Wednesday, February 24, 2010

T. S. Eliot Had It All Wrong

April is not the cruelest month at all. It's definitely February. Especially February in the Midwest. It's hideously ugly, it's cold, and there's nothing exciting happening. I'm not into the Olympics, and because of them, all the shows I like are re-runs.

The girls aren't saying much of anything funny. On the contrary, Lucy is whining and grizzling every single day about having to put on her tights for school. Words cannot express how old this gets. And she hates having her statick-y, tangled hair brushed. This is what we go through every morning. I say, "Lucy, come gt your hair done." She comes in the bathroom, dragging her feet. Then she puts her hands over her hair and starts to cry, saying, "It hurts! It hurts!" Keep in mind at this point the brush hasn't even touched her head. Then I lift her hair carefully and gently in my hands and show it to the brush. She claps her hands down even harder and wails, "You're hurting me!"

It's so much fun. Except not at all.

Then they both got into Scooby-Doo cartoons, which is a fun blast from Darren's past that he wanted to share with them. But then they watched a bunch of them, and we couldn't figure out why they were so rowdy and doing lovely dangerous things such as pushing each other while getting out of the slippery bathtub onto the equally slippery tile floor, and we finally traced it to Scooby- and Shaggy-induced madness. So, no Scooby-Doo for awhile.

Life just keeps going around with dropping kids off at school and picking them, putting coats/hats/boots/mittens on and taking them off, driving to the swimclub and waiting an hour in the waiting area while the girls swim and then going to the pool area where it's 1000% humidity to get them and taking them to the locker room to shower and dress and then drying their hair and putting the coats/hats/boots/mittens back on to drive home.

And last night, I read a bunch of stuff from facebook that led me to articles about some parents who got into some radical fundamentalist parenting techniques and spanked one of their little girls to death and hospitalized another. That traumatized me so much that I had to run upstairs after Lucy and Elaine had already gone to bed, get them out, hug them, and tell them I was sorry that I had shouted at them before dinner.

"That's OK, Mom," said Lucy. "We forgive you. We know you're not perfect."

And Elaine rubbed her cheek against mine and sang the Dino-dance song for me and then announced, "I did not pick my nose ," which is a surefire indication that indeed, she had been picking her nose.

So unless you wanted to read all of the above, I've had nothing to write about. I was casting around my mind for things to write on, and I had a lovely little post all written up in my head about my kitchen stool and how my mom had one like it while we were growing up and then she gave me this one and how it's metaphorical for all the conversations I had with her and now my daughters have with me while sitting on it. Then February hit me in the face again, and I realized that I was actually going to subject you to a post about my kitchen stool, for crying in a bucket.

Last Friday I went to see my mom, and she said, apropos of nothing, "Let's get your dad to bring up the sewing machine out of the basement, and I could show you how to sew." I whined, "Do we have to?" which might not have been the kindest thing to say, but it was worth its weight in gold for nostalgia's sake from my teen years.

My dad lugged the machine up, and my mom patiently showed me how it works, but if you know me, you know I really have no patience for anything mechanical or technical or that has small parts or needs an instruction booklet or requires following procedures (I know, with those qualifications, I am a shoo-in for a parenting award, right?) And my mom kept telling me how smart I am and that I'll get it in no time and all sorts of other sweet lies that we mothers tell our kids when they're hopeless at something.

And let me tell you, that machine, which my mom says is simplicity itself, is absolutely diabolical. It takes seven, count them, seven steps just to thread the needle, and that's only on the top part, not the bottom part with that inexplicable bobbin thingy. I could man the space shuttle once I figure that thing out.

So I grumpily ran the machine until I gave up (not very long), and my mom said, "Next time you come [wait, there's going to be a next time at this?], let's sew something you can use, like a cover for your kitchen stool because the last time I was over there, I noticed how beat up it was looking." Now teaching me to measure and cut out material and sew a cover for my kitchen stool is akin to teaching a chimpanzee to paint some frescoes in the Sistine Chapel, but I admire her nerve and enthusiasm.

Here is my kitchen stool in its current state (see, it truly is in sad need of a cover):

If there ever actually is an "after" picture, I promise I'll show it to you.

And maybe February will be over by then.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Library Day

OK, it's book reviewlet time again. I have been in a slump, fellow readers. Nothing much is really grabbing me, and some of what I'm reading is really letting me down. But before I start on what's bugging me, I'll kick off with something completely excellent.

The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie by Alan Bradley

First off, this is Mr. Bradley's first book, though he's written a memoir and a lot of articles, and he's like, 70 years old I think. Tres inspiring. AND the book has already won The Crime Writers' Association Debut Dagger Award. It's the first novel (with hopefully many to come) starring Flavia De Luce, a 12-year-old chemist and aspiring crime solver, and is set in post-war England. Flavia is the first to find a murdered stranger, lying in the cucumber bed of the family estate. Days before, a jacksnipe was left on the doorstep with a postage stamp in its beak. How are the two events related? Is Flavia's father somehow involved? Flavia herself is no ordinary girl--I wanted to write down a lot of my favorite quotes, but then the book became overdue at the library and I had already stored it in the swim bag, slightly water-damaging it (my sincere apologies, public library!), so I really needed to get it off my hands. However, here is one to whet your appetite:

"If there is a thing I truly despise, it is being addressed as 'dearie.' When I write my magnum opus, A Treatise Upon All Poison, and come to 'Cyanide,' I am going to put under 'Uses' the phrase 'Particularly efficacious in the cure of those who call one "Dearie."'"

The next Flavia book comes out on March 9 and is titled The Weed That Strings the Hangman's Bag. Mr. Bradley is working on the third installment, called A Red Herring Without Mustard. So, rush to get the first one, and you'll be all caught up. Oh, and you can visit Flavia here as well.

The next few I'll group together. I got on this kick of reading books that had recipes with them. You know how you order one book and then amazon will tell you others that are kind of like it? That's how I fell into that. Unfortunately, most of them were just lame chick lit. They are as follows:

The Lost Recipe for Happiness by Barbara O'Neal--cliched and trite. Girl is a chef and loses her job and can't find love. Oh, and has a hidden sadness. Girl gets handpicked to become executive chef by restaurant mogul. Girl faces all sorts of trials and tribulations as executive chef but triumphs brilliantly. Alas, still no love because of the hidden sadness. Can anything break through her sad, lonely shell? Why, yes, of course, restaurant mogul can. And all is well. Bleah. It's a Kate Hudson movie in book form. Also, quite a few people ask me for recommendations of Christian fiction. Heads up: this is definitely not it. Just sayin'.

Bread Alone by Judith Ryan Hendricks. Rich socialite gets dumped by cheating husband. She tries to find the one thing that ever made her happy besides being married to cheating, rich husband. Why, making bread of course. She magically gets a new job and new life, doing the very thing she loves and getting paid for it!! (does this ever happen in real life? No. As Drew Carey says, "Oh, you hate your job? There's a support group for that. It's called 'Everyone,' and we meet at the bar.") Somewhere in there she meets a rugged, handsome man who heals her heart from cheating husband, but honestly, I don't even know much about it because I tossed the book without finishing it. But you know that happens. C'mon. You know.

World of Pies by Karen Stolz. This was the best of the bunch. It covers the life of Roxanne, from Annette, Texas, from the age of 12 to 32. Each chapter is a stand-alone short story, but they all form snapshots of her life. It's all right, and there are some good recipes in there too. It's an extremely quick and easy read.

Here's one that someone lent to me. I don't usually read American thrillers, but I wanted to because of the whole friend lending thing.

Shutter Island by Dennis LeHane. This is actually a movie with Leonardo DiCaprio, I believe, and is by the same author of Mystic River (another book/movie I haven't read/seen). I have to say, I had a hard time putting this down. It's about a U.S. Marshal and his partner who go to an island off the coast of New England to investigate a disappearance at a facility for the criminally insane. It seems she has vanished into thin air. While there, the marshals soon learn there is a lot more going on than just a missing crazy lady. I'd give it 3 out of 5 stars because it held my interest. I had to suspend my disbelief big time (not that I have a problem doing that), but the ending was pretty contrived--as many holes as a colander. But...if you're at the airport and you see this and you have a long wait with nothing to read, it's worth picking up.

I've also done two rereads this month by Maeve Binchy. I just love her old stuff. If you've never read her and you're put off by her Oprah connections (I'm telling you, her writing went way downhill after Oprah chose her to be in her book club), definitely check out her older novels. She can spin an Irish dramatic tale like nobody's business. Also, I met her once at a book signing, and she is so, so nice. She looks very lovely and glamorous on the American editions of her book jackets, but on the Irish editions, and in real life, she totally looks like your slightly disheveled older next door neighbor who wears her housecoat to wheel the trashcans out. In fact, when we took a bus tour of Dun Laoghaire, the area where she lives, the tour guide said she does just that, which makes me love her even more.

I reread Echoes and Firefly Summer--both of which are fantastic. I also recommend Light a Penny Candle, The Glass Lake, Circle of Friends, and Evening Class.

Last night I got into this big insta-chat with my friend Julie on facebook. We got talking about Donna Tartt and how great The Secret History was and how awful The Little Friend was and why she writes only one book every ten years. I've taught The Secret History more times than I can count, and I highly recommend it as a great modern novel. If you haven't read that, you certainly should.

In between talking about that, Julie recommended Gentlemen and Players by Joanne Harris to me (it's a mystery set in a prep school. Oh, mysteries and sinister doings set in prep schools and had me at "hello"!) and I recommended everything by Carol Goodman to her. In fact, Carol Goodman has a new novel coming out on March 9 (same day as the new Flavia!) so in March, I will have all sorts of more library goodness to share.

That's all I've got! I read so you don't have to. You're welcome.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

It's a Giveaway!

OK, I don't have anything to give away unless you're interested in the several trillion Polly Pocket pieces littering my house or a member of the extensive Barbie nudist colony that lives in my bathroom.

But my talented and artistic friend Becky is having a giveaway on her blog here. Becky makes hair accessories for little girls along with lots of other stuff. She has a site:, an etsy shop called "bowture" here , and the blog, where you can enter the giveaway (plus it's fun to read).

If you look at the pictures of the girls to the right here, I got the crocheted beanies and bows (named the "Lucy"!) from Becky. Her products are beautifully made, customizable (is that a real word? anyway, you can order them however you want them), reasonably priced, and strong enough to stand up to the wear and tear of two, ahem, spirited little girls.

Stop by her blog and enter to win (and buy some stuff from her too!) Easter is coming up, and every little girl needs something for her hair!

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Sometimes I Catch a Glimpse, Part 2

I've been visiting my mom a couple weekends here and there recently. I go to see her with Elaine every Friday, but sometimes I've been able to go by myself and spend a couple of nights. My mom is under hospice care now and she is feeling an urgency to go through all of her things to decide what to do with them, but she doesn't have the energy to do it and needs my help.

It's sort of a no-brainer to say I've been so sad lately--going through all the finite things my mom has owned and loved to try and decide what to do with them. But through the sadness, I'm trying to pray--pray specifically for my mom. What do I want to ask for her? That she will feel peace? That she won't feel pain? And suddenly, a few weeks ago, it came over me--what I should pray for her. I need to pray that heaven will be so real to her, that it will be far more real than this earth. I need to pray that she just can't wait to get there. This thought became so overwhelming to me that now I pray it every day, throughout the day...sometimes I just plead and beg for it, for a glimpse of heaven for my mom.

I've never told her that I pray for it; I just do.

I've tried to find out more about it for myself too, which frankly isn't too hard because I actually have always loved thinking about heaven. A lot. Last fall I went to hear a Native American poet, and before she read one of her poems she said, "This poem is know that feeling you get? So homesick? Even if you're right at home?" and I almost raised my hand and said, "You too? I thought that was just me!" Ever since I was a child I've had that feeling come and go, and I've just figured it will never go away until I get to heaven.

I read this beautiful little passage by Anne Graham Lotz recently, about how whenever she would go to her parents' home, even near the end of her mom's life, her mom always left the outside light on--so when Anne would round the curve of the road, she would see that light shining and know her mom was waiting for her. Then Anne did the same for her son, and she always cooked his favorite things when he came home. She says, "When Jesus says, ‘I’m preparing a place for you, He knows the colors you like, the people you want to be with, the landscape you enjoy, and the music you want to hear,” Anne says. “When you walk through heaven’s gate you will know that you’ve been expected, that you’re welcomed because you’re the Father’s child. I think it’s that personal."

Not too long ago, my frind Brad posted something on his facebook status about his little boy. He said, "My son told my wife, 'You know who I'll miss when I die? Dasher' (our dumb potty train-proof dog). My wife told him, 'Honey, dogs don't live as long as you and I, so you'll have many pets,' and he replied 'Oh, ok, I'll see lots of pets when I am in JesusWorld.'

I don't know about you, but I firmly believe that when I open the front door of my mansion in heaven, my dogs, Boo Radley and Gatsby, will be right there to meet me. I cannot wait. I miss them so much. (Any pastors and/or theologians reading? Do not even try to talk me down from this faith position.)

So anyway, I've been thinking and praying about heaven and spending some weekends with my mom, and we're having a blast in the same old way--talking about books and watching "Cranford" and then watching "The Making of Cranford" and then watching "Return to Cranford" and then pulling apart every character and every actor from "Cranford." And "Return to Cranford." And talking about books again.

Then as we often do, especially when it gets late at night, we start talking about the Bible: what we're learning (yes, my mom is still learning and teaching me what she knows), the parts we love, and the parts we don't understand. We somehow got on the topic of Moses, and then we had to laugh because we've both felt a little bit like how Moses must have felt after he met with God and then came down the mountain, only to see everyone dancing around the golden calf. I said, "You know how after you've had a really great quiet time? Then you come downstairs and everyone is just acting like total heathens? I could totally smash the Ten Commandments right there." And Mom said, "Or grind up the powder, give it to them, and say, 'DRINK IT!'"

Then we talked about how awesome it was that Moses asked to see God's glory, and God hid Him in the rock but let Him catch a glimpse of His back. We wondered, what exactly was that that he saw?

And Mom said to me, "Does it bother you, honey, going through my dying with me? I never really liked to be around sick people. I feel so bad that you kids have to go through this." Then she closed her eyes and the most beautiful smile spread across her face as she whispered, "You know, sometimes when I close my eyes, I see the Lord Himself. And He's standing there, His hands stretched out to me, and He's saying, 'Come home!'"

The next day we went out in the car; Mom can't really go out any more and she hates that, but I took her out for just a little bit. Not too far from home, my favorite song came on (from Travis Cottrell's "Alive Forever"--a CD that never leaves my rotation). My mom said, "Oh, how I love this one!" so we turned it up and let the music and lyrics wash over us.

We neared home, just as it was cranking up to the best part so we drove around a couple more blocks so we could hear it all--there's no way you can turn the song off in the middle. And as the end came: "No guilt in life, no fear in power of hell, no scheme of man can ever pluck me from His hand...till He returns or calls me home...," Mom leaned her head back and whispered, "Awesome. Glory! The man who wrote that, he caught a glimpse, didn't he?"

Later on that evening, I heard my mom sitting at the piano--I don't think I've heard her play in at least two years--picking out the notes to that song. And I looked out the window into the night sky and thought I might have seen the hem of His garment go by.

Exodus 33:17 And the LORD said to Moses, "I will do the very thing you have asked, because I am pleased with you and I know you by name."

Monday, February 08, 2010

Perfect Advice to Start the Week

This is from Beth Moore, and it's just workin' for me today:

"For those of us who don't have one of those monumental, overwhelming reasons to be angry and we're just temperamental, irritable, and summarily lacking in self-control, sometimes it's just the matter of making a choice. As my grandmother used to say, we can get glad in the same clothes we got mad in.

Or, then again, we could just change clothes and see if that would help. One way or the other, it's time to get over it!"

Wednesday, February 03, 2010

A New Friend

The theme for the March/April issue of the magazine is that of legacy. My particular piece for this is the letters of C.S. Lewis and Joy Davidman Gresham Lewis (yeah, it's a hard job I've got). Anybody who knows me knows how much I admire Jack (after all, we named our firstborn from his books), but my knowledge of Joy has been confined to some snippets and the movie "Shadowlands." (By the way, if you've never seen that? You should.)

However, because of this new book, Joy ended up becoming the focal point of my article.

First off, a lot of Lewis devotees don't like Joy. I guess they think she's like the Yoko Ono of the Inklings or something. They are so, so wrong. I picked up this book, planning to skim through to get enough of a picture to write about it, and I could not put it down. I kept thinking, "Just one more, just one more letter..." Then I started marking the pages every time I came across a quote I just had to use--until I looked back at the book and saw I had marked most of the pages. Finally, I just made a big document, and I still didn't get everything down that I liked. I probably could have written a 3,000-word (at least) piece on Joy alone.

For anyone not familiar, I'll just give the briefest summation of her life, then I'll throw in some great quotes. Joy Davidman was an American, Jewish, atheist, Communist writer. She was married to a fellow writer, Bill Gresham, who was an abusive, alcoholic, philanderer. Through reading the work of C.S. Lewis and others, Joy became a Christian. When she and Bill finally divorced, Joy moved to England with her two little boys, whom she raised alone. She had been corresponding with Lewis; they became friends, and he married her in a civil ceremony in order that she could remain in England. Shortly after, it was discovered that Joy had bone cancer--due to a radium collar she had had to wear for hypothyroidism (um, yikes!!). Lewis's concern for her grew to love, and they married in a church ceremony and had a few extremely happy years together until Joy's death at age 45.

OK, here are just a few of some of my favorite quotes. As I mentioned, Joy was a writer in the U.S. and was known for her sharp mind and caustic wit (after meeting Christ, she kept the sharp mind and softened the wit--a bit.)

In a review of the WWII film "I Wanted Wings": "Using the crudest of appeals, 'I Wanted Wings' alternates uplifting pep talks with uplifted blondes. If Miss Veronica Lake ever puts on a brassiere, her acting ability will disappear."

In a letter to a colleague on review of his volume of poetry: "The trouble with your poetry is sheer unwillingness to get an education."

In a letter to a colleague on a review of his poem: ""Pregnant Woman' strikes me as terrible, but then I’ve been pregnant myself and I know what it really feels like; you sentimentalize it excessively. It is a cheerful, earthy rather animal and fierce state, usually accompanied by bad temper and greed."

After her conversion to Christianity: "Since my conversion—I am now, believe it or not, a deaconess of the Presbyterian Church, and it feels odd to say the least. Oy!"

On divorce: I always took it that divorce was only the last possible resort, and felt I ought to to put up with anything I could bear for the children’s sake. I hoped that Bill’s adulteries, irresponsibilities, etc. would end if he ever recovered from his various neuroses; also that his becoming a Christian would make a difference. Unfortunately I’ve been disappointed on both counts. Bill gave up being a Christian as soon as he found out it meant living by a moral code and admitting and repenting one’s sins."

On her cousin, with whom Bill had an affair and wanted to marry: "Well it’s a dreary business! My cousin has left now for FL, to divorce her own husband, a violent drunken Alabama man whom she left a year or so ago. For more than a month she and Bill and I were all here together and she was tortured by guilt and embarrassment and worry, and would take to her bed with crying fits—where upon Bill lectured me for my lack of Christian charity in not enabling her to enjoy her love affair more."

And in a subsequent letter to her cousin: "Promise or no, I wouldn’t have him back for a million bucks. He gives me the creeps."

After the divorce and Joy's move to England, Bill had been ordered to send $60 a week as support for her and the boys. Many of the letters depict their life in England and the fact that Bill has, yet again, sent them little or no money.

In a letter to Bill: "Thanks for the scratch, only I wish there were more. Lookie, cookie, even if I could live myself on $100 a month (and I'm already on a lunchless, beerless diet) what am I supposed to do with the boys? Drown them? They got laws against that in this country!"

While there are very few letters between Joy and Jack Lewis, (Lewis burned most of his correspondence three weeks after receiving and answering it), there are a lot of snippets of their life together. Lewis relied on Joy to help him with his work, and she writes, "Though I can’t write one-tenth as well as Jack, I can tell him how to write more like himself!"

At one point, Lewis was commissioned by American Episcopalians to do several radio programs, which they eventually dropped before they even aired, shattering Lewis and outraging Joy, as she wrote to a friend, "[the whole series is supressed because of] "Jack's 'startling frankness' on sexual matters! Needless to say he wouldn't have startled anyone over the age of sixteen and the I.Q. of 80."

As her cancer progressed, she drew strength from God and Jack, stating, "Jack pointed out to me that we were wrong in trying to accept utter hopelessness; uncertainty is what God has given us for a cross."

And she wrote in encouragement to another friend with cancer, "Can you do any sort of work? I’ve found that making crocheted rugs and tablecloths was an amazing help with my spiritual difficulties when I was feeling low. One can work off so many frustrations by stabbing away with a knitting needle! It’s better to make pretty things, I find, than just useful ones. Of course we’re both praying for you—and don’t be too afraid, even if you turn out to need an operation. I’ve had three, and they were nothing like so bad as my fears."

After her death, C.S. Lewis wrote A Grief Observed and talked about everything Joy had been to him--"Once I praised her for her masculine virtues. But she soon put a stop to that by asking how I’d like to be praised for my feminine ones. It was a good riposte, dear."

These are just a brief smattering of all the treasures in Out of My Bone. After reading, you're left without a shadow of a doubt how this remarkable woman caught C.S. Lewis's heart. She caught mine, too.

Internets, you have GOT to get this book!