Thursday, April 29, 2010

I like to call it "Moonshine"

You know, some days when you wake up, you just need to put on your tiara.

But the view from the back is pretty much the same every day.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Saturday Respite

Before I tell about Saturday, I have to start a couple years before that. I'd been reading Beth Moore's blog for awhile, and she announced in 2008 that she was going to have an online summer Bible study and would see how many women she could get to join in. She was going to lead Kelly Minter's No Other Gods study. The response was overwhelming as 6,000 of us around the world decided to study together for six weeks.

Beth said you could do the study however you wanted--with a friend, as a group, or go solo. But then she said, "Maybe some of you who are going solo are tired of going it alone. Why don't you check the roll call here on the blog and see if someone else will do the study with you?" Now I am kind of a loner by nature, but I really was tired of studying alone all the time. So, I did something completely uncharacteristic of me and checked the roll. I clicked through a lot of different names until I saw one woman's name who lived maybe an hour and a half from me. Since hers was a town I'd actually been to, I decided to email her and see what she said. I wasn't really expecting to hear back, but Cindy replied back right away and said she'd love to work together.

So began our friendship. We did that study together, another one last summer (Jennifer Rothschild's "Me, Myself, and Lies,"), and then the study this winter of Beth's new book, "So Long, Insecurity: You've Been a Bad Friend to Us." Over these past two years, Cindy and I have shared with each other from our hearts, have opened up about our weak spots, celebrated with each other about our triumphs, and prayed for each other.

You can imagine how excited I was when Cindy invited me to attend the So Long, Insecurity simulcast nearby where she lives this past Saturday. It took me about three seconds to check my schedule and say, "I'm in!" Not to mention getting to hear Beth Moore and her worship leader, Travis Cottrell, (Cindy and I high-fived each other via email when we heard he would be there. We love Travis.), we would finally get to meet!

We got there when the doors opened on Saturday morning, knew each other right away, hugged, and started yakking right off the bat like we were old friends. The event was held in a large fellowship hall of a church.

When we got in, along one wall we saw tables full of beautiful bead jewelry, scarves, and purses for sale. We took a closer look and saw that they were for sale in support of the ministry Women At Risk, International. Wow, what a fantastic organization. They provide safe houses for women rescued from human trafficking. They provide them with the training and tools to create for their livelihood. Ninety percent of the proceeds from sales go straight back into these safehouses (10% goes toward shipping costs).

Cindy and I had a great time shopping. Here's what I got...

Two necklaces for me:

Some of the necklaces even had tags with the name and age of the woman who made them on it. Mine didn't, but each time I wear them, I plan to pray for the rescued woman who put this beautiful piece together--I don't know her name, but I know God does.

I got two little beaded dolls for Lucy and Elaine (I was sure they would especially love their earrings, and I was right):

After that, we got settled, and the simulcast began--it was broadcasting from outside Atlanta, Georgia. The emcee said that normally they have a few thousand people for Beth's simulcasts, but unbelievably, there were 300,000 women across the United States and Canada. There were about 200 of us at our location, but the thought of being together that day with 300,000 of us--wow! There were even 100 women from Kodiak, Alaska, joining in (and it was 6:45 in the morning for them!)

We kicked things off with Travis, and it would be useless to try and describe how wonderful that was in just words. Then Beth took the stage and taught for probably and hour and a half from Ephesians 4. We had a 90-minute lunch break, then Beth taught again for another hour and a half. It hardly seemed like any time at all, because everyone was riveted.

I knew from the book that her message wasn't going to be, "Feel secure because we're God's princesses, girls!" but I still wasn't totally expecting to have my world rocked like it was. She had six points on how we can be secure, based on Ephesians. Here are the points and what I learned personally from each:

Saved from ourselves: How many times have I walked in a room and taken inventory to see if there's anyone thinner, more educated, better dressed, more liked and appreciated than I am there? So gross. How freeing to be saved from a constant preoccupation with my self.

Entitled to God's truth: According to Ephesians 4, I need to continually remember what I've been taught. I've been given great truth; now focus on it!

Clothed in intention: Nobody is born secure. It's an intentional act of the mind and will.

Upended by grace: I've been given so much incredible grace. How can I not extend it to others? In the Greek, it actually says, "Grace others as you have been graced."

Rebounded by love: May I be like the apostle John, who always referred to himself as "the one whom Jesus loved"--not because he was conceited, but because he realized how much Christ loved him. May I walk into a room, not with an empty cup, needing others to fill it, but with a full cup of love ready to pour onto others.

Exceptional in life: This was my favorite part. If I hold on to all those points above, I will be exceptional. Beth closed this way, and I don't think I'll forget it as long as I live. She said, "Let it be said of you: Nobody could go through anything that painful...except her. Nobody could show her face in church after what happened...except her. Nobody could rely on God after that...except her. All high school girls are petty...except her. Nobody was a friend to me in that group of people...except her. Nobody feels like a woman after she's had a mastectomy...except her." Then she said, "When you're the exception, people will ask you, 'Why are you like that? How do you do it?' and you'll be able to say, 'Oh, I'd be just like everyone else...except Jesus.'"

She closed the message after that with prayer and then had us stand and speak to each other. She said, "We're going to have the biggest commissioning ever--300,000 of us! We need to change the face of our culture, for ourselves and for every baby girl that is born." So we commissioned each other in the words of Ephesians to be secure in Christ. You can read the commissioning statement here. (I'm pretty sure there weren't many dry eyes by the time we were done!)

I thought of my own two precious girls and how different life can be for them if I clothe myself in intention and pass along these awesome truths that I learned on Saturday.

And to Cindy, I'm so glad we're friends! Here's to a life of true security! (Oh, and meet ya again on email for the summer study!)

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Tween Reading List

OK, this topic has come up for me I don't know how many times, so I figure I better post on it. Once I had a goal-setting meeting with my boss's boss, and she asked me, "What would be your dream job?" and I was probably supposed to say something like, "Preparing educational materials of such extreme excellence for teachers and school psychologists that it would change the face of the universe," but instead I said, "Sitting at home in my pajamas, reading children's books and then telling other people which are the best ones." Did I just say that out loud? Well, I did, and oddly enough I no longer work there, though that happened way later and the technical term is "LAID OFF" not fired, there's a definite difference, people, but still. Sometimes I wonder.
Anyway, I don't quite sit at home in my pajamas all day and read and get paid for it, but I read as much as I can without getting paid for it, and then people ask me what they should read so it's still kind of fun. Lately I've been asked quite a bit for quality books for middle schoolers. And in the last issue of the magazine, there was a reading article, and I got to write a sidebar of editor's picks for little kids and big kids.

I'm thinking of parents and tweens who are looking for something other than Twilight or Pretties/Uglies (just heard of them) or whatever. These are great either for your nine to twelvers to read on their own, or for you to read aloud to your younger kids. I like these because they have wonderful prose, good plots, interesting characters, a wide spread of interests, and best of all, they're fun. So, without further ado, here ya go in no particular order:

Freddy Goes to Florida by Walter R. Brooks (there are many other wonderful Freddy books in this series). This is about a motley group of farm animals that decides to winter in Florida. Adventure abounds, and if you like to do all the funny voices while you read (AS YOU SHOULD), this is the book for you. Amazon reviews says, "Brooks is hilariously tongue-in-cheek; his insightful descriptions of animal characters are always compassionate; and his subtle appeal to a child's instinct for justice is no less than masterful. As Adam Hochschild of the New York Times Book Review writes, "The moral center of my childhood universe, the place where good and evil, friendship and treachery, honesty and humbug were defined most clearly, was not church, not school, and not the Boy Scouts. It was the Bean Farm."

Moving along and don't worry, I'll get tired soon and won't write that long of a description for all these.

The Cricket in Times Square by George Selden (and the sequels, Tucker's Countryside and Harry Cat's Pet Puppy). These are classics. My girls have never belly laughed as hard at any other books.

Miss Happiness and Miss Flower by Rumer Godden (and its sequel Little Plum). These are wonderful books about finding a place to belong, and they have loads of beautiful Japanese culture interwoven throughout.

Treasure of Green Knowe by L.M. Boston (or really, the whole Green Knowe series) Wonderful book about a boy on break from prep school at his great-grandmother's manor, which is haunted by friendly, historical ghosts.

Johnny Tremain
by Esther Forbes. This one is about a young silversmith apprentice in colonial Boston.

From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler and The View From Saturday by E. L. Konigsburg. Did everybody else read these when they were young? Pure awesomeness.

The "Shoe" books (Ballet Shoes, Dancing Shoes, Skating Shoes, Theater Shoes) by Noel Streatfeild. These kindled a lifelong interest in the theater for me. Good characterization and plotting too. I've never met anyone who disliked these.

The Witch of Blackbird Pond by Elizabeth George Speare. One of the best historical novels I've read, about a young woman coming to Connecticut during pre-Revolutionary War time and dealing with religious prejudice there. That sounds heavy. I promise, it is action packed!

The Betsy-Tacy series by Maud Hart Lovelace. I've talked about these so many times that there's nothing left to say. Have you not read these yet? Why? What are you waiting for? (caveat: if you have/are a girl. I can't see many boys being interested in these.)

The Penderwicks: A Summer Tale of Four Sisters, Two Rabbits, and a Very Interesting Boy by Jeanne Birdsall. Amazon says, "This enjoyable tale of four sisters, a new friend, and his snooty mother is rollicking fun." I agree.

The Railway Children by E. Nesbit. Another classic. Good stuff.

The Ark
by Margot Benary-Isbert. Oh, how I loved this one when I was a tween. It's the story of a refugee family after WWII and how they rebuilt their life. I think it's out of print, but you may be able to get it at the library or could certainly get a cheap, used copy online.

The Mysterious Benedict Society by Trenton Lee Stewart. This got a lot of buzz so I was skeptical, but I loved it. Haven't read the sequels yet, but I heard they're good, too. It has a boy protagonist.

The Star of Kazan by Eva Ibbotson. This author has a lot of books, and I hope they're all as stellar as this one, about orphans and jewelry and pastries and friends and villains and Lipizzaner horses.

Up a Road Slowly by Irene Hunt. This is another one from my own tween years. A beautiful coming of age story. If you have a child interested in writing, this is for her (it is more of a girl's book).

When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead. Now I have to say, I haven't read this one yet so...take this one with a grain of salt. However, I've heard loads of positive buzz on it. It's about a sixth-grade girl who keeps receiving mysterious notes, predicting her future. The book's muse is A Wrinkle in Time, which is another good pick.

There are lots of others, including the classics and the Narnia books and all that, but I always assume people have already read those. If you have any others you or your tween enjoy, please let me know!

Now, put on your pajamas and read!

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Picture Poem

Children, It's Spring

And this is the lady
whom everyone loves,
Ms. Violet
in her purple gown

or, on special occasions,
a dress the color
of sunlight. She sits
in the mossy weeds and waits

to be noticed.
She loves dampness.
She loves attention.
She loves especially

to be picked by careful fingers,
young fingers, entranced
by what has happened
to the world.

We, the older ones,
call it Spring,
and we have been through it
many times.

But there is still nothing
like the children bringing home
such happiness
in their small hands.

--Mary Oliver

Friday, April 16, 2010

First Date

You know how everyone tells you that you need to go out on regular dates when you're married to keep your relationship healthy? Well, for the past almost seven years, our dates have consisted of ordering some food, sitting in our living room, and watching BBC mini-series. I mean, it's not bad. But I don't think that's what the marriage experts exactly mean.

Our biggest problem is that we can't find a babysitter. We always had my parents to babysit for us, but I really only used them for special things, such as concerts or weddings or whatever because my mom watched the girls for us while I was at work. Then we had our wonderful babysitter, Kathi, who used to watch Lucy after pre-school and kindergarten, but she has her own family so I felt sort of bad asking her to leave them and come over so we can go to Olive Garden.

But...those days are no more. After many tries, we have FOUND a babysitter. (I've been given lots of names--but everyone I try has a much more active social life than I do and is never available). But our new babysitter is wonderful. She's even completed a community college course on babysitting that includes CPR and everything. Short of having a paramedic be our babysitter, we cannot do better.

I broke the news to the girls that we were going out and that Emily would be coming to babysit. They were ecstatic. Oh.

So, Darren and I headed out to try a new(ish) restaurant in town. As we drove away I said, "Apparently there are rules for parent dating. I heard that we're not supposed to discuss the three B's: Business, Babies, and Bucks."

Darren promptly began telling me about having our taxes completely finished and then discovering he had missed one of my freelance jobs and had to do everything over and how ridiculous the American tax system is.

"I think that falls under 'Bucks,'" I said. "Try again."

Then I told him about the cover story for the new issue of the magazine and how it'll be the first issue carried in Barnes & Noble.

"That's business," he said.

We were stopped at a light and saw a pterodactyl flying out of the car in front of us.

"That is exactly something Elaine would do," we both said.

Before we'd even pulled into the restaurant parking lot, we'd violated all three B's.

We did OK during dinner though--we found all sorts of other things to talk about, and we did not have to play one game of tic-tac-toe or word search on our placemats with crayons during the entire time. However, by the time we'd lingered over our food and chatted, it was only 8:20. We still had 40 minutes to kill before we were supposed to be home.

"What do we do now?" Darren asked.

"Let's drive around," I replied.

"In the dark?" he replied. "Oh look, there's the Christian bookstore. I want to buy an ESV Bible. Let's go there."

On the way there, he told me more about our taxes.

We looked around the store for awhile, but Christian bookstores are different than they used to be. There used to be a lot more...well, books for one thing. And music for another.

As we left, I saw a Canada goose sitting all alone in the middle of the parking lot.

"Why would a goose just sit on the pavement by itself?" I asked. "Especially when there's some grass and a tree just a little ways away. Bizarre."

As we drove by the grass and tree, we saw his goose wife, sitting on her nest. I spent a little time trying to think about a beautiful metaphor for marriage from that, but I was sort of tired and sometimes a goose sitting in the parking lot is just a goose sitting in the parking lot. Besides, they'd probably had a fight because soon-to-be mother goose kept talking about the prospective goslings and the man goose probably kept talking about their tax credits, and now he was sleeping on the proverbial couch/parking lot.

We went home, and Emily said the girls and she had had a great time. I went up to check on them in their beds, and they were just barely awake. They told me they'd had so much fun and eaten pizza and ridden their bikes and played freeze tag with Emily and also when could we go away again so she could come over?

So, there was our first date in years. We were maybe a little bit rusty. Now that we have Emily though, we'll definitely try going out again soon.

Especially now that tax season is over.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Sometimes We Fall

Anyone who knows me knows Spring is my favorite season of all. I'm revelling in all the colors and sounds and smells of it and being able to wear my flip-flops again, being able to take walks around the neighborhood with my family. Spring gives me renewed energy and hope.

But while I enter my most favorite season of the year, my dear, sweet mom is entering yet another new season. When I saw her on the night of our Seder, she was weak and quiet, but clear--reading her portions of Scripture distinctly. When I saw her two days later, she was confused and troubled. She couldn't gather her thoughts, and she didn't make a lot of sense when she was talking. I asked her to clarify something, and she looked like she was going to cry and said, "I don't know. I'm not sure anymore. I get so confused."

After Easter, while she was at home, she got out some books about heaven people had given her in order to bring her comfort. She got so confounded by the text that she somehow thought heaven isn't real; it's all just an illusion.

She got so upset that the hospice nurses and doctor came to examine her--first they thought she merely wasn't getting enough oxygen, but now they believe that cancer has spread to her brain. She wears oxygen now most of the time, and she's on increased morphine and painkillers.

I've increased my visits to her to multiple times a week for much shorter periods. My heart has been so heavy and frustrated, and honestly, sort of mad that of all the things that should be taken from my mom it is her hope of heaven. Why that? Why?

I drove to her house yesterday with all sorts of things on my mind, things to say to her to reassure her that heaven is real and that she is definitely going there, things to help her marshal her arguments and shore up her faith.

When I got there, my dad left us alone for awhile and she began to talk. Any of what she says now is extremely rambling and difficult to follow. Sometimes her speech gets garbled up, and her mind skips from topic to topic.

It's like within the space of a few days, someone reached down and removed the essence of "Mom" and left this poor, little, bewildered stranger in her place.

Some of what she said to me was, "I can't talk to anyone about this. I can't tell anyone about all my fears, about all my doubts. Everyone wants me to be happy. They say I'm spoiling my last time here on Earth with the Lord. The people they know who have died were just so happy to go to heaven. I can't tell them about this. I have this thing," she plucked at her oxygen tube fretfully, "and they've got me on all this medicine; I'm so confused now. I don't understand what's happening to me." And her eyes filled with tears.

When she said that, it was like a holy eraser came down on my mind and removed all my carefully wrought arguments about heaven that I had brought for her, and what came out instead was this--"Oh, Mommy," I told her, "you know how earlier in your life when you'd have the stomach flu? And you aren't having your best devotions or singing and praying then; all you can do is just lie down on the bathroom floor and pray to die, it feels so awful. Well, that's how it is now, except worse, for you. You don't need to be having some glorious time with the Lord. He remembers that we're just dust. He has so much pity on us."

"He does, doesn't He," she breathed, as a look of relief washed over her face. "Praise Him. Praise God."

"And you don't have to have heaven all figured out either," I added. "The Bible tells us that our human minds can't even imagine what it's going to be like. So it's OK to be confused about it."

"Tell me that again," she pleaded.

"The Bible says, 'Eye has not seen, ear has not heard, neither has entered into the heart of man what God has prepared for those who love Him,'" I repeated for her. "You don't have to understand it. It's OK to be confused. You can't help it."

"I can just rest in Jesus, can't I?" she asked. "He'll figure it out for me, won't He?"

I reassured her that He would. "Jesus stands in our place and pleads for us, Mom; you don't need to worry."

"That's the one thing I've never wavered on," she went on, leaning her head back and closing her eyes. "Jesus. Jesus. Jesus." she whispered. "I surrender all. All to Thee, my blessed Savior..."

In a few minutes she tried to tell me the entire plotline of Oliver Twist, which is confusing enough on its own without being fueled by morphine. I finally convinced her to rest and that I needed to go. As I hugged her goodbye and told her I loved her, she searched my eyes and begged, "Don't feel bad, Baby. Please don't feel bad."

"I don't feel bad, Mom," I lied.

I drove home, worn out, feeling bad, yet strangely peaceful. Today I've been listening to one of my favorite hymns of all time, over and over. The second verse says, "Hitherto Thy love has blessed me, Thou has brought me to this place / And I know Thy Hand will lead me safely home, by Thy good grace / Jesus sought me when a stranger, wandering from the fold of God / He to rescue me from danger, bought me with His precious blood."

I learned something completely new through this. Christians talk about "dying well," about running the race to win...about entering Glory victoriously, breaking the tape with arms outspread. But it might not happen that way. We don't all get to go out in a chariot of fire. Some of us stumble and fall on our way there. Sometimes we get cancer that eats up our bodies and our minds while our families look on, helpless. It's ugly and it's sad, and it doesn't end with us glorying in the hope of heaven. It's just darkness and drugs and confusion and pain.

But at the end of the day, it's not about all our efforts. It's all about Him. At best, in our weakness, our Almighty, merciful Father finds us falling before His throne, begging and pleading for the Son of David to have mercy on us.

Then Jesus, that Great Shepherd of the sheep, goes out to find that one poor lamb that wandered away--so confused and lost--picks it up in His scarred hands, and carries it gently Home by His good grace.

Praise His name, I'm fixed upon it. Praise Him.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Library Day

I've got quite a few books this time around, so I'll try to keep the reviewlets a little shorter. In fact, I'll start with two books that I didn't even manage to finish.

Map of the Invisible World by Tash Aw

This disappointed me--in fact, I should renew it at the library and try to push on through. The Guardian reviewed it and said, "Reminiscent of Graham Greene...powerful and mesmerizing, haunting and memorable." It was the "reminiscent of Graham Greene" that had me at hello since I have one entire bookshelf filled with his books and basically adore almost everything he's written. And it's not that I didn't like this book; I just wish it moved faster. It's about a teenager in Indonesia named Adam who was separated from his parents and then his brother at an early age. He has almost no memory of them. He was adopted by a Dutch man named Karl who is arrested early on by militia. Adam contacts an old friend of Karl's named Margaret to help him find her. That's kind of as far as I got. I just kept putting it down and then finding something else more interesting to read. So, like I said, I should finish it. Or maybe I should just go reread a Graham Greene novel.

Sailing to Capri by Elizabeth Adler

This was so dumb I couldn't finish it. I got it because it sounded like a mystery/travel novel, when really it was just a lame romance in disguise. It had phrases like, "manly arms." I can't read books that talk about manly arms. And, good to know now, I'll never pick up another of her books again.

The Postmistress by Sarah Blake

I was on a waiting list at the library for sweet forever for this one, and I wish I had liked it more. I loved the premise: it was set during WWII and basically asked the question, "what would happen if someone withheld letters that contained vital pieces of information?" Would it alter the course of fate? There were some very powerful moments in this book, but somehow the characters didn't really work their way into my heart. However, I wouldn't not recommend it. Try it for yourself if it sounds interesting because lots of people seem to love it.

The Weed That Strings the Hangman's Bag by Alan Bradley

This is the second book in the Flavia de Luce series, and I loved it. In fact, I loved it even more than the first one. Spunky Flavia is back to solve another murder--this time of a traveling puppeteer. I thought this mystery was plotted much better than Mr. Bradley's first one. And if sometimes Flavia doesn't sound as much like an 11-year-old girl as a 70-year-old man, well, she's still funny and entertaining, nevertheless, with quotes such as, "'You are unreliable, Flavia,' Father said. 'Utterly unreliable.' Of course I was! It was one of the things I loved most about myself."

The next two are part of a series that I reread various pieces of each year. It's the Starbridge series by Susan Howatch--three books set in the '30s and '40s and the remaining three set in the '60s--taking place in the small city of Starbridge (modelled on Salisbury) and set against the backdrop of the Church of England. Now maybe they don't sound that exciting from that little description, but they are some of the most absorbing books I've ever read. It's why I keep rereading them. First:

Ultimate Prizes

The protagonist here is Archdeacon Neville Aysgarth. He's a Liberal Protestant, a hopeless optimist in the face of world war. But boredom and deprivation on the homefront quickly plunge him into catastrophe in his personal life. One defining feature of Howatch's books is her way with words. Here's a scene when Aysgarth takes his prep school sons out to lunch to tell them of his impending second marriage: "'You may be quite surprised that I wish to remarry. Nothing, of course, will ever alter the fact that your mother and I enjoyed sixteen years of the most perfect married life. She was the most wonderful woman in the world, and that explains why I now feel I must marry someone quite different. I know I can rely on you boys to act like gentlemen and try hard to make Dido feel at home in our family.' 'Of course, Father,' said Christian. He turned to Norman and said, 'What are we waiting for? We must behave like gentlemen and offer Father our best wishes; as he was saying that Mother is quite irreplaceable but he's made the decision to replace her. We wish you well, Father, and we're quite willing to be friends with Miss Tallent. But just don't expect us to treat her as a substitute for Mother. Mothers, unlike wives, are quite irreplaceable.'"

Absolute Truths

This is the final installment in the series, taking place in 1965 and narrated by Charles Ashworth, bishop of Starbridge (Aysgarth is his arch-nemesis). After an extremely successful career, he sustains a serious crisis in both his family life and his faith. I actually don't have words to describe how good this book is and how it has affected my own life. I wouldn't read it first--I'd work through the other ones and save it for last (though frankly, you can skip the fifth book--it's not very good). Here's a little snippet: "I said: 'Of course we must love people no matter what they've done, but we mustn't forget that love should include justice for those who have been wronged by the sins of others--you can't just pretend that sin doesn't matter! Sin hurts people, sin destroys lives--haven't you yourself ever suffered as the result of the wrong acts of others?' Bishop Sunderland carefully finished drying his hands on the towel. Then he turned to face me and said: 'Yes. But I've forgiven them.' 'Well, never mind,' he went on, casting aside his moment of extreme sobriety and becoming cheery again. 'someone on the bishops' bench has to worry about sex, I suppose, but thank goodness it isn't me because I'd rather worry about the Bomb and South Africa and the starving millions in India. So, no hard feelings--God bless!' And he pattered off in his cheap slip-on shoes in order to be radically liberal elsewhere."

Lastly is a book I picked up on vacation when I had finished everything else I had brought along. I bought it basically based on its cover, which shows a woman sitting on a bench obviously in Asia, hidden by a beautiful red Chinese umbrella.

Kitchen Chinese by Ann Mah

This was kind of like Bridget Jones' Diary in Beijing; however, I really enjoyed it (hey, I enjoyed the original BJD too). Isabelle, who is Chinese American, leaves New York after career and love disappointment to start a whole new life with her sister Claire who is a lawyer in Beijing. She becomes a food writer for an ex-pat magazine. The book is pretty much a fictionalized memoir, since Ann Mah herself left the U.S. and lived in Beijing for four years. You get a great flavor of what life is like there, plus many great descriptions of food (Mah herself was awarded a James Beard Culinary Scholarship). The book is lively and funny, though there were editorial glitches, such as having a character named "Marcie," then spelling it "Marcy," halfway through the book, or using the word "aesthetic," when she clearly meant "ascetic." The only thing I didn't like much was all the time spent on Isabelle's dating life, which kind of detracted from the good parts, for me anyway. I promise, I'm not a heartless person against all romance. But...after you've read enough Charlotte Bronte and Jane Austen, the modern stuff just doesn't seem to measure up. After The Letter in Persuasion, it's hard to come to terms with people texting each other.

So, there's the wrap-up! Let me know if you try any of these and enjoy (or not)!

Friday, April 09, 2010

Spring Break 2010

(Apologies to all who just looked at these pictures on facebook. But I have more commentary on them here!)

Saturday we headed to the suburbs to Chuck and Rome's. We ordered pizza and spent the evening watching DVDs of Castle and filling eggs for the Easter egg hunt in the morning.

On Easter day, we woke up to bright sunshine and warm temperatures. Almost unheard of on Easter in our area. No need for coats, gloves, or snowboots!

Our family--Easter 2010:

Elaine in her Bowture hat and with the Avery clip...

There are four services on Sunday morning to choose from--6:30, 8:00, 9:30, and 11:00. The 6:30 one is great because the church has been draped in black and symbolically locked since Good Friday night (obviously not really locked since people have to get in to decorate for Easter!) At the sunrise service on Easter morning, the congregation gathers on the steps and pounds on the front door. The minister is inside the door and asks them, "Whom do you seek?" Congregation responds: "Jesus of Nazareth," and the minister replies, "He is not here; He has risen!" Then the doors open, and everyone streams in, singing "Christ the Lord is Risen Today."

We chose the 9:30 service though, and Darren took a picture of the church with the black banners removed and the Easter colors in place. (It's from across the street so you can't see it that well.) To the right, you can see Blanchard Hall in the background.

Here are the girls and I in front of the church before the service started...

The whole sanctuary is banked with spring flowers and Easter lilies and gold banners. We got to sing "Christ the Lord is Risen Today," "I Know that My Redeemer Lives," and, at the end, "In Christ Alone." We also got to hear the choir sing "Alleluia" from Christ on the Mount of Olives (Beethoven) and "Hallelujah" (Handel).

After the service, we headed back for brunch and the Easter egg hunt. Tio (Chuck) and Darren and my dad had hidden the eggs and candy. Rome's cousins came with their daughter, Isabelle, who is 2, and the little girl next door, Amber, who is 8, joined in too. Tio had also put dollar bills in some of the eggs. We had filled so many, and the guys had hidden things pretty well, so the hunt took a good amount of time.

The girls gathered for a picture with all their candy in the garden shed at the end. On the way home, all we could hear was the munching of chocolate.

Later the same day, we headed up to Door County for Spring break. We were pleasantly surprised because Sunday was warm up there when we arrived, and Monday was even more beautiful. No need for a jacket in early April? Unheard of! We hit Peninsula State Park right away, and Darren promised that the first person who spotted a deer or a turkey would get to pick the next activity. Elaine leaned out her window and announced, "I'm looking for gorillas, OK, Dad?"

We parked at the tower and started hiking the trail there. Here are a few pics...

This is one of my favorites...

And a nice family picture (I won't say how many tries this took)...

After Monday though, the weather took a nosedive. For two days, it was cold and rainy. I had brought a bunch of games and books for the girls, but it was still hard to keep them quiet and occupied indoors all the time. One day we even headed 40 minutes away to the nearest Target to get them each a toy. I think I might have been a little depressed or something because the only thing I felt like doing at all was sleeping and reading. On the up side, I finished three books so I'll have a new Library Day post coming soon.

On Thursday morning we woke up to Lucy telling us, "There's no electricity in here any more." Sure enough, it had snowed three inches, the electricity, heat, and water were no more. Time to pack up and head home early.

"We could have gone to Tennessee for Spring break," Darren said on the way back.

"Yeah, I think the key in Spring is heading South instead of North," I answered. Go figure.

So, now we're home a day early, and that's not a bad thing. At least there's no snow here!

Friday, April 02, 2010

Next Year

Last night was our fourth annual Seder dinner. For some reason, I could not get my head together and ended up running throughout the day to not one, not two, not three, but four grocery stores for all of the stuff I kept forgetting.

In addition to all the stuff for dinner, I suddenly realized at 4:30 in the afternoon that I'd forgotten to buy parsley, bitter herbs, and any of the stuff to make charoset (also indicating that it was 4:30 in the afternoon and I hadn't even made the charoset).

I was busier earlier in the day, making the dessert because I decided to do Catherine Newman's Toffee Buttercrunch Matzoh, which we actually make at Christmas using club crackers, but wow. A new excuse to eat it in the springtime as well. As Catherine says, "it really doesn't matter if you're Jewish or not, because it will be the most addictively delicious thing you have every had a hand in making; honestly, it could be one of the ten plagues, it's so dastardly. It's crunchy and buttery, golden-tasting and just a tiny bit salty, chocolaty and something like the best Heath Bar you ever tasted--if a Heath Bar suddenly showed up at your seder, with matzoh in its heart."

Darren saw me pouring the melted toffee over the matzoh and said, "Isn't that kind of sacrilegious?"

So in between all the cooking and the running, I was busy thinking my Maundy Thursday and Good Friday thoughts. I always think about my favorite story where Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead. I like to do this thing that Jill Briscoe calls, "peeking around the verse." The Bible doesn't really say anything about what happened right after they unbound Lazarus (can you just imagine him, walking out of the grave all bound up?), but I like to picture the scene of his sisters, excitedly pulling off the graveclothes, as they danced around him in excitement, their cries of joy echoing off those rocky tombs. That must have been the greatest party ever that night at their house.

In the midst of thinking that and figuring out what little prize to give the girls for when they found the afikomen while wandering up and down the aisles of Wal-Mart, I heard someone say, "Alice" and it was my friend Katie, who is also my parents' pastor's wife. Since we were both sans kids, we got to leisurely push our carts up and down the aisles. She told me how, last Sunday, after the children's choir sang for Palm Sunday, she organized them all to go over and sing to my mom.

Here they are, in my parents' backyard:

Is that not the sweetest thing ever? She is a great pastor's wife, which by the way, I think pastors' wives are unsung heroes anyway. I would show you a picture of my mom, enjoying the singing, but she's in her pajamas and robe and she would kill me if I posted that on the Internet.

After all my grocery trips, I finally pulled the Seder dinner together. This is one of my favorite nights of the year.

All who are hungry come and eat. All who are needy come and celebrate Passover with us. Now we celebrate it here. Next year, may we celebrate Passover in Jerusalem. Now we are slaves. next year, may we be truly free...

We celebrate what God has done in our history, and what He has done for us, but at the same time we still await a new future. As Jesus left, He promised He would come again and restore all things.

Recently, my friend Danny told me he was planning a trip to the Holy Land. He told me about the Wailing Wall where people from all over the world come to weep and pray. You can write out a prayer and put it in one of the cracks in the wall. He asked if there was any prayer I wanted him to write out for me. I told him the only thing I wanted was him to simply write out the final words of the Seder, "Next year, in the new Jerusalem."

Tonight we'll be going to church in remembrance of Good Friday. Sunday we'll be going to the greatest party of the year in celebration of Easter. And I know that a day is coming, because of Him, that the graveclothes will come off, and we will dance on resurrected feet while our shouts of joy will echo off the stars. year!

Thursday, April 01, 2010

Hopping into Spring

It's been awhile since there's been some Elaine news, right? Today, at a time that felt so early it almost seemed like nighttime, I had my first parent-teacher conference for her. Oddly enough, last night I had, not one, but two dreams about this conference and how it wasn't going to go well. I dreamt that she got rated 1 on everything and then that the teachers said, "We just can't get her to listen or do anything we say." You know, kind of like my reality? I told Darren about it in the morning, and he said, "It's just a 10-minute pre-school conference, Alice."

But when I got there, the teachers showed me Elaine's progress report. 3 is the highest, and 1 is the lowest. Below is how she writes her name, which for some reason, almost put tears in my eyes. The only 1's she got were in hopping, skipping, and jumping--and they said that she feels very self-conscious and sad that she can't do it well. That also almost put tears in my eyes.

Here's her social development. That "2" on self-control has nothing to do with her temper, they said. It has to do with how she loves to be silly when she plays in the school kitchen. Shocker. The 2+ on attention span means that sometimes she chats and giggles during story time. Also, huge surprise. Except not at all.

Also, don't you just love, "I can cope"? I'm glad she got a 3. I pretty much give myself a 1 most days.

And here she is at her Easter party, when the class sang songs and did the bunny hop for the parents. I didn't think her hopping was so bad, but maybe I'm biased. It's all about the goals, though, so during the summer months we will diligently practice our hopping.

She's also working on fine motor coordination. Yesterday afternoon was one of those times when it's so quiet that it's too quiet and you know something must be wrong. I looked outside, and there were the sisters, sitting on a blanket and making bead bracelets together.

(Please note Elaine's ever-present plumber's crack.)

I was so enthralled with the sweetness of their playing so nicely together that I just stood and watched them for awhile. Then...wait a minute...what is this?

Why, it's my six-inch blade kitchen scissors that they're cutting with. Sigh. Time to intervene.

At least she's not hopping with them.

So, that is Elaine, enjoying spring!