Stephanie Rische

Stubbing My Toe on Grace

Virtual Book Discussion: Cooked January 31, 2014

Thanks to everyone who joined us for our virtual book club for January. This month we’re discussing Cooked by Michael Pollan.

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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: Cooking with the Elements

I thought the author’s structure for the book was fascinating. I’d never considered how different types of cooking fit into the categories of fire, water, air, and earth, and it made for an intriguing setup. I also enjoyed the way he showed his own progression from kitchen amateur to apprentice to blossoming cook. I felt like I could relate since he didn’t start out as an expert, and I appreciated his willingness to jump in to various types of cooking with both feet.

Did you have a favorite section? Which of the elements are you most comfortable in when it comes to cooking? Which elements are you least comfortable in?

 

Discussion #2: Cooking and Community

I really appreciated the author’s observations about how the way we cook and the way we eat effect how communal we are as a society. I was especially intrigued by his theory that the style of the cooking itself impacts the way we consume meals. When people prepared food around a fire, they cooked and ate together as an entire community. Then when people started cooking with an oven in individual households, cooking and eating became family-centric events. Now, as microwaves and fast food become the meal-prepping tools of choice, the focus is on the individual. One of my favorite parts of the book was seeing how the author’s various cooking experiments brought his family together and resulted not only in edible rewards but also in intangible gifts, such as bonding and conversations with his wife and teenage son.

As our cooking and eating become more individualized, do you think we’re in danger of losing a sense of community and family? Is there anything we can do to promote these values in our own homes?

 

Discussion #3: Intentional Food Choices

One of the things I appreciated most about this book was the way it opened my eyes to the underlying ramifications of the choices we make about food, cooking, and eating. When we mindlessly stick something in the microwave, pick up dinner at the drive-thru, or prioritize other activities over “scratch cooking,” there are consequences—both for us as individuals and for us as a culture. Although I haven’t necessarily revamped my approach to cooking after reading this book, it certainly has made me more aware and more thoughtful about the choices I make to get dinner on the table. I wasn’t nearly as ambitious as the author (no whole-hog barbecue or beer brewing for me), and I didn’t try any of his recipes, but this book did inspire a few modest “from scratch” attempts. My biggest success was my bread-baking adventure (the first time I cooked with yeast!). I wasn’t ambitious enough to make a starter and baby it for weeks like the author did, but it felt like a step in the right direction.

Did this book cause you to reevaluate any of your cooking/eating choices? Have you ever attempted any cooking experiments similar to what the author describes in this book?

 

Rating

I’d give this book 4.5 stars. It made me think about food choices in a new way, and I appreciated the author’s style. He was at once knowledgeable and brilliant (I was impressed with the historical context and scientific background he offered throughout), but he was also accessible and an engaging storyteller.

 

4.5 stars

 

How many stars would you give this book (out of five)?

As a side note, if you liked this book, I’d recommend Bread and Wine, which we discussed here.

 

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

 

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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.

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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?

 

Rating:

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.)

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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?

 

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!}

 

 

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.

 

Friday Favorites: November November 8, 2013

Filed under: Friday Favorites — Stephanie Rische @ 8:14 am
Tags: , , , , , , ,

Here are a few of  my favorites from this month that I wanted to share with you.

 

For anyone who needs a laugh…

In this hilarious collection of tweets, a word has been added to each title to completely change the meaning. Cases in point: I Kissed Carbon Dating Goodbye, The Taco Shack, Blue Like Jazz Hands. I promise you’ll laugh. Add a Word, Ruin a Christian Book. Plus, here’s a link to some mocked-up covers with new titles: Add a Word Covers

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For all romantics—practical and otherwise…

Ann Voskamp says, “True love isn’t found. It’s carved.” Why There Really Are No Blurred Lines

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For people who love an actual book…

This artist has created one-of-a-kind bindings for classic books. They’re not so much books as works of art, or in his words, “literary artifacts.” Bindings for Classic Books

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For lovers of nature and/or photography…

These are the contest winners for National Geographic’s traveler photo contest. Breathtaking. Outdoor Scenes Contest

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For anyone who thinks the English language is hard…


Why say it in a sentence when you can squeeze it all into a 63-letter word? Here’s a list of really long German words and their definitions: Eight Ridiculously Long German Words

 

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