Star Word for the Year: Tough

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After Christmas and New Year’s Day, we celebrate the Epiphany at my church by selecting our Star Words for the year. Since I’m a great believer in the power of language, I look forward to finding out what my word will be for the new year. I’ve had lovely Star Words in previous years, such as “perception” and “individuality.”

As I walked up to the table at church where the Star Words were placed face down, I wondered what creative, challenging, inspiring word would be my focus for 2018. As I walked back to my pew and turned over the paper star, I saw my word:

TOUGH.

The word scared me. Did it mean I was going to see tough times? Or that I would have to be tough to survive? Our pastor reminded us not to overthink our Star Words, so when I got home, I put mine under a stack of papers on my desk, so it couldn’t escape.

My mental state at that time no doubt contributed to my fear. A few days before that church service, I had received a diagnosis of anxiety and depression. I was relieved to be able to understand the reasons for the symptoms that have plagued me since I was a kid.

I felt a little braver after a few weeks of prescription medication and my first appointment with my counselor. So I took another look at my Star Word.

I read definitions: 

“Strong enough to withstand adverse conditions or rough or careless handling,” Like everyone, I’ve seen my share of adverse conditions and careless handling — in my case, years of pain and bewilderment from the lack of awareness of mental illness in children.

“Strong or firm in texture but flexible and not brittle.” I’m getting stronger — yes, tougher. But I pray for a softened heart and open mind.

Tough. It sounds less like a harsh threat and more like a pat on the back for living and learning through the challenges. So now my Star Word is held by a magnet on our refrigerator door. I can’t wait to see what it teaches me this year.

 

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Book Review: The Startup Way, by Eric Ries

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The term “startup” has always brought to my mind images of two or three people in a garage, creating a new small business. But multinational corporations, governments, and other large organizations, now apply startup principles to foster innovation. In his book The Startup Way, Eric Ries explains that established enterprises must make room for innovative teams, risk-taking leaders, and the inevitable failed ideas. He notes that in a world of continuous innovation, “we’ve always done it this way” no longer works.

In The Startup Way, Ries applies principles from his previous bestseller, The Lean Startup, to large companies such as GE, Amazon, and Airbnb. For example, he outlines how “corporate entrepreneurs” can follow the same lean process by brainstorming “leap of faith assumptions” and creating “minimum viable products” to test in potential markets. He notes that businesses must periodically conduct “pivot or persevere” meetings to decide whether to change course. Throughout the book, he provides practical examples that make his startup principles readily accessible.

I am not usually drawn to books about business, but I enjoyed reading The Startup Way. I I appreciate the insight into corporate entrepreneurship, and look forward to reading The Lean Startup as well. I highly recommend The Startup Way by Eric Ries to readers — entrepreneurs and non-entrepreneurs alike.

For more information about The Startup Way by Eric Ries, click here. To read about the author, click here.

FTC disclaimer: I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review.

Book Review: The Great Spiritual Migration, by Brian D. McLaren

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Christianity appears to be on the move, as it has been for centuries. Readers who wish to explore this story can start with Brian McLaren’s book, The Great Spiritual Migration: How the World’s Largest Religion is Seeking a Better Way to Be Christian. McLaren explains that Christianity has long been an evolving faith, which has challenged outdated religious and political systems since its earliest days. We are now seeing, he writes, a shift from a belief-based system to a system based on redemption and love.

Many readers will identify with McLaren’s account of his own crisis in faith, in which he questioned his own system of beliefs during a retreat. He compares the need to “question long-held beliefs” with science’s willingness to change its mind when it discovers new facts. The scientific method emphasizes the search for truth, rather than adherence to outdated beliefs in the face of newly discovered facts.

The Great Spiritual Migration contains examples of Christianity’s history of spiritual, theological, and missional migration. For example, he notes that in the United States, slavery and white supremacy were considered to be “consistent with ‘biblical’ Christianity.” Scholars are still coming to terms with Christianity’s violent history. He outlines the need for “new questions” as Christianity migrates from “fear, violence, exploitation, misinformation, and the plundering of the planet” toward working for a “just and lasting peace in the larger ‘us’ of the kingdom or commonwealth of God.”

As a Christian with a progressive and inclusive world view, I welcomed the opportunity to read Brian McLaren’s latest thoughts on my faith. The Great Spiritual Migration assures me that I am not alone in my questions about the direction Christianity has taken in the past, and my hopes for a new direction in the future. I highly recommend this book to readers who are searching for hope and guidance in these often troubling times.

For more information about Brian McLaren, click here, and for more information about the book, click here.

FTC Disclaimer: I received this book from Blogging for Books in exchange for this review. All opinions in this review are my own.

Book Review: The Book of Esther, by Emily Barton

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In The Book of Esther, Emily Barton delivers an imaginative blend of alternative history, steampunk, and feminism. The story takes place in Khazaria, where a Jewish refugees have fled from oppression in Germania. The main character, Esther, is a courageous girl who, like the Esther of the Old Testament, makes a bold decision to fight for her people. Accompanied by a mechanical horse named Seleme and a young slave, she searches for a kabbalistic village in hopes that the residents will turn her into a man.

Elements of magical realism appear in the story. Esther is not transformed into a man, but an army of golems, which are mythical creatures formed by humans from clay, join Esther’s cause. When the golems want to pray and give thanks to the creator, questions arise concerning what it means to be fully human. Gender, religious, and social identities are called into question throughout the story.

I enjoyed reading The Book of Esther, although I found the many themes and obscure histories overwhelming. All in all, I appreciated this story of a bold, courageous girl who questions her role — and roles forced on others — in Khazar society. Readers who enjoy magical realism and alternative history should give this book a read, as they will not be disappointed.

To learn more about author Emily Barton and this book, read this author bio and this book summary page.

FTC disclosure: I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review.in character, Esther, is a courageous girl who, like the Esther of the Old Testament, makes a bold decision to fight for her people.

Adding and Subtracting

Even now, Labor Day weekend reminds me of the first day of school, and still feels like the beginning of a new year. This year finds me adding and subtracting once again.

I’m not sure why I felt blindsided by this past year. I shouldn’t have been surprised when family health emergencies, a graduate school workload, and running multiple businesses took a mental and physical toll. For months, my approach was to just try harder. But wise counsel from my dear husband John helped me to untangle my thoughts and begin to listen to my own inner wisdom.

It starts in the garden, or a walk with our dog. A patch of earth, a solitary flower, or a ripening apple will catch my eye.

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My mom taught me to silently thank the flowers when I see them. I recall what my teacher and mentor, herbalist Susun Weed said: “Every breath is a giveaway dance between you and the plants.”

Here’s what else I’ve learned:

Not everything I like to do has to turn into a business. So I am closing my online handcraft shop and returning to what I love to do most — make things by hand for my home, my family and friends, and myself. Now it’s fun again!

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I can redirect the energy that I had spread among three businesses into my independent recruiting business — a new and real blessing! I can feel my blood pressure decreasing already.

I am a member of the body of Christ, who reminds me to rest in Him. I’ve returned to my home church here in Boise, where I was baptized in 2015. After many months away from church, I began to feel a tug and went to Maundy Thursday service this year. Haven’t looked back.

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I don’t have to force every moment into “something productive,” as if nothing else is enough. And isn’t that a thing that manages to nag at all of us — “am I enough?”

I’m returning to me, beginning to believe that just maybe, I am enough.

I pray the same for you — because you are enough.

 

 

 

Looking For Things

“You see, I like to look for things” — one of my favorite lines by poet Rainer Maria Rilke. I’m learning to look with renewed eyes, thanks to a series of journal prompts I am reading. Today’s prompt tells us to look for feathers, as a sign of wisdom.

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Since reading The Iliad in college, I’ve loved the stories of the goddess Minerva / Athena, protector of many things that are dear to me: justice, poetry, crafts, weaving, and owls. Feathers. Things that I had forgotten until recent days.

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So our dog Paavo and I were on our usual morning walk in the grove near my church. Of course, I smiled a little as I found a feather…

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but then I found another…

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and another…

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this one is my favorite…

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…and then one more on our way home…

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So today, I am grateful for this sprinkling of reminders to look, see, and value my wisdom.

What have you looked for today?

I highly recommend this series of journal prompts, for exploring inner wisdom. Be well and be blessed!

 

Recipe: French Lentil and Roasted Vegetable Soup

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Have you tried French green lentils?

 

Two weeks ago, a family health crisis forced us to quickly learn about the ulcer-friendly or “bland” diet. My husband learned that he had a bleeding ulcer, and that onions, garlic and spicy foods were out of the question for the time being. As a family who loves to cook, we were determined to find flavorful alternatives to these cooking staples. Of course, if you have an ulcer or other digestive condition, ask your doctor about the foods that are best for you.

Soups are a favorite meal at our house, and I’d been meaning to try French green lentils. These small, dark gray-green lentils have a lovely sweet flavor and creamy texture. The caramelized roasted vegetables, along with some mild cooking herbs, add a rich flavor that helped us forget about the term “bland diet.”

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Roasted, slightly caramelized vegetables replace onions and garlic.

 

My husband likes to add zucchini and other vegetables to roasting meats, so I decided to use that idea for this soup.  My mom and I had fun cooking this soup and refining the recipe. No garlic, no onions, and lots of healing thoughts went into this soup. Here’s the recipe:


Ingredients

1 cup French green lentils

4-inch strip of dried kombu

1 bay leaf

1 teaspoon dried ground thyme

Sea salt to taste

2 medium carrots, cut into 1/2-inch pieces

1-1/2 cups diced potato

2 zucchini, sliced

1 to 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

Dried oregano

Directions

1. Sort and rinse lentils. Place lentils and kombu in a medium bowl and soak for 4 hours (Available in health food stores, kombu is a sea vegetable that helps make beans and lentils more digestible) .

2. Just before the lentils have finished soaking, preheat oven to 425 F. Lightly coat a 2-quart baking dish with cooking spray. In a mixing bowl, toss the carrots, potatoes and zucchini in oil. Sprinkle with dried oregano and sea salt, then toss some more. Place the vegetables in the baking dish and bake for 40 minutes, turning the vegetables halfway through cooking time. Vegetables will be ready when they are tender and slightly caramelized.

3. Drain and place the lentils and kombu in a large soup pot. Add enough water to cover the lentils and add bay leaf and thyme. Bring to a boil, then lower the heat to a simmer. Cover and simmer for 20 to 30 minutes, or until lentils are soft. Remove from heat and set aside until the vegetables are finished roasting.

4. Add roasted vegetables to the pot of lentils and stir to combine. Sample the broth and add more water, salt and additional thyme if needed. Bring to a boil, reduce to simmer, and cook the soup for 10 to 15 minutes.

5. Ladle the soup into bowls, and drizzle with extra virgin olive oil. Sprinkle with grated Parmesan cheese and serve.

Bland diet? What bland diet? You’ll be amazed at the depth of flavor, even without the tried and true onion and garlic base. Hope you’ll give this soup a try!