Friday, March 29, 2013

Bread & Wine Book Review

One of my favorite authors, Shauna Niequist, just wrote a new book – Bread & Wine – A Love Letter to Life Around the Table with Recipes.  When I heard that I could get an advanced copy and write a book review, I was ecstatic and jumped at the chance! 

My best, brightest, and most positive memories are around the table.  While that includes the big holidays like Easter, Christmas, and Thanksgiving at my Grandparent’s house, it also includes the simple day-to-day gatherings.  I remember laughing until I cried many nights at my childhood home over any typical weeknight dinner – pizza or meatloaf or porcupine meatballs.  Five kids and my parents telling funny stories and barely resisting spitting out our food or milk in fits of silliness. 

I remember afternoons when a neighbor would show up and there would inevitably be coffee and a snack – around the common kitchen table – never in the living room.  I remember holidays at my husband’s childhood home when we were dating and first married – in-laws and siblings and nieces and nephews cackling and telling the same stories over and over – crammed into spaces too small and nobody minding the tables between us. 

I can see the table with splattered food that reached to the walls, ceiling and floor when our three were little – loud and crying, and spilling and even in that chaos, I see myself smiling, remembering.  I see Jerry and I at our favorite Italian restaurant, the elderly waiter singing in Italian, the wine glass in my hand, smiling and toasting and basking in my wonderful husband’s love. 

Around the table I see the people I hold onto and love. Even when there is illness or pain or confusion or heartbreak or tension in the everyday, when we are around the table, we can laugh and tell those same stories – the ones that knit us together in an unbreakable bond. 

Shauna’s books have always met me where I am – right in the midst of the same seasons in my life.  Cold Tangerines met me in the joys of my life, Bittersweet met me during the heartache, and Bread & Wine weaves together all of those good times and bad, highs and lows into this everyday necessity that is so much more than eating, but nourishment for both the body and soul.  All of her books have left me crying at one point and close to throwing them across the room at another – digging deeply into the wonder and joy and striking the chord of pain and suffering. Bread & Wine is no exception. 

The chapter entitled “Start Where You Are” has become my new theme.  I’m an all or nothing person, so I want to immediately start and master the next big thing with gusto – controlling all its parts and accomplishing remarkable things.  But the truth is that I have to start where I am – take small steps to move in that direction that results in those remarkable things – whatever they are.  Running starts with walking and jogging and then logging miles – but never in an instant or even over a single month.  Writing starts with single words strung into sentences that result in moving thoughts and change producing vision.

“Open the Door” is a chapter that reminds me that true authenticity when opening your home is being who you are in your own space even if your space is like mine – perma-crumbs on the floor, dishes forever by the sink, laundry baskets acting as multicolored living room accessories, splatters on the bathroom mirror.  My mother always welcomed neighbors and friends in the front door even when she was in her pajamas, even when the kitchen was undone from the last meal, even when we kids had left toy after toy strewn in the living room.  The door was always open and I aspire to have that open door policy, in hopes that people will understand and know that they can come as they are to this place where I am who I am.

I have a set of Russian dolls – much like the one that Shauna refers to in the chapter of the same name.  They sit on my mantle – six elegantly decorated ladies all tucked into each other.  In this chapter, she brought me to tears with this – looking through pictures of her Grandparents with her Grandmother.  Her Grandmother said that she remembered just how that thirteen year old felt and that nineteen year old bride felt and that thirty year old on the motorcycle felt.  “She said you carry them inside you, collecting them along the way, more and more selves inside you with each passing year, like those Russian dolls, stacking one inside the other, nesting within themselves, waiting to be discovered, one and then another.”   And in that moment tears welling out of me, I realized that all of those selves I’ve collected along the way are lost – that I don’t know them anymore, that I seldom look back and reflect and remember and reach deeply into myself to stack them all together and come to the full realization of who I am today because of them.  Some of the baggage those selves have collected needs to laid down and some of that past joy and wonder, and fun-loving personality need to be picked up.  I sobbed realizing that in doing this, it will change the person I am today and I so desperately need that.   Whenever I look at my Russian dolls, I will remember. 

The chapter entitled “Take this Bread” brings home to me what it means to live this life around the table, acknowledging our physical limitations by taking the time to sit around the table for bodily nourishment.  But it doesn’t end there – although our culture pushes us to use mealtimes as quick fuel stops for the body – it goes much deeper than this.  The table nourishes our body and soul and brings us together in that singular place where we are all one.  Shauna’s friend Shane so eloquently says – “bread is the food of the poor and wine is the food of the privileged, and that every time we see those two together, we are reminded of what we share instead of what divides us.” Yes! This physical and spiritual act of communion – sharing bread and wine is the heart of this book – the table that brings us together – but only if we fight for it and cherish it and allow ourselves to be open to it.

The recipes – so fun and delicious!  I made the Basic Vinaigrette and loved the simplicity of it.  My next go around I will adjust the acidity using less balsamic vinegar and more olive oil, but I have tried the original recipe on Greek salad and chicken and potatoes and enjoyed them immensely.  I will likely buy a better jar for it – my jelly jar has a high maintenance lid, which results in more mess than I care for.

The Goat Cheese Biscuits were out of this world!  I do not have a cast iron skillet – but now after making this I am inspired to purchase one.  They were dense and rich without being over the top.  I gobbled up four in one evening – I couldn’t resist!  (Looking forward to eating more with eggs for breakfast!) I ended up making 14 biscuits with the recipe instead of 12.

Overall, Bread & Wine is a real treasure of the mind, heart, and mouth.  Each chapter weaves together a beautiful tapestry of how the everyday table is one of the richest and most beautiful places to be. 

I was given a free, advanced copy of Bread & Wine to review.  However, my opinions are my own. 

Shauna Niequist is the author of Cold Tangerines and Bittersweet, and Bread & Wine. Shauna grew up in Barrington, Illinois, and then studied English and French Literature at Westmont College in Santa Barbara. She is married to Aaron, who is a pianist and songwriter. Aaron is a worship leader at Willow Creek and is recording a project called A New Liturgy. Aaron & Shauna live outside Chicago with their sons, Henry and Mac. Shauna writes about the beautiful and broken moments of everyday life--friendship, family, faith, food, marriage, love, babies, books, celebration, heartache, and all the other things that shape us, delight us, and reveal to us the heart of God.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Streams of Starbucksness

I am at Starbucks with my sweet three year old Abby.  She’s been really cranky today, but she is quiet right now.  She is eating a pink cake pop and people watching.  We are making the mermaids on our cups talk. I’m the mommy and she’s the baby.  She looks out the window and says, “The cars are going fast!”  Jazz pulsates and slides out of the speakers.

Abby is hunched over her chair backwards watching the manager interviewing someone.  I’m admiring my gold purse and pondering the purple stainless and ceramic mug that is on my wish list.  I sip the sweet, rich foam off the top of my latte – nectar of the coffee warming my insides.  I look into her adorable face – hair a mess, smiling, dimple shown, big blue eyes laughing. 
Abby plays a game, “Can you sit in this position, mommy?” Leaning forward, on the edge, on her knees, legs spread apart, sideways with legs crossed.  She says, “It’s a little table!  That one is a little table!  It’s a baby!”

She climbs on my lap.  She says, “You have to write, mama.  Why?”  I say, “I must!” She says, “You so cute.”  I kiss her still pudgy, toddler cheek. How I wish all of my moments with her were like this – coming off lunch time with her tantrums and my yelling.  Night and day.

The music slows and saddens, tranquil trumpet.  This moment fleeting, the clock signaling the end.  She bonks my head with hers grabbing my pen and clicking it so I cannot write – snapping me back to reality. 

Monday, March 18, 2013

On Wearing a Cross

For many years, I wouldn’t wear a cross.  I knew plenty of people who did – gold, silver, large, small.  But even though I’ve been a Christian for as long as I have memories, I couldn’t do it.  I grew up in the age of Madonna and her over-the-top-cross-in-your-face image (among many others during that time) turned me off to the public display of crossdom. 
It seemed to me that many wore the cross as a contradiction to their own behavior.  They behaved and spoke as those who really didn’t understand what the cross meant. For myself, I thought that if I couldn’t represent Christ well with my behavior, then I should not wear one.  So I didn’t.  My own judgment of others and myself put my faith in a box and hidden away from others.  

Years later, my husband bought me a beautiful yellow gold and diamond cross necklace.  Not too big to be gaudy, not too small to be hidden.  This cross made a statement – but I wasn’t sure I knew how to wear that statement and be sincere.  Before I wore it, I thought, “Will I be on my best behavior today?” If the answer was no, it went back into the jewelry box.  I had bought into the lie that as a Christian, I should somehow be perfect now that I knew Christ.  

I wore it here and there.  After a while I found, that the more I studied the Bible, the more I realized that Jesus sought out the imperfect ones – the ones who were rejected by society, imperfect – the “tax collectors and sinners” and in that cross, something that represents pain, suffering, and the ultimate torture to death could be turned into something beautiful – gold and diamonds – and our freedom from what we really deserve.

So I started wearing that cross – hoping that somehow the thin, light metal would somehow weigh down and burn into my chest reminding me of my flaws and how Jesus accepts me anyway – making me the ugly beautiful.  I’m not perfect and I never will be and maybe everyone I have ever seen wear a cross has it on to remind them that without that cross, they remain ugly, but with it on them – burning into them they become beautiful and in this brokenness, represent who Christ really is.