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.


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.



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.



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?


Crime Scene Investigation

As we speak, there is a Bellingham Police Crime Scene Investigation truck parked in the alley behind my building. Guys in yellow zip-up suits have made brief appearances, opening and closing truck doors before disappearing again, and I've stood in my window, gawking, trying to see what it is that's happening--but they managed to park their enormous truck right between me and whatever they're doing. Yes, I'm a no-good voyeur, but I'll tell you what--there's something far more disturbing about have a Crime Scene Investigation (wait. Isn't that a TV show?) truck parked behind my house, rather than a plain-old everyday ambulance.

What? We have crime in Bellingham now?

But seriously. Not a laughing matter, I know. I always feel compelled to run up to stuff like that--accidents, ambulances, big Police trucks--and ask if I can help somehow, but I'm always held up by the suspicion that I don't really want to help, I just want to know what's going on. I'm just nosy, not helpful. And besides--what could I do? The one time I was actually able to help in an "emergency situation" I was terrified--and all I could do was hold somebody's hand. What I felt was not heroic, but helpless.

Here, however, one could assume that the crime has already taken place, the injured have been whisked away, and now there's just that tiny matter of Investigation to clear up before everybody goes home for the day. Meanwhile, all the nosy neighbors peer out of their blinds and make up excuses to go out in the backyard, just to, you know, check things out--I mean, throw away that single bag of old, rotten lettuce.

So, yes. It's a fine line between wanting genuinely to help others and wanting to dig up a good story to tell over lunch the next day--and I suspect that this is one of those "good story" moments. In fact, yes, it is, because I'm telling the damn story right now. Ha! Case closed.