Spring Break – St. Louis style

Over Spring Break, The Optometrist and I took in the sights & sounds of St. Louis. Sixteen years of my life were lived in the area, but after a.) my parents retired and moved away from the area and b.) I finished graduate school and moved out of state, I sadly no longer have reason to visit my hometown and the metro area as I once did.

It has been almost five years since returning for a visit, which predated our marriage, so a trip to the old stomping grounds allowed me to show The Optometrist places I lived, worked, favorite restaurants, shops, and neighborhoods.

We stayed at the Parkway Hotel, which adjoins Barnes Jewish hospital. Since we arrived over a weekend, it was quieter than you might think, and was perfectly convenient to be in the Central West End – close to Forest Park and a lot of other items on our to-do list.

If your St. Louis history is a little rusty, Forest Park was the location of the 1904 World’s Fair and is the site of the Art Museum, Zoo, Muny, Missouri History Museum, Science Center, and more (great info via both of the links above). It’s also the setting of the 1944 classic musical Meet Me in St. Louisstarring Judy Garland.

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Highlights of our trip included:

A visit to the Cathedral Basilica of St. Louis, which includes a mosiac collection that is one of the largest in the western hemisphere. Admission is free and photos can be taken when Mass is not in session. It is worth taking the time to visit this holy space and allow your soul to breathe.

During our stay we made a couple of trips to my favorite coffee shop in the city, Kaldi’s Coffee on DeMun, for us to both enjoy a rooibos chai latte.


And nearer to our hotel was my favorite independent bookstore, Left Bank Books. I bought three Litographs for my library office (Corduroy, Anne of Green Gables, & Peter Pan), along with City of Dark Magic by Magnus Flyte, recommended to me by a fellow reader as I was getting a pedicure before our trip.

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Included during that same day was a bit of shopping at the Plaza Frontenac and will blog about that later.

The impetus and reason we chose St. Louis as the location for our trip was the opportunity to see bluegrass mandolinist/musician Sierra Hull perform at the Sheldon Concert Hall. It was a memorable performance with finesse and subtlety. She and fellow musicians Ethan Jodziewicz and Justin Moses wowed the audience with their impressive technical abilities and beautiful vocal harmonies. I highly recommend her music and the newest album she’s currently touring, Weighted Mind.

  

As we were driving to the Sheldon, we passed by IKEA. I visited the one in Dallas before we got married, but this was The Optometrist’s first time visiting the Swedish mega-store. We ended up buying a grill pan and some affordable stemware and enjoyed window shopping to gather design ideas for the future.

We didn’t realize we would have time to visit the St. Louis Zoo during our trip, but we did! Due to the fact that it was drizzly and cool the weather was probably a deterrent that worked to our advantage since there weren’t a lot of people there when we visited. Many of the outdoor animals were sleepy, but we still saw some beautiful and powerful creatures. The highlight of the visit was getting to see and hear a lion roar! You could feel the lion den vibrating with the power of his ferocious roar and see condensation coming out of his ferocious mouth as he proclaimed his feline might. The giraffes were also special to behold, in all their lumbering and graceful awkwardness.


To top off our day at the zoo, we later went to watch Zootopia at the Chase Park Plaza Cinema. Like most kids movies today, it was equally fun for us adults and presented tough topics like prejudice in an approachable manner.

After doing ALL of the walking that day, we were ready to eat Imo’s Pizza for dinner and share a yummy dessert at Bailey’s Chocolate Bar.


The St. Patrick’s Day parade was finished, the Blues were on the road, and the Cardinals in Jupiter, so downtown was a relative ghost town as we drove past Busch Stadium and Ballpark Village, the Arch, and Union Station.


Before our visit was through we had to visit a music store and yarn store: Music Folk in Webster Groves and Kirkwood Knittery, respectively. The Optometrist enjoyed sampling some mandolins and buying a new tuner and some new strings, while I picked up some Koigu KPPM and Cascade Heritage Sock Yarn. The Koigu will make some lovely fingerless mittens and I’m planning on using the Cascade to knit the Vida Shawl by Mina Philipp of the Knitting Expat Podcast.


During our final day we ate lunch at the Blues City Deli from a recommendation from an optometrist friend and then shared dinner with him that evening at Fitz’s in The Loop. Even though I don’t drink soda, The Optometrist loved trying their cream soda and getting a variety pack of sodas to bring home with us.

Our final destination was my hometown, driving by my old house, high school, church, and places I used to work. The trip afforded us rest we so desperately needed, reconnected me to times and moments that remain dear to me, and allowed new memories to be made with my husband. Had I never moved away, I never would have met and married him. So while I love St. Louis, and always will, it’s no longer home. Home is where The Optometrist is.

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The Summer That Has Been

Traveling

While the Optometrist and I haven’t done a great deal of traveling this summer, we did make our way to the Kansas City area a few weeks ago to visit my kindred spirit and college accountability partner Megan. She, her kind husband, precious little boy, and friendly kitty treated us to a wonderful weekend of rest, food, shared conversation, and a tour around their fun town.

I finally found a Little Free Library and just couldn’t resist sitting down to read through a Curious George book.

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Megan, “life with you is half as hard and twice as good.”

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Knitting

In my last post I was most excited to have conquered the skills necessary to knit socks, and here they are! The Optometrist surprised me by ordering these nifty sock blockers from Squire Country Crafts on Etsy. I also completed a little (cheater) bow-tie, one of his birthday gifts. He looks so dapper when he wears it!

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And a wee bit of Christmas knitting: the selected ornament I’m knitting for family and dear friends this year is the Square Snowflake pattern, free from MillaMia via Classic Elite Yarns.

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Music

Over the past several months we have joined a ragtag group of musicians on Monday evenings to share a meal and then sing and play together. It’s increased our musical confidence as the Optometrist and I learn our newer instruments – him on mandolin, me on guitar. Our group has a lot of fun playing through classic country, rock, and a little bit of everything in between: Johnny Cash, Hank Williams, Patsy Cline, Alison Krauss, Vince Gill, Elton John, CCR, the list goes on.

A few weeks ago we hosted our group in our home: five guitars, a bass, a ukelele, and a mandolin…and I was the only girl. I kind of rock.

Speaking of rocking, ohmyohmyohmy! Last week we had the opportunity to see Nickel Creek in concert. A-mazing!

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We’re both mega fans of virtuoso mandolinist, and recognized musical genius, Chris Thile. Even though the venue was standing-room-only, we toughed it out and had a tremendous view of the stage. I’m always so impressed with the musicality and precision of bluegrass musicians, and the trio of Sara Watkins, Sean Watkins, and Chris Thile did not disappoint. Their newest album they’re touring, A Dotted Line, was just as accurate a portrayal of their skills and abilities as they demonstrated in their live show. We can’t wait to see either them again, or another Chris Thile project – Punch Brothers or one of his classical duet works…his choices are diverse and refreshing as a listener.

Reading

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Our library has undertaken a campaign for the new academic year to show off Librarians doing fun things we enjoy. I didn’t want to have to choose between knitting and reading, therefore, I couldn’t resist the urge to grab both my copy of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone and my current Hitchhiker knitting project and deftly pose for my photo.

With reading on my mind (ha!), my summer reads have spanned YA, inspirational fiction, and murder mysteries:

Hollow City – Ransom Riggs
Delicious! – Ruth Reichl
Insurgent  – Veronica Roth
Allegiant – Veronica Roth
Four: The Transfer: A Divergent Story – Veronica Roth
The Sweet By and By – Sara Evans with Rachel Hauck
Softly & Tenderly – Sara Evans with Rachel Hauck
Love Lifted Me
– Sara Evans with Rachel Hauck
Bridge to Haven – Francine Rivers
Post-Mortem – Patricia Cornwell (first in the Kay Scarpetta series)
Body of Evidence  – Patricia Cornwell

Delicious! was the favorite book I read this summer, with the Sara Evans “Songbird” trilogy following closely behind.

And now Friday awaits, complete with reading to a local elementary school class of 1st graders, getting my hair trimmed, and journeying to my in-laws for the beginning of what I hope is a long, Labor-less weekend. Saturday we traverse on to Branson, our favorite get-away, where we will reunite with my parents over the later part of the holiday weekend.

All things considered, it’s been a wonderful summer!

No One Mourns

For years, this book has sat on my bookshelf.

It has lived with me all this time; packed up and moved through three different cities and two different states.  I bought it used at Hastings bookstore in Mountain Home, Arkansas, when taking a little trip there with my parents and cousins (again, years ago).  Trust me when I say I always have the best of intentions about reading any book I purchase, because:

a.) MONEY: my life was forever altered when, working on my Master’s degree in Library Science, I strove to live responsibly on my small income, and therefore purchased mostly used books. The brand new, full priced book was a rare treat.

b.) ACQUISITION: as a librarian I can usually find any given book through either our University library, the public library, or InterLibrary Loan, any of these options equaling the price of FREE.  If I have read the book and loved it, then I feel like the decision to purchase my own copy is more significantly warranted.

c.) SPACE: being married and combining the possessions of two grown adults means our living space has to be managed with more furnishings than just books (although, we do have books in practically every room of the house). This means I’m more content to keep my favorites near and not grow sad when I rotate my menagerie of tomes to another home and loving reader.

And yet, there are a small collection of books I’ve purchased, never read, and hung onto for years at a time.  My reader’s gut has known the day would come when I would finally be ready to commit myself – my time, attention, and energy – into submerging my imagination into the wonderful world of Oz.

There are two added bonuses in my experience of reading Gregory Maguire’s Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West:

1.) The Optometrist and I recently saw the Broadway touring production of the musical.

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My initiation came when I first heard “For Good,” fell in love with the song, and bought the original Broadway cast recording in 2006 (read that blog entry here). This was probably my motivation to purchase the book, again with the best of intentions to have read it sooner. So here I’ve been all this time, knowing and loving the songs, having the novel on the shelf, but never knowing how the rest of the story played out of what happened in Oz before Dorothy’s arrival.  What a treat it was to finally understand everything in complete context!  The Optometrist and I both loved the show – the costumes, sets, acting, singing, and the live orchestra in the pit!

2.) Since we’re now both completely in the know of the overall plot from the musical, my sweet husband suggested we read the book together. We’ve not endeavored on such a mission since our premarital counseling days, and while I can’t say there’s any comparison whatsoever between The Five Love Languages and Wicked, I’m thoroughly enjoying the chance to read to him, have him read to me, discuss details of the plot, and contrasts between the stage show and the original inspiration. We’ve finished the first section, Munchkinlanders, and just started the second portion, Gillikin. These are a few differences we’ve noticed so far  between the musical and the book:

**might contain spoilers**

Frexspar, Elphaba’s father, is portrayed as a government official in Munchkinland | strained relationship with Elphaba, high expectations of her | brief appearance on stage | Frex is a religious minister who travels and preaches around Munchkinland | distant from his family, more concerned with parishioners |  much character development

we know Elphaba is an illegitimate child |  we have reasons to question her sister’s parentage as well

Elphaba’s family is portrayed as having a modicum of wealth |  Elphaba’s mother, Melina, came from a privileged background, but when she married Frex, beneath her station, this meant Elphaba grew up less affluently

Galinda is immediately accepted with fanfare when she arrives at Shiz |  she exhibits self-doubt, posesses desire but a lack of ambition, and is slower to establish herself socially

NessaRose arrives at Shiz with Elphaba | we know Elphaba’s mother Melina was expecting another child, but as the reader know of nothing else | at Elphaba’s arrival at Shiz, she is by herself

So finally, after ten years of waiting to see and read Wicked, I can say it’s come at just the right time and has been well worth the wait.

 

Thoughts on Joy

Earlier this week I was reminded of how selfish I can be; how tightly I still attempt to control my little world. Especially meaningless things. But when that control is interrupted, or my routine is altered, I tend to spiral and think unkind thoughts.  All of which are from my limited, wounded perspective and are not grounded in reality or truth.

But truth was revealed through a recent morning devotion, that of One Thousand Gifts by Ann Voskamp.

“Only self can kill joy…
Joy is a flame that glimmers only in the palm of the open and humble hand. In an open and humble palm, released and surrendered to receive, light dances, flickers happy. The moment the hand is clenched tight, fingers all pointing toward self and rights and demands, joy is snuffed out.” (p. 177)

How often am I my own worst enemy? Living my life by an invisible set of rules I concoct, feeling like I must somehow follow them to the letter, and when I inevitably don’t or can’t measure up to my own impossible standards, grow frustrated, angry, disillusioned. Joyless. I live this way often, far too often.

Further encouragement came through the meaningful lyrics of two Sara Groves’ songs:

My body’s tired from trying to bring you here
My brow is furrowed trying to see things clear
So I’ll turn my back to the black
And fall
And wait for the mystery
To rise up and meet me
Mystery by Sara Groves, from the album Invisible Empires

I will open my hands, will open my heart
I am nodding my head an emphatic yes
To all that You have for me
Open My Hands by Sara Groves, from the album Invisible Empires

 

God’s providential timing speaking to my heart through the creative offerings of these wonderful word-artisans have served to remind me it’s okay to let go, remember it (the all encompassing IT) doesn’t have to be perfect, live with my soul expectant to receive joy, and that I’m the only one who can sabotage anything to the contrary. Exercising this kind of control is the right, good, and healthy kind.  The kind that allows me to breathe and be; replace anxiety and frustration with contentment and joy.

Hiatus

hi-a-tus n. A slight break or lapse in space, time, or continuity : break.  Webster’s II New Riverside Dictionary (1996)

I can’t honestly say that the length of time that has passed since my last blog post via Xanga (so long, old friend) can be categorized as “slight,” but I can say that throughout this hiatus, I have missed blogging.  Enough so to archive the old, and begin anew.  Although there may not be many who read what I share, it is still a good exercise for me to organize my thoughts, hold myself accountable to some summer goals, and reflect on growth achieved along the way.

Today marks the first day of our University’s intercession. Finals week and graduation reached their conclusion over the weekend, and now our Library might as well be a barren, ghost town (cue tumbleweeds accompanied by whistling). This means I have to seek out gratifying and productive projects to complete at work. Some possibilities over the next few months:

  • writing an article about the important role of a children’s collection in an academic library
  • developing step-by-step instructions for using the SmartBoard in one of our study rooms
  • evaluating older monographs in the collection to determine if they are suitable for weeding (deselection)

My sweet husband, The Optometrist, asked me what personal enrichment goals I have, which might be cultivated or developed over the summer. When posed in this light, I realize there are so many possibilities! A few that have been rumbling around in my mind:

  • learning and appreciating opera more.  Many days have come and gone since my undergraduate music education degree and it’s time I put on my big girl musician pants, and beef up on all that has been intimidating and just out of reach for far too long. First to come, Madama Butterfly: learning not only about the music/libretto, but more about Puccini, and historical connections of what was taking place at that time in Europe, the United States, and elsewhere.
  • practicing my piano consistently every day. Clair de Lune, The Maple Leaf Rag, and some hymn arrangements really aren’t too far outside my reach when I stop and think about it.
  • explore learning how to play cello. It’s rich tambre beckons me…
  • figuring out how to operate a sewing machine and actually sew something! Since inheriting my Granny’s sewing machine this past fall, it has sat forlornly  in my studio closet. Whether it be pillows, small bags, or little sampler pieces, it’s time I add to my domestic skill set.
  • reading books that have been on my summer reading list for years: Summerland by Michael Chabon and Dandelion Wine by Ray Bradbury.
  • enjoying some new-to-me books: Delicious by Ruth Reichl, 11/22/63 by Steven King, The Bees by Laline Paull, One Kick by Chelsea Cain, My Sister’s Keeper by Jodi Picoult.

Let the hiatus cease and summer adventures begin!

Pigeons, Celebrations, and Tornadoes

Thanks to Hallmark’s new ad campaign, I am reminded that “life is a special occasion.” Many simple occasions have come and gone since last posting, namely an update on my pigeon friends, Easter, local doings, my 30th birthday, a good friend’s wedding, and a whirlwind return journey from St. Louis.

As is the case in most of the midwest/south, Oklahoma has experienced a great deal of rain over the past month. In the days preceding the Easter weekend I discovered my persistent pigeon friends were a couple and the speckled Mama Pigeon had laid an egg right outside my office window!

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I was so excited to see this little family take shape. However, over the Easter weekend a tremendous amount of rain fell and when I returned to work the following week, the egg and all traces of Mama and Papa pigeon were gone. I hope they were able to relocate to a safe, dry area and reestablish their pigeon family. As for my biological family, my parents were able to come and spend several (rainy) days with me around Easter, which was such a blessing!

The weekend after Easter I discovered a wonderful bluegrass band, Big Smith, from Springfield. They were playing at one of our town festivals, which in itself was a wonderful event, but I couldn’t help but fall in love with their familial harmonies and Ozark sensibilities.

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Fast forward a few more weeks and the completion of the spring semester was at hand. Attending the College of Education commencement allowed me to not only wear my regalia, but support and celebrate the milestones achieved by our students. It still humbles me to realize many of these individuals were first-generation college graduates, placing even more importance on our University, and my job as a librarian to disseminate knowledge in a professional but caring manner.

A few more days and it was time to celebrate my 30th birthday! Celebrating with food is one of my favorite ways to observe a festive occasion and was able to do so with library colleagues at lunch

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and church friends for pizza, outdoor washer toss, indoor board game time playing Clue, and eating this delicious cake made by my gracious friend and sister in Christ, Lauren.

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Another few days and I had the privilege of celebrating the nuptials of my friend Brad and his love Amber. Their outdoor ceremony took place at the home of Amber’s parents and was simply lovely, peaceful, and a wonderful time to celebrate with them, and our mutually good friends Isaac and Stephanie.

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As a part of the outdoor ceremony, these homemade wooden trellises were adorned with these adorable birdcages.

My wedding gift to the happy couple was this mini-afghan I knitted.
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The weekend also afforded me time to see, stay, eat, play Guitar Hero, and laugh with my friends Aaron & Sarah, lounge and catch up with my friends Charlene & Craig, attend church in the Nazarene church I grew up in, and journey back to Oklahoma Sunday afternoon. I am a big fraidy cat when it comes to driving in rain, especially on the interstate, thus am exceedingly thankful for God’s hand of protection on me as I traveled along I-44. It’s unreal to believe I briefly stopped in Joplin Sunday afternoon, I’m approximating one hour before the tornado passed through. How my heart aches for those who have lost family members, their homes, and pray their hope is Jesus.

Of course the tornadic activity didn’t cease and on Tuesday evening the weather forecasters in Tulsa were anticipating another dangerous line of storms heading my way. I had received an e-mail earlier in the day from my minister of music stating that First Baptist would be open as a storm shelter. Thus the no-brainer of deciding how I would ride out the storm: with church family, having my mind be taken off of the storm versus home alone, huddled in my bathtub. Part of how we were distracted from the storm was by viewing the Justin Bieber documentary Never Say Never. If I were about 15 years younger I would probably be drooling with lust over the Biebs, but can thankfully state I didn’t know much about him prior to the movie, but can easily admit the kid’s got talent. Ironically, several younger girls began watching the movie with several teens & young adults, myself included, but near the end they abandoned the movie to play with their little friends, leaving us who really could have cared less. Yet, there we stayed, finishing watching the movie in the church basement, chuckling over the girls who dramatically demonstrated their Bieber Fever on camera.

Since many of the younger families who showed up have little girls, they came prepared to spend the night if need be. I couldn’t help but smile as I saw they had their dollies ready for bed hours before they would even consider doing the same.

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Thankfully, the bulk of the storm passed around 10:00 p.m., allowing us to gather our earthly possessions and return home. Tornado tip learned: wearing a helmet (baseball, bike, etc.) is an easy way to protect your head when taking cover in a tornado.

Maybe the crazy weather will subside, especially since it’s now summer vacation in my book. Granted, I still have to work year around, but even for those who do not work in the field of education, after school is out, it’s summertime! Thus, my summer reading list:
The Help by Kathryn Stockett (currently reading and loving it!)
Caleb’s Crossing by Geraldine Brooks (enjoyed read her Pulitzer winning novel March a few years ago and look forward to her newest offering)
The Paris Wife by Paula McLain (fiction based on the history of Ernest Hemingway and his first wife Hadley)
Viola in the Spotlight by Adriana Trigiani (a young adult sequel by an author I adore)
My Lucky Life in and out of Show Business: A Memoir by Dick Van Dyke (reruns of his TV show are some of my favorites and just love his role in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang)

As I look ahead to June it holds a trip to Oklahoma City as a chaperone for our middle school church choir, a return trip to Missouri for my always anticipated family reunion, our monthly book club, the town movie night in the park, and a four day, ten hour workweek. Ah, the joys of summer.

The Tide is Turning

Although it’s Wednesday, for all intents and purposes, it’s really like a Friday. Hurrah for a two day Fall break! This long weekend will find me traveling throughout the Midwest to see some of my favorite people and worship with my long-distance church family on Sunday. How excited I am at these prospects!

Since my last update, I am pleased to say the proverbial tide has seemed to turn. After being sick on and off for about a month, I was finally able to see a helpful health care professional who prescribed a few medications that have cleared up my nose and throat, helping me regain energy, thus feeling like myself again. On Sunday my spirit was lifted by discovering a few young adults at a church here in town, giving me a prospective place to establish new faith roots. It’s been a slow and hard transition, but the Lord is continually providing little glimpses of hope along the way, for which I am extremely grateful.

I continue to look for fun ways to get involved in community events, with one such opportunity being to support the local concert series, sponsored by the University. The first concert of the season featured the St. Louis Brass Quintet, which was technically demanding and audience pleasing – a tough feat to accomplish, if you ask me.

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(NOTE: this was taken during their performance by an official University photographer)

Our newly formed fiber/yarn club continues to gain popularity, and I’m pleased to have invited a few friends who enjoy knitting, crocheting, or want to learn. While I continue to labor through knitting my first sock, here is my latest completed project!

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First, the individual parts for my little bear

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Here are the parts layed out as they would soon come together

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The finished product! Click here for the free pattern.

Towards the end of last week my mom and dad came for a lovely visit. We did simple things around town/in the area, spent quality time together, and ate good food. Over the weekend my mom and I whipped together upside-down caramel-apple muffins, which I saw in a recent issue of The New York Times. It’s such a lovely recipe to celebrate the flavors of fall.
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In book news, September and October have found me within the pages of several good books. A couple of my favorites over the past few months have been Impossible by Nancy Werlin (YA) and Terri Blackstock’s “Restoration Series.”

And just today I started reading Molly Wizenberg’s A Homemade Life ~ Stories and Recipes from my Kitchen Table. While I haven’t made it too terribly far along in her lovely memoir, these passages of her introduction jumped out at me. “When I walk into my kitchen today, I am not alone. Whether we know it or not, none of us is. We bring fathers and mothers and kitchen tables, and every meal we have ever eaten” (p. 2). She goes on to write, “A Homemade Life…that’s what we’re building – you, me, all of us who like to stir and whisk – in the kitchen and at the table. In the simple acts of cooking and eating, we are creating and continuing the stories that are our lives” (p. 6). Such simple, eloquent reminders of how food not only provides sustenance for our bodies, but unites us on a deeper and more meaningful level. I look ahead with anticipation of moments to share life with friends through conversation and meals in the upcoming days.