Tuesday, December 31, 2013


As a new year begins, a few recommendations from my 2013. In no particular order: 

1. And the Mountains Echoed, Khaled Hosseini's latest novel. See previous blog post for my gushing reflections. 

2. Houseplants. In addition to providing a lovely, natural, eco-friendly way to decorate, my ever-growing collection of houseplants are currently filtering the air in my polluted, industrial, heavily-trafficked Chicago neighborhood. I'm now soliciting tips for re-potting.

3. Fitness Blender. During last year's long, cold winter my quest for an indoor workout option led me to this website. Professional trainers Daniel and Kelli have created a range of workout videos that range from intense interval training to yoga-inspired stretching routines to kickboxing. Do an eight-week workout program like Jason and I did last spring, select a video that works a certain part of your body, or sort by time or difficulty level. The options are vast, and the interval format keeps things interesting. The only downside is if you're concerned about disturbing the downstairs neighbors with the inevitable pounding that comes when squat jumps, high knees, etc. are part of the workout. 

4. Vermicomposting. For those of us without abundant yard space or citywide composting, this is a great way to take care of food scraps. Put a bunch of red wigglers in a cheap plastic tub (or an expensive store-bought layered bin), feed them weekly, and create an easy-to-maintain smell-free source of nutrition for indoor and outdoor plants. 

5. HAIM. I admit that I was hesitant when Jason first introduced me to this new band. After a few listens, though, I was hooked. Disclaimer: I have no idea what their lyrics say. I just think they have a fun sound

6. Grace. Now that I work for the Lutherans, I'm trying to give and receive this more often. 

7. Autumn Cheesecake. Yum. 

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

My Dating Reading Life

With the full onset of a Chicago winter my fair-weather biking has given way to bus riding. In the nearly hour-long commute to my office I’ve had abundant time for reading, a favorite pastime of mine. I am more caught up on my Time subscription, yes, but in recent weeks my focus has turned to my true literary love, the contemporary novel.

Last week I dove headfirst into Khaled Hosseini’s latest, And the Mountains Echoed. Having read his other bestselling, widely acclaimed novels (The Kite Runner, A Thousand Splendid Suns) I knew I was in for a compelling experience. Compelling, indeed. The interwoven plot lines combined with an engaging exploration of family relationships—biological and chosen, loving and harsh, present and absent—to pull me into the developmental trajectories of a rich cast of characters. Hosseini engages immigrant life, the ugly realities of war, and systems of oppression that extend across generations in this significant work of fiction.

After finishing the book on Friday night I felt aimless, not quite sure what to do next or how to spend my time. My other typical activities (ahem, TV watching) paled in comparison to the plot lines that occupied my brain. All day Saturday I felt lost, like some important piece of my world was missing. I woke up Sunday morning still thinking about the characters and the interwoven plot lines. Instead of getting ready for church I spent time diagramming the ways that each chapter connected with the next.

Sunday evening, still feeling lost, I tried to find another book to read to distract me, to fill the void that Hosseini’s novel left. I picked a short paperback called The Reluctant Fundamentalist. Thanks to a snowy two-hour commute home on Monday night I finished the novel in two days. It was a quick read, and the ending—oh the ending…

As I finished the last paragraph, though, I felt like I’d just ended a rebound relationship. I cared about the book and its characters, and I enjoyed my time with it. Yet, it was not true love, not like And the Mountains Echoed. It served a purpose for a time, but I won’t wake up thinking about it or carry it with me as I go about my day.

I’m not one of those people who believes in finding “the one” when it comes to romance. I’m not one of those people who believes in finding “the one” when it comes to books, either. However, And the Mountains Echoed was certainly “a one,” and I’m now on an active search for another “one,” another reading experience that pulls me in and holds me tight, that connects at some deep place inside of me.

As I continued to disentangle myself from my Hosseini-inspired daze I pulled another book off the shelf, this one Mindy Kaling’s comedic memoir-ish story. In my short time reading on the train, I realized this book was more like that guy I went on a blind date with once: nice enough, with a lot to offer someone...who is not me.