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I vividly remember the feeling of guilt-free anticipation that would take hold every time I walked into Merrickville Public Library. The librarian, Mrs. Ogilvie, was the revered caretaker of these 3 small rooms. Rooms that–for me–contained vast potential and a unique source of unencumbered enjoyment. In this peaceful place, the only budget limiting how much I could taste and take and experience was the maximum number of books that could be checked out according to library policy.

And there was PLENTY. PLENTY was a freeing word. PLENTY is yet an abundant word.

There was no rush to shorten a visit at the library, no incentive or pressure to not look too closely or eagerly. There was no shame in desiring more. Piles and piles of books could be taken home. Books to explore, to learn, to entertain. No one could tell me it was too much. Or too expensive. Or too too. As long as I could carry them home, I owned the freedom to decide the amount that for me was just right. And this was a rare experience for me.

So I still get excited about libraries. And about books. And about reading. After all, how many other opportunities exist for free, non-fat, guilt-free, democratic, universally-available joy? Wasn’t it a moment of rare God-filled inspiration to found and fund the first libraries? Isn’t it still? And these little libraries people are building and posting in their yards and neighborhoods? Don’t they represent inspiration, generosity, a desire to spread joy and life? What pure intention.

SRP Gina Sekelsky

Gina Sekelsky’s Summer Reading Program has reminded me yet again of this deep blessing: The ability and freedom to READ.

In order to participate, I have been asked to share 5 books I read this summer, along with a short review.

So, here they are. I hope you’ve enjoyed your summer reads as much as I have…I’d love to hear about them in the comments below!

Breaking Night1. BREAKING NIGHT by Liz Murray  A Memoir of Forgiveness, Survival, and My Journey from Homeless to Harvard 

The first benefit of reading this book was a brand new expression to incorporate into my vocabulary: Breaking night means “staying up through the night, until the sun rises.” Jeremy and I broke night together frequently while dating in 1988. We walked hand-in-hand through the Montreal summer nights, only stopping to sleep once the sun had begun to rise in the morning sky. Breaking night and falling in love are frequent companions, it seems.

Secondly, Breaking Night reminds me that the impossible is more than possible. It is the memoir of Liz Murray, who at age fifteen was living on the streets–the daughter of two drug-addicted parents–yet managed to make it into Harvard through hard work, her own version of community-building and hope.

Wild2. WILD by Cheryl Strayed From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail

Wild, the story of a young Minnesota woman and her physically- and emotionally-demanding solo hike on the Pacific Crest Trail, was familiar in many ways to my own. Perhaps more dramatic in its telling, it was nonetheless reminiscent to me of my own coming of age voyage on a 31 foot sailboat named Aviso. At the age of 22–the same age as author Cheryl–I was newly married and very much an “indoorsy girl.” Yet I traveled from upper NY State to the Bahamas and back to Florida with no sailing experience, no staff, and only my nearly-as-naive young husband for support. Just one of the unexpected lessons I learned about myself: When the waves are high and the skies are dark, I want to be the one with my hands on the wheel. The heavier the weather, the more steady and courageous I am, with my hands on the wheel and my eyes looking out toward the horizon. Something deep inside of me knows that the weather will turn.

Cutting for Stone3. CUTTING FOR STONE by Abraham Vergese

I adore a book that transports me to a totally different time and place in history and geography. This is one of the reasons some of my favorite novels have included Gone with the Wind (Margaret Mitchell), Rebecca (Daphne du Maurier), Caribbean (James Michener), Alias Grace (Margaret Atwood), Pilgrim (Timothy Findlay), Daughter of Fortune (Isabel Allende), Memoirs of a Geisha (Arthur Golden), The Poisonwood Bible (Barbara Kingsolver), Katherine (Anya Seton), Middlesex (Jeffrey Archer), and more.

And so much the better if the book is nearly 700 pages long. Long enough to observe and grow attached to several generations of characters and passing decades.

In Cutting for Stone, the setting is Ethiopia, India, England and America; the characters are nuns and surgeons and soldiers and orphans. A story of connection and coming of age, of surprises, sorrows, miracles and transcendence.

Gone Girl4.  GONE GIRL by Gillian Flynn

I won’t say too much about Gone Girl’s plot because if you haven’t yet read it and want to, I certainly don’t want to be responsible for spoiling your experience. Suffice it to say that I had a hard time putting it down, and was genuinely set to wondering about the possible–or is it probable?–depravities of some human beings. I asked myself more than once if perhaps I might just be too naive to consider this story and characters at all believable. On the other hand…I know that there is a lot I don’t know.

While I thoroughly enjoyed the time spent reading, I was not completely satisfied with the ending. While I am ok with outcomes that are not exactly as expected, I do find myself wishing for more justice and/ or retribution than this one offers. I am sure that opinions on the author’s chosen ending run the gamut and it would be fun to hear what you think…

Nourish5. NOURISH: SUMMER by Anna Dvorak

nourish: summer is the third in a four-part series seasonal cookbook, released in sequence and timed with the seasons.

My lovely friend Anna offers this cookbook as an incredible gift to anyone who seeks a daily experience of eating healthful, seasonal and above-all deeply NOURISHING foods–foods that nourish emotionally, physically, spiritually–and foods that help us to cultivate community and wholeness in our lives.

Anna continues to inspire me and my family and all of those precious people I have the privilege to nourish at my table. From the bottom of my heart Anna, thank you. 

Anna’s entire nourish: summer is a collection of recipes that are naturally healthful, anti-inflammatory, gluten-free and inspired by the diverse and unexpected flavors that come from the cuisines of cultures around the world that eat healthfully as a way of life. More than 80 delicious recipes, inspired by world travels and more than 24 years in her kitchen, highlights a delicious, healthful way of preparing vegetarian and vegan recipes without sacrificing flavor or satisfaction.

Garlicky Kale-Stuffed Sweet Potatoes by Anna Dvorak

(from Nourish:Winter)

Serves 2 (with leftovers)

2 medium organic Garnet or Jewel yams (orange flesh sweet potatoes)
1 bunch organic kale, stems discarded and leaves chopped
1 tablespoon coconut oil or extra-virgin olive oil
1 small onion, sliced lengthwise into 1/8” strips
3 cloves garlic, sliced
1/8 teaspoon sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper
extra-virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley
1/2 red pepper, seeded and diced
organic goat cheese or feta, optional for garnish (my favorite is Singing Hills Dairy from Nerstrand, MN)

Heat oven to 400º. Scrub the sweet potatoes, prick several times on all sides with the tines of a fork and place on a metal baking pan lined with parchment paper. Bake in the middle of the oven for 35 minutes or until soft when squeezed in the middle. Remove from the oven and set aside.

Meanwhile, warm a large skillet over medium-low heat. Add the oil and the onion and sauté until the onion turns very tender and sweet, about 10 minutes. Add the garlic and sauté for 3 minutes longer, then stir in the chopped kale. Raise the heat to medium and sauté, stirring to toss, for 3-5 minutes or until the kale turns dark green and tender-crisp. Season to taste with sea salt and black pepper and remove the pan from the heat.

Slice each roasted sweet potato lengthwise and squeeze apart to open. Mash the flesh of each sweet potato lightly with a fork, lightly drizzle with a little extra-virgin olive oil, sprinkle with a pinch of salt, then stuff with half of the kale mixture. Garnish with fresh parsley and the diced red pepper. Eat immediately, or keep for up to two hours at room temperature of up to two days, refrigerated. To serve prepared dish, return to the oven and bake until warmed through, about 15 minutes (depending on whether or not they were refrigerated). Serve along with a crisp green salad and a small portion of the protein of your choice.

kale sweet potato