Thursday, November 29, 2007

Top 7 children's books

Heather asked me to list my top seven children's books. I'm a bit intimidated by this project because my experience with children's book is as a child, not a parent. My list is also limited to picture books. Cataloging my favorite children's chapter books would require another blog...or two...or five.

1. The Clown of God :: Award-winning Catholic author and illustrator Tomie dePaola tells the story of a little beggar from Sorrento, Italy who learns to juggle. His art takes him from small villages to the palaces of kings, and, ultimately, to perform for the King of Kings. This is my all-time favorite picture book. I first read it when I was nine and cried. Now I own it, re-read it periodically (with tears), and remember to offer all my gifts back to Him.

2. The Tale of Three Trees :: This traditional folktale tells the story of three trees who believe they will amount to nothing. God unfolds a special plan for each one of them as readers turn each beautifully illustrated page.

3. St. George and the Dragon :: The sumptuous illustrations are reason enough to read this book, but the epic story of the knight who saves the princess by fighting a dragon for three days is likewise compelling. No wonder it won the Caldecott.

4. Santa, Are You For Real? :: In this book, a little boy learns about the life of Saint Nicholas and the true meaning of Christmas and gift-giving. I'm skeptical about the illustrations in the new edition sold on Amazon.com. In my parent's copy, the main character wears bell-bottoms and the sisters who receive Nicholas' gifts all part their flowing hair like flower-children. If you can find their version, buy it.

5. Little Bear :: The Little Bear series follows the adventures of a cuddly protagonist. They were the first chapter books of my reading career. I poured over them with my mom, loving each word as it slid or crashed out of my mouth. My favorite story is the mermaid's tale. I thought she was immensely pretty and understood why Little Bear fell in love with her.

6. Olivia :: Who doesn't love the little pig in red? She's an amalgamation of all the adorable traits of the small children I've babysat over the years. The book, which is the first in a collection, is especially amusing to me now because she visits several famous NYC destinations, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Of course, she processes these experiences with the hilarity and honesty of a pre-schooler!

7(a). Noah's Ark :: This is another Caldecott winner with detailed illustrations and scant text because the pictures do such a phenomenal job of conveying the epic call God gave Noah in building, filling, and floating in the ark. Identifying all the animals kept me amused for hours.

7(b). The Illustrated Brothers Grimm Fairy Tales :: Mom picked-up this weighty volume for me at a neighbor's garage sale. Some of the stories are downright nightmarish, but they convey strong moral messages and feature princesses, my profession of choice during grade school. Arthur Rackham's illustrations are fittingly goulish and graceful.

I can't think about books without commending my mom for teaching me how to read and how to love it. At least once a week, she drove my sisters and me to the library, and we were always able to get out of preparing dinner as long as we had our noses in books. Needless to say, I read every afternoon and studiously-so around 4:30 PM. To her, I attribute the countless, colorful adventures of the imagination that marked my childhood. Thank you, Mom. You still get my vote for the best Reepacheep voice!

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Christ of cities and suburbs

Urban church planting is hip right now. Church planters may be taking their cues from the culture. Renewing city centers to attract young, single professionals as the key to economic growth has been the focus of developers and city councils across the nation for a while. As a member of their target demographic, not surprisingly urban love hit me during college. I dreamed of moving to Boston, New York, or DC and living in an old warehouse converted to studio apartments with exposed brick walls and in close proximity to a wine bar, live jazz, and the performing arts center.

These "cool cities" projects have failed to produce the promised financial returns, however, as noted by a WSJ opinion piece yesterday. They failed because the target demographic moves out as quickly as it moves in. Young, single professionals opt with far more frequency than the previous generation to marry and start families. When they do, they abandon the city for the surrounding suburbs. Moreover, it is these "married people with children [not singles who] tend to be both successful and motivated, precisely the people who make the economies go." Thus, affordable housing and short commutes, not loft apartments and nightclubs, are the key to cities creating burgeoning and stable economies.




Our experience in New York City squares with the statistics. The members of our church who live in the city are largely educated professionals who are single or newlywed. As families grow, they tend to leave the city entirely. Indeed, the joke is that professionals leave Manhattan for Brooklyn when they have their first baby, and then move out to Long Island or leave the area entirely when the second baby arrives.

It's not that people start hating the city. They just find it hard to raise a family in a one-bedroom walk-up apartment using public transportation. For the same monthly cost, you can buy a spacious four-bedroom home in Gilbert, Arizona, own two cars, and stock the fridge with twice as many groceries.

Because we believe that children are a blessing from the Lord and an essential element of marriage and because of the economic forces moving married couples with children to the suburbs, Mr. Miller and I have been puzzled by the emphasis on "missional" ministry to the city over the work of the allegedly vacuous churches of suburbia. It's encouraging to see new web resources like Mission to Suburbia (HT: Between Two Worlds) mostly because it means the pendulum might be swinging back to center.

Most troubling in the current urban trend are the ideas that living in an urban area makes one more sensitive to poverty or have more opportunities to evangelize. After living in NYC a total of six months, I've already become immune to the pleas of the countless beggars (as well as the urine scent in the subway and the grime on the streets.) As for evangelism, those opportunities abound just about anywhere; it's a matter of seizing them. My father and sister put me to shame in this regard. Dad, a supervisor for the utility company that provides power to most Arizona suburbs, seems to share the gospel with co-workers and business associates as naturally and frequently as he breaths. And my sister, a suburban housewife, shares the gospel with young mothers she meets through mommy groups and pregnancy classes.

The obvious truth is that people need Jesus whether they live in track homes or high rises. Pastors and church planters certainly face unique issues depending on location because of the different demographics, but the essential need of human beings remains constant.

The distinction for the Christian, then, is not, as the real estate slogan goes, "location, location, location!" but rather "faithful, faithful, faithful." Whether I live in a city or suburb (in God's providence, I've had opportunity to live in both), I am called to faithfully love the Lord by keeping his commands and love my neighbors by caring for them, most especially for their souls.

Monday, November 19, 2007

The art of campaign signs

Explained by the New York Times (tip from Cisco via Keith).

2007 Federalist Society NLC

Mr. Miller and I attended the annual Federalist Society National Lawyers Convention last week. The convention has special significance for us. Mr. Miller first spotted me talking to some mutual friends at this conference two years ago. He asked around for my name, but did not work up the nerve to talk to me until three months later!

We anticipate this convention each year because it is a haven for legal nerds. In other words, these are our people. The panels, debates, and guest speakers are always intellectually stimulating, and the line-up of speakers was especially high-quality given that the Federalist Society was celebrating its 25th anniversary. Long live judicial conservatism and strict constructionist judges!

Admittedly, however, my favorite point of the conference was attending the gala on Thursday night. Not only did I get to don an evening gown and dance with my husband, but we also heard from President Bush, Judge Bork, and Justices Alito, Scalia, and Thomas.


With our friends, Lisa and Andrew


Our seats did not afford a view of the President so we watched him on the screen


With friend and mentor, Jeff Ventrella


Mr. Miller with two lovely Lewis women!


With my husband, my lover, my friend

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Fall food II

Enough with the entrees. Let's have dessert!

Pumpkin Gingerbread Trifle (recipe from Carolyn McCulley)


Our caregroup will find out tonight if it's as good as it looks.

UPDATE: the trifle received very positive verdicts from several sources.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Fall food

The Fall food aesthetic includes the color and aroma of pumpkins, squash, nuts, spices, and apples. This year, I discovered that cooking with these food items is not limited to sweets. Here are two entrees we've recently enjoyed.

Pasta with Pumpkin and Sausage
(from Classic Rachael Ray 30-Minute Meals)
Salt & pepper
1 pond penne rigate, cooked until al dente
2 drizzles evoo
1 pound bulk sweet sausage
1 small onion, finely chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 bay leaf, fresh or dried
4-6 leaves fresh sage, slivered
1 cup dry white wine
1 can (14 oz) chicken broth
1 cup canned pumpkin
1/2 cup heavy cream
2 pinches ground cinnamon
3 pinches ground nutmeg
Romano or Parmigiano cheese, for grating over pasta

Cook pasta according to package directions until al dente. Drain.

Meanwhile, in a deep pot over medium heat, pour in 1 drizzle of oil and brown sausage in it. Remove to paper towel-lined plate to drain and return pan to heat. Add second drizzle of oil to pan and saute onion and garlic 5 minutes, till soft and sweet. Add bay leaf, sage, and wine to pot. Reduce wine for 2 minutes. Add broth and pumpkin and combine, stirring sauce until it comes to a bubble. Return sausage to pan, reduce heat, and stir in cream. Season with cinnamon, nutmeg, and salt and pepper and simmer 5 minutes.

To serve, return drained, cooked pasta to the pot you cooked it in. Remove the bay leaf from sauce and pour sauce over pasta. Toss pasta and sauce 1-2 minutes over low heat so pasta can absorb flavors. Top bowls of pasta with freshly grated cheese, and serve with a green salad on the side. Generously serves 4.

Butternut Squash Soup
(from my friend Yolanda--a Brooklyn-native, vegetarian, hip-hop lovin, seminary student)

2 Tb olive oil
2 Tb butter
1 cup diced onion
2 cloves garlic minced
2-3 Tb curry
8 cups diced butternut squash
2 quarts veggie or chicken stock
1 bay leaf
Salt & pepper to taste
1-2 cups cream (optional)
(If you like your soup a little sweet, add a chopped apple)

Saute oil and butter over medium heat. When butter melts, add onion & garlic. Stir and let saute for about 8 minutes. Increase heat and stir in curry, and saute for a few minutes. Add butternut squash, and stir & saute for a few more minutes. Add stock, bay lead and bring to simmer. Reduce heat to keep at slow simmer. Cook uncovered until squash is soft about 45 minutes. Remove bay leaf, season with salt & pepper add additional teaspoon of curry (to taste). Soup can be served as is or you can can use a potato masher to mash it to your desired consistency. Add cream if desired. Serves 4. (I served this flavorful soup with sliced cucumbers and whole wheat dinner rolls.)

Out with the old | In with the new



From the beginning, our gas oven has never worked right. Starting the oven required opening the door, putting your ear next to it, and slowly turning the dial waiting to hear the click of the gas. Sometimes, I had to retry the dial four or five times before it finally ignited.

When we arrived back this fall, we noticed the oven had started not only cooking our food but also heating our home. Then one night, fifteen minutes before our dinner guests arrived, we heard a crash from the oven and saw steam pouring out the back. Inside, our glass Pyrex pan of chicken had split down the middle. Later that night, my peach cobbler again baking in a glass Pyrex dish exploded. After those incidents, nothing baked right. Casseroles dried out. And the almonds I attempted to brown literally flamed.

When I tried to get someone out to look at it, the professional told me to bake a potato. If the potato didn't explode, the oven was fine. The potato didn't explode. But that didn't explain the hot house, exploding dishes, overcooked casserole, and flaming nuts.

I tried talking to the landlord. He was never home, so I started leaving pleading notes for him periodically. I also stopped using the oven. Five weeks later, the landlord finally installed this new beauty. She runs like a thoroughbred and starts on the first twist of the dial!

Monday, November 12, 2007

In Mr. Miller's absence...

...I tried to keep busy to ward off loneliness, with mixed success.

Unquestionably, the high points were visiting with my new friend, Susanna (and her adorable son, Micah), and my old friends, Mike and Cathi Herrod. I met Susanna through City Church. We have in common, among other things, English Lit degrees, being sandwiched between two sisters, being raised by parents who got radically saved during the Jesus People Movement, pregnancy, newerish marriages, and a love for Christ our Savior. She is ahead of me in mothering, so I get to benefit from the wisdom of her experience and her joy in parenting. She is such a happy mama!!! Susanna's anecdotes and interactions with her son make me eager for the arrival of my daughter.

Cathi was my supervisor for almost two years at the Center for Arizona Policy, an organization she now leads very well. She is also an important mentor of the Titus 2 variety. She and Mike have invested a lot of time and resources in me, even letting me stay at their home on occasion! They are also both attorneys, so I look to their marriage as a model for Mr. Miller and me. Mike and Cathi were in NYC this weekend visiting The King's College with their daughter. They graciously made time in their schedule to share conversation with me on the first floor of the Empire State Building. It was a blessing and a bit of Arizona joy in the midst an otherwise rainy, solitary afternoon.

He's home!

Mr. Miller left on Thursday morning for a splendid three days in Phoenix, Arizona where he attended The Pursuit, happily bruised his body playing flag football, visited my family, and caught up with old friends, especially college-roommate and best man, Michael Francisco. The Lord blessed Mr. Miller's time immensely. The periodic reports I heard from him and my family members were glowing, and he returned refreshed and excited. In spite of getting scant sleep this weekend and taking the red-eye back to Brooklyn on Sunday morning, he still went straight to church and played in the worship band with joy.

Thank you Mom, Dad, Michael, Rich, Heather, Xander, and Keegan for caring for my husband!

Thursday, November 8, 2007

CraigsList

I hate CraigsList. I love CraigsList. I hate CraigsList...

CraigsList is an online garage sale. It stirs my emotions because right when I find a treasure, a fellow web prowler plucks it from under my eager, outstretched fingers.

To wit: I've been stalking the New York City ads for an inexpensive crib for several weeks. Discouragement followed each vain bid. Finally, I saw a hard-wood crib for $25 in the adjacent neighborhood. I e-mailed the buyer within 17 minutes of the ad posting. She responded five hours later, telling me to call her to arrange the pick-up. When I called, she had already given the crib away. I cried. No, I sobbed. (Pregnancy hormones, I swear!)

Dejected but not dissuaded, I checked again the next morning. Just four blocks from the burrow, a man was giving away a crib gratis. That means free. My eyes glanced to the time on the ad; it was eleven hours old. Then I saw the photo. The crib was white, simple, and modern--exactly what I wanted. Risking another emotional breakdown, I dialed the seller's phone number. The crib was still available! Mr. Miller hurried home from school and we picked it up. Now that white, wooden, splendid thing is laying, dismantled, in our bedroom.

I love CraigsList.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Love in a package

My mother-in-law, Chris, sends exceptional care-packages. She designs them perfectly to delight her specific recipient.

Last weekend, we were the blessed recipients of her creativity. We saved the package as a special treat to open following completion of the MPRE on Saturday morning, hopefully the final exam in my legal career. Inside, we found beautifully coordinated gifts for our coming baby: one of Chris' handmade quilts, a vintage Beatrix Potter baby book, matching pink and green scrapbook paper, pink sleepers (cute and practical!), and money to buy a web-cam!


Mr. Miller recognized the quilt looked just like his baby blanket except that Chris used lovely feminine colors and fabrics. Chris started making these quilts for other people back in 1982, when she only had Zach and Keith, because she had been so blessed by the handmade blankets given to her babies. Each of her blankets is unique and sewn with love and prayers for the baby and its family. When laid on the floor, the blanket provides a special place for the baby to lay on her tummy, develop strong back and neck muscles, observe the great wide world or just the fabric, and play with her toys.

Most importantly, the blanket will serve as a visual prompt for me to entertain my daughter frequently with descriptions of her godly and talented grandmother who prayerfully crafted this blanket just for her.

Chris with Zach (l) and Keith (r)