Stephanie Rische

Stubbing My Toe on Grace

Announcing…a Launch Date! February 18, 2014

Filed under: Writing — Stephanie Rische @ 8:15 am
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When I first typed that title, I wrote “Lunch Date.” Which maybe tells you it’s going to be a long morning, if I’m already thinking about lunch at this hour.

 

But all things considered, I suppose a launch date is almost as exciting as a lunch date.

website

 

I’m so happy to tell you that one week from today—Tuesday, February 25—I get to introduce you to StephanieRische.com! The talented Sarah Parisi has been doing her creative magic behind the scenes, and I can’t wait to pull back the curtain.

 

Keep an eye out next week—there will be giveaways and contests and prizes! Looking forward to seeing you there.

 

And now that we’ve got that business taken care of, what’s for lunch?

 

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.)

 wonder1

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.

 Language of Flowers1

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?

 

Rating:

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!}

 

 

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.

breadandwine

 

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?

 

Rating

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!}

 

Book of the Month Discussion: And the Mountains Echoed September 27, 2013

Thanks to everyone who participated in our virtual book club about And the Mountains Echoed, which I introduced here.

Housseini2

 

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: Family Relationships

This book is stitched together with the best and worst of family relationships—both profound love and the worst kinds of betrayal. It was fascinating to explore what happens to families under extreme circumstances—how some parents gave a child away in hopes of a better life for her and how others sacrificed everything to give their children a better life; how one mother left her daughter to fend for herself while other parental figures stepped in to love children who weren’t their own; how tragedy drew some siblings closer than ever and pushed others apart.

 

I also noted a recurring theme of children being separated from their families (Pari being split up from her biological family and particularly her brother, Abdullah; Pari losing her adoptive mother to suicide; the injured girl Roshi being torn from her murdered family; Talia being left by her mother, Madeleine). The book says that Pari has always felt “the absence of something, or someone, fundamental to her own existence. . . . Sometimes it was vague, like a message sent across shadowy byways and vast distances, a weak signal on a radio dial, remote, warbled. Other times it felt so clear, this absence, so intimately close it made her heart lurch.”

 

This book seems to claim that families can love us the best and hurt us the most. Do you agree or disagree? Do you think there are situations where it’s best for a child is to be separated from his or her family?

 

Discussion #2: A Peek into a Different World

I read Hosseini’s first book, Kite Runner, on a plane ride to Thailand, and when I returned home, I remember feeling like I’d traveled to two different countries on that trip. The author painted such a clear picture of Afghanistan that I felt like I’d been transported to that world. I felt the same way with And the Mountains Echoed. Hosseini has a gift for bringing places to life, and I enjoyed reading about Kabul through the eyes of story and characters rather than just the lens of the news.

 

What did you think of this book’s portrayal of Afghanistan? Did it make you want to visit?

 

Discussion #3: Overlapping Stories

It took me a while to figure out how all the characters and stories tied together. This might have been especially problematic for me because I listened to it and couldn’t flip back to be reminded about certain characters, but at any rate, it took me a while to get my bearings. Once I figured out that the stories were all satellites from Abdullah and Pari, I was able to piece things together, but I wish the author had made it clearer from the beginning.

 

What did you think of the author’s style? Did you like the approach to tell multiple stories, or do you wish he’d focused more on one character’s story?

 

Discussion #4: Right and Wrong

The book opens with Saboor’s bedtime story to his children about the div (which I gathered to be something of an ogre). It seemed like an odd place to start at first, but as the book went on, I decided it was a perfect setup for the difficult decisions the characters (and especially the parents in the stories) had to make. The father in the tale did the unthinkable—he sacrificed his son for the sake of the rest of his family—but the father came to believe that was the safest thing for him. Saboor himself had to make a similar decision to let Pari be raised by the Nila. Throughout the book, other characters are forced to make similar decisions that have no clear black-and-white answers.

 

I discovered that this book’s title is taken from a poem by William Blake called “Nurse’s Song: Innocence,” which refers to hills echoing with the sound of children’s voices. The last stanza has a haunting feel that’s reflected in Hosseini’s book. The children he writes about who grew up on the tumultuous playground of Afghanistan—they were just children, but they had to see so much.

 

Well well go & play till the light fades away
And then go home to bed
The little ones leaped & shouted & laugh’d
And all the hills echoed

 

Were there any characters you were angry with for making wrong choices for their children? Were there any characters you admired for their willingness to do the right thing?

 

Rating

I would give And the Mountains Echoed 4 stars for the emotive storytelling and the vivid way it brought an unfamiliar culture to life.

 4 stars

How many stars would you give this book?

 

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

 

Book of the Month Club for September September 3, 2013

First of all, congratulations to Kristy, the winner of a free book for our August discussion!

 

And now, announcing the book for September . . . And the Mountains Echoed by Khaled Hosseini.

 

Housseini2

 

Here’s a synopsis of the book from the author’s website:

 

Khaled Hosseini, the #1 New York Times–bestselling author of The Kite Runner and A Thousand Splendid Suns, has written a new novel about how we love, how we take care of one another, and how the choices we make resonate through generations. In this tale revolving around not just parents and children but brothers and sisters, cousins and caretakers, Hosseini explores the many ways in which families nurture, wound, betray, honor, and sacrifice for one another; and how often we are surprised by the actions of those closest to us, at the times that matter most. Following its characters and the ramifications of their lives and choices and loves around the globe—from Kabul to Paris to San Francisco to the Greek island of Tinos—the story expands gradually outward, becoming more emotionally complex and powerful with each turning page.

 

I hope you’ll join us! Happy reading.

 

And remember: there will be a free book giveaway for one lucky commenter!

 

Book of the Month Discussion: Prototype August 30, 2013

Filed under: Book Club — Stephanie Rische @ 7:59 am
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Thanks to everyone who participated in our virtual book club this month! The selection for August was Prototype by Jonathan Martin, which I introduced here.

prototype1

 

This book feels revolutionary to me—not in new ideas, but in its revolutionary application of ancient ones. Jonathan Martin manages to actually apply those truths we know in our heads but don’t always feel and put into practice. He poses this question, which seems to be the underlying premise for the entire book: “What if the ultimate goal of everything Jesus said and did was not just to get us to believe certain things about Him, but to become like Him?” (p. 18). In other words, what if we lived as if the gospel were really true—not just that we believe it’s true, but that we let it seep into every part of our lives?

 

Identity

I liked the author’s metaphor of riding his bike as a kid as a way to understand what it’s like to be fully ourselves in God’s presence: “It was so natural to be in His presence that I wasn’t even conscious of it” (p. 9). He articulates so well this longing to be known and to belong, encouraging us to recall “a time when you were open and free to the world around you, a time when you had a sense that there was something, or someone, drawing you close. Maybe you can even remember a time when you knew the sensation of being fully known and delighted in” (p. 12).

 

What is your metaphor for a time you were fully yourself in God’s presence? Maybe for you it wasn’t a bike or a trampoline, but is there a visual image that resonates with you?

 

Beloved

The “Beloved” chapter was one of my favorites. I appreciate the way the author captures divine love, which is given not because we earn it or deserve it; instead, like David, we’re “loved simply because [we] exist” (p. 29). This desire to be loved isn’t something we outgrow; it’s hardwired into the way we’re made:  “The enchantment of divine love was there before we were born, it is native to us; we all have a primal desire inside of us to be the object of that delight, to be fully known before a God who celebrates us” (p. 22).

 

In what ways would your life look different if you truly grasped how beloved you are by God?

 

Obscurity

We often think of our times of suffering or spiritual dryness as punishment or as God turning his back on us, but the author offers another perspective: “God draws people into obscurity—into the wilderness—not because He’s angry with them or because they aren’t ‘successful enough,’ but because He wants to go deeper in His relationship with them. . . . The wilderness is a gift” (p. 50). Not only that, but the wilderness is a place we can connect with God in ways we can’t when life is cruising along just fine: “The wilderness is the place where God courts His beloved. When we step away from the noise and distraction, we find God has been wooing us all along” (p. 52).

 

Do you feel like you’re in the wilderness right now? Are there ways you’d like to intentionally withdraw and seek obscurity to be wooed by God?

 

Wounds

All too often church can be a place where we try to pull ourselves together and put on masks to convince everyone else that we have it all together. But Martin points out that the core of the gospel is that beauty comes out of brokenness, that redemption comes out of the deepest wounds. “Jesus made His own brokenness a resource for healing for the entire world” (p. 106). Rather than being something to hide, our wounds are to be shared as a testimony to God’s work in our lives. “We don’t conceal our scars because our scars are our story, and our story, however broken, is a story of the tenderness of God” (p. 107).

 

Rating

When I got to the end of this book, I loved Jesus more than I did when I started, and I also have a deeper grasp of how loved I am by him. In light of that, plus the fact that I’ve underlined approximately one-third of the words on these pages, I would give this book four stars.

4 stars

 

How many stars would you give Prototype?

 

{Remember, I’ll give away a free book to one lucky commenter!}

 

Book of the Month Discussion: Where’d You Go, Bernadette August 2, 2013

Thanks to everyone who participated in our virtual book club (which I introduced here). July’s selection was Where’d You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple.

bernadette2

Discussion #1: Quirky Style

I enjoyed the unique format of the storytelling in this book. It’s part epistolary (with the letters and the documents Bee discovers telling part of the story) and part narrative, and I think the combination works well. I appreciate that the firsthand documents help us piece together clues alongside Bee, while the narrative parts gives us a window into Bee’s thoughts and personality.

 

What did you think of the style? Did it work for you?

 

Discussion #2: 3-D Characters

The characters in this novel felt quirky but real to me. Case in point: Bernadette is clearly disturbed and unstable, but she’s still lovable, and we gradually get a peek into more layers of her character as the story progresses. Audrey seems to be annoying and one-dimensional at first, but she turns out to be the one who saves Bernadette, and we see her soften from her judgmental, shallow ways. And then there’s Bee—the smart, precocious heroine who manages to unravel the mystery and carry the load of an adult role in her search for her mom.

 

One of the interesting about these characters was how they seemed to coexist side by side but in their own separate worlds—it’s like they are somehow lonely together. At one point Bee says:

I don’t know if it’s possible to feel everything all at once, so much that you think you’re going to burst. . . . I felt so full of love for everything. But at the same, I felt so hung out to dry there, like nobody could ever understand. I felt so alone in this world, and so loved at the same time. (p. 199)

 

What did you think of the characters? Did you have a favorite? Was there a character you couldn’t stand?

 

Discussion #3: Seattle as a Character

Seattle is practically a character in the novel—and a dynamic one at that, as we see the city through Bernadette’s eyes. At first she appreciates how refreshingly different it is from California, but eventually she starts to resent everything about the city—the weather, the crunchy granola types, the Microsoft culture—and Bernadette practically blames the city for driving her away. But in the stark, unforgiving cold desert climate of Antarctica—so opposite from Seattle—Bernadette starts to appreciate what she left behind in the Emerald City.

 

Do you think this story would work in another setting? Did the portrayal of Seattle ring true to you?

 

Discussion #4: The Mind of an Artist

It was heartbreaking to finally unravel what had happened to Bernadette’s architectural masterpiece. Here’s what Bernadette says about it in her letter to Bee:

By now you’ve learned that I’m a certified genius. . . . Really, who wants to admit to her daughter that she was once considered the most promising architect in the country, but now devotes her celebrated genius to maligning the driver in front of her for having Idaho plates? (p. 316)

 

How do you think you would have responded if someone had destroyed your life’s work like that?

 

Do you know any artists? What happens to them if they don’t create?

 

Rating

I would give this book 4 stars for the ever-precocious Bee and the creative storytelling.

4 stars

 

What rating would you give this book?

 

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

 

 

Announcing the Book of the Month for July July 3, 2013

Filed under: Book Club — Stephanie Rische @ 12:12 pm
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First of all, congratulations to Sarah for winning a free book for last month’s book discussion! You can read about our conversation about baby bath photos, soapboxes, and skeleton airing here.

 

And the book of the month for July is . . . . Where’d You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple.

bernadette2

 

Here’s the description from the jacket of her book:

 

Bernadette Fox is notorious. To her Microsoft-guru husband, she’s a fearlessly opinionated partner; to fellow private-school mothers in Seattle, she’s a disgrace; to design mavens, she’s a revolutionary architect, and to 15-year-old Bee, she is a best friend and, simply, Mom.

Then Bernadette disappears. It began when Bee aced her report card and claimed her promised reward: a family trip to Antarctica. But Bernadette’s intensifying allergy to Seattle—and people in general—has made her so agoraphobic that a virtual assistant in India now runs her most basic errands. A trip to the end of the earth is problematic.

To find her mother, Bee compiles email messages, official documents, secret correspondence—creating a compulsively readable and touching novel about misplaced genius and a mother and daughter’s role in an absurd world.

 bernadette1

 

Remember, there will be a FREE BOOK GIVEAWAY for one lucky commenter!

 

June Book Discussion: Carry On, Warrior June 28, 2013

Thanks to everyone who participated in our virtual book club (which I introduced here). June’s selection was Carry on, Warrior by Glennon Doyle Melton.

 

Here’s how it works: I’ll throw out some discussion topics, and you can post your comments below—about these topics or other things you want to talk about.

carry on3

Discussion #1: Authenticity

I really appreciated the author’s authentic voice—sharing the hard, real parts of life that we try to pretty up or hide from other people. Glennon’s honesty is a refreshing reminder that there is freedom in recognizing and admitting our brokenness. It’s obvious that she loves her children and finds joy in the sacred ground of motherhood, but she doesn’t pretend to have a Pinterest-perfect life. Plus, her honesty can be downright hilarious (case in point: when her daughter announced at the dentist’s office: “Mom, you smell like a bar!”).

 

Glennon’s insights in “Don’t Carpe Diem” are gold—especially for moms with young kids:

This CARPE DIEM message makes me paranoid and panicky. Especially during this phase of my life when I’m raising young kids. Being told, in a million different ways, to CARPE DIEM makes me worry that if I’m not in a constant state of profound gratitude and ecstasy, I’m doing something wrong.

 

I appreciate the insight she comes to about kairos time vs. chronos time—being able to savor each season without having to pretend that each moment of it is bliss.

 

Do you think Glennon overshared, or were you inspired by her vulnerability? Can you relate to her feelings about the pressure to “Carpe Diem”?

 

Discussion #2: Book vs. Blog

The jacket of the book admits up front that some of the content is taken from the author’s blog, momastery.com. But I was surprised to find how much it felt like a loosely compiled string of blogs. I often found myself disoriented in time when the order skipped around, and I kept searching for an overarching narrative arc. I would consider myself a casual reader of Glennon’s blog, and I was surprised how much content overlapped what I’ve already read from her.

 

Do you have different expectations for books versus blogs? Did you think the book held together with this structure?

 

Discussion #3: Truth-Telling

Glennon calls herself a “truth-teller,” and I think she achieves that goal. The upside of that is we get front-row seats to the work of redemption God has done and continues to do in her life. But as I read, it struck me that it’s one thing to decide to bare the skeletons in your own closet, but how much liberty does one have to raid the closets of her husband and kids? As much as I enjoyed these personal glimpses, I wondered what her children will think as they get older and the world knows about their business. (And what on earth did her husband think of her sharing that e-mail she sent him at work?!)

 

When it comes to sharing—whether in a blog, on social media, or in a book—how much do you think is okay to share about your kids/family/friends? Do you have any standards in place for yourself?

carry on1

Rating

I would give this book 3.5 stars for the enjoyable content but lazy structure.

35 stars

How many stars would you give this book?

 

Once again, there will be a FREE BOOK GIVEAWAY for one lucky commenter!