Monday, March 29, 2010


This past week was Lucy's school read-a-thon. Let me say right off the bat that of course I think that's a great idea. Kids are encouraged to turn off the TV and read with their families. I do wonder about the wisdom of having the read-a-thon right as Spring starts, rather than say, in February when nobody wants to go outside. And since our family does read all the time, I had to have several talks with Lucy about doing her best and following through on her responsibility to her class since she just wanted to ride her bike (trust me, this is pretty much the only week of the year she wants to ride her bike).

There would be prizes awarded--to the child in each grade who read the most pages (a Barnes and Noble gift certificate) and to the classroom in each grade who collectively read the most (an ice cream party).

Over the weekend, Lucy settled down to read. I went to the library by myself and picked out a few books I thought she would like. Her teacher's goal for her (since our parent-teacher conference the week before) is that she read seven chapter books before the end of the school year. Since she's never read a chapter book before, this is a pretty lofty goal. I got her a couple of the Littles books and one of the A-Z mysteries. She loves mysteries (natch), so I thought we'd give that a whirl.

She took to those right away and read and read and read. She got so into it that Darren went out and bought her a booklight so she could read under the covers at night. She read 150 pages on Saturday and 256 pages on Sunday.

When she came home from school on Monday, I asked, "How many pages did everyone read?" sure that no other first grader could have read as many as she did.

"Karen read 1,100 pages," she told me. Eleven hundred? Are you kidding me? Somehow I'm not thinking everyone was reading their chapter books. Did she read everything ever published by Dr. Suess? I saw our Barnes and Noble gift certificate sail away.

A couple days into the read-a-thon, I walked into the kitchen where she was drawing a picture. "Luce, you're supposed to dress up as a book character for school on Friday. Who do you want to be?"

"Little Witch from The Witch Family," she answered promptly.

"You cannot dress up as a witch. #1, we don't have the materials for the costume, and #2, you go to Christian school," I told her.

"Then I want to dress up as the author, Miss Eleanor Estes," she said, continuing to color.

"You cannot dress up as Miss Eleanor Estes--even though that's an original idea--because we don't know what she looked like and no one would know who you were anyway," I answered.

Later on I looked up a picture of her, and she looks like this. I don't think I'm prepared to have Lucy's bangs cut this short.

Darren finally saved the day by saying, "Why don't you go as Lucy from Narnia? That would be perfect for you."

Lucy was thrilled by that, so I figured out an outfit that looked like a school uniform but was not, in fact, the uniform that my Lucy wears to school every day because that would just be too embarrassing. She wore a little plaid skirt, a cardigan sweater, a trenchcoat, and carried a bag I found in the attic that looked like a school satchel, rather than her usual backpack. Oh, and knee socks. Knee socks are very important. I wish I had a picture of her dressed up, but I was gone from Thursday to Saturday dice.

Overall, it was a great week. Like I said, we read a lot anyway, but I got to see Lucy get excited about chapter books and, for the first time, read something completely independent of me and then come tell me about it.

One night, when I went into her room to check on her, she said, "Mom, I found a mistake in this book that the author should have fixed before she sent it out to all those bookstores." Then she told me, "If I win the read-a-thon, I'll be able to get a gift certificate to Barnes and Noble and I can buy some of these A-Z Mysteries for my very own self!"

I held her little face in my hands and said, "Honey, you're probably not going to win the read-a-thon. It sounds like other kids have read more pages than you have. But you have worked so hard and done your best. I can't believe how far you've come in your reading. No matter who wins, I'll take you to Barnes and Noble and you can pick out two books of your choice."

When I came downstairs and told Darren that conversation, he said, "Take her to Borders and then have her go on, so she can learn how to price check too. Barnes and Noble overcharges for their books."

All that aside, below is what I consider to be the greatest reward of the read-a-thon: Book light, $12.99 at Radio Shack; A-Z Mystery, $3.59 currently at Barnes & Noble; sitting on the couch and reading to your sister, priceless.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Library Day

Okey-dokey, time for some more book reviews. I've got four this week. All set?

Dead Sleep by Greg Iles

Again, this is the type of book I don't normally read--American thriller-esque deals. But, I had about seven minutes to pick some books, and the premise of this sounded good. It's about an American photojournalist who is also the daughter of a photojournalist who went missing during the Vietnam war. Jordan (the daughter) goes to an art exhibit in Hong Kong or Taiwan or Saigon, I forget which (as I immediately alienate any Asian readers I might have). Everyone at the exhibit is looking at her strangely as she walks through. That's because the pictures are all of women who appear as though they're sleeping, but the rumor is they're deeeeaaaadddd, and lo and behold, one of the portraits is a dead ringer for Jordan. Or vice versa. When she sees the picture, she totally freaks of course and runs out of the gallery, but that's because her identical twin sister went missing without a trace about 18 months ago in New Orleans. OK, now that I'm typing this out? That premise sounds sort of dumb. But it held my interest throughout the book, though I really disliked the ending. Then I went on amazon as I always do and read the reviews of this book, and other readers say it's Greg Iles' worst. Take that for what it's worth.

The Brightest Star in the Sky by Marian Keyes

Marian Keyes is the only chick lit I really tolerate. In the candy counter that is that genre, among the Bit-o-Honey and circus peanuts, Marian is the Reese's pieces. That's because she is so, so, so funny, plus she tackles difficult subjects, such as addiction/rehab and depression, and also I'm prejudiced towards Irish writers. That is because she has had first-hand experience with both of those (addiction and depression, oh and being Irish too), so she walks the line between black comedy and heart wrenching really well. That being said, The Brightest Star in the Sky is a hot mess. I hated it! It had way too many storylines going on, a whole apartment building full of people, running intertwined stories. As my writer friend Melanie says, "Most writers think about doing the apartment scenario at some point, but then realize it doesn't work." And the weird thing about this book is that it's narrated by...what? Some sort of spirit? The spirit of life? The spirit of an unborn baby? And I know Marian does quirky things like that--I loved Anybody Out There? when the protagonist kept talking to her husband throughout and you were about halfway through the book before you realized he was dead. But this wasn't working for me. Skip it and read one of her older books instead.

Arcadia Falls by Carol Goodman

A long time ago after I read The Secret History for the first time, I got one of those recommendations from amazon like, if you like this book, you'll definitely like The Lake of Dead Languages by Carol Goodman. That was her first book, narrated by a Latin teacher at a girls' prep school in New England (and you know you just read some magic words for a good book for me right there as I've said before). It was pretty good, and since then I've read every book Carol has written. They're all in the sort of literary thriller/ghost story genre, but she does incredible research. I find myself learning all sorts of history and other things I didn't know about--Celtic fairy tales, stained glass-making procedures, Herculaneum, I don't know what all. You can't beat her for some gothic spookiness chock full of information. So I'm sad to say that Arcadia Falls disappointed me a bit. It was basically Lake of Dead Languages II: Electric Boogaloo. Again, set in an upstate prep school, this time an arts academy, with the protagonist being an English teacher. And this time it was missing all the detailed research on a specific subject. AND it does this thing that I hate--the heroine falls in love with the cop. How does this happen every time? And how come every small town cop is handsome, heroic, sensitive, smart, and single? I'm willing to go out on a limb and say lots of them are portly, balding, and alcoholics. Those poor guys never get the love. So, as with Marian, try one of Carol's earlier books, such as The Night Villa or my personal favorite, The Seduction of Water.

The Broken Teaglass by Emily Arsenault

Ahh, the piece de resistance. This is the best book I've read in months. Since last May, precisely, when I read Kathryn Stockett's The Help. Oh, how I loved loved loved this book. It's about two recent college grads, Billy and Mona, who work in a Massachusetts small town dictionary publishing company. They write definitions for words for a living. Part of their job is to search the company citation files for any previous definitions to incorporate into the new editions. While searching the old files, they come across some odd citations from a book called The Broken Teaglass. Their interest piqued by the citations, they search for the book (so like something I would do) and find it does not exist. They also notice that the citations seem to be telling a story: of what sounds increasily like...duh duh duh...a murder. And the more citations they read, the more they become convinced that they were written by a former employee. In addition to the mystery, it's also a coming-of-age story, which is equally as interesting.

Here's a bit that made me laugh out loud, as Billy meets the guy who lives in the apartment below him, Tom, and Tom finds out that Billy is working for the Samuelson Company.

"Tom shrugged. 'Just check out their definition of "civil liberty" sometime, and maybe you’ll notice something funny going on.'

'Really?' I asked.

'Or maybe it’s "libertarian." I can’t quite remember. Bottom line, though—those dictionary guys gotta have their hands in everything. Think they’re so clever.”

I stared at Tom. It had never occurred to me that there might be a townie/lexicographer rift in Claxton."

It's a great, great book, and you must read it. I had to return it to the library today, and I was loath to let it go. I'm going to buy it so I can read it whenever I want.

That's all for this time!

Sunday, March 21, 2010


I think if my mom had another life to live here, she could open a store, a store of lovely, vintage things. She has always lived a life of beauty: beautiful clothes and dishes and music and linens and literature. When you got an invitation from my mom, you knew there would be placecards and the best china and silver laid out. Maybe little quotations from her favorite classic novels or poems. You would not find paper goods or plastic salad dressing bottles on the table or anything like that. That's just the way she is.

Now that I've been with her these weekends, going through her things, I come home every week with more things from her "store."

[Any men reading this: I know I just posted a makeover of my bathroom, but I promise there's a point to this post. As Joseph Dougherty, one of the writers of thirtysomething, used to say sometimes, "Aha, plot-like substance in this episode."] But first, some pictures--just a fraction of some of the stuff.

Here's a hot chocolate set, you know, so I could have friends over for a hot chocolate party:

Here's a closeup of the bodice of Mom's wedding dress. She bought a piece of Swiss lace (she is 100% Swiss), and she and her sister copied a dress she had seen at Saks Fifth Avenue.

Here's one of my favorites--a Persian lamb coat, that I remember her wearing when I was about Elaine's age. I would sit beside her in church and pet the collar and cuffs.

Some hand-stitched dishtowels...

A handmade Asian-theme tablecloth and napkins (the stitching is all tiny cross-stitch)...

Some old-fashioned jewelry...

Several people have said to me, "Isn't it so hard to go through your mom's things with her? You must have so much strength. I don't think I could do that."

I don't think I have extraordinary reserves of strength really; it's just something that you do. One day we went up to Mom's dressing room and made piles of all her clothes: whether for a vintage consignment shop, for me to keep, for her sisters, etc. She told me that she needed to decide on something to be buried in; she's having a private burial, but she still needed to do that so my dad wouldn't have to. So then I would hold up outfits for her and say: "Resale?" "Your sisters?" "Possible burial contender?" until we fell about, laughing.

That's the part that seems easy.

It's other times, like last week when I went to the huge bi-annual used children's clothing sale that I always go to--this time alone--and I saw a woman maybe a few years younger than I am. She was holding a pair of toddler-sized shoes in her hand, and she called over to an older lady, "Mom! Mom! Look at these! Aren't they cute?" and my own sense of loss was so great that I started to cry right there in the checkout line.

The other day when I was over at my parents', my dad told me that a few nights ago, in the middle of the night, Mom had woken up, screaming in pain--the worst she had ever had--and couldn't breathe, so they had to call the hospice to come and give her some morphine and oxygen.

Then he said that a couple nights later she scared him half to death--at one o'clock in the morning, he woke up with a start because he heard singing. Mom was lying there, singing a hymn. He said, "She sang all the verses, every word, and then she went back to her sleep breathing. I didn't know if she was asleep or awake, if she was singing herself into heaven or what."

I think it might have been like Paul and Silas--singing their way through the pain, singing their way out of prison. I don't know. Whatever it was, it was vintage Mom.

I love the poetry of Mary Oliver. Sometimes I sit with a book of her poems and just drink them in, waiting in the carpool line or wherever I am. She sees so much beauty in the world; it's contagious--you can't help but visualize in your mind's eye exactly what she's talking about. She's got one called "A Summer Day" that has these lines in it:

Who made the world?
Who made the swan, and the black bear?
I don't know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn't everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?

I'm just trying to figure out my own wild and precious life and what I'm doing with it. It's an ugly world here, and it's hard. Lots of times I just have this quote from James MacDonald running through my head: "Do you want to know the secret of the Christian life? It's this: Hold on to Jesus Christ because one day the trumpet's gonna blow, and we'll get out of this dump!" If I am honest, I think I go through a lot of days just holding onto that one thing.

But I think too that there is a place for beauty here, for wearing a red coat, or inviting people over to serve them with your best china and table linens, or for reading poetry.

And honestly, maybe those two philosophies aren't that far apart. I hope they're not. I hope that through all the drudgery and the pain, that I can keep singing in this prison.

I hope.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

A Spring Makeover

Wasn't it Tennyson who said "In Spring a midwestern woman's stir craziness lightly turns to thoughts of deep cleaning"? Or something like that. Sorry, Sir Alfred. Anyway, that is certainly true for me. Something about all the crusty, dark snow that's been lying around like heaps of dirty laundry, finally getting washed away; the sun coming out for whole days, rather than just minutes; and of course, the return of our dear robins, just makes me want to get out the scrub brushes and cleaning compounds and get started.

One room in my house that has really needed a little freshening up for spring is the powder room. When we first moved here five years ago and I saw the neutral brown gingham wallpaper and cute distressed mirror in the powder room, I didn't do much with it because really, I had all the rest of the house to consider. So, I tossed in some pink towels and a couple of pink-themed pictures I had lying around. Later I found my prized birdbath soapdish and the pink eggs to put in it. But really, and it pains me to say this because you know from this blog's tagline that you never have to pray about pink, it was just sort of blah to me.

I finally decided the powder room needed a makeover, and "makeover" to me in this case didn't mean stripping it down and started from scratch. I decided to a) go to TJ Maxx and b) shop within my own home to see what I could find to fix this little (extremely little) place up.

Here it is at the beginning...

A close-up...

And here is the after picture--for some reason, the blue of the towels is appearing almost white here. They're much more of a robin egg shade. And note the cute pot pourri-filled birdcage I found at TJ's. Perfect!

I took out the seashells that had been littering the little alcove and instead put in a blue vase I found in one of my cabinets (filling it with essential oil--clean cotton-scented and sticks that I already had).

A couple years ago, my friend Toby gave me some notecards with Jane Austen sketchings and quotes. I liked them so much I decided to frame them. They've been sitting up in a drawer, waiting for a home, so they joined the blue vase.

I bought the blue frame at TJ's and put in a black-and-white photo that Darren took in Oxford ten years ago. The little china plate with the girl reading a book was something I already had.

The quotes in the pictures are: "Nobody minds having what is too good for them" from Emma, and "Next to being married, a girl likes to be crossed in love a little now and then" from Pride and Prejudice.

On Saturday, Julie and I went to Geneva, and I had to stop in the shop that sells the egg-shaped soap. Unfortunately, the company that makes the soap went out of business, and it wasn't for sale anymore. However, the girl working in the shop said, "I think we might have just one packet of blue eggs left." How perfect is that?

I went over again with a certain little person who shall remain nameless but whom Darren and I have most recently nicknamed "Dobby" (as in Harry Potter's Dobby the House Elf, who's always trying to be helpful yet causing constantly chaos in his wake) that these soap eggs are for eyes only. They don't need to be washed, the birdbath doesn't need water, and they wouldn't be better situated in the Strawberry Shortcake house either. Hands off. They've lasted an entire day so far, so we'll see.

That's my powder room makeover! I keep stopping by it every so often, just to enjoy. I'm not sure exactly what my next makeover project will be, but I'm eyeing my closet. I'll keep you posted.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Happy St. Pat's Day or Why I Was Making a Potato Stamp at 10 p.m.

Last night, Darren and I settled into our chairs in the living room with our laptops so we could work side by side like we do almost every night. (I know, isn't it sweet? In an odd, dorky way.) I was working away when suddenly I remembered....CRUD. St. Patrick's Day. I've got nothing so far, and I'd better get to Walgreens.

I found the Lucky Charms cereal easily, but I could not find the gold-covered chocolate coins. I finally gave up and went to the register, resigned that I'd now have to drive to the much scarier Walgreens in search of the coins. But what did I see in front of me? A woman who looked like she'd just gotten off work...with bags of gold coins! I asked where she got them, and she directed me to the Easter aisle. Crisis averted. When I thanked her as she left she said, "Now I've got to go home and make tiny green pancakes so they'll be ready in the morning for my kids." It's a mother love thing, I guess.

I got home and did the necessary preparations for my kids.

"This place looks trashed," remarked Darren. "And make sure you don't touch the wireless connections." Who knew the naughty leprechaun was married to the Grinch?

I got to sleep around midnight, and of course the girls were up at 5:30 a.m. When they were finally allowed to go down to the kitchen...lo and behold, what did we find?

Looks like he got in through the patio door...

He knocked over our Swedish birds and the toaster and spilled out all the vitamins.

He threw papers and books and dumped out Lucy's backpack, finally leaving by the back door...

But he also left a trail of gold coins, Lucky Charms for breakfast (hey, how come our leprechaun didn't make us mini-green pancakes?), and green milk.

So, Happy St. Patrick's Day. May your day be filled with green treats, gold coins, strong black tea (w/ milk and sugar), and a clean kitchen (the leprechaun was considerate enough to leave the Swiffer out at our house. Or maybe I just forgot to put it away yesterday).

I am a huge fan of Irish music, so I'll leave you with the Irish song that makes me the happiest...

Monday, March 15, 2010


*which, of course, means Liberty of London.

The revered name of Liberty of London has always been in my consciousness. In the early 60s, when my mom was still a single missionary in the British West Indies, (I know, I know. We always laugh at her: "Yeah, it's always rough, Mom, when the Lord calls you to serve in the Caribbean") she saved and saved from her meager salary to buy some Liberty of London fabric so she could make herself some skirts. (My mom is a fashion maven. According to her, just because you're a penniless missionary doesn't mean you have to dress like it. She adores clothes--more on that in a future post.)

When Darren and I went to England, I was trying to find the perfect gifts to bring home. My mom doesn't need one more piece of china. Then it hit me. Liberty of London. How could I come all the way over here without visiting the hallowed halls of the Mecca of fabric? I searched up and down all the various floors to find exactly what I wanted. I finally decided on a LOL umbrella. It didn't fit into the ginormous suitcase I had brought especially to carry all the gifts home in, so I schlepped that baby all over England and Ireland in hand.

You can imagine how excited I was to see that Liberty of London is coming to, of all places, Target. So, just consider me your personal shopper, because the goods are on sale, starting today.

First, they have a lovely selection of scarves. I bought this one for my mom. I want at least one scarf for myself, but I need a wearing tutorial first because when I try to wear scarves, it looks like I slung some laundry around my neck. Can anyone help me?

Also, you will pay around 275 pounds for a scarf at the real Liberty of London. You will pay mere pennies of that at Target.

Then there is a lovely selection of blouses and dresses (oh, by the way, when you're looking for the stuff in Target, just look up at the ceiling for the big floral LOL butterfly). The dresses looked a little young for me personally, but I could hardly decide which top to get. I settled on this one--do you love it? I think I'll be back for others, but this one was calling out my name:

There are also bags--I wanted a tote, but they didn't have any in my Target, they just had the small cosmetic bags. Then there are dishes, and I would advise against those. Some of them were plastic, and the ones that weren't were a heavy ceramic. Not great.

Of course, I had to get an umbrella. Black Totes umbrellas are the bane of my existence. I can't think of anything more boring. Here's the LOL for Target umbrella. Isn't it pretty? Pink!!

I will say this about it. You can tell a huge difference between it and the one I bought from the real LOL. That's probably because of this:

Here is the genuine article I originally bought for Mom.

It is so well made and has great little details such as this on the (wooden) handle:

There is your fashion reconnaissance for the day. LOL Target is a fun burst of spring. I would say it's more of an extremely inexpensive homage to the real thing rather than the genuine article. But then you probably didn't have 275 pounds to spend on a scarf anyway, right? This is much more suitable to a missionary salary. Mom would be proud.

Friday, March 12, 2010

What Is That In Your Hand?

I had two related conversations within the past couple of weeks--one with my mom and one with Alysa.

First was with my mom, and I was telling her that I was discouraged. I was discouraged because I don't have very much energy and all the things I want to do, I don't seem to get to do.

I'll back up a little bit. After I had Lucy, I went through the usual six-week post-partum blues. Except after six weeks, they didn't seem to get better. They got worse and added new fun, symptoms too--like not being able to remember things; and not being able to figure out how many plates I would need for Lucy's baptism party if 40 people were coming; and throwing away important documents, such as our license plate stickers that we just paid $200 for; and being so dizzy in the morning that I had to crawl on the floor to the bathroom. Oh and crying at everything too.

Finally they diagnosed hypothyroidism, which happens pretty frequently in women of advanced maternal age (yay!) and is easily treatable though you'll have it for the rest of your life. First they put me on a dosage of meds that was fantastic. I could do anything and everything, and I didn't sleep because I didn't need to, but that didn't last because it turned out that I was on speed. So they finally fixed the dosage, so I now have a synthetically produced thyroid and everything's fine except it all works a little more slowly and I get tired a lot, but you just live with it. Kind of like the apostle Paul's thorn in the flesh? Except boring.

Flash forward now 6+ years, and I'm complaining to my mom about how I want to do great stuff and I want to go on missions trips and become a foster mom to kids from Haiti and I don't know what all, but I can't even seem to get my laundry folded.

"Why can't I be like Alysa?" I asked her. "She's always doing all this cool stuff like sponsoring a refugee family from Iraq or having her kid's birthday party at Feed My Starving Children or having some great international meal for 20 people at her house or going down to the homeless shelter and making dinner for everyone."

And by the way, I know I am given to hyperbole, but I have not exaggerated one single thing in that above paragraph--Alysa does all that and MORE. And when I say going to the shelter and making dinner, she doesn't want those ladies to feel like less than they are, so she makes a fancy dinner and serves it with tablecloths and candles and stuff. It's crazy.

I feel like just a plain old mom who does all the mundane, tedious mom stuff and half the time (conservative estimate) not even that well, and I try to make money on the side but it's always, always, always a challenge and I'm forever wanting to do more, but I'm too tired.

My mom gave me this great advice. She said, "You have to accept that you have a big heart, but you don't have the physicality to match it. And God's allowed that for you. What did He say to Moses--'What do you have in your hand?' and all Moses had was his staff. Give your dreams to God, and let Him do what He will with them. You can trust Him."

Now flash forward a few days, and I'm IM'ing Alysa. Out of the blue she says (and I have her permission to say this, I think!), "I'm just kind of discouraged. I seem to be able to do a lot of things but not anything really well. You and Julie seem to have found your niche with writing and photography, and I'm happy for you, but I just haven't found anything for me."

I told her what my mom told me and then said, "Girl, we both seriously need some G.K. Chesterton," (which might possibly be a phrase that has never been uttered before). Anyway, here's what he says:

“In other words, there must be in every center of humanity one human being upon a larger plan; one who does not "give her best," but gives her all….The woman is expected to cook: not to excel in cooking, but to cook; to cook better than her husband who is earning a living by lecturing on botany or breaking stones….the woman is expected to tell tales to the children, not original and artistic tales, but tales--better tales than would probably be told by a first-class cook. But she cannot be expected to endure anything like this universal duty if she is also to endure the direct cruelty of competitive or bureaucratic toil."

Then yesterday, this came in the mail:

And here's what's inside...

Photography by Julie, scrapbooks created by Alysa, accessories by Becky, (article not written by Alice!)...

Is that cool or what?

The issue and that article in particular is about leaving a lasting legacy. Isn't that what we're really striving toward?

I love one of the quotes Alysa put in the scrapbooks from my dear Elizabeth Prentiss in Stepping Heavenward: "Suppose, then, you content yourself for the present with doing in a faithful, quiet, persistent way all the little homely tasks that return with each returning day, each one as unto God, and perhaps by and by you will thus have gained strength for a more heroic life."

I think of all us regular women out there, living day in and day out, trying to do what we can. Washing the kitchen floor, figuring out what's for dinner, cleaning the clothes, reading bedtime stories, kissing scraped knees, living within the budget--all the while, wishing for a more heroic life. I think of my mom, who did all those homely, returning tasks year after year, still telling me what's what in life, and how she is now the hospice nurses' favorite patient--they love to come over and ask her questions about the Bible.

I guess that's the real lesson: God really will just use what we have in our hand. We can leave the heroism to Him. And the bonus is that along the way, He provides good friends to give us a lift up if we need it.

"Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their work: If one falls down, his friend can help him up. But pity the man who falls and has no one to help him up!" Ecclesiastes 4:8-10

P.S. If you want a copy of the magazine, it should be available at Family Christian Stores. Or you can email me, and I'll hook you up with a copy!

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

They're Baaaack! (I Think)

This morning I woke up to a beautiful sound. Rain. Rain! And birds singing! This may not seem that exciting to you, but waking up to the sound of snowblowers and snowplows for the past few months will do that to you.

It's actually been raining for a couple of days, and on Sunday as we were walking into church, Elaine held out her hand and asked, "What is this? Rain? Why? Maybe all the birds are spitting on us."

Anyway, in celebration of rain and temperatures in the FIFTIES, I'm wearing my t-shirt with a map of the London underground on it. Lucy interrupted me as I was getting ready.

"Moooooommmm," she wailed. "Elaine is SITTING in MY chair!"

"Are you serious?" I said, continuing to apply mascara. "Elaine has the temerity to sit in your chair when there are three other chairs, two beds, and a rocking horse in your room? It's an outrage. Let's beat her."

A lot of time my kids don't know what I'm talking about, but they can sense I'm not taking them seriously.

"But...she didn't ASK!" she sputtered.

"We definitely need to institute new rules, then. Everybody ask permission before they sit in a chair. Have you made your bed and gotten dressed yet?"

She left, defeated.

A few minutes later, Elaine burst in.

"Mama! Lucy saw...she saw....she saw..." (she was out of breath) "...a ROBIN!"

This is seriously big news, much more important than marauding chair bandits. I ran into their room, where Lucy was standing on her bed in her underwear, looking out the window.

"I DID, Mom, I promise!" Lucy said, knowing that I am doubtful because in the last couple of days they have identified a cardinal, a crow, and a sparrow as a robin. "I didn't see his orange belly, but he went like this!" She gave a convincing robin bounce.

It was good enough for me. Elaine and I stopped by the store for ingredients on the way home from dropping Lucy off at school, and now we have already whipped these up.

Nothing like a good dose of chocolate at 9:20 a.m.

So, if you're in our neighborhood, stop by this afternoon (or any time this week because I'm sure we'll be making more) for a tea party to welcome the robins.

They're back! (maybe) Hopefully they're not spitting on us.

Saturday, March 06, 2010

Library Day

I've got a mixed bag for you today--good, middling, and awful. Which should I start with first? Good, I guess.

Gentlemen and Players by Joanne Harris

Last library day, I mentioned this book as Julie's pick for me. I didn't realize until I got it that Joanne Harris is also the person who wrote Chocolat, another phenomenon that passed me by, both book and movie, maybe because--and I believe this is heresy among all women to say--I'm not all that into Johnny Depp. He is scary, what with all his movie roles in crazy tricked-out costumes and huge purple circles under his eyes and sometimes missing his whole head and having blades for hands and whatnot, it's alarming to me and I just don't understand the appeal, with the exception of the pirate movie when he was channeling Keith Richards. So I've probably lost everybody by now with the whole anti-Johnny Depp (though, hello, he's now the Mad Hatter, am I proving my point?) just as I usually lose everyone when I tell them I don't like U2 with the exception of "Angel of Harlem."

OK, we were talking about Gentlemen and Players? I think we were. This is a good book, not a great one, but a good one. It's got all these ingredients I love--England and prep schools and troubled students and cynical-on-the-surface-but-dedicated-underneath teachers, and people who seem like one thing but are really another. It was one of those that's hard to put down, and I do recommend it to you but with a caveat. Now nobody ever believes me when I tell them this, but Darren and I figured out The Sixth Sense within the first eleven or so minutes of the movie. We were watching and leaned over to each other and whispered, "So, Bruce Willis is dead, right?" and from then on, the whole thing was obvious to us. Since then I've noticed that certain books suffer from The Sixth Sense billing--movies will be compared to it, or books, such as Gentlemen and Players, will have this sort of blurb on the cover that comes out and TELLS you that there are twists and turns in it, so now you're looking for the twists and turns and then you guess them and it's kind of a letdown. And I'm not giving anything away to you, because like I said, it's on the cover for all and sundry to see. Suffice it to say, I did guess the major mysterious plot point. There were some other minor points I hadn't guessed, so those were nice to be surprised with, but still. I do recommend it though, and if you read it, let me know how you liked it and if you guessed anything.

On to the next:

The Privileges by Jonathan Dee

Oh my stars, avoid this turkey at all costs. It is dreadful; dreadful I tell you. It's about this young, beautiful couple who get married early and become fabulously, incredibly wealthy, and it chronicles (kind of) their life in New York. All the people in it are one-dimensional and evil and all-around hateful so that pretty much even if one of them clipped me with their car at this point, it might lower my oh-so-low opinion of them maybe 2%. Here's the thing, I LIKE novels about incredibly wealthy evil people--IF they are interesting. Think The Forsyte Saga and Soames Forsyte. Now there was a rich, tortured villain. These people were just banal idiots who never had an original thought or emotion. If you see this book, run far, far away.

White Picket Fences by Susan Meissner

This reviewlet kind of pains me to write because I really like Susan Meissner and think she has written some good-quality Christian fiction, which can be hard to find sometimes. However, this one just wasn't doing it for me. It was about a modern family who take in the mom's niece for a little while because she's homeless and the son of the family has a troubling secret in his past and the two of them (they're high school students) get to work together on a Holocaust project for history class. I like the premise, but the problem with running two stories in tandem--one in the present and one in the past--is that unless you're super-skilled at it (Barbara Vine, I'm looking at you), inevitably one of the stories is more interesting than the other so you find yourself skimming through the other one to get to the good one. Another negative on this one is that it falls prey to something I find a lot of authors mess up on--telling the story from too many people's viewpoints. I'm not telling you not to give this a whirl, because it was not bad and you might like it a lot better than I did. But I like other books of Susan's much better, including In All Deep Places and A Window to the World.

Heart and Soul by Maeve Binchy

I think I always get on a Maeve kick around this time of year since St. Patrick's Day is coming up. This is her latest. I love Maeve's earlier work. Like I said before, in the olden days like the 80s and 90s, nobody could spin a 600-page Irish yarn like Maeve could. Then Oprah got ahold of her with Tara Road and she's not been the same since. Her last two, Nights of Rain and Stars and Whitethorn Woods were distinctly under par. I had no great hopes for Heart and Soul, but I was pleasantly surprised. It's about Dr. Clara Casey who is appointed director of a brand new cardiac care clinic for one year. It details the stories of Clara, the patients, and the staff of the clinic. It certainly wasn't as good as one of her novels from the old days, but I'd recommend it as a fun, summer beach read. That is, if summer ever comes.

Then I've got...

The Cradle by Patrick Somerville

I took a gamble on this book by first-time author Somerville. In fact, I let it sit in the library bag for awhile and almost took it back unread, but then thought better of it. I'm glad I did. It's about Matt, a young husband and soon-to-be first time father who goes on a wild goose chase around the Midwest to find a cradle that used to belong to his wife when she was growing up because she wants it for their baby. Matt's trip, what he discovers about himself, his wife, and the cradle...well, I really liked it. There's a past secret revealed, but it's not that surprising and I don't think it's supposed to be. Really, it's kind of a lovely book about family and figuring out what's most meaningful to you but it's from a man's point of view so it's less sappy than I'm making it sound.

And lastly, a sort of classic:

Nemesis by Agatha Christie

I've read so many Agatha Christies in my lifetime, I can't even count how many I've read. And I always am wanting to use the quote by Nancy Banks Smith, "Agatha Christie has given more pleasure in bed than any other woman," but it also seems, you know, vaguely inappropriate so then I don't. But Nemesis I don't think I had read; however, I have seen the movie adaptation many, many, many times. In fact lately, I'm not sure why, I've taken to just turning it on at any and all times, so it's sort of on a continuous loop at my house. It's so comforting. And when I ask Elaine sometimes if she wants to watch something with me, she'll say, "Yes. Miss Marple. The one where they push the statue down on that lady." Which is actually moderately alarming now that I'm confessing it to you all, and I probably shouldn't be letting a 4-year-old watch murder mysteries. But they're classics! Murderous classics!

Let me say that I think in some ways, Agatha Christie parallels her beloved Shakespeare in that her stories, as his plays, while excellent reading, are better when performed. Nemesis certainly falls in that category. The book was good, but the movie is far better, and you'll rarely ever hear me make that claim. The story is that Miss Marple is commissioned by an old friend (who dies at the beginning of the book) to solve a mystery for him; however, she doesn't know what the mystery is and she doesn't know when she will have solved it.

I recommend that you watch the movie, but please. Please oh please oh please oh please I beg of you, do not watch the most recent version with Geraldine McEwan. For some reason, Agatha Christie's estate needs to make more money off her, so they've let ITV make these new awful versions where they completely change the stories so that the plot is practically unrecognizable, and the villain always turns out to be a Nazi or a lesbian. Or both.

If you want to see the real version, get the Joan Hickson one. Agatha Christie herself sent Joan a note after seeing her in a play and said, "I hope that one day you will play my Miss Marple." She did, like nobody else. Here's a clip (and a bit of the way through there's a bit from Nemesis)...

Well, there's some more stuff, fortunately more good than awful, so...carry on reading (and watching)!

Tuesday, March 02, 2010

The Reverse Occurred

I meant to write and post this earlier, but my (one-year old) laptop died, then Darren revived it. Hence, the delay.

I've been doing this nine-week study (confession: it has taken me longer than nine weeks):

It has been intense, and I have learned so much. If you are looking for a good study, I highly recommend this. Esther is kind of a tricky subject actually, I've found. Some people tend to romanticize this into a great love story (think "One Night with the King"). I've found it to be unbearably sad in parts. First off, if you look at the text carefully, Esther was "taken," "brought," "given"--she was a very young girl, most likely a young teen, who was forced into a grotesque "beauty contest," which included a sexual tryout for the king, who was an egotist and not too bright into the bargain.

She was put in a waiting area palace for a year and given beauty treatments until it was her turn. The saddest verse in the book for me is 2:11, "And every day, Mordecai paced in front of the court of the women's quarters, to learn of Esther's welfare and what was happening to her." Now I'm married to a protective father of two daughters. I can't imagine what that father must have felt like, knowing what his girl was facing--out there every day, pacing, wondering what was happening to his Esther.

Much is made of the fact that God's name is never mentioned in this book, but rest assured, His hand is seen throughout.

One of the most incredible things I learned was how important the dates are. I don't know if you've read the book of Esther recently, but a lot of it is stuff like "the twelfth day of the twelfth month" or "the thirteenth day of the third month" or whatever--the kind of bits you just sort of skim over (if you are me). However, I learned the day the Jews received the decree of their death sentence from Haman was the thirteenth of Nisan. Get this--the fourteenth day of Nisan is the first day of Passover. This is what Beth says:

"The edict hit the provinces of Persia on exactly the day observing Jewish households were preparing their tables for Passover. That very evening, the fathers were to recount to their families the story of Israel's deliverance from the mighty Egyptians....Celebration turned to shock and horror, but for those who were willing, perhaps also to hope....the story of God's merciful redemption gave those who were willing a hope against hope. Could He who had delivered them from the Egyptians not also deliver them from the Persians? You bet He can, Beloved. He who delivered you from drugs can deliver you from distraction. He who delivered you from bankruptcy can deliver you from bingeing. He who delivered you from infertility can deliver you from inconsistency. He who delivered you from the fire can deliver you from fear. Sometimes God uses the winds of a new threat to blow the dust off a past miracle that has moved from our active file into the archives. Remember, Beloved! Remember what God has done for you! Dear One, He who delivered you from a Pharaoh can deliver you from any Haman. Remember who you are!"

Is that awesome or what?

If you know anything about our family, you know we love to celebrate. We'll use any excuse, but we especially love celebrations of God's faithfulness. There have been times, especially lately, where I have felt discouraged about my own mothering. Sometimes I just don't seem very good at it, and I can find a lot of things to criticize about myself. But one thing that I am determined will be my legacy to the girls is that I communicated to them that the Bible is not some dusty old tome or God's Big Book of Rules or whatever. It's a living and active, a treasure, a celebration of goodness and faithfulness, our stone of remembrance for the past, our rock for the present, our hope for the future.

So, highly coincidental I'm sure, I was talking to my friend Jamie on the phone on Thursday (she's also doing the Esther study), and she told me that Purim, the festival during which the Jews celebrate their deliverance from Haman was Sunday, February 28!

Time to party!

The girls and I set out to make a traditional Purim treat, hamantaschen, which are filled pastries. Beth provides the recipe at the back of the study book. We listened to James MacDonald's sermon on Esther "God at Work: Even When I'm Not Seeing It" while we baked, and every time he said the name "Haman" we booed and hissed, just like we were supposed to. If you get the chance, you should definitely listen for several reasons, not the least of which is that it is really, really funny. Did you know King Xerxes (I can't spell Ahasha-whatever) had a southside Chicago accent? Bet you didn't.

Here are my girls, rolling out the dough:

Cutting it into shapes and getting ready to add the filling. Traditional fillings are jam, fruit, poppyseed, etc. We used poppyseed, apricot preserves, and strawberry preserves.

The finished product--and they were delicious!

Today I studied how, on the day that the Jews were to be destroyed, killed, and annihilated, the reverse occurred. They were given victory over their enemies instead. The day after, they rested and sent each other portions of delicious food in celebration of the portion of victory God had given them. Here was the closing thought from today's lesson:

"The same Hebrew word for 'portion' or 'lot' is used in Psalm 16:5, Esther 3:7, and Esther 9:19. This is the way the three terms--favor, portions (or "presents") and lots--tie together. No matter what life hands us, the favor God has on His children causes that "lot" to tumble out on the table in such a way that, instead of destruction, the child will discover that her portion turned into destiny one trusting step at a time. Here you are. You're still standing, aren't you? Instead of falling apart, your lines are all starting to fall together. Once you wrap your mind around the favor God has had on you and the richness of the portion, you can't help but share your portion with others. Oh, that we'd wake up to the goodness of our God and the crushing defeat of our enemy! The day we do will be 'a day of joy and feasting, a day for giving presents to each other' Esther 9:19."

Hamantaschen Recipe

2 sticks butter (softened)
2 cups sugar
2 large eggs
2 t vanilla
4 t baking powder
4 cups flour

1. Blend butter and sugar thoroughly. Add eggs and vanilla, blending thoroughly. Add baking powder, then flour, 1/2 c at a time. (You might need to add a little milk too, I did.)

2. Refrigerate dough overnight or at least a few hours.

3. Roll it out to 1/4-in thickness (you may need to soften it a bit first) and then cut circles with a cookie cutter or drinking glass.

4. Put a tablespoon of filling in the middle of each circle (circles s/b about 3 inches in diameter). Fold up the sides to make a triangle, overlapping the sides as much as possible so only a little filling shows through the middle.

5. Bake at 375 for 10-15 minutes, until golden brown.

Now celebrate!