fun things

Read, Watched, Listened

I love reading just about everything (okay, you won't see any mystery or sci-fi picks on here), watching things that make me think and especially if they make me laugh, and wholeheartedly embrace the podcast. I also enjoy hearing about what other people are reading, watching, and listening. Here's my two cents worth.

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READ
A Year of Biblical Womanhood and Searching for Sunday
I’ve written about these before, but today I post them as a tribute to Rachel Held Evans. She has been an essential voice in my faith journey and to hear about her death this past Saturday was beyond devastating. (Such unwelcome news in sharp contrast to the sunny t-ball game I was watching; opening Instagram to post a t-ball photo only to find Sarah Bessey’s announcement at the top.) I had begun re-reading Searching for Sunday within days of learning Rachel Held Evans was in the hospital; I’m working through A Year of Biblical Womanhood now. I plan to read through Inspired again as well, and to tackle Evolving in Monkey Town for the very first time. It’s my own (very) small tribute to the life of a woman I loved and respected so much from afar.

And Now We Have Everything
While I enjoyed this memoir, what I think I loved more was this article inspired by the book and how we need more “memoirs of regular lives”. The book chronicles the author’s unexpected pregnancy and transition to new motherhood in some of the most real terms I’ve ever read. It’s relatable primarily because the subject matter is so ordinary - and it’s the ordinariness that makes it so vivid and real.

The Man Who Ate Everything
This book was a joy to read. I love everything food-related, and Jeffrey Steingarten talks about food so brilliantly as he bounces around from one food obsession to the next, from sourdough bread to french fries.

Almost Everything
I saw someone once describe Anne Lamott as a “feminist C.S. Lewis”, and that sounds about right to me. She tackles faith and hope and the actual logistics of life with such wisdom and humor it’s hard not to love her. In this book she gives us a reason to hope and reminds us of the good things in life. It’s a perfect book for the time we’re in. (P.s. She recently got married for the very first time and I just love everything about it so much.)

Walking on Water
Speaking of feminists, I think it’s safe to call Madeline L’Engle one after reading her thoughts on so-called “Christian art” in this classic book. As a writer, this is one I will continue to return to. She cuts through much of the lame ideas surrounding Christian art and I’ve been quoting the line “If it's bad art, it's bad religion, no matter how pious the subject” every single chance I get.

Belong To Me
This novel was a re-re-read for me. I needed something easy and uplifting and this book is it. It chronicles three neighbors and how their lives intersect through family dynamics, death, grief, parenting, and societal standards. Any book that makes me fall in love with the characters is a book I’m willing to come back to over and over again.

The Middle Place
This is Kelly Corrigan’s memoir of her journey with breast cancer and her father’s simultaneous journey with his own cancer diagnosis. I really don’t know how to describe her writing: she’s real and raw and funny and bares her whole self to us. This book is about life and death, sickness and health, of being both parent and child at the same time. It’s wonderful.
Lift
I read this while waiting for my hold to come up on The Middle Place. It’s an easy yet complex, funny, wonderful memoir of motherhood. I read this short book in one sitting and wished it went on far longer. Basically Kelly Corrigan is the writer I want to be when I grow up.

When Breath Becomes Air
I’ve been hearing about this book since it was published in 2016, and now I know why. This memoir chronicles Paul Kalanithi’s late-stage cancer diagnosis just as he is on the verge of completing medical school (specializing in neurosurgery). He quickly goes from doctor to patient, then back again. It’s a fascinating snapshot of his life and the process of making life decisions in the face of death. The book certainly feels unfinished since he ultimately passed before it’s completion, and left me wondering what else he had to say. His widow’s epilogue is both a beautiful and heartbreaking way to end the book.

Multiples Illuminated
I’ve been wanting to read this collection of essays for awhile - it’s so hard to find anything multiples-specific! It was fine; like most essay collections, some were written much better than others. In the end it was relatable for me and left me wanting to write more about my own motherhood journey with twins.

Delancey
I guess I was on a memoir kick for the past two months or so. I can’t remember where I first encountered Molly Wizenberg - possibly through her blog, Orangette? I was hooked on her voice, but somehow this book got pushed to the back of my reading list. I finally got to it and loved reading about her journey in opening a pizza restaurant with her husband. (Warning: you will be craving wood-fired pizza throughout the entire book.) It also made me absolutely never want to open a restaurant.

WATCHED
The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel
We’ve been working through this one for a couple months now. It is delightful. This is a show that doesn’t take itself too seriously and the dialogue (while sometimes overly-scripted) is fun and witty. I wish it would delve into Mrs. Maisel’s role as a mother more (really those poor kids seem like an afterthought, why are they even there?) but the show is so entertaining I’m willing to look past that.

Knock Down the House
This documentary focuses on four women taking on Democratic incumbents in primary races - most notably Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. It’s clear from the beginning that she has the kind of charisma and intelligence people are drawn to. It’s a well-done look at their races and reasons for running. I didn’t need any more reasons to cheer on AOC, but this definitely gives me a fuller picture of her own political journey.

LISTENED

The Liturgists Podcast
I know, I just linked to them last time, but combine The Liturgists with Richard Rohr and I am ALL. IN. There are two parts. It’s long. I’ve already listened through them both twice. It’s so much food for thought based on Richard Rohr’s new book. I love him so much. Just listen and then find someone to talk to about it.

On Second Thought: The Trevor Noah Podcast
People, I literally downloaded the Luminary app purely so I can listen to this podcast. For anyone who’s watched his “between the scenes” clips from The Daily Show, that’s what this podcast reminds me of. Trevor Noah talks about news in such a smart, fresh, entertaining way. In the first episode, he brought in Tiger Woods’ own memoirist to talk about Woods’ recent Masters win. I don’t even care much about Tiger Woods, yet the conversation was fascinating.

Note: any links to Amazon in this post are affiliate links.

A Super Birthday Party

It began last March-ish. Maybe slightly earlier. I actually think the superhero obsession began right around the time of their birthday party last year. I remember thinking that it was too late to change the theme. Gifts and decorations and cakes had already been bought.

“We can do a superhero party for your birthday next year,” I remember saying. In March. And in May. And in June, July and August. And in November. And now, here we are.

If you still like superheroes, I would think. It was the asterisk, the subtext of my promise to throw them a superhero party. However the kids who planned out their Halloween costumes seven months in advance without ever once deviating (as superheroes, of course) didn’t let me down.

It’s official. They got their superhero party. And I see no end in sight to this particular obsession…

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Cupcake sprinkles.

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Superhero clipart. Decorative fans. Batman garland (an ode to the superhero who started all this.)

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Superhero birthday shirts.

My “sheroes” sweatshirt, now officially my new favorite piece of clothing.

+++++

The price of admission this year was a present. “Did you bring us presents?” was how they greeted everyone at the door. I’ve said it before, but just in case it hasn’t sunk in yet please remember that subtlety is not their specialty.

It was the first year in the past five where I didn’t have to watch the cake table like a hawk the entire time (though Nolan got a few frosting swipes and sprinkle steals in). They kind of ran around and did their own thing and opened presents and ate cake like it was their jam. And, at five and three, I guess it is.

+++++

It’s officially birthday week in the Williamses house! And as hard as it is to believe we’re quickly leaving behind the years of toddlerhood, it’s also makes perfect sense as I see how far we’ve come. Here’s to three of the craziest, most loving, most talkative, smartest, most adventurous, and least subtle (almost) three and five-year olds around.

Lemon and Ricotta Pound Cake

Being that it’s my birthday week (I get to take over the whole week, right?) it’s only fitting to share one of my favorite sweet recipes. Not exactly a birthday cake, though I wouldn’t complain if you showed up at my house with a few candles stuck in one of these, freshly baked. It’s more of an everyday sweet cake. One that goes with everything from coffee in the morning to tea in the afternoon. (Or half-slices snuck from the pantry at any time of the day while your kids run around like crazy people.) And, really, isn’t that the best kind of recipe of all?

Every year when the calendar switches over, my mind immediately turns toward spring. So do the stores, it seems, since everywhere seems to be exploding with pastels and florals. It’s actually depressing to walk through the Target aisles since here in Minnesota we’re still very much in the depths of winter. I grasp what springiness I can in the produce department, through citrus. It’s brightness reminds of what’s to come, hopefully sooner than later, unlike some years when the snow doesn’t melt until nearly May. I’M LOOKING AT YOU 2018.

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Brooklyn and Nolan helped me make this cake one afternoon while Caden was otherwise engrossed in some LEGO creation or other. They helped me measure the flour. (I swatted Nolan’s hand away from eating the flour plain as he’s been known to attempt. Blech.) They tried to guess what each ingredient was. “Now it’s time for sugar?” No this is baking powder. “That’s sugar?” This is salt. “Is that whipped cream?” No this is ricotta cheese. I scattered granules of sugar on the counter once it was actually time for that beloved ingredient, for them to dab up with their fingers.

I showed them how I zested and then squeezed out the lemons into a sieve, quizzed them on why you couldn’t just squirt the lemon juice straight into the bowl. I wonder if they’ll remember these baking lessons when they’re older, the same way I remember my mom showing me how to scoop and then level off cups of flour and sugar. (Even if I rarely take the time to tap and level off the cup now. Whoops.) Maybe they’ll remember how I showed them to scoop out a stray piece of eggshell from the batter, by using another piece of shell to break through the gooey white and remove the offending chunk.

I don’t know. Tyson told me the other day that he realized he has memories from preschool. “They could be creating memories right now!” he told me excitedly. I laughed; it’s true. I remember, vaguely, a few of my own preschool experiences. A warm spring day spent picking dandelions outside, sitting on the rug at circle time, a sheet printed with four bears to dress any way we desired, how I vividly remember using shiny foil to make one bear into an astronaut.

Maybe they’ll remember these baking sessions. Or maybe not. Maybe they’ll remember, more tangibly, the way the cake comes out of the oven, it’s golden brown top crunchy and sweet. How excruciating it is to wait until the cake is cool enough to cut. And the way a slice of lemon-y pound cake tastes in the middle of a winter afternoon.

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Lemon and Ricotta Pound Cake
+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Every time I make this cake for someone they ask for the recipe. It stays magically moist if kept stored tightly wrapped in plastic wrap. I’m not sure for exactly how long, though, since it’s never lasted more than two or three days in our house. Modified slightly from here.

INGREDIENTS

  • 1 1/2 sticks (3/4 cup) unsalted butter, at room temperature

  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

  • 2 1/2 tsp. baking powder

  • 1 tsp. Kosher salt

  • 1 1/2 cups whole-milk ricotta cheese (do NOT use the low-fat stuff!)

  • 1 1/2 cups granulated sugar

  • 3 large eggs

  • 2 tsp. vanilla extract

  • zest of 2 lemons

  • juice of 1 lemon

INSTRUCTIONS

  • Preheat the oven to 350. Grease a 9-inch loaf pan well with butter.

  • In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, and salt.

  • With a mixer, cream the butter, ricotta, and sugar on medium speed for 2-3 minutes. At this point the batter may be lumpy; don’t worry, it will bake up fine in the end. Add eggs one at a time, beating until combined and scraping down the bowl after each addition. Add the vanilla, zest, and lemon juice and beat until combined. Add the flour mixture, beating on low speed until incorporated.

  • Pour the batter into prepared loaf pan. Bake 50-60 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted comes out clean. (See note below.) If the top seems to brown too quickly, cover loosely with foil while the rest of the cake continues to bake. Let cool about 15 minutes in pan before removing to cool completely on a cooling rack. (Or just forget about it entirely like I do and let it cool in the pan. Your choice.)

NOTE

  • I’ve noticed this pound cake bakes very differently for me depending on the type of pan I use. For a metal pan, plan on the 50-60 minutes noted and maybe needing to use the foil. For a glass pan (like Pyrex, which I prefer), plan on 60-75 minutes. I always check it at the 50-minute mark to gauge where it’s at, then set the timer at 5-minute increments so as not to over bake. Once the toothpick emerges cleanly and the loaf appears to pull away slightly from the edges of the pan, it’s good to go.

Read, Watched, Listened

I love reading just about everything (okay, you won't see any mystery or sci-fi picks on here), watching things that make me think and especially if they make me laugh, and wholeheartedly embrace the podcast. I also enjoy hearing about what other people are reading, watching, and listening. Here's my two cents worth.

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READ

Rising Strong
This was my first Brene Brown book and it definitely lived up to the hype. (I KNOW, OKAY. Listen, I tried a few years ago but my holds for her books all came up like IMMEDIATELY after Nolan was born. I tried, but my brain just couldn’t hold on to any of Brene’s goodness while in a newborn fog.) I’m fairly familiar with her work, but this one really dug into the specifics of rising from a professional or personal hurt. I’m still thinking about the idea of rumbling with my own stories on an almost daily basis. She’s brilliant.

Braving the Wilderness
Of course, when one of my holds comes up they all seem to, so onto another Brene book it was! This time she dove into the idea of true belonging, which she defines as “...the spiritual practice of believing in and belonging to yourself so deeply that you can share your most authentic self with the world…True belonging doesn't require you to change who you are; it requires you to be who you are.” Essentially it’s about braving our own vulnerability - our own wilderness - to emerge on the other side even more whole and connected than before. It’s beautiful and so very relevant to the current social climate we’re living in.

Still
SO GOOD. I think I’m reading Lauren Winner’s books out of order (I’m still on hold for her first - Girl Meets God) but that didn’t matter. This book was just lovely, Anyone who has gone through any sort of spiritual wrestle will appreciate this one. Anyone who love writing will appreciate her beautiful prose, too.

The Ministry of Ordinary Places
This book took me a little while to get into, but I loved it in the end. I can’t argue with Shannan’s main idea - to embody love right exactly where we have been placed in the world. Her entire premise reminds me so strongly of Bob Goff’s books - he writes all the time about “becoming love”. And that is exactly what Shannan calls us to do, to develop meaningful relationships right in the community around us. Reading her book made me want to jump right in to help in every organization in my community - though I’m going to pace myself and pick just one to start with. :)

The Best American Food Writing of 2018
The title isn’t lying. Seriously the BEST food writing. I adored each and every piece in this book. The topics range from the soybean harvest to the NBA’s sandwich addiction to oranges to science and political issues surrounding food. I mean, I love food and I love reading about food, so I wasn’t exactly a hard sell. Ha!

Becoming
Believe the hype. This is an intimate, powerful, gorgeous read. I especially appreciated reading so much about Michelle Obama’s own backstory since I didn’t know much going into it. I can’t add much more to this book than what’s already been said. Just read it.

WATCHED

Son of Patricia
Tyson and I love us some Trevor Noah and this comedy special delivered. (We watched it not long before Christmas, and little did Tyson know that his present was tickets to Trevor Noah’s live show when he comes here in February. I giggled a little every time he said, “He’s so funny! This is so good!” And was also proud of myself for keeping my mouth shut!) Anyway, Trevor Noah is hilarious, and for us this special was the perfect date night in.

Top Chef
IT’S BACK! Top Chef is the only “reality” show Tyson and I can stand. (Okay, I will also take some Real Housewives, though Tyson draws a hard line there.) This year’s contestants are phenomenal, as always, and I’m enjoying the Kentucky location more than I thought I would. Bring on the Southern food!

LISTENED

The Axe Files
I know I’ve linked to David Axelrod’s show before, but I had to give it a shout-out again for his live show with Barack Obama (episode 288). It was the perfect reminder of all that a president is supposed to embody: leadership, class, intelligence, and a clear vision for the future. All topped off with Obama’s own signature brand of wry humor.

Note: any links to Amazon in this post are affiliate links.

Favorites of 2018

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These high-rise underwear.

This swimsuit.

These earrings.

This face cream. (I mostly use it as a night/eye cream and wake up in the morning with the softest skin.)

These joggers. (They’re lightweight and also have NO DRAWSTRING, which I prefer but is almost impossible to find.)

This variety pack of herbal teas. (Along with most of their products- use this referral link to try it for yourself!)

I read so many great novels this year, but these are the ones that will stick with me: This satirical-yet-serious one. The one that broke me. This brilliant one. ALSO THIS ONE AND THIS ONE. *cue all the emojis*

And for nonfiction: I keep thinking about this memoir. Also this one. This one which spoke so much to my own heart (curse words and all). Also this one and this one which I should read a little of each day because they’re packed full of simple truth.

These slippers.

The best high-rise jeans.

The shows I can’t stop talking about: this comedy special. We were obsessed with this series. But this one most of all.

This hair tool.

This stew. This bread. This pasta (I sub chicken-apple sausage for the shrimp). These kabobs (I add mushrooms and they are YUM.)

Things I wrote this year: The one that still makes me tear up when I read it (that’s normal with your own writing, right?). The one where I bared my soul. This little ditty I wrote in an hour one morning. The one about our household obsession this year. The one where I went back to my design roots. This one might be my favorite of all.