony of being different, the fear of not being accepted, the pain of being excluded. Middle school is a crucible that brings out the best and worst in people, and this is even more obvious with someone like Augie, who has a significant physical deformity.


We see the pain inflicted by Augie’s classmates who bully him and actively avoid him (claiming he has “the plague”), and we also see the pain inflicted in more passive ways by peers who aren’t mean to him but don’t stand up for him either. But on the flip side, we also see the good in humanity, such as when Jack forfeits his popularity to be Augie’s friend and when Summer sits at his lunch table even though it meant the popular kid wouldn’t go out with her.


When you were a kid, where did you fit in the social pecking order? Were you a leader, someone who went with the crowd, or someone who marched to your own drum? How can we encourage kids to stand up for what’s right, even when it’s not popular?


Discussion #2: Everyone Has a Story

I enjoyed hearing the different perspectives on the same story—it was a good reminder that everyone has a story to tell. (Although it did get tedious at times when the content overlapped from one person’s story to the next.) Via, the dutiful big sister, is often overshadowed by everything that’s happening to Augie, but when we hear her story, we realize that she’s dealing with challenges of her own too. And while we may be tempted to judge Miranda at first, after we hear her side, we discover that she’s been struggling with her parents’ divorce.


Did you like the multiple viewpoints format? Did you have a favorite character?


Discussion #3: Loving without Overprotecting

I liked the way the relationships were portrayed in Augie’s family. His parents seemed believable—imperfect but full of love. I imagine that every parent or teacher feels the struggle they felt when they sent Augie off to middle school “like a lamb to the slaughter.” How do you protect your child and still prepare him/her for the real world? How do you know when to let go and allow him fall sometimes?


Do you think you would have sent your child to school, as Augie’s parents did? What would you have handled differently?


Discussion #4: The Ending

I’m not sure exactly what I was expecting for the ending of this book, but I was a little disappointed. It seems like Augie’s award at graduation was supposed to be the climactic moment, but rang somewhat hollow to me. His whole life, Augie has wanted to be a regular kid, like everyone else. He doesn’t want to be different or special or pitied or coddled by adults, so having the principal select him for the award didn’t seem like an apt conclusion. Maybe it would have been more satisfying if the award had been voted on by all his peers—it would have shown how much had changed over the course of the year.


What did you think of the ending? If you were writing an alternate ending, what would happen in your version? What do you think will happen to Augie next year?



I would give this book 4 out of 5 stars. It was a little slow at times, and I wanted to skim past some of the tedious fifth grade interactions. But then again, maybe that’s because I’m not the target audience. This book will spark good conversations—for adults and kids alike—and it rings true as a study of the human condition.

 4 stars


How many stars would you give this book?


{Remember: there will be a free book giveaway for one lucky commenter!}



Announcing the Book Club Selection for December… December 6, 2013

Filed under: Book Club — Stephanie Rische @ 8:09 am
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Congratulations to Linda for winning the free book for November’s book discussion! (You can check out our conversation about foster parenting and flowers and guys carrying around chick lit here.)


Since December is so busy, we’ll be reading a young adult book this month:  Wonder by R. J. Palacio.


Here’s the description from the back cover:


August (Auggie) Pullman was born with a facial deformity that prevented him from going to a mainstream school—until now. He’s about to start 5th grade at Beecher Prep, and if you’ve ever been the new kid then you know how hard that can be. The thing is Auggie’s just an ordinary kid, with an extraordinary face. But can he convince his new classmates that he’s just like them, despite appearances?


The book received a starred review from Publisher’s Weekly:

Auggie Pullman was born with severe facial deformities—no outer ears, eyes in the wrong place, his skin “melted”—and he’s learned to steel himself against the horrified reactions he produces in strangers. Now, after years of homeschooling, his parents have enrolled him in fifth grade. In short chapters told from various first-person perspectives, debut author Palacio sketches his challenging but triumphant year. Though he has some expectedly horrible experiences at school, Auggie has lucked out with the adults in his life—his parents love him unconditionally, and his principal and teachers value kindness over all other qualities. While one bully manages, temporarily, to turn most of Auggie’s classmates against him, good wins out. Few first novels pack more of a punch: it’s a rare story with the power to open eyes—and hearts—to what it’s like to be singled out for a difference you can’t control, when all you want is to be just another face in the crowd.


You can click here for a trailer for the book.


Hope you’ll join us for our discussion at the beginning of January.


{Remember: I’ll send a free book to one lucky commenter!}



November Book Discussion: The Language of Flowers December 3, 2013

Thanks to everyone who participated in our virtual book club this month! The selection for November was The Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh, which I introduced here.


I’m going to throw out some discussion topics, and you can post your comments—about these topics or other things you want to talk about.

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Discussion #1: Storytelling Method

One of my favorite parts of this book was the way the author wove together the two stories—the present-day narrative and the story of Victoria’s childhood. The connections between the past and the present were masterfully pieced together, and I enjoyed the slow reveal of what severed Victoria’s relationship with Elizabeth.


What did you think of the layered story? Did you like the author’s style, or would you have preferred one cohesive story?


Discussion #2: The Theme of Forgiveness

One idea that kept surfacing in this novel was the pain of unforgiveness and the redemptive power of forgiveness. We see this played out in almost every relationship: Elizabeth was able to forgive Victoria for burning down the vineyard, despite the years of hurt and distance between them. Elizabeth finally forgave Catherine for taking the man she loved, although that came too late to restore their relationship. Grant was able to forgive Victoria for leaving him and deserting their baby. Even Baby Hazel, with her innocence and trust, seems to offer forgiveness to Victoria, and she serves as a springboard for the healing of other relationships in Victoria’s life.


Have you ever extended forgiveness to someone who caused you great pain? Did you think the portrayal of forgiveness in the novel is realistic?


Discussion #3: Foster Parenting

Having known several families who have fostered children, I was intrigued by the exploration of what it takes to stitch together a family out of love but no shared genes. When I did some research about the author, I discovered that she is a foster parent herself and has founded a network to support youth transitioning from foster care.


Do you know any foster parents? How does this novel ring true with your experiences? Do you think Victoria will be able to overcome her past and become a good mom?


Discussion #4: Communicating via Flowers

It was fascinating to me the way Victoria was able to communicate her emotions through flowers when words failed her. She didn’t always have the skills to relate to people through the spoken or written word, but flowers gave her a way to express what she was feeling and thinking. I also enjoyed watching her share that gift with others at the flower shop. Some of the symbolism felt over the top to me (her name is Victoria?!), and sometimes the connections with the flower meanings felt a little heavy handed, but overall I enjoyed it.


Did this book make you want to find out more about the language of flowers (or wish you could visit Victoria’s shop)? Have you ever found ways to communicate with others that didn’t involve words?



I would give this book 4.5 stars. Despite the occasional over-the-top symbolism, it was an enjoyable read, and I really liked the characters and the way the story unfolded (bloomed?).

4.5 stars


What rating would you give this book?


{Remember: I will give away a free book to one lucky commenter!}



9 Books Every Girl Should Read November 15, 2013

Whether you’re looking for a book for a girl you love or you missed these along the way in your childhood, here are nine of my top titles for girls.


The Velveteen Rabbit by Margery Williamsgirls book1

This book offers some profound insights about how love can hurt, but how it’s also what makes you real.


“Real isn’t how you are made,” said the Skin Horse. “It’s a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become Real.”

“Does it hurt?” asked the Rabbit.

“Sometimes,” said the Skin Horse, for he was always truthful. “When you are Real you don’t mind being hurt.”



A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Englegirls book4

I’m not sure if this is an adult book that can also be appreciated by kids or a kids book that can also be appreciated by adults, but it holds up for any age, any generation. I remember reading it and having my eyes opened to the wonder and mystery just under the surface of ordinary life. I also felt a special kinship with Meg, who doesn’t seem to fit in with her peers but finds herself uniquely equipped to deal with another world once she arrives there—a world she never even dreamed of.



The Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Patersongirls book6

This was the first book I remember reading that didn’t have a happy ending. Although I felt indignant about it at the time, I grew to appreciate the beautiful picture of friendship painted in this book and how the characters’ grief prepared me to face my own losses.



The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnettgirls book5

This book serves as a reminder that friendship can blossom just as surely as flowers do, that miracles are possible, and that hope is worth clinging to.


“Is the spring coming?” he said. “What is it like?” . . .  

“It is the sun shining on the rain and the rain falling on the sunshine.”



Little Women by Louisa May Alcottgirls book9

I think every girl has a little bit of Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy in her. These sisters helped me grow up and figure out who I was, and they showed me how to stay true to what I stood for.



Anne of Green Gables by L. M. Montgomerygirls book2

I read this series so many times the books are now practically falling apart. After I read each book as a kid, I’d give it to my grandmother (she of the red hair and the spunky personality, just like Anne) and we’d talk about it together. Looking back, I suppose it was my first impromptu book club.



Little House on the Prairie by Laura Ingalls Wildergirls book8

I must have overlooked the parts about dysentery, the lack of indoor plumbing, and the absence of central air, but I desperately wanted to go back in time so I could be Laura. This book offers a poignant snapshot of a particular era in our country’s history, and it’s rich with themes of family relationships and the tough times can help us learn and grow.


“There’s no great loss without some small gain.”


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Pippi Longstocking by Astrid Lindgren

This book is pure fun. My sister and I loved wearing colorful stockings and putting our hair in pigtails, Pippi style.



Winnie the Horse Gentler by Dandi Daley Mackallgirls book7

This book came into my life when I was an adult, like a long-lost friend, but it’s a story every girl should read. Horse lover or not, every girl will connect with the ups and the downs of being a kid, the longing for friendship, and the way the funny moments of life weave together with the more serious ones.



What were your favorite books as a kid? I’d love to hear your list.


Book of the Month Club: Bread and Wine November 1, 2013

Thanks to everyone who joined our book of the month club for October! Our selection was Bread and Wine by Shauna Niequist, which I introduced here.



Here’s how it works: I’ll throw out a few discussion topics, and you can respond about these topics or anything else you’d like to talk about in the comment section below.


Discussion #1: A Call to Hospitality

I love the way Shauna reclaims eating together and sharing meals with others as not just something we do to sustain our bodies, but something that feeds the soul as well. “Food is one of the ways we love each other,” she says, “and the table is one of the most sacred places we gather.”


Having grown up with a grandma who can do a hundred magical things with a pie crust and her bare hands, and a mom who made every person who crossed the threshold of her home feel welcomed and loved, I have always understood at some intuitive level that the intersection of food and home is where relationships are cultivated and love takes root. But I appreciate the way Shauna puts those feelings into words and affirms the sacredness of hospitality in a world that is increasingly busy and fragmented.

“While it’s not strictly about food, it doesn’t happen without it. Food is the starting point, the common ground, the thing to hold and handle, the currency we offer to one another.”


What are your experiences with hospitality and making food for other people? Was that a priority in your family when you were growing up? How have you done things the same or differently in your own home?


Discussion #2: A Place for Vulnerability

One of the highlights of the book for me was the way Shauna emphasized that making food and inviting people into your home isn’t a performance; it’s an opportunity to create space for authenticity. When we break bread together, we can slow down, be real, let down our guard.


I loved her tradition of sharing toasts on someone’s birthday—saying something that person has brought to your life in the last year or a prayer for the year ahead: “The heart of hospitality is creating space for these moments, protecting that fragile bubble of vulnerability and truth and love. It’s all too rare that we tell the people we love exactly why we love them—what they bring to our lives, why our lives are richer because they’re in it.”


I also appreciated the way she made peace with things not going according to her own plans and being open to what God had ordained for the gathering:

“It was just as it should have been, and nothing close to what I could have planned. And that’s what makes a good party—when the evening and the people and the conversation and the feeling in the room are allowed to be whatever they need to be for that night.”


Have you ever hosted a party that didn’t go at all the way you planned or expected? Were there any unexpected blessings in that experience?


Discussion #3: Embracing a Healthy Relationship with Food

Shauna’s perspective on having a healthy relationship with food was very refreshing, and I especially appreciated her take on how there are some seasons to fast and other seasons to feast.

“I’m learning that feasting can only exist healthfully—physically, spiritually, and emotionally—in a life that also includes fasting. . . . The very things you think you need most desperately are the things that can transform you the most profoundly when you do finally decide to release them.”


Do you agree that we all need seasons of both feasting and fasting in our lives? What does that balance look like for you?


Discussion #4: Recipes

If I had one complaint about the book, it’s that I sometimes felt like a kitchen slouch when I read it. I know that wasn’t the author’s intent, and I realize the principles apply whether you’re whipping up homemade risotto or making Kraft macaroni and cheese, but sometimes I felt like I couldn’t relate to her stories about dinner parties with lobster and steak au poivre with cognac sauce.


That said, I did attempt a few of the recipes, and I appreciated the author’s conversational tone as she talked readers through the recipes. I felt like I had a sister in the kitchen, coaching me through the steps. I made the lentil soup, which wasn’t too hard, even for the likes of me. When my husband tried his first spoonful, he said tactfully, “It tastes like it’s good for me.” But to his credit, he ate it all. I also attempted the blueberry crisp (I made mine it peaches), the scrambled eggs with goat cheese (pretty good, but I prefer my eggs more solid than the recipe calls for), and the toffee (which I’m pretty sure I botched somehow because it just may crack your teeth). There are several others I’d still like to try.


Did you try any of the recipes? How did they turn out? Which one should I attempt next?



I would give the book 4.5 stars. I loved the bits about relationships, hospitality, faith, and the sacredness of the table. Maybe I just needed the “for dummies” version for the recipes.


4.5 stars


How many stars would you give the book?

{Remember: I’ll send a free book to one randomly selected commenter!}


Passing on the Good Story October 8, 2013

Filed under: Faith,Family — Stephanie Rische @ 8:03 am
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robin4I had the privilege of writing for Pick Your Portion recently. Here’s what I shared about my grandmother’s unexpected gift . . .



Last weekend the women in my family got together to celebrate the upcoming birth of my sister’s baby. We don’t know the name or the gender yet, and we don’t know this little one’s hair color or personality or special talents. But one thing is for certain: this baby is already incalculably loved.


We sat around the living room sipping raspberry punch long after the shower was over, telling stories about Meghan as a baby and retelling family lore—about sons and daughters, aunts and uncles, cousins and siblings. At one point I just sat there looking at all the beloved faces, trying to let the moment soak in. There were four generations represented in that room—my grandmother, my mom and a smattering of aunts, my sister, and the baby we were eager to meet.


robin1The guests had been asked to bring a book they’d loved as children, and the selections were a delightful mix of classic and modern, serious and fanciful, playful and deep. Then Meghan opened the last gift, unobtrusively tucked in a small bag at the back of the pile. As soon as she revealed the contents, the room drew in a collective breath.

You can read the rest of the story here.