"We need a more permanent solution to our PROBlemmmmmm...."

We drove over the mountains, and about the time we reached the summit of Cascade Pass, Mitch began to speculate on why nobody had managed to put a tunnel straight through. Why not, he wanted to know--why couldn't you just burrow right under the mountains and, abandoning the scenic route, forge a straight line from West to East, thereby cutting your travel time in half and causing your car a fraction of the stress it suffers by driving inconveniently over the perilous, windy, but no doubt gorgeous, mountain pass?

This is the kind of guy he is.

What, I answer, and drive to Eastern Washington in the pitch dark? Besides, the mountains are a bit heavy to keep from collapsing a wee two-lane tunnel.

Still, I am enamoured with the thought of some burrowing bit of machinery working its way forlornly through the base of the mountain range, digging on as the mountain methodically collapses the tunnel behind it, foot by foot. Nature, laughing mischeivously at the retreating back of progress.

This is the kind of girl I am.

We arrive in Chelan around noon on Saturday, with full bladders, wind-knotted hair (because we tend to drive any sunny distance with 3 out 4 windows rolled all the way down), and two different Carina Round songs stuck in our respective heads. We arrive victorious, and three hours early for check in.

This is an annual trip: every year, we meet Mitch's family at the same resort in Chelan. Every year we grill salmon on Saturday night, meet each morning for continental breakfast, where I eat Fruit Loops and Mitch eats yogurt and we both drink lots of watery coffee. Every year we go to the same waterslides, and every year we squeeze into somebody's room for dinner, balancing paper plates of salmon and pasta salad in our laps; every year I get sunburned, but still, every year I spend lots of time poolside with a stack of half-finished books and my fickle tube of SPF 45. We talk a lot, and play games.

This is tradition. And this is the kind of family we are.

Pretty much, that is a fair summary of this year as well. Talking, games, books, salmon--I did okay in the sunburn department, though, because I'm learning the value of Brimmed Hat + T-shirt + SPF 45 (frequently applied)= happy, if still paper-white, skin. I also switched to yogurt instead of Fruit Loops, for a change.

Every year, we walk down to the lake from our hotel (cross the street, walk down a steep, grassy hill, across a volleyball court, then twenty feet through a park and there, you're at the lake) and stand out on a floating dock in the wind. It is scenic. Very pretty. But this year, at the top of the steep, grassy hill, I look at Mitch and say, This would be a good hill for rolling.

He laughs. I say, No, seriously.

He says, You first.

So I drop into the grass and roll. I gain speed and am soon travelling much faster than I'd have guessed possible from the top of the hill--but then, it is steep--and every other turn I see Mitch, tumbling down after me, both of us laughing like mad. Finally, I stop and he stops and we both lie helpless and giggling at the bottom of the hill, dizzy and stuck all over with lawn clippings. When we finally stand up, we start laughing again every time we catch each others' eye.

On Monday morning, we pack up and drive home, tired like we are every year from too much sun, too much laughing, too many games. For a good part of the way home, we sing along badly and at top volume, like we do every year, to the soundtrack of Jesus Christ Superstar (not the Broadway production, but the movie, my favorite part of which is Caiaphas' astonishingly low "we need a more permanent solution to our PROBlemmmmmmm...").

And now we are home, back to kitties and homework and dirty laundry and the looming presence of classes and jobs, but I feel rested, all full of naps and finished books and sunshine. Ahhhhhh (and that is "ahhhhh" as in a peaceful sigh, not a scream). There. Ahhhhhh...

Book Review: CROSSING TO SAFETY, by Wallace Stegner

It hadn't occurred to me how many desolate, depressing books I'd been reading lately until I got into CROSSING TO SAFETY and discovered, near the end of the first chapter, that the book is about friendship. Even though bad things might happen in a book about friendship, people still retain some semblance of hope that, somehow, stuff will be okay. I found this immediately heartening. Books about friendship don't generally contain words like "abyss" or phrases like "soul of man." They don't end on a note that leaves you shaken to the core of your very "dark soul" and uncertain how you'll be able to go on in such a merciless, empty world.

In this way, CROSSING TO SAFETY met a need that I didn't even know I had. It is also really, really, REALLY damn good. After The Big Rock Candy Mountain, I was effectively won over by Stegner, but after this? He has been vaulted to the land of Favorite Authors: installed, with much praise and adoration, among the ranks of Salinger, McEwan and Tolkien, and CROSSING TO SAFETY added to the List of Books I Command You To Read (though you may disobey my command, it really is your loss).

One of the big appeals, to me, of CROSSING TO SAFETY is that it addresses one of those tragically underrepresented groups in literature: the happily married couple. Of course, this is just my humble, early-wed, hugely biased opinion, but really, how many books are there dedicated to rocky marriages, books whose strongest conflict lies between the two main characters? (The Big Rock Candy Mountain is one of these.) And how many books end with a wedding, as though getting to the altar was the most exciting part of the characters' whole dumb lives? (I am particularly bitter toward that last category, and that is why I can't stand romantic comedies.)

Now, I say "happily" mainly to signify that our married characters are not throwing lamps and trashcans at each other throughout the story--of course there will be conflict, and they will occasionally (if the story is at all believable) be on opposite sides of the conflict, but mostly our married heroes will support each other, standing stubbornly side by side. They will suffer hardship together, say encouraging things to each other, and will also say brutally honest things when times call for it; in this sort of marriage, there is an awful lot of conversation, and I suppose this is the boring aspect of the tale that leaves them underwritten--either these couples tend to stand blandly by as more interesting, single characters steal the show, or they resort to throwing things for the sake of creating narrative tension.

Pah. Stegner creates plenty of tension without resorting to that. CROSSING TO SAFETY is the sort of book that sounds boring in summary--something like "chronicles the enduring friendship of the Langs and Morgans, through such hardships as blah blah blah"--but it is beautiful, refreshing and sad. I, an incurable speedreader, found myself not wanting to read this book so that I would not finish it so soon. I drew it out, page by page, and that is the most sparkling praise I can offer: I did not want to finish this book. I really didn't.



Book Review: THE FALL OF THE HOUSE OF USHER, by Edgar Allan Poe

I came by this one by Paul Theroux's recommendation: in The Old Patagonian Express, Theroux reads many books on many different trains, and throws not a few of them into the literary dustbin. Among the few to survive his no-nonsense critique is Poe's The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym, Poe's only full-length novel, which was happily included in USHER, a collection on Poe's stories.

Now, I read "The Tell-Tale Heart" in freshman English, so I was at least dimly familiar with the creepiness of Poe, but I'd forgotten how downright spooky his stories can be--rotting corpses, demonic cats, the whole bit. I'd also forgotten how much the guy can talk and talk while setting up a short story, and how the first three pages of each story can be dedicated to a plea on behalf of the main character's sanity (a paraphrase: "The story I have to tell is so strange, so unnatural, that it shall surely bring my sanity to question, but I swear by the hair on my chinny-chin-chin that I am a good man, that my friends will support me when I claim to be completely, soundly, rock-solidly not mad")--in a seven-page story, this can take up quite a lot of story-telling time, so I ended up skipping a few stories with such openings in order to hurry up and read Pym. Was it worth it?

Heck yeah.

In a 100-page-plus novel, there's room for a bit of that reflection on behalf of the character. And once Poe gets that out of his system, the spookiness begins, and oh, boy. I was amazed at how quickly I got sucked right into Pym's narrative, particularly during his time spent in the hold of the Grampus, and though Pym does have its lulls, there are scenes from this book that will surely haunt me for a long time, in a satisfying sort of way.

I will say that a very strong aversion to deep water of any sort (I've been known to pull my sweatshirt over my face during previews for Poseidon) made the story triply alarming, and only thinly bearable in spots--a bit like Life of Pi, actually.

Speaking of Pi, did anybody else catch the appearance of one Richard Parker in Pym? Coincidence? I think not.



Book Review: AUSTERLITZ, by W.G. Sebald

This is the sort of book that I want to begin again as soon as I finish the last page. In my experience, this doesn't mean that the book was merely "good," but that it had so much heft to it that there was no way of getting the whole thing in one reading--layers upon layers, you see? House of Leaves was like this.

AUSTERLITZ is a quiet book, full of beautiful sentences and meaningful moments of still-life quality, but don't get the idea that it's got a quick, engaging plot or anything, because it doesn't. Austerlitz is just some guy on a pensively paced journey to uncover his past, and the whole pieced-together story of his life is told to an unnamed narrator in a rambling, storytelling-type monologue. It is an eerie glimpse of the aftershocks of the Holocaust, and the way the story is told provides an interesting tempo for the whole thing--unchronologically, in a disjointed series of conversations between Austerlitz and the narrator. Without paragraphs.

That nearly killed me, the no paragraph thing. This is not a lunch break/waiting for the bus sort of read, heavens no--it'll take you ten minutes to find your place again, once you look up at the clock--but once I got a feel for it, I rather enjoyed the feeling that the unbroken telling lent the whole story (hint: use sticky notes or something to mark your line, rather than the old-fashioned bookmark marking the page business. That helped me immensely).

Also, Sebald uses photographs, which is interesting.

At any rate, this is certainly a book to read, but it is one to read when you have time. Take it to a remote cabin or something. Read it the weekend after finals, in the back yard with a cool beverage of your choice. You get the idea. AUSTERLITZ is one to be savored, not rushed.



I can't wait. I'm gonna wear a pink shirt.

Ladies and gentlefolk! I give you fair warning:

Thursday, May 18
Shawnee Kilgore & Thea Rosenburg*
Fantasia Espresso & Tea


I've been practising juggling between songs, and throwing knives with deadly accuracy. I will also accompany myself on the tambourine. If you don't come for the finger-pickin' bluesy tunes, come for the side show. Or the coffee.

(I'm absolutely joking about the knives. I am absolutely not joking about the tambourine.)


Book Review: LETTERS TO MALCOLM, by C.S. Lewis

Full title runs like this: Letters to Malcolm, Chiefly on Prayer: Reflections on the Dialogue Between Man and God. Whew. Looks impressive or utterly geeky when you whip this one out on the bus, doesn't it? Or pretentious. At any rate, the book is marvellous and worth every snap judgement your fellow passengers may make, because it all comes down to the fact that C.S. Lewis was a smart guy, and it shows even in the a batch of letters that he never intended (to my knowledge) to publish.

I know I'm merely one of the tons of people who can claim that C.S. Lewis has been profoundly influential in the development of my faith, but it's very very true. I spent one whole summer with my friend Becca reading every Lewis book we could get our hands on, with the result that I catch myself constantly interjecting, in theological discussions, "Well, you know, in The Four Loves C.S. Lewis addresses that very topic. He says..." Makes me feel copy-cattish when I put it like that, but it's true. In a way, he has an answer for everything, even if the answer is sometimes "I don't know."

LETTERS TO MALCOLM is a skinny little over-looked book of letters, probably published after Lewis' death and therefore probably without his consent. There is no introduction to explain who Malcolm is, and Malcolm's response letters are not included--but it's just as well, because we get all we need from Lewis' side of the dialogue. I don't know why MALCOLM isn't more widely read; it ought to be. The chapters are short and concise, the topics big but well-written, and exciting to read. I will come back to this one, I can tell, just like I return constantly to Mere Christianity and L'Engle's Walking on Water.


I'm not boring, really. Just quiet.

Well, it's almost that time of year. You know, the time where all the kids from all the state colleges pack up coolers of Corona and squeeze one-too-many into their parents' cars; the time of year where the coeds gets their toenails done and pack up a towel, a top, a bottom, a brand new string bikini, a forty-pound make-up bag, three sizes of curling irons, tanning oil, and nothing else, and all head over to a lakeside resort to drink themselves into a festive oblivion.

Am I stereotyping? Possibly. Because on Memorial Day weekend, they will all head over to Chelan, which is where I will be with Mitch's family, dodging beer cans in the swimming pool and thinking bad thoughts at 3 a.m. about the students chanting intelligent, thought-provoking, wholly higher-education phrases like "Chug! Chug! Chug!" in the room above me.

But no. I must back up. Because last year wasn't quite that bad. The year before, however, was. That was the year of the students packed ten to a hotel room; the year that hotel security received more complaints in three nights than in the entire rest of the year. The year that a kid in a trucker hat offered my father-in-law a Jell-O shot in exchange for a bit of grilled salmon; the year that sitting by the pool involved nestling uncomfortably between rows of well-oiled, freakishly tanned girls--all with their tops untied and their beer within easy reach--and that swimming in the pool involved a lot of dodging, as guys tried to both flirt with any girls brave enough to get in the pool at all (I didn't) and hold their beer aloft and more or less level.

The next year was much better. The hotel instituted a green plastic bracelet policy, which meant that all paying guests must wear a green plastic bracelet at all times--and if a guest were ever seen without the almighty bracelet...well. Out they go. I felt a bit branded, but I'd say the opportunity to actually go swimming, or to actually get some sleep, made it worth it.

And this year, I'm guessing, will be even better. There are several members of the Rosenburg clan that I'm looking forward to spending time with, and several books I'm looking forward to cramming into such a short time (Collected Stories of Flannery O'Connor, here I come!), and lots of thoughtful dabbling of my toes in the water to be done. Without the constant hazard of beer cans falling from forth story balconies, I think I'll do a whole lot of mellowing out--though probably I'll end up playing "cars" and catch with my 5-year-old nephew. But that sounds pretty wonderful, too.


Book Review: THE TIPPING POINT, by Malcolm Gladwell

I'd been wasting a lot of time lately thinking about trends--"Who starts them?" "How do they stick?" and "Why, oh, why are tight pants back in?"--when lo and behold, along came THE TIPPING POINT to help set me straight. In THE TIPPING POINT, Malcolm Gladwell examines what key elements help an epidemic or trend (or mass change of any kind, really) take off, and what elements help it stick around.

THE TIPPING POINT is chock full of absolutely fascinating information, the sort of stuff you just have to bring up in conversation with everybody you meet ("Say, that reminds me of this book I'm reading, where he talks about Sesame Street..."), and the information being presented is, more often than not, quite relevant. This is one of those books that makes you feel smart, but also seems very applicable in real life. And it's a piece of cake to read. Seriously. So good, and easy. Not all dense and technical. You'll love it, you really will.



Walter Rinder would be proud

As you may or may not know, my dad and I collect bad poetry (for an entry on our love of crappy literature, click here). With that in mind, and the fact that Walter Rinder is the quintessential Bad Poet, I present you with an email my dad just sent me:
At the hospital [where he works] we celebrate a strange, committee ritual in which
someone reads a "Reflection" as the first agenda item. It's usually a
bit of Chicken Soup for the Soul tripe and at consummation, most
listeners add yet another arrow to their quivers of enlightenment,
while a sorry few sit in stunned silence. Here's the Rinderesque poem
read by a long-haired woman at yesterday's reflection:
Wage Peace
by Judyth Hill, September 11, 2001

Wage Peace with your breath.

Breathe in firemen and rubble.
Breathe out whole buildings and flocks of red-wing blackbirds.

Breathe in terrorists
Breathe out sleeping children and fresh mown fields.

Breathe in confusion and breathe out maple trees.

Breathe in the fallen and breathe out life long relationships intact.

Wage peace with our listening: hearing sirens, pray loud.

Remember your tools: flower seeds, clothing pins, clean rivers.

Make soup.

Play music; learn the word "thank you" in 3 languages.

Learn to knit: make a hat.

Think of chaos as dancing raspberries.

Imagine grief
as the outbreak of beauty or gesture of fish.

Swim for the other side.

Wage peace.

Never has the word seemed so fresh and precious.

Have a cup of tea and rejoice.

Act as if armistice has already arrived.
Celebrate today.
Some applauded. I needed to blow my nose.
See? I come by it honestly.