About hopesquires

I've left behind the daily grind to write full time and to figure out what my own flourishing tree looks like. I'd love to help you flourish and grow along the way, so that you, too, can cultivate a life that pleases God.

Little Free Libraries and building community

When my husband and I came to California to house hunt, we had two days to look at 16 houses. One of the moments that stands out in my mind is passing by a Little Free Library on a street near one of the houses for sale. I got really excited, and I’m pretty sure my enthusiasm surprised both my husband and our agent. Any neighborhood that had a Little Free Library was more than all right with me.

Not familiar with the Little Free Library movement? Its basic premise is to share books within a community. People build a box to hold books, put it in their yard, and then their neighbors start sharing books. I love this!

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Exchanging books: The point of a Little Free Library

On Friday my husband reminded me of that Little Free Library by sending me an article about some small-minded folks who are hassling the owner of a Little Free Library. I read the article and immediately wanted to start building a Little Free Library of my own to stake in the front yard. Of course, I’d have to check with the homeowners’ association first (I recognize the irony). And, more to the point, I have no wood-working skills. So there went that idea.

My temper cooled when I skimmed the article’s comments, something I don’t normally do because, well … trolls. As I scrolled down, I saw a long comment from the director of marketing for Little Free Libraries. She asserted that most of these little neighborhood gems are not in trouble and pointed out the complexities of the specific (unofficial) library in question.

That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t pay attention in our own communities about how Little Free Libraries flourish, or stir up trouble, or bring neighbors together or bring out the trolls. We should know, and we should celebrate Little Free Libraries’ successes. If you read the first paragraph or two of the CityLab article, you’ll see why Little Free Libraries deserve positive attention and why they deserve our protection. They play a small part in creating community.

Little Free Libraries play a small part in creating community.

So to celebrate Little Free Libraries and get to know my way around my new community a little better, I drove around in search of Little Free Libraries near me. There’s a handy map of them all over the world, and I used the map and its more complete appendix to plan the places I would visit. The tour gave me a fun reason to learn my way around roads I might not otherwise ever see.

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Someone took a lot of care on the shingles for this cute Little Free Library

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A wide collection of reading material, but I was sad there weren’t any children’s books here.

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A happy yellow Little Free Library, this one with an asphalt shingled roof

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Yay for children’s books (especially Star Wars) and for adult lit books such as Toni Morrison’s Paradise, one of my favorite reads from last year

My favorite Little Free Library of the trip was this one for its whimsical decorations:

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Someone(s) must have had a lot of fun decorating this one.

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Not just books for adults and kids, but crayons and toys, too, along with a log book and a note pleading for the return of log book #1. Not cool, log book thief, not cool.

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I love that the octopus is reading two books at a time, both “classics.”

I encourage you to look at the map for Little Free Libraries to find some near you. Don’t have one? Consider building your own. What books would you most like to share in a Little Free Library?

Speaking of free books, Saturday is the last day to enter for your chance to win a free copy of The Flourishing Tree on Goodreads. I also need to figure out what to do with some copies of the book that arrived damaged—maybe add them to Little Free Libraries? What do you think?

Snow, ashes and forced pauses

I ran yesterday morning, not long or far, but I was grateful to be able to run. After a year+ of fighting an injury, I’m starting to run consistently, and that’s a gift I do not take for granted.

I know, too, that if I had not moved from North Carolina to California, I would not have been able to run yesterday. Or today. Or tomorrow. Raleigh is covered in ice, and if there’s one surface I refuse to run on, it’s ice (not to mention that 18º is my minimum temperature for running even on the driest road).

I hear that snow is falling there now, adding to the layers of snow, sleet and ice—a pretty sight if you can watch it from the warmth of your home, but miserable if you have to go outside for long. A howling, bitter cold is coming next.

Here’s NOAA’s seven-day forecast for Raleigh:

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There’s the kid part of me that already misses snow days. Photos on Facebook show sledding and snow falling and the world blanketed in a glazed white. Schools stay closed, while families stay inside and read books, watch movies or play games. They make smores and hot chocolate and cinnamon buns.

My dog has always loved snow days, especially when it snowed enough to fully bury her tennis ball and turn it into a popsicle to dig up over and over. I know she doesn’t remember what she’s missing, but I miss it a little for her, the unbridled glee she felt on those days. Here’s a shot of her from one of our snow days last year:

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Part of me doesn’t miss these snow days, though, especially as cold as Raleigh is right now. Aside from the inevitable cabin fever, there is fretting for my husband and others like him who have to navigate icy roads to get to and from work.

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There’s the knowledge that children who rely on free or reduced lunch programs at school are going hungry. And there are the cries for help from homeless shelters bursting at the seams with dangerous white flag nights one after another. For too many, snow days mean fighting for life. (If you’re blessed with plenty, consider a donation to Backpack Buddies or the Raleigh Rescue Mission?)

Because of the icy roads, churches are canceling Ash Wednesday services. In its cancellation notice, my Raleigh church invited members to mark the occasion at home or with neighbors. I hope many of my church family will take them up on that suggestion.

Snow days force a stop in our regular pace of life, and maybe that’s something else I miss.

So much distressing news across the world has me reeling more than usual lately: 21 Christian Egyptian martyrs; three muslim students (all shining young Americans who grew up in my hometown) shot dead in a senseless act of rage; continued extremist violence in Nigeria; even anti-Semitic activity at nearby UC Davis. I cannot make sense of any of it.

The snow blanketing the roads doesn’t cover these troubles, but it does force a pause, a community’s collective inhalation. And it provides still, quiet moments to help us decide where God is calling us to spend our energies next.

The same could be said of the ashes that mark us this first day of Lent. They do not hide our faults, but they do encourage a change from our normal routine and an examination of how we are to prepare for the season ahead.

Sometimes it’s in the pauses that God can move us the most.

To my friends in snowy places, how are you pausing? To my friends who cannot imagine living in such cold places, what encourages you to pause?

February freebie

Hi, friends,

Here’s a bonus post with some fun news.

February isn’t my favorite month. Maybe you feel the same? To spread some cheer, I’m giving away copies of The Flourishing Tree over at Goodreads. You can enter through the end of February:

Goodreads Book Giveaway

The Flourishing Tree by Hope Squires

The Flourishing Tree

by Hope Squires

Giveaway ends February 28, 2015.

See the giveaway details
at Goodreads.

Enter to win

Finding home in a garden

My mother asked recently what was blooming in my new garden, and her question provided the initial inspiration for this post.

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These yellow flowers have been blooming since we arrived here.

The beautiful early spring weather has also encouraged me to share some photos with you. While locals assure me this is too early—February can still bring freezing weather—spring is here nonetheless. I plan to celebrate even if winter resurfaces later.

I still find myself unsure about planting anything given our extreme drought, but I must tend the garden that surrounds me, coaxing it to be its beautiful best. Even if I don’t plant something new, the gardening chores—pulling weeds, picking up spent camellia blooms, trimming dead blooms—invite me to put down roots of sorts, to invest my time and make myself at home in this garden.

I’m excited to see what will spring up. Perhaps this is a tulip magnolia?

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Will this unveil itself as a tulip magnolia?

I’ve discovered mint, and the lavender continues to bloom in force. A variety of yellow flowers bring cheer as they open, and several camellias are showing off.

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The most prolific of the camellia bushes

Familiar plants remind me of home and remind me that this new home is not so foreign after all. There are unfamiliar plants, too: smaller, quieter blooms I cannot yet identify but welcome with eagerness.

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I carried my camera on this morning’s walk, hoping to capture the early spring in pictures. Cheerful birdsong filled the air, a hopeful soundtrack to accompany the beauty budding out on trees and along the ground.

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This tree started blooming a week or two ago and stopped me still mid-stride when I noticed its first blooms, stark against the dark limbs.

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Little purple flowers grow amid grass and rocks by the trail.

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My favorite moment came as I readied the camera to take a close-up of the purple ground-cover flowers. I heard the deep buzz—the kind that rattles your brain in a way a bee could only dream of doing—before I saw the motion. A hummingbird reveled in the purple flowers, too, and I just managed to click the shutter before it sped off, too shy of the dog and me to linger longer.

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Not my best shot but my favorite surprise of the morning.

Before I left Raleigh, one of my dear friends prayed for God to show off for me out here. This morning felt like God delighting in the early spring “garden” and wowing me with hummingbird moments.

Is it humanity’s origins in the garden that cause us to crave what gardens provide? Though not all of us enjoy the feel of cool dirt caked under our fingernails, God can speak to us and make us feel at home in the “gardens”—cultivated or wild—surrounding us.

Some of you may be grumbling that spring seems impossibly far away, but know that the earth is at work even under ice and snow, preparing a showy display of spring for you, too.

And all too soon, I imagine I’ll be wishing to trade places with you to escape the scorching heat and drought of this place. To shore up my spirit and embrace Jeremiah 17:7-8 (flourishing like the tree that doesn’t fear when the heat comes), I need to drink in these beautiful moments so I can call upon God’s showy, golden, thriving spring garden once it is just a memory.

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How do you see God showing off for you these days?

Grits and other grains of truth

And let us consider how we may spur one another toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.”

Hebrews 10:24-25

I’ve been reading and thinking (and writing) a lot these days about friendships and community. How does community look from the outside and the inside? How do we delve and connect more deeply to shift from being strangers to friendly acquaintances to true friends?

In talking with several friends about what keeps this connection in place, I hear again and again the common thread of reaching out and making time for new friendship.

Two weeks ago, my new next-door neighbor rolled down her car window and called out “Hello” to me. She said we should have lunch, and so last week, we drove to a sweet little cafe and spent a couple of hours enjoying good food and getting to know each other. She reached out, and we both carved out some time from busy schedules to make a connection.

Just the other morning, I got an email from one of my cousins (whom I also consider a friend). She’s semi-retired from a career as a family physician, newly remarried, and living in a different city from where she raised her three now-grown children. Her words resonated with me:

I have had to do a lot of thinking about creating “connections” outside those arenas. … It’s interesting—once I realized what that vague emptiness was I felt better because I could be more proactive and seek out other friendships. It’s not easy—but I feel it slowly working.

Friendships don’t come easy, and past elementary school, strong bonds rarely happen quickly. They can take time, and I wonder if we as a society aren’t losing patience with things that take time.

You may be wondering what this all has to do with grits.

I walked down the pasta aisle of my new “regular” grocery store this weekend and stopped dead:

Pre-cooked grits? No, California, just no.

Pre-cooked grits? No, California, just no.

To any self-respecting southern girl, this is a horrifying sight, a thing that shouldn’t even exist but does. I stood and stared, perplexed. Ummmm, pre-cooked, slice-and-serve grits rolled up like a sleeve of sausage? No, no, no, no, no. Grits cook so quickly, especially if you buy the quick cook kind. Even the slow cook kind only take twenty to thirty minutes. They don’t hold up all that well as leftovers. So why, oh why, would you need these pre-cooked grits, essentially packaged leftovers?

More and more, our society wants instant everything: movies-on-demand, quick meet-ups, fast-formed friendships and, apparently, faster-than-instant grits.

Some things are just better with time, though. Grits and friendships fall into this category. Real grits don’t take much time and only a little attention, but real friendships do. Friendships require effort: making space on packed calendars; spending time with others; hearing and speaking concerns, joys, hopes, dreams.

Of the early friendships I’ve begun building here, every single one has the same two essential ingredients: openness and time. Plus some food added in the mix for good measure.

These friendships will not all end up looking the same, like those pre-cooked grit patties sliced from a plastic tube. Just as grits are tasty with a variety of add-ins, friendships flower in many different, beautiful ways.

Hebrews 10 encourages the church community to continue meeting, but it applies to friends, too. Do not give up on meeting together. Are you missing a friend who hasn’t reached out in some time? Pick up the phone or send an email yourself. Have someone new in your neighborhood or at work you’d like to get to know better? Plan a coffee or lunch date. Feel a lack of friends in your life? Try a new hobby or rekindle an old one to see what new friends are waiting there for you. Whatever you do, though, make sure meeting with friends doesn’t involve pre-cooked grits (shudder).

Do you have a recipe—for friendships or grits—that you’d like to share? I’d love to hear from you.