Monday, May 30, 2011

Acts of Faith

I love being part of a bookclub. I love connecting with my peers and talking about subjects that would not come up in ordinary everyday conversation. And I particularly love that I have been exposed to literature I would never have found on my own. Some of the books we have read are from the fiction section, and some are from the non-fiction section of the library. I think that the ones I have loved the most were the beautifully written books from the non-fiction section of the library, because they are gorgeous to read and they move me the most toward action.

Welcome to "Acts of Faith", by Eboo Patel. This one is a total winner (nice pick, Kristine!), and since I've been racing to finish it this past week and it has been consuming my thoughts and my spare time, I thought I would tell you a little about it.

In a very small nutshell, Acts of Faith is the story of an American Muslim who tells the story of his life and search for religious identity, a movement for interfaith service amongst youth and young adults, and his founding of a worldwide grassroots organization dedicated to the cause of interfaith youth service. His basic thesis, which weaves throughout his biographical story in sketches, is that our faith communities are failing our young people. We need to pay attention to the search for religious and spiritual identity that young people often experience as they step into the wider world, and help them to place their faith in the context of cooperation with other religions towards common positive ends, so that spiritually seeking young people are not attracted instead to the well-funded extremest religious circles that turn young people into suicide bombers, and shooters, and people who commit acts of hatred while claiming to work in the name of God. Eboo Patel provides sketches of young men from Muslim, Christian, Jewish and Hindu communities who led relatively normal lives until at peak times in their search for religious identity, were brought under the tutelage and care of the wrong people. These wrong people taught these young men to feel humiliated and unjustly dealt with by those from another faith, and they elevated the work of killing and made it holy. Eboo's work is to bring young people together, find common values, such as hospitality, or compassion, and put the youth to work side by side on projects that complement their shared values. His organization helps the youth to identify with their prospective religions by asking them to share examples from their holy texts or scriptures that illustrate their common values.

The final chapter of the book is my favorite. I've written out a few of my favorite paragraphs just because I loved them.

This first one is about April, who was a Evangelical Christian with a lot of energy for Social Justice, whom Eboo and Jeff were trying to recruit to work for their grassroots organization:

"After hearing Jeff talk about the Interfaith Youth Core, a space that connected faith, social justice, and diversity, [April] jumped at the chance to get involved. Her problem in the campus-based Christian group had been appearing not Christian enough as a result of her attempt to reach out to Muslims (a local mosque had burned down and she had suggested that the Evangelical group help them rebuild). Now she was worried that she would appear to be too Christian because she firmly believed that Christianity was a uniquely true religion and that Jesus was Lord and Savior. She confessed that worry during our initial interview. 'I have the deepest respect for your faith, ' I told her. 'I sure hope you think it's true, because otherwise there would be no reason to stay committed to it. I think my religion is true, too. So let's make a deal. We can both believe our religions are true, we can even privately hope the other converts, and we can work together in this organization to serve others. In that way, we, an Evangelical Christian and a devoted Muslim, can model what we say this organization is about: people from very different faith backgrounds finding common purpose in helping others.'

This next bit is about the logistics of starting the Interfaith Youth Core and the challenge of sharing his vision with religious leaders from the Chicago area, from whom Eboo would need support if he wanted his organization to become a reality.

"The first challenge was to get religious leaders on board...

A senior person at the Archdiocese of Chicago put it like this: 'I love the idea of interfaith cooperation. We certainly need more of that in this world. But my primary concern is that Catholic kids become better Catholics. I want them to know more about the Catholic tradition and to be more active in Catholic practices and institutions. Look, I think my religion has the banquet. I agree that all religions are holy and have something to offer, but I think Catholicism has the feast.'...

'I totally understand your position,' I told him. 'The truth is, most religious people feel that way. I certainly believe that Islam has something unique and powerful that holds my allegiance, and I believe one of my most important responsibilities as a Muslim is passing down my tradition to the next generation.' I saw him easing a little bit in his chair. By proclaiming our strong commitment to our respective faiths, even intimating that we believed what we each had was superior, we had cleared the way for an honest conversation. Neither of us was offended by the other's faith commitment. To the contrary, it had created a common bond - two men of deep but different faiths talking about religious cooperation."

So, after you have burned through the romance novels at the beach this summer and are looking for something with a bit of meat, find Acts of Faith! Even if you are not part of a religious community, it is an inspiring and worthy read.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Because I was busy on Mother's Day...

Gigi, I love you.

Thank you for making my transition into motherhood so seamless. I waited ten extra days for you, and you were very much worth the wait. You came on your own timing and over a few days, slow and steady, until Papai finally caught you in the hospital room after an exciting half-hour of pushing. I had dreamed about you and about your hair, and there you were: my little Eskimo child.

The first thing I learned about you was that you were strong and trustworthy. As a new mama on day one, I was afraid that I would not be able to protect you and keep you safe and alive, but you quickly taught me that I had no reason to worry. Although you were small, you were resilient. You came with a strong will to thrive.

And then came the real treat: you were easy too! You have been such a happy, friendly girl, and you attract love wherever you go. I feel like I take you everywhere with me, not because I don't trust you to other people's care, but simply because I love being in your presence. You are the best thing I have ever made, and my best offering to the world.

And can I love you even more because I see myself in you? You are fiercely independent, just like your mama, and it makes me hope that one day you will run with all of the ways that independence can serve you, and leave behind all of the ways that independence can hinder you. I am still working on this balance, and I hope you will learn to be better and wiser than me.

And no doubt more beautiful...

...and more silly.

So, thank you for being my first baby, and my happiness this past year. I never tire of hugging you, and planting kisses on your cheeks. In fact, I think I will have to learn how to sit on my hands so as not to overwhelm you with my love.

Gigi, I love you.

xoxo your Mama

1st Year Photos by Rebecca at Darling Art Photography

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

At the Drawing Board

As June 30 approaches, our life seems to be back to the drawing board again. I feel like our big decisions generally have an expiration date of about a year, and then we are back to square one: whether to renew our lease, how to arrange our work, how to proceed with higher education, what to do about child care... (are we ever going to grow out of this phase?)

Luckily, one of the blessings of life is that we are on a "choose your own adventure" story that has the added benefit of never showing what things would have been like had we chosen a different door to open. We can make guesses, and some people get stuck in "what if...?" and "if only...", but I believe that if we are flexible, fairly well-balanced and positive people, then the educated and inspired decisions we make in good faith will become the right option for us.

One of the expiration dates coming up is our current lease. But hooray, we found ourselves a cute townhouse to rent for the next year! It doesn't look like much from the outside, but we are excited to have a bigger kitchen, copious windows and natural light, and a little more room for our visitors. And "townhouse" has the word "house" in it, so by most estimations we are one step closer to being established in the world.

I am preparing myself for a great year.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011


I had a feeling things would go this direction, but I didn't think she would be quite so much of a mermaid. We took Gigi and her new giraffe swimsuit (thanks Linds!) to the pool last week on a hot day, and she absolutely loved the water. Frankly the pool was still too cold for my liking and I preferred just to dangle my feet in, but for Gigi it was swim or bust. She leaned over the water and splashed, and kicked, and wiggled to have her Papai take her in.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Portland Visitors

At the end of April we had a special visit from my Aunty Katy (mom's little sister) and my cousin Sam, who were combing the East coast visiting family on a short break from their life in Portland, Oregon. It was Sam's Spring break from his junior year in high school, so they decided to make some visits to see loved ones, and maybe stop in at a few colleges along the way.

The Old Well: The symbol and logo of UNC and the original water supply for all of Chapel Hill. Thank you stranger girl for your stunning framing with this photo...

It was such a nice visit. They were only with us for two days, but we were able to fit in two outstanding home-cooked dinners together (Katy is a great cook), we spent an evening with Katy and me walking in the balmy evening around our neighborhood catching up on life while the boys explored Portal II, and we made time to visit some of our favorite places around the area.

One of our favorite places at UNC is the forest theater, which is a theater in the forest at the edge of campus. We have never actually attended anything here, but we love it all the same.

One of my favorite parts of their visit was that Gigi felt so at home with my Aunty Katy and cousin Sam. Gigi is very social, but she likes to have Marcos or me within sight, and is occasionally slow to warm up to new people. She felt so comfortable with Katy and Sam that one day they stayed at Duke Gardens with her for a few hours without her so much as making a peep. It was so refreshing!

And of course, we took them to Maple View Farms for ice cream. The general store out in the country side with the rocking chairs on the front porch is just hard to beat. Gigi had ice cream for the first time and loved it. I had double chocolate and dulce de leche, and loved it too much to take any photos while we were eating. Afterwards, Katy, Sam and Marcos threw around the frisbee and I chased Gigi while dusk settled over the dairy farm. Thank you Katy and Sam for bringing your vacation to our lives. It was wonderful to see you, to catch up, to break bread together and to introduce you to our little girl!

We miss you already.

Sunday, May 8, 2011


This year I had a dream of making an Easter tree, and so in the weeks prior to Easter I blew a few eggs to hang on my tree. In the end it became more of an Easter branch stuck into a watering can, but I am okay with that. I like to give my traditions room to improve year to year.

The best part of making my Easter branch was dying the eggs. My friend Jill bought a kit for Polish (Ukrainian, etc.) eggs, which are designed using wax and potent dyes, and I spent a night immersed in this new art form. In order to put the design onto the egg, we used small tools with tiny cups of wax at the end, and we held the wax over the flame to liquefy it and then gently touch the tool to the egg to draw on our design. Essentially, the eggs are dyed multiple times in the lightest colors to the darkest, and between each layer more wax is added, which seals in the color of whatever area it touches. (Got that?)

The pink flowered egg at the top was my first try. I was still experimenting with the design style and the process, so it came out fairly monochromatic. By the time I got to the egg below, I was branching into using three colors. But my friend Danille really took the cake. Her egg is the beautiful one above, and I could not believe my eyes when I saw how it had turned out! Applying the design and dying the eggs multiple times requires some careful planning, and she truly aced it.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Blink and you miss it

Suddenly, we have a walker on our hands! From taking 3 or 4 few steps on her birthday, to taking 8 or 10 a few days later, I am happy to say that we now have a full-fledged walker. She is still a bit tipsy (especially when she is tired), and she does not do well off-road, but I'd say she is definitely walking!

From this...

To this:

Tuesday, May 3, 2011


Gigi definitely adds dimension to holidays.

On Easter Saturday our ward had its annual Easter Egg hunt, and although it had poured the night before and the grass was a bit damp, Gigi didn't seem to mind. Tutu (my mom) had sent her a small basket, and Gigi's true love was playing with the paper grass we nested in the bottom. The whole idea of an Easter egg hunt was definitely lost on her, but it was still fun to watch her bang the plastic eggs together, and discretely chew on the chocolate eggs until the chocolate oozed out of the foil wrapper.

Then on Easter morning we had Easter brunch with friends before racing off to church, and singing, singing, singing with the choir. Marcos and I have managed to stay involved with the music at church, and it is a great creative outlet. We additionally sang with a small octet and two flutes an Easter song that I have loved since first grade at the Waldorf School called "Love is come Again" (Noel Nouvelet in French). Putting together this song is a dream my friend Jill and I have had for years. We finally did it!

Breakfast at Rebecca's. This kitchen is the scene of so many special holiday celebrations for our family. There is always amazing company, foodie-quality food, and important conversations and friendship being shared. Our friend Chrissy (on the left - Rebecca is on the right) celebrated a birthday that morning, and so things felt particularly festive. I hope that someday I will have the pow-pow combination of genuine sweetness and power that these two women espouse.

And... there were many other fabulous people present, and of course I mainly just followed Gigi around trying to get photos of her not moving. I have stared at this photo of flowers above and thought, "I love flowers. They don't move. If Gigi didn't move I could get pretty photos of her too..."

Family shots: Quick, take a picture before Gigi escapes!

After church, we relaxed and prepared for our dinner at the Vanderwalker's. Brandi and Matt moved to the area with their daughters last year, and I am so impressed with their skill as hosts and their art for gathering people together. We brought my Tutu's scalloped potatoes recipe, and it was a winner.

One of our Easter treats was being able to eat outside for dinner. Envision warmth, a steady breeze, long green grass and bare feet. That combined with the great company and delicious spread made for quite an evening.

Happy Easter everyone!