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.



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.



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.



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.