So long, 2006!

(I'm publishing this early because I'll be in Arizona for New Year's, so here it is. Also, here is last year's post. Looking back, I realize that Arrested Developement made both lists--not that I'm obsessive, really.)

This year I'm thankful for (in no particular order):

  • Oikos! And the delightful experience of (at last) being a member of a church body

  • four years of marvellous marriage (to the most magnificent Mitch)

  • creme brulee from the Mount Bakery (served at the Temple Bar)

  • Carina Round, The Disconnection

  • my family, who is made up of very neat people that I love more and more all the time

  • Arrested Development

  • Monday nights at Boundary Bay, dancing to the Gallus Brothers

  • contacts! (Goodbye, glasses)

  • the blessing of playing shows, and writing songs, and hanging out with people who play good music

  • shopping at Goodwill

  • my little bro, who periodically calls in the middle of the night to tell me that he loves me

  • the motivation to actually read the Bible, and to really study and learn tons

  • double tall americanos (black) from Caffe Adagio

  • Jonathan Foer at Village Books, and the brilliant things he said about writing and art

  • our cats, who make me laugh but who are excellent at snuggling

  • Greg Brown at the Nightlight, and that awesome rendition of "Evening Call"

  • four hour evenings at the Temple Bar with Morgan

  • origami boxes, origami paper

  • baking, and those amazing macaroons that Ashley made with bitter caramel buttercream filling

  • riverboating in Missouri (turtles! turkey vultures!)

  • The Black Keys, Rubber Factory

  • learning "Hallelujah" on the guitar

  • and yes, my new Kitchenaid mixer. It's amazing.
  • Book Review: THE CHRONICLES OF NARNIA, by C.S. Lewis

    The Lion, The Witch & The Wardrobe

    If I were to give out an award for "Most Re-read Series in My Book Collection," it would, without a doubt, go to to The Chronicles of Narnia. Unlike Harry Potter or The Lord of the Rings (which I'm currently re-reading again), Narnia does not demand that you hand over a significant portion of your life in order to read the series start to finish--it does not, in fact, even ask that you read them start to finish, and this is part of the series' appeal. You can pick up one little hundred-page children's book whenever you feel like a dose of Narnian folklore--you can read that one book, and then put it down. You do not have to go on to book two, or four, or seven.

    That is what I did just now. After reading a many-paged literary thriller (Possession, by A.S. Byatt), partially set in Victorian England, I was ready for a good, solid, quick dose of swashbuckling adventure--and this is exactly what The Chronicles of Narnia specialize in. Brevity, and swashbuckling.

    THE LION, THE WITCH & THE WARDROBE, first in the series (though Book 6, The Magician's Nephew, is a prequel to LION--if you're about chronology, you might read that one first), is the one that everybody knows about and has read, or had read to them, at least once, long ago. It is also the one that the movie (the movie, to be released on Dec. 9--not that I'm counting) is based on, the one with the mean White Witch, and the great lion, Aslan, and giants and quirky professors and fauns and magical wardrobes and little English children running around saying things like "Sharp's the word," and "Jolly good."

    Brevity, swashbuckling. Upcoming movie. You really should have read this one already.

    Prince Caspian

    PRINCE CASPIAN, the swashbuckling second book (or fourth, depending on how old your edition is) of The Chronicles of Narnia, features usurping uncles, a rightful king, a fresh breath or two of the Narnian air, all four Pevensie children, and, you guessed it, talking animals. If you're reading this one, you probably already read The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, so there's no sense in me going on and on about it.

    I don't know that I've heard CASPIAN called anybody's favorite chronicle (most people seem to weigh in with The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, which I agree with heartily, though I'm also partial to The Magician's Nephew, and rather intrigued by The Last Battle), but that doesn't mean you should skip it--heavens, no! You should skip not a single Chronicle. PRINCE CASPIAN is chockfull of Narnian battle tactics, plus it's the last time you see all four Pevensie kids being Narnian royalty together.

    (Quick: how many times have I said the word "swashbuckling" in regards to The Chronicles of Narnia? I think I'm about to stop, though. I'll come up with some other really good silly word.)

    The Horse & His Boy

    Long ago when I actually paid Blogdrive to host my site, they let me have all kinds of fun polls and things, and so I posted a poll asking all five of my readers what Narnia book was their favorite. Of the four that responded (and this includes me voting for both myself and my husband), the results were split down the center between The Voyage of the Dawn Treader and THE HORSE & HIS BOY.

    Having never been a big fan of HORSE (Dawn Treader forever! Woo!), this struck me as curious. Ye who voted for THE HORSE & HIS BOY, please come forward and help me out. I want to know.

    Which isn't to say that I don't like THE HORSE & HIS BOY. Oh, I do, but it just never made its way into my favorites. In fact, I'd have to say the second half of the book is awesome, but the first half didn't quite measure up. I know this isn't much of a review, but mostly I'm wondering what you, dear 5 readers, have to say.

    Ready, set, COMMENT!

    The Voyage of the Dawn Treader

    And so we arrive at my favorite Narnian chronicle. I love it for the spirit of high adventure, for the discovery of unknown islands and for the strange and beautiful things dwelling upon those islands; for the transformation of Eustace, and the brief but lovely appearances of Aslan. I love Reepicheep, the valiant Mouse, and the awe-inspiring Last Sea; I love the lilies of the Silver Sea and even the smallest glimpse of Aslan's own country.

    However: I do get tired of Lucy's being singled out constantly as "a girl," and therefore being bustled out of harm's way simply because she is "a girl." I like Lucy as a character, but do get tired of the way the other characters treat her. That is my only complaint. Everything else is Lewis as his brilliant, imaginative best.

    The Silver Chair

    I have to say, THE SILVER CHAIR has grown on me over the years. It never was one of my favorites, given the noticable lack of Pevensies and my particular lack of affection for Jill Pole (though she does come around, as everyone in the Chronicles eventually does), but this time through I found myself absolutely loving the scenery--Aslan's Mountain, especially, and Underland as well. Lewis's description of the first is pure and joyful, if perilous, while his description of the second is eerie and memorable--the darkness and silence stuck with me even after I put the book down. Aslan's character in SILVER CHAIR is slightly more stern, which I liked (the more moods of Aslan shown, the better!), and the Marsh-wiggle is wonderful. I had forgotten just how much there is to love about this book.

    The Magician's Nephew

    THE MAGICIAN'S NEPHEW solidly remains one of my favorite Chronicles. The Creation of Narnia! The destruction of Charn! The Evil Empress Jadis! I love how NEPHEW ties together so much of The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe, while also remaining an excellent story in its own right. THE MAGICIAN'S NEPHEW introduces some of my very favorite locations--the eerie, failing land of Charn; newborn Narnia; that mysterious Garden; the Wood Between the Worlds--while also showing yet more aspects of Aslan's character. I come back to this one again and again, even sometimes skipping the other six just to reread THE MAGICIAN'S NEPHEW.

    RATING: 5


    Brave or foolish? You decide.

    Somehow I found myself in the middle of the Bath & Body Works REALLY BIG SALE yesterday. Why? Because I wanted a particular kind of lip gloss. Did I wait in line for fifteen minutes to buy a five dollar tube of lip gloss? I certainly did.

    Why? I'm still not sure.


    I guess it's cheaper than therapy

    We're fresh back from Christmas at my dad's, where the event of the evening was my brother's brand new Wii (I got a Kitchenaid mixer in cobalt blue, which is stinking rad but a whole lot less fun for the whole family to enjoy).

    Now, I've never been one for video games, not least because the controllers make my hands ache something fierce (I have a medical excuse for this, really), but the Wii is cool. I was actually able to play. We plugged in Wii boxing and went at it.

    Watching everyone flail around was hysterical, and by the end of the first round, my dad and brother were both breaking a serious sweat. By the end of the second, they were red in the face and breathing hard, and these are both very fit, very athletic guys. My brother boxed my husband, my dad boxed my stepmom, I boxed my husband and brother--it was quality family time of the very strangest sort.

    My first match ended up being against my husband, which was disconcerting because the characters are configured to actually look like the players, and Mitch's looked remarkably like him. But we got to playing--and I absolutely schooled him. Sure, he was still figuring out to block with the controllers and he won the next match, but I'm not sure he ever even landed a punch that first match--he went down and never got up. It was amazing, really. (I warned him that this bit of info was making its way to the blog, and he assured me that his dignity would survive intact.)

    Let's just say that I'm not used to playing video games, and I'm definately not used to winning, so this, my friends, was a good night.

    Order of Festivities

    This year is busy as always, but somehow I feel like Mitch and I are finally getting the hang of this "four Christmases in three days" schedule. Our craziest year by far featured no less than five dinners within 24 hours (two Christmas Eve, three Christmas Day), none of which were our own, at our own house. Last year marked the first time we had our own stockings, and this year marks our first official Christmas breakfast--complete with guest. Our weekend looks like this:

  • Friday night. My dad's birthday dinner. We put 55 candles on an 8" layer cake and then lit them all. We call it the "birthday inferno," because it's just that dramatic--the cake radiated heat and everything, and when Dad blew them out he splattered wax all over the table. It was rad.

  • Last night. Carolling/dinner/candlelit liturgy at church. This was great fun, not least because there was a complete overdose on Christmas carols and an honest-to-goodness hayride through the York neighborhood. The church looked gorgeous, the food was delicious, the kids were adorable (and hysterically funny) as they sang "Silent Night" and "Away in the Manger"--also, I got to sing soprano in a quartet ("O Magnum Mysterium"). The whole evening was a whole lot of fun.

  • Tonight (Christmas Eve). Christmas at my dad's, with my aunt, uncle and two cousins. Food! Family! Presents! No birthday candles, though.

  • Tomorrow morning. Breakfast and stockings at our house. Eggs, grits and coffee are on the menu, and our friend Manis will be joining us for the morning. I mentioned that the cats have stockings this year, and I have it on good authority that Santa's bringing them Fancy Feast, bizzy balls and some crazy toy that looks like a huge fluorescent fur ball with arms. That should be entertaining.

  • Tomorrow midday. Mitch's family celebration. More family! food! and presents! This one seems to get bigger and bigger every year. The niece and nephew are back in town, so that'll be fun--I always seem to end up playing cars and hanging out with the little ones rather than sitting around having sophisticated adult conversation.

  • Tomorrow evening. Dinner at my mom's. This one marks the offical closing of the Christmas season with the last round of food, family and presents (and probably a Christmas nap, at some point)--it will be lovely.

  • So, that's the madness of our Christmas weekend. Mercifully, all our family lives close by so we don't have to brave the roads (though I did brave the express lane at Haggen's this morning, and that was equally scary), and I'm excited to see everyone.

    May you all have a wonderful holiday! Merry Christmas.


    Book Review: THE WEIGHT OF GLORY, by C.S. Lewis

    I've read a lot of C.S. Lewis in my day. In fact, chances are good that I'm reading a C.S. Lewis book right now, regardless of when you happen to come across this post (as I write, I'm just beginning to reread The Magician's Nephew)--chances are, I'm rereading a C.S. Lewis book. They're just that good.

    Of all his books, THE WEIGHT OF GLORY remains one of my favorites, particularly the title essay "The Weight of Glory." I actually found a version of this essay online: here is the link. Some of my most remembered quotes come from that essay.

    A collection of Lewis's sermons and lectures and essays, the book itself is slim, easy to pick up and put down, and to reread when you feel in need of a little Lewis recharge. That is what I needed this time through though, honestly, I didn't finish it this second time because my copy of Culver's Systematic Theology showed up in the mail while I was right in the middle--THE WEIGHT OF GLORY was put down and never resumed, since Culver is quite a commitment and I'm sure he'll keep me busy for months (if you've not seen it, Systematic Theology is enormous--roughly the size of a small coffee table).

    So, I got distracted, from both the book and my point. To sum things up, I love this book. Also, don't skip the introduction--there are some wonderful anecdotes about C.S. Lewis in there. Absolutely charming.


    I can't believe the Faint came to Bellingham and I missed it!

    My heart breaks a little each time I remember this.

    (The title of this post is a link to a video of the Faint playing a brand new song at WWU. *sigh*)


    Not quite an explosion, but close

    When I got home tonight, the apartment smelled like gas. Now, sometimes I think I smell gas and I get all psyched out before finally convincing myself that I'm being melodramatic and should knock it off, but this, my friends, was an actual gas leak. I knew it, down to my toes.

    Mitch hadn't noticed, because he'd been in the apartment all day (ah, winter break), so we both prowled around the apartment sniffling away before finally determining the back left burner on our gas stove to be the culprit.

    To make a long story short, a potentially eventful evening proved rather uneventful (thankfully) as a nice man from the gas company dropped by, relit the pilot light that had gone out and assured us that all was, in fact, well and that we would not be exploding or dropping off peacefully in our sleep any time in the foreseeable future.

    Or at least not because of the back left burner of our stove.

    In other, less morbid news, I finally bough my own copy of the Charlie Brown Christmas soundtrack. Why? Because the one I'd copied illegally onto Mitch's computer was lost when the hard drive crashed last night.

    So far it's been a rough week.


    The aforementioned stockings

    (However, my mom did take pity on us this year and she quilted some beautiful new stockings for the bookshelf that have since replaced the Goodwill felt stockings. This picture was taken to accompany the earlier entry, but sadly was only just now uploaded onto my computer. I posted it anyway.)


    Book review: AHAB'S WIFE, by Sena Jeter Naslund

    The Ahab of AHAB'S WIFE is, of course, Captain Ahab of Moby Dick--a book that I have never read. Though assured that I could appreciate AHAB'S WIFE just fine without reading Moby Dick, I did find that AHAB'S WIFE lacked context without Moby Dick to flesh it out, much like The Hours lacked context without the backdrop of Mrs. Dalloway.

    This isn't to say that AHAB'S WIFE doesn't stand alone as a novel--it does--but merely that a book about another book, if one hasn't read the first book before reading the second, seems a little off. I've never cared for the whole "book about an obscure character in a classic book" thing much, because it strikes me as somewhat pretentious, as if the second author is accusing the first of leaving something out of the original story. I understand that this isn't always the case, and that some really imaginative books have come from this technique, but I just tend not to like it. I say, if you're writing a story, write your own story. Come up with something new, don't just give us a "fresh" view of a "classic" story.

    (The one exception to this, I think, are reinterpretations of Biblical stories. I really love those, because they make me look at the original story in a whole new way, regardless of how many times I've read and reread the story.)

    When it was all said and done, I think I did like AHAB'S WIFE. It was a struggle at times, because, for all its lively moments, the book plods along at about the pace you'd expect from a book about a sea captain's wife--waiting and waiting and writing about stuff. The middle two-hundred pages sucked me right in because things actually happened, but the beginning and end took some muscle to get through. To be honest, I didn't care much for Naslund's writing. It was good, sure, but it wasn't my cup of tea, and it took a long time to get used to, though eventually I did and was able to move on in spite of the overly (self-consciously) deep musings she stuck in all over the place.

    So, the only problems I had with AHAB'S WIFE were purely personal preferences. Some people would be totally justified in really liking it, and though I ultimately liked it, I can't say I'd recommend it to you.

    RATING: 3


    Addendum to last entry

    Also, Mitch gave me a tea pot, to replace the one so tragically broken by our cats (it was a good tea pot--we bought it at an antique store/gas station somewhere in the middle of the state, because the bathroom was for customers only and we needed to make a purchase quickly. It served us well!).

    The tea pot itself is adorable, and I'm happy as a clam to have, not only a new tea pot, but one similarly colored to the old one and with the added feature of a little mesh basket for holding loose teas. Best of all? On the box, it says "iPot". How clever.

    Here is a picture of my awesome tea pot.


    Happy anniverary to us!

    Four years! Yee ha! Mitch gave me this card that made me laugh. It has a picture of a sandwich on the outside, and it says:

    "I was walking
    to my car,
    and I saw this lady
    I recognized from the deli,
    the sandwich lady, and I
    made up this song:

    'You are the sandwich lady!
    Come on,
    sandwich lady!
    Go, go,
    sandwich lady!"

    So now I think maybe I'm creative."

    Then, on the inside, it says:

    "You're creative. You tell me."

    And then he wrote some cute stuff about liking me.


    Stormwatch 2006!

    I don't know how fast those winds are travelling, but they are moving. At work today, I stood in one window and watched my two favorite trees (taller than everything, and side by side) bend too far in one direction then too far in another. Power lines swung between poles that also leaned dangerously, rocked by the wind a few feet forward, then a few feet back. The power flickered and went out for two or three minutes, the front door blew open and slammed shut so often that we finally had to unplug the doorbell for fear of being driven mad by the incessant ding-dong ding-DONG. The whole building seemed to shift around us.

    I found excuses to go outside--delivering each envelope to the mailbox separately, sweeping the front door mat (only to have it scattered almost immediately with more debris).


    The stockings are hung by the chimney with care...

    ...or not so much by the chimney, since we don't have one, but by the bookshelves, with pushpins. It looks really classy.

    We've never been much for Christmas decorations, and yet we have several boxes full of things we've gotten as gifts, or that my parents didn't want but didn't want to throw away and so sent home with us. We have a tacky throw blanket with a picture of Santa on it, a creepy Santa mask, several "Our first Christmas ornaments" (this was the by-product of getting married right before Christmas--people felt compelled to commemorate not only our wedding, but also our "first" Christmas), two nativity sets and some cheap stockings I bought last year at Goodwill for 99-cents each and marked "Mitchimus" and "Theamus" in Sharpie marker--olive green for Mitch, and plum for me. (When people ask, I explain that "Mitchimus" and "Theamus" are our Roman names, which usually gets either an odd look or a laugh).

    This year, I decided to go for it and officially decorate, since we have boxes and boxes of stuff going unused in the cupboard beneath our closet that ought to be aired out periodically.

    I'd been toying with the idea of getting stockings for the cats (I come from families that include the pets in the stocking roster), but decided against it until I discovered, upon opening a box of decorations, two miniature stockings that I have no recollection of ever receiving or purchasing. I marked them "Gunner" and "J. Sparrow" and hung them, with pushpins, from the bookshelves alongside ours. It's precious, really.

    Also, I put out one of the nativity scenes, though I stuck with only Joseph, Mary, Jesus and two sheep, because:

    Nativity Set + Psycho Cats = Destruction

    ...and while I'd hate to see the holy family bite it (Mary has an outstretched arm that I'm certain will be first to go), I figure we can at least keep the wise men, sheperds and livestock tucked away safe for now. Nativity sets seem doomed to be broken, unless you have some sort of glass-fronted display case or very high shelf (we have neither), and I'm thinking they should just come with a tube of super-glue in the box so we might be better equipped to deal with disaster when it strikes.

    (As I write, Gunner has been busted nuzzling Joseph in a curious, possibly aggressive manner. He is not supposed to be on the table, and he is definately not supposed to be threatening Joseph. For this, Gunner was awarded a squirt from the Squirt Bottle of Punishment, though I can only imagine what goes on while we're not home...)


    No, really, this book doesn't have pictures

    This weekend, we baby-sat our niece and nephew for a few hours on Saturday night. While trying to select a book to read to Kaitlyn, the younger (two-and-a-half), she shook her head at my choice, which featured bears in tutus, and instead pulled Claudius the God off my bookshelf and dropped it in my lap. "This one!" She said, and grinned.

    To her credit, she let me read almost half a page out loud before hauling me off to play "Find the Kitty" (Sparrow spent the entire evening under the bed, in fear of this very game).


    It's a little late now...

    ...but here are some photos of the snow:

    (Railroad Ave. from Cafe Adagio.)

    (The hedges next door.)

    (The collapsed walkway.)


    Stickman Mitch

    That's right, Mitch's blog is up and running. Go harrass him to post lots and lots of funny things: Mitch's brand new blog.


    ...but the racing wheels really do look awesome.

    This evening, Mitch and I enjoyed an impromtu walk home in the snow. All the trees were a-glitter, the air was crisp and clean, but we weren't out walking for pleasure, oh no, we were walking because we discovered, in the parking lot of Fred Meyer, that the back left wheel of our car was flat. (This discovery was, of course, preceded by a loud thump halfway down Lincoln St. and Mitch's startled "What was that?")

    And so it was that we spent the dinner hour shoulder-to-shoulder with a few disgruntled folks waiting to get their snow tires, before finally quitting the scene and walking briskly down to the bus station, all the while reciting the positive aspects of the situation. Such as: the tire didn't go flat last week when I was driving, by myself, down to Seattle, nor did it go flat on Saturday, when we drove down to Everett and back in the rain. Mercifully, when it did go flat, the tire waited politely until we were half a block from a discount tire shop--that was quite considerate, I must say.

    In the meantime, we're snug as bugs here at home, trying not to remember what it cost last time we had a tire replaced--because it escalated to having all four tires replaced with awesome-looking (but quite costly) 17-inch racing wheels, due to the some customizing that the previous owner had had done.

    Thank you, previous owner. Thanks a bunch.


    Snowed in: Day 3

    It hasn't snowed since Sunday, but what snow we have has stuck. The snow has thawed a bit and then frozen, thawed and frozen, so that the ground is covered not so much by a blanket of snow as by a crust of it, literally glittering in the sun that has, at last, emerged this morning from behind its bank of white clouds.

    Our apartment is warm, the windows fogged up by steam that must have risen off the many cups of tea we've steeped in the past three days (I have single-handedly done away with almost an entire box of Candy Cane Lane peppermint tea), and the whole place smells like baking: delicatta squash, chocolate chip cookies, turkey soup, reheated stuffing, meringue cookies dipped in chocolate. Food has kept me busy, since, due to an absence of patients (nearly every one scheduled for the last two days has cancelled), work has not.

    In fact, I haven't worked in nearly a week, which we can blame on snow, the holiday, and those sick days spent with Arrested Developement and origami boxes. The time off has been pleasant, restful, full of reading, cleaning, writing, gift-making, baking, drinking tea and sleeping in, but such a high dose of forced relaxation can make one feel a bit, well, cabin-feverish after a while. This, combined with the fact that we had less than half a roll of toilet paper left, prompted Mitch and I to venture outside yesterday on a quest to the grocery store.

    Since we aren't used to this sort of weather here, snow always catches me off guard, and every year I realize how pitifully prepared I am for cold weather--and every year, I do nothing about it. I don't own a ski coat or snow boots, and the old pair of ski pants I have are on indefinate loan from my parents, so dressing for the cold usually entails layers and layers and layers of clothes. By the time we left the building I was bundled up so tight that I felt more than a little like the kid from A Christmas Story, and I nearly toppled right over while bending down to tie my shoes.

    The first thing we realized, upon attempting to actually leave our building, was that we were honestly, truly snowed in. The way our front walkway is constructed leaves us with a narrow, though picturesque, alley between the side of the building and a row of tall, green hedges. This passes under a stucco archway before reaching the street, and what we found was that the snow had drifted above the level of the door, so that we had to dig out a path for the door before we could actually open it wide enough to squeeze through. Then, we saw that the snow, nearly a foot deep, had filled the narrow walkway, and the hedges, weighted down by snow, had bent over toward the building, leaving spaces less than a foot high at the lowest and no more than four feet high at the highest for us to crawl through before we could reach the archway.

    We almost literally had to tunnel our way out. It was awesome.


    Probably more than you wanted to know, but now I've told you

    As you may have heard, I've been busy combining my book site with this one, which means I've had to manually go through and copy and paste every damn entry from one blog to the other. This has been a tedious process, but an enlightening one, as it's provided me with an opportunity to go back and read some of my earlier entries from both blogs.

    Why enlightening? Well, it's interesting to have such evidence of the changes one undergos over the course of a year. Some of the sassy rants that I've posted over the course of my blogging career I find entertaining (yes, I'm the sort to laugh at my own jokes, it's true), but a lot of them express views that I no longer hold, or views that, alas, I never really held in the first place, as some were written with a specific audience in mind that might approve of or be irritated by whatever point I attempted to make. What I'm saying is: I noticed a trend in my writing of trying to impress whomever I imagined to be reading the entries. You, dear reader. I was trying to impress you.

    Not the least significant of these earlier entries was the one I posted last winter about my attitude toward Christmas (The Birth of Santa). This was an entry that I was ambivalent about posting in the first place, since I didn't actually feel that I'd made my point, and didn't feel that I could without giving more personal info than I intended, or even wanted, to give--and so I left it as it was.

    It's true that last year was a particularly stressful holiday for me, and I notice already that this year is somehow not. Being involved in a church has made a big difference, as we will be celebrating Advent for the first time ever, but I find I'm also getting excited about the holiday in a way I never have before. I ascribe a fair share of this enthusiasm to the fact that I will not be Christmas shopping this year. At all.

    I mentioned earlier that I'll be making all my gifts, and I think this is helping to turn the season into a more meditative one--making gifts for nearly thirty people is peaceful and repetitive, particularly because I haven't put it off until the last moment.

    Also, I'm excited to spend time with my family, to sing Christmas carols in church, to decorate trees, bake cookies and to not set foot inside a departement store even once. Already, I'm thinking this year will be a good year.

    Book Review: REDWALL, by Brian Jacques

    The pace at which REDWALL begins is astonishing. Immediately, the characters are thrown into conflict and by the second chapter, Cluny the Scourge, who is easily one of the scariest bad guys I've encountered in a children's book (save Voldemort), enters, leading his rat troops as a cruel, merciless tyrant. Jacques somehow balances the sweet honesty of Redwall Abbey with the brutality of Cluny's horde, and introduces characters complex enough to keep me (and children, and parents) rapt for the whole of the book.

    I loved REDWALL, and the world Jacques presents is brilliant: as simple and as complicated (as purely good and purely evil) as our own. I have the next two books ready and waiting on my shelf, and I'm excited to dive right back into Redwall.

    RATING: 5


    I said "several inches" of snow,

    but what I really meant was "ten." Ten inches of snow. In Bellingham. In November. Unheard of!

    It snowed!

    Now, usually when somebody from Bellingham says that, people from places where it actually snows roll their eyes and mock our piddly snowfall, as it tends to melt on impact or, if it sticks, amount to a whopping 3/4 of an inch--which is then gone by the afternoon.

    But this, my friends, is snow. It sticks! It piles up on shrubberies and sidewalks and makes the roads slick and buries our Subaru under several (note: several) inches of crisp, white covering. It turns fingers pink and sticks to clothes and keeps on coming down.

    I think I'm calling us "snowed in," just because it sounds nice and because we have nowhere else we need to be.


    Thanksgiving: an overview

  • Wednesday: I drive down to Seattle to pick up my brother from UW. We arrive back in Bellingham safely and head over to my mom's, where Mom and I make desserts (for her, French apple pie; for me, chocolate cheesecake). Mom puts her pies in the oven before realizing that she forgot to add vanilla, and later, as I'm measuring vanilla into my cheescake, the top of the bottle pops off and drops several tablespoons of vanilla into the batter. I test the batter; it tastes like alcohol. We throw it away and start over.

  • Thursday: I wake up with a pounding headache. Despite a shower and a cup of tea, I go back to bed and do not get up until 11, at which point I inform Mitch (from beneath several blankets, both cats and a satin eye pillow) that I don't think I'll be making it to the Rosenburg dinner at noon. He goes without me, but does bring our friend Manis, whose family lives in Florida, and Mitch makes jokes about Manis being my stand-in. They are well received.

    By three o'clock, I finally manage to open my eyes, though I still haven't made it successfully out of bed. Mitch and Manis return to collect me for my Mom's Thanksgiving--I roll out of bed, put on a skirt and somehow make it out the door (feeling much, much better, though still not great). The house is full of guests and merriment, and it is a lovely evening, though one punctuated by naps on my part. What little I manage to eat of the food is delicious. We all go home full and sleepy.

  • Friday: The last dinner, at my Dad's house, is wonderful. I make a puddle on my plate of all my food and eat it forkful by mushy forkful--after nearly two weeks of being sick, my appetite is finally back nearly to where it should be and everything tastes amazing. My brother plays Zelda in the family room after dinner and we watch him until we can't stand it anymore. We decorate the Christmas tree. Dad tries to make five whiskey sours with a bottle of whiskey and one lemon, until my step-mom scrutinizes his recipe and decides that there has to be more to whiskey sours than that. As it turns out, there is. The result is tasty and festive, though I don't think I ever actually finish mine.

  • 11.21.2006

    Apparently "snoggy" is not a real word

    In my family, if you go into a store full of breakable things, it's a "kabosh" store. If a parent says "kabosh," you put your hands in your pockets--it means "look, don't touch."

    In my family, when we go out for frozen yogurt, we say we're going out for "frozen whopper."

    If your nose is stuffed up from a cold and you're breathing like Darth Vader, we say that you're "snoggy." I only recently realized that snoggy isn't a word outside my familial lexicon when I dropped it in conversation with my boss--I mentioned that I was feeling much better, thank you, though still a bit snoggy, and she wrinkled her nose and asked, "Still a bit what?"

    In my family, when we say grace before a meal, we call it "dee-doos"--even in public places. When Mom and I go out to lunch, she grabs my hands, says "Let's say dee-doos," and launches into our family grace: "Thank you for our food and for each other, Amen." Like that, in one breath. Anyone who's eaten with our family more than three times knows about this and has our "dee-doos" committed to memory.

    For a long time I did not think this odd, our deedoos, and then somewhere around high school I did, and I protested, because I wasn't into all that God stuff, and then I was into the God stuff but I still protested because I wasn't sure how sincere a prayer "Thank you for our food and for each other, Amen" could really be when you rattled it off every evening without thinking. At some point, though, I realized that it's a great prayer, concise, to the point, even if we don't open with "Heavenly Father" or "Dear Lord," because we know (and He knows) to whom we are speaking.

    We have said this for as long as I can remember, and like "snoggy," "kabosh" and the word "dee-doos," I have no idea where it came from, but the more I say it the more I love saying it--the chorus of our voices, the squeeze of hands at the end, the reminder that, yes, the meal is lovely, but so is the company. So:

    Thank you for our food, and for each other. Amen.


    Just down the street there are eagles!

    My stepmom took this photo four blocks from where I grew up:

    On the mend

    "Staying home sick" to me generally means staying in bed all day, watching old movies and eating Jell-O cups. I tend to forget about the "sick" part.

    I have been reminded now, but if I could sum up what I did this past week I would say: sleep, watch Arrested Developement, make origami boxes. That'd pretty much cover it.

    In other news, Mitch started a blog. More details to follow.


    Book Review: THE MEMORY KEEPER'S DAUGHTER, by Kim Edwards

    The premise of this book is good: "a blizzard forces Dr. David Henry to deliver is own twins. His son, born first is perfectly healthy, but the doctor immediately recognizes that his daughter has Down's syndrome. For motives he tells himself are good, he makes a split-second decision that will haunt all their lives forever. He asks his nurse, Caroline, to take the baby away to an institution." I don't know what I expected, but that seemed initially promising, though it proved to wind itself out in a depressing tale with an obvious moral ("Lying is bad"), where the characters were so sneaky and self-absorbed that they were difficult to empathize with.

    There were some interesting points about raising a child that the world views as damaged, as Caroline takes the daughter to another city and raises her as her own--some very telling episodes, as people responded to Caroline and her daughter, were fascinating, but those stood out as the highlights in what was otherwise a relatively bland book.

    RATING: 2


    Report from the trenches

    I'm on day 3 of being sick, and I have to say that the novelty is definately wearing off, particularly as it's become apparent over the last day or so that, on top of the head and chest cold, I also have the flu.


    Yesterday I braved the outside world on a quest for cough syrup, and by the time I made it back to my warm little apartment I was exhausted. The cough syrup did not help with this: after taking one dose I was down for the count and slept for the better part of the rest of the day. When I was awake I was groggy and disoriented and hungry. Not fun.

    Things are looking up today, however. My mom just stopped by, braving my bad flu germs, to bring ginger ale, Progresso chicken noodle soup (a step up from Campbell's indeed), peppermint tea and some non-drowsy medicine, which I promptly took and (so far) have managed to keep down.

    In the meantime, I'm off to watch The Princess Bride, in an effort to keep myself awake.



    Well, it's that time of year when everyone you talk to either has a cold, is recovering from one, or knows somebody who has one and is desperately hoping that they don't get it. I fall neatly into the first category, and showed up for work today looking just pathetic enough that they booted me right out--three days of me complaining must have been wearing on them, because they sent me home with explicit intructions to get better.

    So, here I am, feeling lousy, but cozy, watching Monty Python and the Holy Grail (one of my two favorite sick day movies, the other being the original, original Batman with Adam West--which will probably be next up), sipping tea and snuggling with the kitties. Oh, and blogging. So maybe I'm not doing all of these things at once, but I like to provide the illusion that I am.

    An interesting note though--in order to watch Monty Python, I had to reinstall our DVD software, which means that, in the six months since Mitch last reformatted his hard drive, we have not watched one single movie. That's amazing. I'm a little sad about that, actually, because there are tons of good movies out there--we just somehow never watch them.

    Also interesting: they weren't kidding about those 50 mph winds. Holy moley. It's tough to walk in a straight line outside right now, the wind seems so determined to blow one off course. But there now, the movie's begun. King Arthur (and his trusty servant Patsy) approaches the castle!


    I'm not cheap, I'm "crafty"

    This year is the year of the Thrifty Christmas. Generally, no matter how I try to keep things simple, handmade, heartfelt and cheap, I end up spending more money than we have on presents, and with a big ole happy (extended and extended) family like ours, that adds up pretty quick.

    But this year, I've found a crafty little solution.

    Unfortunately, I can't tell you what it is yet, because a lot of the people on the list read my blog. But December 26 will be the grand unveiling, and it'll be great. In the mean time, suffice it to say that making, wrapping and labelling upwards of twenty-five gifts has cost me less than $60 and offers the not inconsiderable benefit of being a gift that I actually think people might like. (Imagine that!)

    The trouble is that I'll have to think up something different for next year--but I won't worry about that quite yet.


    I stayed up late to watch

    Did anybody see that storm last night? It was awesome.


    An educational venture

    My friend Ashley is a gourmet pastry chef, and I spent a good portion of today in the kitchen she shares with the most excellent catering company in town, helping prepare hazelnut dipping cookies for this year's annual Grape & Gourmet (which Mitch and I will be attending--oh joy! I will report back later). My assistance in the cookie preparation was minimal, but very fun, and began with an offer to chop chocolate. At certain point, I ended up playing DJ with the kitchen CD player and despairing a bit as I discovered that the music selection tended to feature such chart-topping favorites as J.Lo, Celine Dion, Nelly and Christina Aguilera. I thumbed through them hastily, hoping to earth up something listenable, though after a few times through the stack the new Justin Timberlake gave me pause. Ashley and I decided, as an educational venture to, you know, make sure there were absolutely no redeeming qualities to the music--just to be sure.

    It was more fun than I care to mention. Though, of course, I don't like that sort of thing.

    I had no idea I could fit 16 people in my living room,

    but apparently I can.

    Last night's progressive dinner* proved this. After volunteering to serve the salad course, I borrowed folding chairs from work, cleaned cleaned cleaned like crazy, opened my doors to 10-20 ladies from Oikos and had a marvellous time. This marked my first major experience of "entertaining", particularly of entertaining a large group of people who have, with the exception of maybe two guests, never been to my apartment before (there was a Passover feast in 2003 that we prepared with 10-12 guests in mind, of whom only one showed up--I'm not sure if this counts).

    I lit candles and everything. The cats (and Mitch) were banished to the bedroom for the duration of the salad, as, without exaggeration, women were seated elbow to elbow around our itty-bitty living room. There was exactly enough salad mix, exactly enough bleu cheese, exactly enough grated carrots, sliced radishes and pickled beets, and a little extra dried cranberries. It was like the miracle of the bread and fish, but on a smaller scale.

    The living room looked like this (pre-guests):

    ...and the salad bar looked like this:

    *Progessive dinner = a meal whereby the intial course (i.e. the appetizer) is served at one person's house--in this case, at Sarah's. The entire party then relocates to the house of the second hostess for the secondary course (i.e. salad, at my house). After the plates are wiped clean the party relocates once more to the home of the third hostess for the third, and main, course (i.e. Jess's house, for homemade pizza), before winding up at the last post (i.e. Ashley's mom's house) for dessert (i.e. cream puff pastries with pumpkin ice cream and chocolate genache). It's great fun for introducing a large group of people to one another, over delicious and diverse courses of the same meal. I heartily recommend it.


    Book Review: HOWARDS END, by E.M. Forster

    I picked up HOWARDS END purely because they have an awful lot of Forster at Henderson Books, and so I figured I ought to get on the ball and read some. I did, and was quite pleased--were I to describe HOWARDS END in one word, I might choose "delightful" ("clever" might work, too, but it doesn't sum it up quite as nicely as "delightful" does, so we'll go with "delightful").

    What impressed me most about Forster was his ability to tease his characters without belittling them. What do I mean? Well, Tom Robbins, for example, is bad at this. When he wants to provide a little distance from his characters and have a little fun at their expense (say, in a satirical way), he manages to make me hate them. I've had the sense several times, while reading a Robbins novel, that he delibately tries to prevent me from ever empathizing with a character, because every time I get close he throws in some snide comment about the character's motive that completely turns me off--and then I start to get paranoid that he's attempting to sabotage any budding relationship that I might have with the character.

    Which is beside the point, really. What I'm getting at is that Forster managed to play up his characters' flaws and quirks in a charming way that enabled me to see them as full, fleshed-out beings, imperfections and all, while still allowing me to like them. I love this. I really love loving characters.

    Which is also a bit beside the point. The point is that I really liked HOWARDS END, not least because Forster's commentary on English culture in 1910 was surprisingly relevent to our culture today (there is a passage on Christmas shopping that particularly resonates). It is also a great book to precede the gi-normous heap o' literature that I'm currently reading, which is The Idiot, which so far is awesome. I'm not sure why, but reading the books in sequence (though they're utterly unrelated, as far as I know) seems to work.

    RATING: 4


    Many things, all at once

    It's been years since I dressed up for Halloween, but today I did. For work. You can't really come up with a lamer reason to wear a costume than that, but I had fun anyway, and for those you that know me you won't be a bit surprised to hear that I dressed up as Batman, complete with a mask that was obviously intended for a more child-sized head than mine. As I'm the receptionist, this made for several double-takes as patients walked into the office. That was half the fun.

    The other half was everybody else's costumes. My boss, the dentist, wore an enormous poufy wig; his wife wore a red feathered halo and wings; the hygienist, a witch's hat. It was great fun. I really wanted to take a picture for you, but while I remembered to bring my mask, Erin's birthday card and my glittery spider hair-clip to work today, I forgot the camera.

    In other news, poof! The weather has officially changed. With Daylight Savings Time, the has temperature dropped twenty degrees and I've gone into hibernation mode--this involves lost of tea and mittens and big Russian novels in my case, while Mitch tends toward the flannel PJ pants and stocking caps. We even turned the heat on the first time this year today, as the thermometer at Horizon Bank read 27-degrees this morning. Twenty-seven! Seriously. That's -3c, and two shirts, blue jeans, wool socks, sneakers, wristwarmers and mittens, a knit cap, a fleece scarf, hooded sweatshirt and wool coat--plus heavy cotton tights underneath the jeans and socks.

    I wore all of that today. At the same time. Layers upon layers, my friends, that's how we dress for the weather 'round here.

    Also, the leaves are falling off the trees in big chilly gusts. Til now, they've been everything from stubbornly green to crimson, but they've still held fast to their branches--today, however, the wind took it upon himself to knock those silly leaves right off the trees. I love this part of the year, I really do.

    And on that cozy note, I leave you. I'm off to curl up with Dostoevsky's The Idiot and a sleepy cat. Til next time!


    Halloween Observed

    After a liesurely afternoon spent at the Temple Bar, Morgan and I moseyed on over to my place to get her all gussied up for a night at the circus--the "Freakaphonic Circus," that is, which seems to be the Wild Buffalo's answer to a Halloween costume party (I did not go, but opted instead to curl up in bed with Howards End, the cats and a studious Mitch). Morgan went as a zombie prom queen; I was enlisted to do her zombie make-up.

    So, while Morgan put on dress, gloves, shoes and tiara, I dug through both our make-up bags on a quest for unflattering shades of eyeshadow and brutally red lipstick, trying the colors out on the insides of my wrists before finally sitting her down and beginning the uglifying process. I had far too much fun with this, however disturbing it may be to make one's best friend flat-out hideous--by the time we finished I had white face paint and fake blood smeared on my jeans and forearms, plus some alarming fake bruises where I'd tested black-violet eyeshadow on myself before applying it to her eyes, cheeks and collarbones.

    The whole process was an awful lot like getting ready for a real prom, but with one crucial difference--when we finished, Morgan looked terrible, and that was the whole point. I couldn't look at her directly for very long without cringing, while she was morbidly drawn back to the mirror again and again, exclaiming, "Oh my god! I look horrid!"

    Book Review: THE COST OF DISCIPLESHIP, by Dietrich Bonhoeffer

    If you know anything at all about Dietrich Bonhoeffer, you know that he was a man who lived what he believed. He was also the sort of fellow whose biography far proceeds his written work, so I was disappointed, though not surprised, to find that most of the people I asked had heard of Bonhoeffer (and had, in most cases, seen the documentary Bonhoeffer, which I heartily recommend) but had never read any of his books or letters. This makes me sad, though I must admit that THE COST OF DISCIPLESHIP took me three tries to actually finish (and that Letters and Papers from Prison still sits half-finished on my bookshelf), not because it was slow or boring or too dense--I think it had more to do with the fact that I just wasn't at the right point of my life to get into the book and appreciate it, though the first few chapters on "cheap grace" versus "costly grace" stuck with me for an awfully long time after each failed attempt.

    This last attempt was wholly successful, and very rewarding. Bonhoeffer's examination of the Beatitudes, his no-nonsense tone as he examines what it means to be a true disciple of Christ convicted me again and again as I fairly soared through the book. I felt a bit like I was the student and Bonhoeffer my professor, who caught me gazing out the window whenever my mind started to wander and unfailingly reined me back in with a harsh (but painfully true) passage that I needed, right then, to hear.

    THE COST OF DISCIPLESHIP does not fool around, and for that I'm quite grateful. Though it might seem a difficult read, the reward is enormous, and Bonhoeffer had my head all full of ideas and clear images of what it means to serve Christ and how I can serve better. Also, as the book goes on the chapters get shorter and shorter, though more intense, which is good for forcing the reader to pause and consider the enormity of whatever Bonhoeffer has just said (because no matter what it is, when he says it, it's enormous). I rate DISCIPLESHIP a big fat 5.

    RATING: 5


    Not the loudest anymore

    The tambourine alone should qualify me as the loudest neighbor in our 8-unit apartment building. Add the guitar, and the fact that Mitch and I are the only double occupants, and you've pretty much sealed the deal (though this summer saw the addition of two new neighbors upstairs, who are fond of dancing what could only be the polka while wearing what could only be steel-toed workboots, if one were to judge from sound alone).

    I have often pitied the neighbors to either side of us, who are quiet and kind and rarely make a peep, for I fear that our over loud conversations must irriate them to no end--but yesterday when I came home I heard the low mournful sound of what could only be...a cello. Pressing my ear to the kitchen wall, I determined that the sound came not from #1, but from #3, a studio whose kitchen shares a wall with our living room. I stood with my ear to the wall for a long while, listening as our neighbor practiced (and punctuated the music nicely with a few frustrated curse words), unabashedly eavesdropping. It was truly lovely.


    I stole Ryan's survey

    (Note: I know it says "one book," but I just don't work like that, sorry. Every single question here has many answers.)

    1. One book that changed your life: Mere Christianity (C.S. Lewis), A Severe Mercy (Sheldon Vanauken).
    2. One book that you’ve read more than once: Oh, no. The Lord of the Rings (x3), The Catcher in the Rye (J.D. Salinger, x2), The Abhorsen Trilogy (Garth Nix, x5), Walking on Water (Madeliene L'Engle, x3), Harry Potter (x3).
    3. One book you’d want on a desert island: The Bible.
    4. One book that made you laugh: Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close (Jonathan Safran Foer)
    5. One book that made you cry: Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close (Jonathan Safran Foer)
    6. One book you wish had been written: It's probably out there somewhere, waiting for me to read it...
    7. One book you wish had never been written: Ouch, that's rough. I've read books that I just flat out didn't like, but not that I wish had never been written--maybe Left Behind? Yeah, we'll go with that.
    8. One book you’re currently reading: Howards End (E.M. Forster).
    9. One book you’ve been meaning to read: Angle of Repose (Wallace Stegner). I've been saving that one, and I'm very much looking forward to it.


    I thought about it long and hard

    I decided not to do NaNoWriMo this year. I'm sad, but I think I'll make it through somehow, even if it means I miss out on the privilege of attempting to type 2000 words a day of what most likely would turn out to be nonsense. Last year, I discovered the NaNoWriMo underworld a mere two weeks before the starting date (Nov. 1), and so, for lack of preparation managed to power my way through 50,000 words with a concept that was originally intended for a short story. Nearly seven months passed before I could bear to look at that mess of 50,186 words again.

    However, reading back over my submission from last year, I actually found some passages that I sort of liked, but most of it was couched in irritatingly long (and poorly written) character descriptions, monologues that killed thousands of words apiece and were delivered by minor, uninteresting characters, plus asides from the author that tended toward things like [Holy crap! Was that really only 50 words? I guess we'd better step it up a notch...]. In the last few days, in my desperation, I figured out that contractions counted as only one word, and therefore went back and edited all my "won't"s to "will not"s, and so on, while also padding my punctuation , thusly . Near cheating, yes, but I say it still counts.

    This year was , of course , supposed to be better . I would start planning sometime in January , begin stockpiling notes and outlines throughout the year so that , come November , I would have a whole arsenal of material . Famously, I put it off . And off . And by August had only the vaguest of ideas , which I spent roughly six hours ( on an airplane ) fleshing out and then promptly dropped . By October 1 , things were not looking good . I flirted with the idea of entering anyway, but then thought better of it , given the fact that I am actually quite busy these days ( as opposed to last year, when I was only mildly busy ) .

    So. No NaNoWriMo for me. Last year's winning season lives on in my memory, glorious as ever, and I dare not try and top it--so here I raise my fist in the air and cheer once, good and loud, for all the brave souls who are gearing up for the Mad Month. Ra!

    Event Review (Greg Brown at the Nighlight): There's always that one really drunk guy

    In case you were curious, the Greg Brown show last night = awesome. I have to admit that I was a bit nervous to see the man with the sexiest voice I've ever heard live, because it was quite possible that he'd turn out to be old and goofy-looking and thus my image of him would suffer, even if just a little--but as luck would have it, my fear proved to be unfounded. The guy was great-looking, alright, and he was wonderful live. We were lucky enough to get scooted toward the front in a sold-out Nightlight show, so I was actually able to watch him play that guitar and sing those dirty blues, and I have to say it: though I don't swoon easily, when he started rolling up those shirt-sleeves, I did swoon a bit, nevermind that he's older than my dad, and married.

    And as for the really drunk guy, well, he was there in the front corner, whistling and shouting nonsense through the whole set, passing Greg Brown (and Bo Ramsey, who accompanied Brown on the electric guitar) half-empty drinks and wobbling his way through the packed crowd to stand dead center in front of the stage. It seems to be a trend at most of the shows I've seen--the one really drunk guy who gets good and obnoxious and irritates everyone else who isn't too drunk to care. Oh well. Greg Brown more than made up for it.



    No wind. No sailing. No tales of swash-buckling adventure on the high seas. Sorry.

    Things could get interesting

    See, I have this tremendous fear of deep water--and this afternoon, Mitch and I are going sailing in a wee boat on Lake Whatcom. Will report back later.

    I never met a bookstore I couldn't navigate

    (...except for maybe Sam Walton's in Salt Lake City. And I haven't been to Powell's yet, so I don't know about that one.)

    I only make it to Barnes & Noble approximately twice a year, and usually only then when I've received a gift card for B&N, or when I'm in the company of somebody else who is shopping for something specific--as was the case yesterday, when I found myself in Barnes & Noble with my friend Betsy. She took off to ask an employee for help, and left me standing half in the aisle between Sci-Fi/Fanstasy and Christianity, digging through the C.S. Lewis selection. An elderly gentlemen was rooting through the same shelf as I was, so we periodically switched places as I worked my way up the shelf, and he, down. Finally he announced, "I really thought they'd have a copy of The Hobbit here somewhere, but I don't see it."

    Now, it happens rather often that, when I'm in bookstores browsing, somebody invariably mistakes me for an employee. Maybe it's because the sight of somebody drifting aimlessly up and down an aisle in the search for a specific author that I know is in the next aisle over evokes a deep sort of sympathy in me, and more often than not I can't help sidling up to them and saying, "Excuse me--did you say you were looking for Jane Smiley?" and steering them politely into the S section, rather than the J.

    But I have no idea what it is that makes people approach me as I rummage through the Ian McEwan selection and ask if I work here, but this has actually been noticable enough to warrant a job offer from Henderson Books on two separate occasions. Maybe it's my tendency to compulsively straighten books--I don't know.

    So, anyway, by the time Betsy came back to where she'd left me, I was off in some back corner of Sci-Fi/Fantasy, helping my new friend find Tolkien, while discussing some fascinating little-known facts about Tolkien that I recently discovered while reading his biography (for example: did you know that he wrote the Elvish language "Quenya" first, and that The Silmarillion and, eventually, The Lord of the Rings, sprung up around it as he created a mythology of the people he supposed might speak his language?). I think there's probably a calling in there somewhere.


    Book Review: J.R.R. TOLKIEN: A BIOGRAPHY, by Humphery Carpenter

    There's not really anybody I'd rather read a biography of than J.R.R. Tolkien. I'm not sure what this says about me, but there you have it. There's something about the idea of a mild-mannered Oxford don writing the epic adventures and complex world of The Lord of the Rings that has always intrigued me, and this paradox is exactly what Humphery Carpenter explores, respectfully and very well, in his BIOGRAPHY.

    The book is admirably thorough, for Carpenter sets up each chapter as a slightly different take on Tolkien's life--in one chapter, we examine photographs of Tolkien for clues to his character. In another, we study his writing habits, his love of language, or a day in his life at Oxford. Or, a day in his wife's life in Oxford. The format itself is fascinating, and for somebody so seemingly difficult to study (outwardly, his life was quite uneventful) Carpenter presented his charge in a such a way that I felt wholly satisfied that all my questions about Tolkien, the writing of the Rings and the Inklings (of course the Inklings) had been answered. In fact, most of them had a chapter unto themselves.

    If you read The Silmarillion and liked it, this one is for you.

    RATING: 4


    All the small things, indeed

    At work I'm getting an early start on addressing office Christmas cards. See, every year we send out cards and gifts to the other doctors in town, and it falls under my job description (which could be summed up as "miscellaneous") to address the cards and deliver the gifts. It's great fun.

    And yes, I know it's only October, but that just goes to show you how much I love writing with glittery gold pens on holly-festooned envelopes.


    Book Review: SELECTED POEMS, by Conrad Aiken

    College sort of killed poetry for me. I knew eventually I'd regain interest, though probably not in the moody contemporary stuff my professors so loved; it took a friend of mine assuring me that Conrad Aiken was the perfect solution to my problem before I began to come around. He said this while hauling a stack of Aiken books up from his basement and proceeding to thumb madly through them in a search for "the perfect poem" to win me over, and though he didn't find that Perfect One, he read me enough to make me purchase my very own copy of SELECTED POEMS and continue the search on my own. I found it in "The Biography of Senlin," specifically II:1, the last stanza of which reads:
    Knock on the door,--and you shall have an answer.
    Open the heavy walls to set me free,
    And blow a horn to call me into the sunlight,--
    And startled, then, what a strange thing you shall see!
    Nuns, murderers, and drunkards, saints and sinners,
    Lover and dancing girl and sage and clown
    Will laugh upon you, and you will find me nowhere.
    I am a room, a house, a street, a town.
    Moody, yes, but gorgeous--I encountered this one over my lunch break at work and was stunned, particularly by the last line. That was the Perfect One, indeed.

    And I'll tell you what--the rest of the collection was just as lovely, dark and abysmal, but teeming with beautiful language, so that I remembered, however dimly, that that's what I liked about poetry in the first place: the language.

    RATING: 4


    An interesting aside: I think I read somewhere that Joan Aiken, of The Wolves of Willoughby Chase was Conrad Aiken's daughter. Even if she isn't, you should still read her books. You should also read my review of The Wolves of Willoughby Chase.

    Joan Aiken: The Wolves of Willoughby Chase (The Little Bird review)


    Good day!

    Remember those 16 boxes of books? Well, they fetched a whopping $90 worth of trade credit at Michael's Books, and what the good folks at Michael's didn't offer trade for turned up this morning in the free book boxes.


    What did I buy with my credit? Try as I might, I only managed to do away with $44 dollars this morning, which means I have $46 left to spend in a liesurely fashion (which will no doubt include a fun day of bookshopping with my dad, who gave me the credit but will have to help me spend it). Today's finds:

  • Par Lagerkvist: The Holy Land
  • E.M. Forester: Howard's End
  • Thomas Merton: Learning to Love (Vol. 6 of Merton's journals)
  • Humphery Carpenter: J.R.R. Tolkien: a biography
  • John Knowles: A Separate Peace
  • Cathleen Medwick: Teresa of Avila
  • -and- the first three books of Brian Jacques's Redwall series.

    Yes, I'll be busy for a while.


    The long overdue post about Oikos

    If you've talked to either Mitch or I lately, you've probably heard us mention the mysterious "Oikos." Maybe it seems like suddenly we have five hundred new friends, all of whom we've met through this "Oikos," and we've probably mentioned these with great enthusiasm, and since you probably have no idea what we're talking about, I'll fill you in: Oikos is Oikos Fellowship. Yes, it's a church, and since it's been a long while since we've found a church that drew us back for more than three weeks in a row, we're downright giddy about it--or I am, anyway. Mitch doesn't generally get giddy about things.

    I know I came up with a gung-ho post when we started going back to Breakwater last fall (though for reasons unbeknownst even to us, we gradually stopped attending even there after a month or two), and that was written up within the first week that we attended. Why has it taken me nearly two months to write about Oikos? I'm not sure. Certainly not because I'm not excited.

    Maybe I'm worried about crying wolf, like I did with Breakwater, though I don't think that's quite right, since already we're involved in several studies, groups and ministries at Oikos, not the least significant of which is the membership class. We love Oikos, for more reasons than I can list here without sounding like I'm trying to sell the church to you. Probably I'm sounding like that anyway. But here are the top three things we love about the church, just to get them out of the way:

    1) The people! Never have I found myself in a group so willing to help one another at the drop of a hat--you say your car's in the shop? At least one person, if not three, will offer to loan you their car for a week. You're suffering some sort of stress or prolonged illness? People will organize and offer to buy groceries for you, clean your house, watch your kids for a few hours. It's absolutely amazing to see, I'm not kidding. And that sort of love is contagious--when somebody loves on you like that, you're dying to turn around and offer that love to someone else.

    2) The pastor. He's young, sure, but he doesn't mess around trying to make the Bible relevant to today's youth. The entire time we've been attending, I think the church has made it through two chapters of the book of James, because each week Pete picks one or two (or on an ambitious day like today, six) verses and expounds on them for over an hour, without ever skirting around the tough parts. Today's sermon was on James 5:1-6, and it ended on the ever-uplifting "Howl and moan for the miseries that are coming upon you!" These are not light-hearted sermons, no, but they make you feel horrible in the way that cuts through the self-protective veil and motivates you to change.

    Also, he makes a huge effort to get to know everybody, which I admire. Questions are encouraged, which is sadly not always the state of things--I've attended churches where questions were pretty much discouraged, and the pastor didn't have time to answer them anyway. I asked Pete today if some of the books out front were free or for sale, and he went off for roughly ten minutes on one of the most beautiful rants I've ever heard--I got a little choked up, even. It was truly beautiful.

    3) The services. I know in this I risk sounding a bit superficial, but we've gone to enough places where we didn't like the services to know that we really do truly love the services at Oikos. The sermons are long and intense, communion is served every week, there's time for private prayer at the beginning of each sermon, and (best and most superficial) there is no PowerPoint display. The words to the songs are printed in the bulletin, so rather than being fed songs two lines at a time, you can read over them and really consider the lyrics--you can even take them home with you, and read them again if you want.


    Now that it comes to it, I think I've put off writing this up because I worry that I'm going to go on and on about how rad our church is, which generally makes people feel like their church just isn't that cool, but that is absolutely not my intent. I think Mitch and I are both all fired up to have finally found (through the oddest of means, which involved, of all things, Myspace) a place where we feel at home, and where feel that we're growing in our faith rather than stagnating, so it's difficult to not tell about it, just as it's difficult to tell about it well.

    So there. New church. It's awesome. We're humbled and growing like mad.

    And what does "Oikos" mean, anyway? In Greek, it means "household". Family. How very fitting.

    (Here's the website, if you want to know more.)


    Helping Dad clean out the attic

    All 16 of those boxes are full of books, and they're all on the way to the used bookstore. See? I really do come by it honestly.


    Evil boy twin

    (This was originally written sometime last winter, but before I could publish it, Blogger exercised its veto power and deleted it. I tried again. Blogger vetoed the entry once more. I shook my fist in frustration and gave up, but decided that the story was worth re-attempting , so without further delay, here it is:)


    (cue suspense music)

    One fine day, I went to Avellino. For those of you unfamiliar with Avellino, it's a nice little bakery on Railroad Ave., where they bake delicious treats and make caramel lattes with real made-from-scratch caramel. There is a mural of gold-edged clouds on the ceiling that makes me indescribably happy every time I look at it, and the storefront is sky blue with a big sign that says, in black on white, AVELLINO. You should go there some time and have a caramel latte (made with real caramel) and an apple pull-apart.

    Anyway, it was a fine day, and as I stood considering the pastries in the glass case, I noticed the boy ahead of me in line: roughly my height, he had dark blonde hair and broad, friendly features, and he wore a black zip-up hoodie, jeans and Sambas. He had black plastic-framed glasses and a black messenger bag. I noticed that I also was wearing a black zip-up hoodie, jeans and Sambas, and I that I, too, wore plastic-framed glasses and carried a black messenger bag.

    Coincidence? I wondered.

    I decided it was assuredly not when, after I made up my mind to order a cinnamon roll (it was one of those cinnamon roll sort of days) and an americano (black), the mysterious boy ordered, yes, a cinnamon roll and an americano (also black). I was shocked, and quickly concluded that this boy was none other than my Evil Boy Twin.

    For weeks afterward, whenever I saw him around downtown (note: there is a nice collection of "downtownies" in Bellingham, who travel on foot, are roughly between the age of 18-28, and for the most part recognize each other. Evil Boy Twin is one of these), I'd stare and silently refer to him, in my rather overactive inner monologue, as "Evil Boy Twin."

    I mentioned this to Mitch and he thought I was insane, until one day when we were eating breakfast at the Little Cheerful and Evil Boy Twin walked past the window. After I pointed EBT out, and cried, "That's him! My Evil Boy Twin!", Mitch still thought I was insane, but he laughed and said, "No, dear, that's Matt." As it turned out, Evil Boy Twin worked at the same bagel shop as Mitch.

    So, my husband knew my Evil Boy Twin personally. And he mentioned one day to Evil Boy Twin (aka "Matt," if that is his real name) that I had a theory about him being my Evil Twin, but in the telling managed to leave out the rather crucial part about being at Avellino and ordering the same things and so on--so this "Matt" thought I was not only utterly insane, but also creepy.


    Now whenever I see Evil Boy Twin/Matt downtown I tend to chuckle inwardly and hope for some anonymity, since, to my knowledge, EBT/M has never really met me personally, has he? Or do I crop up as Mitch's Creepy Wife in his inner monologue?

    I may never know.


    Greg Brown is coming to town

    I can't believe my good luck. First, while thumbing through the Chuckanut Reader, I happened upon a notice declaring that Jonathan Safran Foer was coming to Bellingham.

    Wait. That Jonathan Safran Foer? The author of two of my very favorite books, Everything is Illuminated and Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close (the latter is reviewed on my book site, here)?

    Yes, a second look confirmed, it was in fact that Jonathan Safran Foer, coming to Bellingham in November to give a reading at Village Books.

    [stunned silence]

    I know.

    And then, my stepdad announces over breakfast this morning that Greg Brown (Greg Brown, the amazing songwriter whose voice was as familiar to me throughout my childhood as that of Garrison Keillor, but whose music I never quite appreciated until a few years ago when I had my iPod on shuffle and "Sadness" popped up, seemingly out of the blue) was coming to town this month to play at the Nightlight.

    [stunned silence]

    I know. I'm not even joking either when I add that I had a dream last night that I was watching Greg Brown in concert, and he played "Ballingall Hotel," and I was happy way down to my toes.

    I've never dreamt of Greg Brown before in my life. Go figure.


    Trip-to-Goodwill Day

    As we learned in the entry, My excuse, I'm not real domestic. Or, I am, but only in fits and starts. Actually, I seem to do most things in fits and starts--taking blogging, for example. I average two entries a month for six months and then suddenly, I flood your inbox with "New entry!" e-mails. Like I said: Oh, to be consistent.

    But back to domesticity. I periodically decide that our apartment ought to have some sort of decorative Theme, which it presently does, I suppose, if you count "mismatched" as a theme. Don't get me wrong, I have no problem with "mismatched" at all--I find it quite cozy, and I know Mitch does too. Books stacked to the ceiling, odd candles all over the place, big orange wing-backed chairs, paintings and posters and a National Geographic world map on the walls--it's good. I love it. But sometimes I need a trip to Goodwill in order to freshen things up.

    I've learned this about myself at Goodwill: my very favorite things definately fall in the category of "So ugly they're almost cool," and generally possess that strange quality of being simultaneously one of the most hideous things you've ever seen, while also being one of the very coolest. This is how I come to have an orange-and-white-striped velvet chair in the living room, and how I came to purchase some dingy old brocade (possibly? I'm not really sure what "brocade" is, but it sounds right) curtains, with a white-on-yellow pattern for the bedroom windows. They are absolutely awesome, and grotesque, while still being awesome.

    Also, I found a faux gilt-edged mirror (pick it up and you'll notice right away that it's fake), and a faux brass candelabra, all for under $10. Some other finds: a $.50 pearl necklace (fake), two brass picture frames, more curtains (these ones are burgundy satin-esque material), some mismatched silverware, and a chair so far beyond ugly that it made me sad to realize that we couldn't possibly fit another chair in our wee apartment without breaking some law of physics. I had to pass that last one by, though it grieved me to no end.

    The best part? I bought all this, plus a few less interesting items (slotted spoon, salad bowl), for $25.16. Rock on.


    Listening in

    I love other people's conversations. I am not ashamed of this, or if I am, it doesn't stop me from listening in, because other people are far too interesting and, occasionally, educational, to pass by. This is a big part of why I love riding the bus--it's a veritable minefield of interesting Other People to spy on.

    For example: tonight, as my bus passed through campus, three enormous young men got on. I took them to be football players, given their buzzcuts, mode of dress (T-shirts and gym shorts, all emblazoned "WWU Football"), taciturn expressions and sheer bulk--one of them had his right shoulder wrapped in a sling of syran-wrap; another sat down in front of me and fairly obstructed my view of the rest of the bus.

    After a moment of brooding silence, the guy in front of me asked one of the others, "So, how long do you think I should cook those potatoes? Twenty minutes?"

    "Dude," came the response, "I'd say more like thirty. Otherwise they're still a little crisp in the middle, and that's no good."

    The third chimed in: "What else are you serving?"


    "Drumsticks? Breasts?"

    "Breast meat. I got some really good stuff cheap at Cost Cutter."

    They proceeded to discuss different methods of cooking chicken breast. It absolutely made my day.


    My excuse

    I sometimes forget that I have a kitchen. Sometimes, I remember, and that's when I go on these sprees. Whole months go by when Mitch and I eat cereal for dinner, or quesadillas, or spaghetti (it's usually one quick item for several months straight).

    I'm telling you this in a moment of vulnerability. For a girl who doesn't care much one way or the other for "keeping house," this is actually embarrassing--at times, we do dishes maybe once a week, and only then because we've run out of bowls. If you're picturing dishes stacked to the ceiling, that's not quite right (though it is close), because eating cereal for two meals a day doesn't generate much beyond dirty bowls and spoons. So. Sometimes that's the state of things.

    But then I remember about the kitchen, and I go nuts baking brownies and bread and fruit crisp and cookies and cheesecake. I make soup, homemade spaghetti sauce, curry, tofu stir-fry, baked eggplant--all kinds of stuff. I dig out the recipe books and go to town, making dinner, dessert and sometimes even drinks (like homemade hot chocolate--yummm...) from scratch. I clean up after myself and everything.

    It's awesome.

    I'm in one of these phases right now. In fact, as I write I've got onion soup simmering on one burner while croutons bake in the oven. I'm multitasking. It's rad. And every time this happens, I hope like crazy that it sticks, but then I get tired of coming home and spending a hour-and-a-half making dinner, and it's back to cereal.

    Oh, to be more consistent. Or, oh, to have a bigger kitchen.

    That's usually my excuse.


    What I love about kittens

    To them, everything is a toy. Be it a fruit fly, their tail, my toes, a CD case, a drawstring, or the reflection of a wristwatch on the wall, they will play with it.

    I might be a bit jealous.


    Book Review: THE TIME QUARTET, by Madeliene L'Engle


    I read A WRINKLE IN TIME for the first time in second grade, and would be willing to bet that WRINKLE was one of the first chapter books that I read, ever, though it was an assignment for school. Did L'Engle figure largely in my developement as a bibliophile? Most certainly, though I forgot about WRINKLE completely until I was nineteen.

    That's when I read Walking on Water for the first time and, upon discovering that L'Engle was one smart lady, picked up her Time Quartet and read the whole thing in roughly a week. This is one of those series that I love, not only for its fantastic stories and huge concepts crammed into child-size characters, but because it is cozy and familiar to me--reading about Meg Murry's attic bedroom reminds me of reading WRINKLE on a wet fall day in our first apartment, snuggled into an afghan and sipping a cup of tea.

    It's not just pleasant connotations that bring me back and back to The Time Quartet, however--L'Engle's interpretation of theology is fascinating, and I love that she flat out quotes Scripture in such fitting contexts as strange space creatures singing praises to God. She manages to write a great story without turning faith into an ambiguous allegory, but also without watering the book down to that lamest of lame genres, "Christian Fiction."

    Aside from that, though, the story is just plain old good. Meg gets a little obnoxious at times, but L'Engle uses that to the tale's advantage, and counters nicely with the ever-amazing Charles Wallace. To top it off, it is my opinion that the Time books get better and better, with the fourth, Many Waters, being my absolutely favorite. Next up? Book Two: A Wind in the Door.


    This really is the sort of series that every time I reread it, I become convinced that whichever book I'm reading presently, be it Book I, II or otherwise, is my very favorite of the series. This time through, I developed a real fondness for A WIND IN THE DOOR, not least because of all the fascinating information L'Engle introduces through pint-sized characters. Her ability to reveal to the reader both science and theology in new and exciting ways but in a single image or character, astounds me. I respect L'Engle tremendously for this, and found it most apparent in WIND, as Meg, Calvin & Co. explore mitochonria and farolandae with the most excellent cherubim I've come across (in literature) yet.


    Of the quartet, PLANET is probably my least favorite book, but only because the other three are so stinkin' rad. I find L'Engle's manipulation of time, and the interlocking, closely knit pattern of it, more and more interesting every time I read the book, but PLANET still seems a little more awkward than the rest of the series--mostly because I miss the Murrys, given that they're only present for maybe a third (half?) of the book, and some of the aspects of the plot seem a little too coincidental for me.

    But that's all preference, and I'm sure I'd love PLANET too if it weren't dwarfed by the awesomeness of the other books. Maybe some day PLANET will even end up as my favorite, but for now my very favorite is still:


    Yup. MANY WATERS still won out, which is odd, since Sandy and Dennys remain my least favorite of the Murrys (again, only because the rest of the Murrys are so great). The book starts off pretty awkward, since the twins feel rough and undeveloped and are prone to stating the obvious, such as, "Well, we're the normal ones of the family," and "Well, our parents are scientists," and so on. But I only criticize the beginning because L'Engle wins me over so completely by the second chapter.

    The twins' adventure to me seems the most beautiful of all the books, and the most packed with huge, difficult questions that L'Engle handles with tremendous grace. Add this to an interpretation of the story of Noah and the ark that goes above and beyond anything I could have dreamt, and you have yourself an excellent book. I re-read the entire quartet, really, just to get to this book. MANY WATERS is beautiful in seventeen different ways.

    RATING: 5

    I might stop functioning entirely

    Besides moving to a dry climate (no) and taking more antibiotics (I won't do it! I won't!), does anybody know of any miracle cures for stubborn sinus infections? I've had this one almost two years, with some brief months of respite, and it's getting unbearable. On Friday I finally went down to the hippie tea shop and asked some advice--they loaded me up with powders and tinctures and teas and essential oils, but still, I feel horrendous.

    If you say so, I'll drink three gallons of orange juice a day. I'll hop on one foot backward three times around the grave of an unbaptized puppy on the eve of the next full moon, if you tell me it'll relieve the pressure in my head. I won't move to a drier climate, and I won't take anymore antibiotics (I've done seven rounds in the past twelve months. I think that's quite enough).

    For now though, I'll go bury my eyes under a silk lavender-scented sachet and sniff peppermint oil for a while. Maybe that'll help.


    By now, you'd think I'd learn

    Everyday, on my way home, I pass two buildings: a high school, and a Catholic Church.

    The high school, lately remodelled and done up with some odd carvings of cellists and trumpeters in an angular, modern style, takes up a whole city block unto itself and is bordered along the front by a solid line of trees. Walking past the school around the time the students are being picked up after class gives me that disconcerting, if slight, feeling of age. "Oh my," I think, as I study the kids who file into the front door, bags bumping against hips, heads down. They look awfully young, which makes me feel old, and then ridiculous, because by nobody's standards but perhaps a high school sophomore's is twenty-three old. But it's a curious feeling nonetheless, and one that I have a full city block to ruminate upon.

    Just before the Catholic church, however, is when my rumination is inevitably cut short, because it is here that the sections of pavement have shifted, leaving one slab a good inch or so higher than the other--perfect for tripping up a preoccupied pedestrian, which it inevitably does. Every single day.

    The other day, in fact, I tripped over it with such force that my foot ached for half a block afterwards. Only a clever handful of times have I succeeded in noting the approaching hazard, identifying it, and lifting my foot free of harm's way and thus avoiding disaster. The rest of the time I slam into it, stumble forward a few feet, right myself awkwardly and blush for a good long while as I imagine what the whole thing must have looked like from a passing car. This cheers me up a little, at least.

    But then comes the church, which is big and beautiful, and though I am not Catholic, I am always drawn to this building--particularly the steeple, with its weathered green Cross, jutting dramatically into a clear blue sky. It's lovely. The arched doorways, segmented by the bare branches of trees; the little garden with its statues of saints; the view of Mt. Baker through wrought iron fences--all these things make my heart go still for a small moment, particularly if I time it right and pass by when the bells are sounding. I get to feeling downright reverent.

    Book Review: JUDE THE OBSCURE, by Thomas Hardy

    I seem to have hit a rough patch with reading lately. Either I have a bad attitude, or the books I've read recently have fallen short--what else could account for the fact that in the past few weeks I, stubborn as can be, have quit one book in the middle (Durrell's Justine), am considering quitting another (how long can I really spend on Sometimes a Great Notion?) and threatened, several times, to drop JUDE THE OBSCURE when I was over three-quarters of the way done?

    Either it's the books, or it's me, and as always I'm inclined to point the finger elsewhere.

    After all, JUDE THE OBSCURE takes two of the most obnoxious characters I've encountered in a long time and sets them in a tense little drama about the flaws of Victorian society--with particular emphasis on marriage and religion. Every conversation felt forced and hollow, whether it was about the weather or about the foolishness of certain social conventions, and the characters were, as I said, obnoxious and flat. And overly sensitive.

    None of this is helped by the fact that most of the issues Hardy raises with marriage have gone in exactly the direction he foresaw (and a whole lot of good it's done us, too), so that the punch is quite taken out of his assertions, though they no doubt shocked many in his day, as the cover of the books suggests.

    Do I sound harsh? I suppose I am, and not least because I loved Hardy's The Return of the Native and therefore hoped that JUDE THE OBSCURE (proclaimed by the cover of the book to be Hardy's masterpiece, as well as "The novel that shocked the Victorian world") would be even better. To my taste, it was quite overdone.

    RATING: 2


    Awkward Turtle Moment of the Year

    Somehow, my brother discovered this great hand signal. It's called "Awkward Turtle," and it comes in handy for a variety of social situations--more than I'd care to mention, actually. To perform the Awkward Turtle, follow these simple instructions:

    1) Place your left hand palm down on the table in front of you (these moments generally seem to occur in restaurants and bars), with your thumb perpendicular to the hand.

    2) Place your right hand palm down on top of the left, with the thumb perpendicular to your hands.

    3) Your hands should now, albeit vagely, resemble a turtle--you may have to think about it pretty hard, but bear with me. Okay. Turtle.

    4) Now, raise your thumbs off the table slightly and rotate them in full circles (counter-clockwise is best) to make your turtle "walk."

    As you get better at this, you'll find that you won't need a table, but can perform the gesture in mid-air. At this point you might feel like improvising--it's up to you.

    Now, when would you want to use the Awkward Turtle?

    Well, an excellent example could be given from last night. Morgan and I have a table in the window at the Temple Bar. We're eating dinner, drinking wine and talking when a former professor of ours strolls in (for those of you that know, we'll call him "Professor Lockhart") with a woman that I assume is his wife. They order a bottle of champagne and sit at the table next to ours, and because it's still early, ours are the only two taken tables in the bar.

    By the time Prof. Lockhart makes his way over to our table to say hi, he's lapped us several times in the drinks department (they've polished off the champagne and are now into rounds of beer--we're slowly savoring our second glasses of wine)--an overly enthusiastic, but hugely awkward conversation ensues, made extra awkward by the fact that the last time I saw him he was also a bit tipsy, and admitted to a large group of people that he had lied to my class (and the college) about one of his kids being sick in order to quit his post before the end of the quarter.


    A few years pass. The conversation draws to a shuddering, painful halt and he's still standing at our table. "Okay!" He says loudly, and claps. "I'll leave you guys alone!" And off he goes.

    This an excellent opportunity for the Awkward Turtle. I do not let it pass.

    Book Review: JUSTINE, by Lawrence Durrell

    JUSTINE, though beautifully written, was not quite what I wanted to read just now. I put it down. The first book in Durrell's Alexandria Quartet, JUSTINE is full of brooding characters and dismal studies of love, and sometimes that's just fine with me, but I wasn't up to diving into four whole books of miserable characters, dark, dirty alleyways, poets and whole cloud formations of cigarette smoke. I'm not sure if I'll come back to this one or not. Maybe. You never know. But it just wasn't working for me today.


    Book Review: BEL CANTO, by Ann Patchett

    BEL CANTO is one of those books that I picked up purely for the concept--a dinner party, somewhere in South America, taken hostage by guerillas? The guests' captivity evolving slowly into something beautiful but doomed?

    And it's true, the story itself was something to be reckoned with, and Patchett handled it expertly--the details she latched onto and illuminated, the very weight and feel of the book were both devastating and deeply satisfying. BEL CANTO certainly falls in the category of books that end too quickly. I could have gone on reading it for months.

    Another big selling point is that BEL CANTO has one of the most beautiful opening scenes I've read in a long time. The first sentence: When the lights went off, the accompanist kissed her. I started on that one in the book store and didn't stop until I was fifteen pages into the story, and I'm not generally caught by that kissy-kissy stuff. It was the very poise of the characters, the sheer density of the scene, the details that I remember more vividly now that I've finished the book (the smell of candles freshly snuffed, the warm close air of the dining room) that made that scene so entrancing and stuck it so firmly in my imagination.

    The good news? Patchett keeps that up, that sense of ambience, for the entire book.

    RATING: 4


    Well, what do you know

    I finally made a webpage (how many online hobbies do I need, anyway?). It's primarily for my music, with a full calender and photos and probably some boasting, I don't know yet. It's bound to come out. But it does have the coolest host name ever: "bravehost". Here it is:


    Book Review: NO MAN IS AN ISLAND, by Thomas Merton

    If you're not familiar with Thomas Merton, he was a Trappist monk, living during the first half of the twentieth century. NO MAN IS AN ISLAND is one of many books that he wrote, and a rather obscure one at that: he's predominately known for The Seven Storey Mountain and the printed volumes of his journals, but ISLAND is the only one I've read (so far--I suspect that this is about to change).

    Now, when you're a monk in, say, Kentucky, like Merton, you probably have quite a bit of time to reflect on things like God and prayer and mercy and faith (or maybe you don't--I hear that monks work quite a bit in certain traditions, though I don't know about the Trappists), and so I'd bet that your "reflections" are worth more, spiritually, that those of an ex-NBA player who got religion during a midlife/post-retirement crisis and then felt compelled to write a bestseller--though, again, I don't know. But I'd be willing to bet that this is true.

    In Merton's case, it's certainly true that his reflections carry a lot of weight, and deserve an awful lot of thought. To illustrate this, I might mention that it took me something like eight months to make it through this book. Eight months, for a girl who tends to plow through novels this length (264-pages) in under a week, depending on how absorbing the plot is--granted, there were weeks when I didn't pick ISLAND up at all, but there were also weeks when I dropped novels in favor of Merton.

    See, NO MAN IS AN ISLAND is a series of chapters, each titled as a subject, like "Sentences on Hope," or "Pure Intention," or "Silence", and each chapter is filled with numbered segments of a few paragraphs apiece that examine aspects of the subject. Merton starts out relatively mild, I suppose, but by the end of the book the insights come fast and heavy--for the last fifteen or twenty pages, I could only take it one segment at a time, because the concepts covered were so vast. Some were no more than a prayer, others were terrible and convicting, and all were beautifully, gorgeously written. There is no way that I understood even a fourth of what Merton packed into this small book, but what I did grasp, however vaguely, was liberating. NO MAN IS AN ISLAND is a beautiful book, and not one to be passed over in favor of something easier to digest--just try it, please do.

    I close with a little tidbit for you:
    Whoever seeks to catch Him and hold Him loses Him. He is like the wind that blows where it pleases. You who love Him must love Him as arriving from where you do not know and as going where you do not know. Your spirit must seek to be as clean and as free as His own Spirit, in order to follow Him wherever He goes. Who are we to call ourselves clean or free, unless He makes us so?
    RATING: 5