Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Merry Christmas!

"Time Flies: A Reading Diary, 1885" by Christina Rossetti

Love came down at Christmas,

Love all lovely, love divine;

Love was born at Christmas,

Star and angels gave the sign.

Worship we the Godhead,

Love incarnate, love divine;

Worship we our Jesus:

But wherewith for sacred sign?

Love shall be our token,

Love shall be yours and love be mine,

Love to God and to all men,

Love for plea and gift and sign.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

A Really Good Day

It happened nearly 4 days ago, but hey! I get around to blogging eventually.

On Saturday, we celebrated Big Ben's 2nd birthday with his grandparents. We loved seeing his reaction to his gifts--all perfectly selected to bring out all the ooh's and whoa's in his vocabulary. I begged my mom to get him a pair of appropriated-colored Crocs so he would stop wearing R's old pink ones. He knew exactly what they were for and who they were for. He wears them all the time, including with his snug-fitting, too-tight, winter pj's. (Those were NOT made for my children!). The new cars, trucks, and race track from Mom and Dad and Grandparents Fleming were also big hits--with Dad, too. D enjoyed racing Lighting McQueen and The King over and over again, experimenting with switching the cars on the tracks, putting them backwards, etc. Boys are all the same!

The big winner--the easiest birthday cake I've ever made. I cannot take credit for the idea; I found it on FamilyFun.com, choosing it over the front-end loader cake made from Twinkies and pound cake. I am not super crafty and intricate icing is beyond me. So, this......

...became this: a dump truck cake--dessert and present all in one.

The face of concentration!

The kids were able to help make the ingredients the day before, using the meat pounder to crush Oreos and Nutter Butters for the rocks and gravel that top the layers of chocolate cake chunks and pudding. After filling him with sugar and trolling out new cars and trucks, we put the birthday boy to nap with a bit of protest. So mean.

The day ended with a date to see Behold the Lamb of God by Andrew Peterson and friends. About four years ago, we stumbled onto this sorta Christmas musical and rediscovered Andrew Peterson, who had hit the scene with Bebo Norman and Caedmon's Call years ago. We listened to the CD while traveling at Christmas and were amazed. It is one of the most creative works of art we've experienced--musically, lyrically, artistically (there are illustrations throughout the liner pages). AP takes the big story, THE story, of rescue and redemption that culminates in the incarnation of Christ at Christmas. The show, which we first saw two years ago, is incredible. It begins with the "Friends" showcasing their own works in a singers-in-the-round format. AP opened the show with "Hosanna" from Resurrection Letters. Amazing live! Then we got to hear songs from Jill Phillips, Andy Osenga, Andy Gullahorn, Bebo Norman, and Ben Shive. Andy G. (Jill's husband) sang "Holy Flakes" about a generic cereal that starts selling once they put a picture of the Pope on it. D was almost in tears he was laughing so hard. Jill sang from her new CD, All the Good Things, and had me in tears (the CD should be under the tree for me!). The title track recounts not only the "good things" in life that God blesses her with but all the events and tragedies that shape her character and teach her about God, the truly good things. After joining in with "Hosanna" as a congregation and then hearing Jill's beautiful voice praising God for all the good things, I was a pile of mush.

After intermission, the players and singers put on an intricate show of voice and instruments. I remarked to D that I was glad I knew the lyrics of all the songs because I can get lost in watching the musicians, seeing them play, seeing what instrument they pull out next--dobro, mandolin, lap dulcimer, hammered dulcimer, accordian, steel guitar. It was so great to sit there in a row of good friends, knowing what their year has been like and to absorb the lyrics: "Behold the Lamb of God, who takes away our sin," "O Hosanna! See the long awaited king come to set his people free." To have BTLG songs prefaced by the Resurrection Letters brought everything together. It's about God coming as man to die for mankind to rescue mankind.

A very, very good day.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Speak, Ben, Speak!

Ben's 2 year old birthday is this week. I can't believe it! In many ways, he still seems like my baby: his pudgy cheeks, slobbery kisses, and lack of verbal skills.

On Monday, he and I went for a full developmental evaluation to see if he qualifies for any speech therapy. The Part C program in Florida is a last payer program that will pick up any costs one's insurance company doesn't cover. One therapist played and interacted with Ben while another asked me questions. Both women were extremely nice. We felt comfortable and listened to. At the end of the evaluation, Ben and I left the room so they could tally the scores and write up their report.

In all, his only area of concern, the one that falls below the average range, is his expressive communication. (His social-adaptive skills, like feeding, dressing, pottying, are also a bit behind but not drastic and well, he's a bit of an immature boy.) In order to qualify for aid, the child has to score a 78 or below on the test. Ben had a 76 in speech. The therapist then informed me that we qualify...to attend a parenting class (3 hours every Wednesday night for 12 weeks and its down on Michigan St.) on how to teach your child to talk. I wanted to cry.

All my irrational guilt about neglecting Ben, not reading enough to him, not paying enough one-on-one attention to him came flooding in. And I was indignant. I wanted to (calmly, of course) inform them that I was an educated educator whose four-year-old reads at a first grade level. I know what I'm doing! Right?

My mom pointed out the positive side; he's not that bad. And when GG babysat for me yesterday she told me I'm being humbled and maybe I'm just supposed to know how to teach from high schoolers down to toddlers. And that there could be someone God wants me to meet in this group of parents going through the same trials as I am.

I spent the afternoon working on Ben's book I'm making for him for Christmas. And we colored and drove cars around the floor, got through one nonverbal temper tantrum (I'm sure it was over Goldfish), did a puzzle, and had a nice evening together. I needed perspective and to enjoy my baby who is growing up and learning things and who will one day be able to tell me all about it.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Devotions and the Undevoted

I have long, long struggled with keeping a daily devotional time, that so-called "quiet time." As a morning person, you would think I would attend to it directly but I've always found that I do a bunch of things in the morning--household tasks, answering e-mails, reading the news, etc. I don't naturally desire to sit and be quiet in the morning. And once small children are thrown in the mix, mornings are rarely quiet again. For a while, it seemed that no matter how early I set my alarm, one child or another would wake up fifteen minutes before the radio clicked on. Or, as I sat in the blue recliner, Bible in lap, I'd get two verses in before I heard the smack of bare feet on tile from one end of the house to the other. So, into my lap she goes, and I try to maintain concentration with thumb-sucking and humming in my ear.

This month, as we got out the felt Christmas tree Advent calendar of my childhood, I was determined that R and I would daily read our verse and message that corresponds to each ornament we placed on the tree. Each ornament reflects part of the Christmas story or a name or attribute of Christ or a lesson about God's Word. R eagerly sticks the ornament on the tree and will listen to the verse but squirms, puts her head in her lap, even rolls her eyes as we read the lesson and I ask her a question or two. And to pray at the end...pulling teeth.
So what have I learned? My child is just like me. And I should have started daily devotions at age 2 or 3 instead of 4 when I thought she was old enough. And to keep it simple and short. And to model better for the next kids in line. And to remember that talking about God isn't confined to our devotion time, but to eagerly watch for moments when I can direct my children to the God of the universe and the Christ who came to save. And to pray for her heart, and for mine. And to keep it up, tomorrow and the next day. And to give her grace, and some for me, too.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Better Late Than Never

I realized after reading Amy P's comment on the Dusseldorf post that I never officially announced that Baby 3 is on the way. Partly because we told our family and a few friends right before leaving for our trip (in fact I put some not-so-subtle clues in the instruction manual I left for my parents). And partly because I wasn't that far along and went to the OB the day before we left on our trip. But I am now 12ish weeks along, a revised date after a sonogram last week pushed my due date back a week--which is what happened with Benjamin. And we've all seen the results of that. So, I'm a bit wary of how big this one could be. My mom and I mused that maybe this one will surprise us and be a tiny, petite, little thing--and then we laughed. We make 'em big and we make 'em cute. The official due date is now June 13th, a week before my dad leaves for Costa Rica on a mission trip so maybe he'll be able to swing through here and take a peek at the newest grandbaby before leaving.
We waited to tell the kiddos until after the sonogram and were able to share the pictures with them (well, R, at least. B had his truck book and could care less). She was tickled! All giggles and smiles and confident that this will be a girl baby since we already have a boy baby. We pointed out that we already have a girl too, but in her mind she figures she has a little brother, now she needs a little sister. We keep reminding her that it could be a boy too, but she's keeping to the power of positive thinking. She has named the baby Nose, for whatever reason, which is why she will not have a vote in any future naming decisions. Of course, we do still need something to call Baby in utero since we don't reveal the name until birth. Any suggestions?

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

On to Dusseldorf

After leaving Copenhagen, we flew to Dusseldorf, a business-like, no-nonsense city, quite unlike Copenhagen. Our hotel was about 15 km outside of the city. Dusseldorf, like Orlando, has many conventions throughout the year and the Medico convention is one of the largest. So every hotel in the city was booked. The Hotel Gut Hohne used to be a 17th century farmhouse with a potter, baker, blacksmith--you name it--and the hotel is sprawling and winding. We rolled our luggage down the brick entrance--clickety, clickety--to the reception area and we escorted by a hotel staff member to our room. Down a flight of stairs, through a few doors, down some more stone steps (clickety, clickety some more) to the pool area and our room. It was the wackiest place I've ever been! Our room had a wall of windows and a French door that opened onto the pool. It was tiny too and pretty rustic. D and I looked at the barely double-sized bed and wondered who would have to sleep on the tiny, barely a loveseat couch! It was a pretty place and the homemade croissants (baked in the bakery!) were delicious!!! The grounds were pretty too but I think we would have enjoyed ourselves more if it had been spring or summer. There's a spa at the place too and it seemed several companies were having conferences or retreats there.

Our main reason for being in Dusseldorf was attending the trade show that featured some exercise equipment and to meet up with the German distributor for D's company. So all day Wednesday was spent at the convention center wandering around, looking at the competition. The distributor then went back with us to the hotel and we all ate at a great Italian place in Mettmann. He wanted to take us to a McCafe after dinner. He insisted that we wouldn't believe it was a McDonald's coffee shop. Leather seats, espresso, nice decor--closer to a Starbucks than a McDonald's. Crazy!

Our next day in Dusseldorf we were on our own and everyone insisted that we should go to the shopping district and walk Kulstrasse and Schadowstrasse. Sycamore tree-lined streets, twinkling lights, it was beautiful--if you're into that kind of stuff. D's not really a shopper and even less of a window shopper, and even less when the windows are Tiffany's, Louis Vitton, and Prada. But it was fun to walk around together after being with other people for the past few days and we found a cute chocolate shop to purchase thank-you presents for those back home.

The trip back home was not so nice. We got up at 5 am, Germany time to catch our flight out of Dusseldorf to Frankfort. A cold front was moving through Germany affecting flights all over. We were late getting into Frankfort (nearly 11:00) and after eating only a granola bar and a croissant we snatched from the buffet room (we left before breakfast was served) I was starting to get a bit light-headed and sick. We walked all over the Frankfort airport (the most disorganized airport!) trying to find something appealing to eat. Our flight out was delayed, we waited in lines and in waiting areas for over 2 hours, got on the plane, waited some more, and then sat through a miserably hot and stuffy 10 hr. flight. Oh, and my entertainment console was on the fritz the entire time. I watched Hancock and Flawless on D's screen with no sound. Then we switched seats and I watched Happy-Go-Lucky--very cute. After watching a documentary on Knut the polar bear, we've decided he reminds us of B!

All in all, a great experience and a lovely time away. The kids were wonderful--not a bit of trouble for either set of grandparents. My parents, of course, did projects around the house for us too. There were places and things I would have liked to see, especially in and around Copenhagen. I wanted to see the Glyptotek art museum or drive up the coast to Elsinore Castle (something rotten going on there) or cross the sound into Sweden. And it would be nice to go when I'm not pregnant. It was nearly impossible to get decaf coffee anywhere and the sip of D's beer was very good. Another time perhaps!

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Wonderful Copenhagen

I've been up since about 2:30 this morning, which is 8:30 Germany time. This is going to take some time to adjust.

Our Internet availability was hit or miss, especially once we got to Dusseldorf so updating the blog was impossible. Plus, we weren't in our room that much either. So I'll start the vacation slide show in a couple of parts, starting with Copenhagen, "wonderful Copenhagen," an epitat that comes from Hans Christian Anderson according to our colorful (literally, she was wearing a knee-length red coat, red gloves, and a white hat--Denmark colors) tour guide. She was a trip!

We got in to Copenhagen on Sunday afternoon after an uneventful flight. After settling into our room and cleaning up a bit, we hit the streets. Our hotel, a recommendation from the customer D was meeting with, was on a fairly quiet street of galleries and auction houses and just around the corner from the French, Swedish, and Swiss embassies. We actually weren't too far from Amalienborg Castle either we discovered the next day. Champagne and chocolate-covered strawberries were delivered to our room--a romantic touch that D thought of, but forgot about after finding out that #3 was on the way. Whoops! (I had a little bit of bubbly; I had too! And all the strawberries!)

That night we walked down to Nyhavn, the harbor street with restaurants and shops. It, along with much of the city, was decorated for "Jul" with greenery and lights. It looked just like the picture that's been my computer wallpaper for the past weeks. D soon bought a wool hat from a vendor there! Sexy! We walked along the Stogart which is the largest pedestrian shopping street anywhere (they say) and found an outdoor international food "festival". Tents were set up with breads, pastries, cheeses, and sausages to buy along with other foods being cooked right there. Being the cheapies that we are and after walking around smelling so many good things, we decided to make our dinner right there. We ate troflette (sp?) from a French vendor; it's sliced potatoes with creme fraiche, bacon, cheese, and onions (how could you go wrong?!) cooked on a giant skillet. Then we moved to the bratwurst grill from Holstein (biggest bratwurst I've ever had) and then for dessert tiny Dutch pancakes hot off the grill and doused in powered sugar. Before we left in search of coffee, we got these warm, sweet almonds in a paper bag to eat as we walked back to the hotel.

Monday morning we walked back to the city center, past Tivoli (weird--now we know why they come to Disney) and picked up a tour bus to take us around the city. If it had been warmer, maybe we would have walked it, but this was the way to see the most of the city when the temp is 9 C. But at least it was sunny, clear, and not windy. We saw the changing of the guard as Amalienborg Castle and saw the Queen's sister, Princess Benedict, knock on the door. (She's like 65 or so but R thought seeing a princess was cool). We did see the Little Mermaid at the harbor which is a bit of a joke because there is absolutely nothing else there but this statue in the water. They love their Hans Christian Anderson though. Saw more pretty buildings and got a bit of the local color and history of the town.

That night we met D's customer for dinner. He drove us around the city in his Maserati and we saw his fitness clubs and D talked business. Then he took us to dinner at the oldest, fanciest hotel in the city. I ate tornedo with grilled foie gras in a mushroom reduction and assorted onions. D had veal with artichoke puree and risotto with truffle sauce. I also managed to get down two bites of the pate on my starter plate. The chocolates afterward were heavenly!!

Wednesday morning it was rainy and windy. We were going to shop for our souvenirs for the kids but after dashing through the cold rain we hit the first gift shop we saw and just bought anything we thought they would like! Then it was lunch with the customer. D drank the tallest beer I've ever seen (he's not a big drinker but he did it!) and had to try Akavidit, a drink made from distilled potato and other grains and is 40% alcohol. D said it tasted like the medicine he had to take has a kid but without the grape or cherry flavor. Bit of a buzz too! Our lunch was a bit weird and very heavy but again, the petit fors and chocolates were fabulous. Then on to the airport and our flight to Dusseldorf!

Monday, November 17, 2008

Day One

We are tired!! I fell asleep last night at 7:00, woke up at 10:00 and didn't go back to sleep until 2-3 hours later! What a night!

But the flight was fine, we barely made our connection in Frankfort (Dave left his belt on going through security and was delayed a bit). The Frankfort airport is nuts! When we left the plane, we walked out onto the tarmac and into a waiting mini-bus that took us to the terminal. Left there, made our way to our depature terminal (up, up, down, down, all around), got through a customs check (stamp in my passport!!), and then....boarded another mini-bus that circled around and brought us to our next plane. All in wet, drizzle-y 50 degree weather. Crazy!

I didn't bring my camera cord b/c I thought Dave's computer had the same memory card slot mine has but not... so no pictures.

We're hitting the streets now so more later!

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Continue to Live in Him

This semester in our women's Bible study we worked through the book of Colossians using Kathleen Nielson's study. It's been a fantastic, inductive, thoroughly Bible-only study. She's an English professor--of course she knows how to read and ask good questions!

What a true joy to spend 9 weeks on this letter, paragraph by paragraph--at times, sentence by sentence. For one week's study, we covered only four verses. I really concentrated on specific words and images that Paul uses and it was worshipful!

My favorite week was our study on Col. 1:15-23 where we looked at the incarnation, resurrection, and reconciliation through Christ. It was a great week of study and then when we met to discuss we had a visual activity that solidified the whole week. On one side of the room, black paper was hung on the wall with the word "Before." On the other side, yellow paper and "After." Our tables were given phrases that belonged on one side or another--words like "enemies," "alienated," "wicked," "alive," "holy," "blameless." We put the words on the appropriate sides of the room and then had to come up with another phrase for each. Each table wrote something different for the before and the after. Then we each had a small paper bookmark with black on one side and yellow on another. Individually, we chose a "before" word and an "after" word that resonated with us. I have "enemy of God" and "peace with God" on mine. How often do I consider that I once was an enemy of God, fighting for opposing sides and under an opposing authority, deserving of wrath, and without peace?

The focus on Christ is my "take away" lesson from this: to be reminded again and again of the superiority of Christ to anything else and the amazing work he did on my behalf and the way he has modeled obedience and submission to the Father.

These past few weeks, the soundtrack for our house has reflected this. We got Andrew Peterson's new CD, Resurrection Letters, Vol. 2, which focuses on how our lives are different after that Sunday because the power of the resurrection is in us. Amazing CD (well, the first 3/4ths, I don't like the last 2-3 songs as much, the first 7-8 are fantastic!) Then we pulled out Behold the Lamb of God, a "Christmas" CD because R was reading through the Passover story. That's all about the great story of redemption from the beginning and the incarnation of Christ. And, because I had it rattling in my head, Rich Mullins and the Ragamuffins' The Jesus Record. And while I'm waiting for R to ask me what a whore is ("the whores all seem to love him") and an ass ("he rode an ass's foal), there is nothing sweeter than hearing that tiny, high-pitched voice singing, "Surely God is with us," "My Deliverer is coming," and "That where I am, there you may also be."

I've had a wonderful group of women in my small group. The burdens are tremendous within this group, but the level of vulnerability and honesty has only been matched by their encouragement and wisdom. At times, it's been kinda heavy and there have been many tragedies and hurts within the body these past few weeks. I feel totally ill equipped to sit there but awed at the stories I hear and the witness these women have. Feasting on the Word together is such a blessing.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

71 hours and counting....

We leave Saturday evening. This Saturday evening.

And I'm so exhausted with the getting ready that I have barely any energy to think about the fact that I'm actually leaving Saturday evening.

I've left my mom a four-page manual on taking care of the kids for the week (everything, she says, from the time the kids wake up to how to care for B's wee-wee. He has an inny--it's a fat issue). I've stocked the freezer, pantry, and laundry room with meat, chicken nuggets, cereal, Goldfish, bread, peanut butter, paper towels, toilet paper. A hurricane could come here no problem. Just need to put sheets on the guest bed, clean a few bathrooms, and wash every article of clothing we own.

Compounding all the normal getting ready for a trip is trying to tie up the loose ends of responsibilities I have here. I'm putting the Women's Ministry newsletter together (needs to go to print tomorrow and it's not done yet). There's R's preschool class Thanksgiving feast. Still need more turkey. Discussion questions for Philemon to write. And trying to still enjoy some of that (more tomorrow).

And, on top of everything, D had his wisdom teeth out today. I just got back from a Walgreens run for pain killers.

I did enjoy our dinner tonight, even if D couldn't eat a bite. (I had planned it for last night but a last minute call from an eldery church member who needed to get to the hospital put that on hold. We had grilled cheese and Publix subs instead.) Go to Foodtv.com and look up Rachel Ray's pork chops with Golden apples. It had a yummy maple-mustard glaze on the chops that you top with chunky applesauce. We served ours with squash casserole and green beans. Fabulous! And even Patti could make it!

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Fall Festival et al

In looking at my memory disk tonight, searching for a suitable costume shot of the kids, I realized how much is on here that I haven't posted about, made print outs of, or just ignored: R's 4th birthday (in September), our girls' weekend to the beach, a new Thursday playgroup where B's one of the oldest kids, R's fall party at school this week, and now the annual Fall Festival at church.

This was the first time since R's birth that we haven't had to "work" the Fall Festival so we were definitely more relaxed this year and were able to enjoy our time there and then leave when the kids were ready. We even made it home in time to pass out candy at our house.

Thanks to Aunt D for the hand-me-down costumes! B's was a last minute substitution. The original football player costume came with a red jersey and a blue helmet (which he refused to have anywhere near him). Dad came home, saw the UCF jersey in the bag of clothes from our nephews and made B into a hometown player. We even had black electrical tape down the sides of the pants to cover the blue stripe. Definitely the perfect costume for him! I couldn't get them both to stand up at the same time long enough for me to press the shutter button! I wanted R to wear her cousin's cheerleader outfit (c'mon!) to match her brother but, no, pink princess again this year. Same theme, different dress.

Dad and the finer points of rubber band nerf shooter thingys.

Dad's putt-putt game lives on (he built this two years ago).

Tuesday, October 14, 2008


I grew up "Christian," in that I was in a royal blue velvet pew from the day I can remember. I knew my hymnal and later "the praise and worship" songs of the early '80's. I didn't own a record or cassette that wasn't Amy Grant, Michael W. Smith, or Steven Curtis Chapman. My movie and TV watching was much more restricted than my peers. And I do remember, though vaguely, a certain end-times movie involving a guillotine.

So I approached Matthew Paul Turner's memoir, churched, of growing up in a fundamentalist Baptist church, with some common ground. Though the churches of my youth were far more relaxed, I can relate to the language and the sensibility of being "churched."

I was ready for hilarity. And there were plenty of cringe-inducing episodes of a young boy trying to make sense out of God while witnessing Barbie-burnings and the annual pastor vs. Satan boxing match and asking Jesus into his heart any time the pastor preached on the Tribulation, Communist China, hell, or even the Mandrell Sisters. Turner relates these events of his childhood with wry observation and also thoughtful insight.

His analysis of his parents' motivation or inclination to be in a fundamentalist church was interesting. Turner sees his dad "pursuing God through self-discipline". That meant the getting the right hair cut, avoiding curse words, wearing a suit and not a golf shirt to church, and keeping the TV off. "Dad found something in our church that gave him hope." For his mother, Turner saw her easily becoming a fundamentalist for the security and structure: "who better to organize her life than God?" There was safety in living a life regulated by a church than experiencing freedom in Christ.

My favorite chapter though is "Fertile Soil." Here Turner shows how tender and compassionate his father is. After a conversation with a farmer who was open about just how lost he was, Turner asks his dad why he didn't "put Tuck in his place" like Pastor Nolan would. His dad's response demonstrates his understanding of relationships with non-Christians and not the ticking through a tract: "I'm probably the only person in that boy's life who even mentions God. Whether he becomes a Christian or not, I think I'm there for a reason."

Although Turner confesses he still struggles with God, the American church, and American "Christian" culture (he lives in Nashville, the "Christian mecca," he calls it), he's still pursuing Jesus and is more willing to forgive the blemishes of a church and its light shows. He's a Christian despite the church in some ways and because of it in others. After their first Sunday at their new church, Turner remembers the conversation in the car during the ride home:"One thing I did notice about the new God we worshipped: he followed us home." Turner's life and his relationship with God would be forever changed and shaped by this church. What a responsibility.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

In the mail...

Today, I'm officially a world-traveler...to-be. My passport arrived in the mail today, lickety split. I only applied about a week and half ago. Glad to see my tax dollars are hard at work with such efficient service.

I will need said passport when D and I go to Copenhagen and Dusseldorf in November! Granted, not the best time of year to visit a Scandinavian country but we'll take it! D has some customers to visit and a trade show to attend and I'm tagging along for the ride, er, flight. We'll spend about almost three days in lovely Copenhagen before flying to very modern and artsy Dusseldorf, Germany. We're hoping to get to Sweden too, just for another stamp at least! There's actually a bridge across the strand--looks amazing!
From all I'm reading about Copenhagen, it seems like a lovely, accessible city with neat architecture, modern design, and pedestrian and biker friendly streets. They love hot dogs and chocolate milk--together. This picture is of Nyhavn, New Harbor, once home to 17th century sailors and Hans Christian Andersen, and now a place for jazz clubs and restaurants. The Little Mermaid statue is the city's most recognizable landmark along with its palaces. I'm trying to talk D into a day trip to visit Hamlet sites like Elsinore, but so far no luck. I'm a little worried about Danish cuisine; so far I've seen typical Danish specialties include musk ox, beet roots, and prawns. Yikes.
This will be the longest time I've been away from the children--six nights!. And the first time I've been on a plane in over four years! I haven't been out of the country since a high school mission trip to Costa Rica--and I didn't even need a passport then.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Heard around the House

I haven't been in the blogging mood much lately, but sinking to the bottom of Debby's list makes a girl write about something. (Heck, KS's posted twice and even the Diva with baby girl has posted a couple of times.) I do have something more substantial in my head, but for now...getting caught up on all our chaos.

"wan dat" - B's "want that," spoken yesterday morning while I had a piece of pumpkin bread in my hand. Still the only consistent words (beside Momma and Daddy) he says.

"soakin'" - R's intensifier for everything now...."I'm soakin' tired," "I'm soakin' mad," "I'm soakin' hungry."

"Today I Will Fly" - kid's book by Mo Willems of the pigeon and knuffle bunny fame. This is part of a series of books about Gerald the Elephant and his friend Piggie. Like with most of his other books, the words are sparse but the simple pictures tell a lot. I really like this because it makes R analyze the pictures, make inferences, and help produce the meaning through her inflections and voice as she reads. She does great voices! And we like that Gerald's speech bubbles are in gray and Piggie's are in pink so you can guess which one she prefers to read. Also on our table from the library: another Little Bear book (perfect level for her reading) and Hilda Must Be Dancing (by Karma Wilson who wrote our favs The Bear Snores On and Moose Tracks).

Right now though I'm hearing the drip, drip, drip of my gutter. It kept me up last night so I must start the drip, drip, drip of the coffeemaker.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

The Road of Lost Innocence

“My name is Somaly. At least that’s the name I have now. Like everyone in Cambodia, I’ve had several. Names are the result of temporary choices.”

Somaly Mam was orphaned at a young age in the jungles of northeastern Cambodia. Her memories of her parents are indistinct. She’s not even sure of her exact birth date or year. But at the age of sixteen, her life would change forever. She was sold into prostitution. She has endured countless abuses at the hands of other humans—slavery, rape, beatings, torture, isolation, and shame. Now she is a survivor, mother, and crusader, not only raising awareness of forced prostitution in Southeast Asia, especially of children, but fighting daily in the very streets where she once lived. Her story was remarkable, and yet not so remarkable as she relates the names and stories of other women—and girls—who have the same horrible tale to tell.

Her book was riveting—not so much from the way it was told as I think translated works can sometimes lose their emotional coloring—but from the details of her life, one that you don’t want to have to look at or think about but that you must. I knew that this would be a difficult book to read but I also knew that I needed to read her story and look at her life to understand to some degree that this does happen, is happening.

I encourage you all to read The Road of Lost Innocence and to read not only for her tale but also for the work she is doing to rescue women and help them to heal, regain life, regain dignity.

“Trying to explain it is not what I do. I keep my head down and try to help one girl about another. That is a big enough task.”


Monday, September 15, 2008

Non-Linear 2 with Plots

The last two novels I've read have both had non-traditional, non-linear plot structures. I actually really enjoy a tale that is told in a way that loops or jumps around--as long as it is done well. Maybe this comes from loving Faulkner so much or just enjoying a writer's inventiveness.

In Sandra Cisneros' Caramelo, the plot builds to a climactic event--an argument, a fight really, between the young narrator's parents. Then, abruptly in the next chapter, the plot jumps back almost a hundred years to the "Awful Grandmother's" childhood. The action moves forward from there through the years of the Mexican Revolution, hints of Spanish-American War, the World Wars, and immigration from Mexico City to Chicago. Throughout the tale, someone interrupts the narrator, who now seems older than when the novel first began, and complains she isn't telling it right. Eventually, the novel reaches where it had left off and continues on. It isn't until the end that all this is sorted out. I loved though the multi-generational tale that tries to explain why some is the way she is. Why is Awful Grandmother so awful? What was the fight between Mama and Papa about? What is the role of storytelling? What purpose can it serve?

I enjoy Sandra Cisneros' work, especially House on Mango Street, one of my all-time favorites. She can tell so much in so few words and she plays with narrative structure, layers of narrators, and authorial voice like toys--effortlessly and with humor and lightness, even when the themes are deep and emotional. A beautiful novel--so much in it, I can't fit it all in here.

Our last book club read, The Last Time They Met by Anita Shreve, also attempts to explain why someone at age 50 is who he is. The novel is told mostly backwards beginning when the main characters, Thomas and Linda, old lovers, meet at about age 50. Shreve was intrigued by the thought of seeing someone later in life and working backwards to figure out what shaped that person into what you see before you. The novel is told in three sections--52, 27, and 17--the age of Linda each time they meet. Shreve lacks the depth and weight of Cisneros (maybe made more difficult by the fact that I read them back to back). You find yourself not caring as much about the characters partly because you aren't given enough "fleshing out" to care and partly because they are really likeable characters. This was the first Shreve novel I've read and I'm interested enough to go back and read others, especially Sea Glass which was recommended by my fellow book clubians.

In other readings, I'm taking The Right Attitude to Rain and Blue Shoes and Happiness (both Alexander McCall Smith novels from the two "detective" series) to the beach with me this week. R and I are joining the rest of the "girls" on D's side of the family--sisters, mom, sister-in-law, and our only niece--at Ormond Beach for a long weekend. Which means D and B. Diddy will be home alone. PLUS, Rock Band 2 came out this week. I'm not even going to think about it.....

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

3 by Kate DiCamillo

Last Christmas, my bookworm sister-in-law (and I mean that as a compliment) gave R a beautiful hardcover book titled Great Joy by Kate DiCamillo. I didn't know the book but recognized DiCamillo as the author of Because of Winn-Dixie, which I hadn't read but knew about (set in Florida, made into a movie with A-list actors and Dave Matthews). Then, a few weeks ago, I saw that The Tale of Despereaux was also going to be coming to theaters so I decided I really must read these books. And fortunately, as I was perusing the shelves of Brightlight Books looking for books for R's birthday, both books were there and in excellent condition (though I only noticed later at home that a second grader named Christina had written her name and school on the inside front cover of Winn Dixie and she apparently has "blonde hair, blue eyes and bangs on forehead").

Great Joy, a picture book, is a Christmas story set in WWII in New York City from the rich visual clues in the period clothing and hairstyles, a portrait of a solider on the mother's desk, and street signs. Frances watches the man with the organ grinder and his monkey play every day on the street corner. Her curiosity about their situation compels her to stay awake one night and see where they go. When she realizes they sleep on the street and have nowhere to go at night, she implores her mother to let them come for dinner. Her mother, in practical, cautious reasoning, refuses because they are strangers. However, Frances invites them to the church Christmas play where she is an angel and has one line. During the play, Frances freezes on stage and cannot get her line out, until the old, sad organ grinder appears in the doorway of the church. Then, Frances announces to the audience and to us: "Behold, I bring you tidings of Great Joy!"

Bagram Ibatoulline's illustrations are luminous, glowing, and detailed. The narrative is short but much is said in the last lines and on Frances's face as she triumphantly declares the joy of Christmas.

Because of Winn-Dixie was DiCamillo's first published work. Set in fictional Naomi, Florida, the young heroine India Opal finds the ugliest, smelliest, biggest dog she's ever seen--in the produce section of the Winn-Dixie. And it's because of Winn-Dixie, the name she bestows on the dog, that Opal is able to make her way in the new town where her father is the pastor and through a life where her mother is absent. The characters, even minor ones and even Winn-Dixie, are so fully developed that you know exactly who they are, even though DiCamillo is stingy with her words. This is a fairly short novel and while each chapter reads almost like a short story, the overarching plot is compact. There is nothing needless or unnecessary in her writing. You get just enough and often phrases and descriptions, like poetry, are concentrated and say more and do more. One of my favorite descriptions is of Sweetie Pie Thomas, whom Opal almost runs into as she's leaving a pet store:

"She was standing there, sucking on the knuckle of her third finger, staring in the window of Gertrude's Pets. She took her finger out of her mouth and looked at me. Her eyes were all big and round. "Was that bird sitting on that dog's head?" she asked. She had her hair tied up on a ponytail with a pink ribbon. But it wasn't much of a ponytail, it was mostly ribbon and a few strands of hair....'I'm going to be six years old in September. I got to stop sucking on my knuckle once I'm six, said Sweetie Pie. 'I'm having a party. Do you want to come to my part? The theme is pink.'"

The story of family, friendship, and acceptance is beautiful without being saccharine. Some of that comes from slightly lunatic characters and mostly from DiCamillo's even-handed and tongue-in-cheek style as she writes through Opal. There is also much beauty in her writing though which you will enjoy discovering like the sweet but melancholy Littmus Lozenges.

Finally, there's The Tale of Despereaux, which DiCamillo wrote for a friend's son when he asked for a story with an unlikely hero "with exceptionally large ears." Despereaux is a mouse and this is a fairy tale with kings, princesses, villains, and dungeons. Again, DiCamillo's narrative voice changes as she writes in an oral storytelling style with as much humor as pathos. The narrator even encourages the reader to look up words so that he or she will not miss out on any of the meaning: "At least Lester had the decency to weep at his act of perfidy. Reader, do you know what "perfidy" means? I have a feeling you do, based on the little scene that has just unfolded here. But you should look up the word in your dictionary, just to be sure." The story of soup, honor, revenge, and rescue is a true fairy tale in the best sense of the word--a tale that uses the other-worldly or the absurd to communicate great truths.

All of these works revolve around life, light, beauty, and connection. In Despereaux especially, the desire for light over dark and the battle between the two is played out most explicitly (a chapter entitled Recalled to the Light, a reference to A Tale of Two Cities.) To inflict suffering or to relieve. To exact revenge or to forgive. To torture or to heal. To capture or to rescue. In Despereaux's tale I found all the elements of the Gospel.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

First First Day of School

No tears, no long good-bye. She marched right in, found her "bee" on the wall and put it on the hive, and sat at the table ready to paint. Granted, this is all pretty easy when 1) school is at your church you've been at your whole life, 2) your teacher is your best friend's mom and you've known her your whole life, 3) you already know three or four of your classmates, and 4) you've been waiting for this for about 2 years.

When I picked her up, she wanted to know if we had been anywhere (we hadn't) and what we had done (played and ate lunch). "Me, too!" she said. She was proud of carrying her bag herself and panicked for moment when she thought she had left her lunch box (it was in the bag). She showed off her cutting skills on the bee picture which had no wings but plenty of glue. They sang a "Good Morning" song and had a story about creation ("But we didn't get to Adam and Eve yet.") She ate her lunch, remembered to bring home her spoon, and didn't throw away the note I had written her. She mentioned that Miss Sarah Jane and Miss B.A. had stopped by her class and she smiled and waved to them (which is pretty big for her since she tends to be inexplicably shy at times.)
For B, he looked around the house, trying to find R. He walked down the hallway towards their rooms, came back, and put his arms out in a "There's no R anywhere!" look. (Seriously, that's exactly what he was thinking despite not uttering a single word.)

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Word of the Day

My·o·pia : noun : 1) a condition in which the visual images come to a focus in front of the retina of the eye resulting especially in defective vision of distant objects 2) a lack of foresight or discernment : a narrow view of something

Myopic, the adjectival derivative, is one of my favorite words. Maybe, partially, because I am literally myopic and must wear corrective lenses of some kind or another. And as the theme of revelation and sight have been on my mind lately, this word and its implication figuratively and spiritually.

I struggle with myopia in my lack of contentment. I can see only that which is right in front of me so that the larger picture is distored, blurry. I lose sight of the future--the distance--thinking this is all I have. Sippy cups and temper tantrums, weeds and dust bunnies, sin and sadness. I choose to have a "narrow view" instead of seeing the glorious goal I'm working towards. I focus instead on the disappointments and the failures instead of growth and potential.
But I can also tend to look past the here-and-now and be discouraged about my present situation that I don't see clearly what is before me: opportunity, blessings, needs, love.

On Sunday, Orangewood's founding pastor, Chuck Green, preached on being afflicted, using Paul's "thorn" as his text. He theorizes that Paul's ailment was likely physical and perhaps involved his eyes, a remnant from the "something like scales" that covered his eyes after his roadside encounter with Jesus. (Paul writes about using large letters so that his original readers would know that he was the one writing.) Paul says in 1st Corinthians that his thorn was given to him to humble him so that in his weaknesses, Christ would be exalted. What if Paul was afflicted with a bit of a scale to remind him of how much he used to cling to his own accomplishments and heritage but how misguided he had been before God changed his heart?

Sally Lloyd-Jones, the author of The Jesus Storybook Bible, titled Paul's conversion story, "A New Way to See." She writes: "Saul was blind for three whole days--and yet it was as if he was seeing for the very first time." When Saul's sight is restored, he sees everything differently.

Scripture if full of metaphors of sight and eyes. Paul defines faith as being certain of what we do not see. R and I had this conversation yesterday regarding Noah. She asked why the other people were laughing at Noah in the illustration of the book we were reading. Without having seen rain, a storm, or an ocean, Noah obeyed God, regardless of how others saw him. He focused on the task before him, fixed his eyes on his God.

My eyes need to be focused on Him alone. I may not see far. Somethings may still be fuzzy or unclear, but He is to be my vision.

And for anyone who's curious, the opposite of myopia (shortsightedness) is hyperopia (farsightedness). See ya!

Saturday, August 23, 2008

V is for Van Gogh

This one came to me and replaced my original, not-as-great "V" idea. And I couldn't believe that I hadn't thought of it earlier. With all the Baby and Little Einstein stuff we have, R is quite familiar with Van Gogh and recognizes some of his more famous paintings--or at least the ones used in Little Einstein episodes.

After searching on-line for some ideas in just how to do this well, I came across a wonderful blog by an elementary art teacher. At http://www.artprojectsforkids.org/, Kathy Barbro posts examples and instructions on the projects she does with her students. Most were beyond R's capacity right now but I got some good ideas.

I downloaded a few Van Gogh paintings, some of my favorites and some that showcased his hatching techinique the best. I would have liked to get R to work on the using the dots and lines to create the painting but what she did was pretty good anyway. She chose one of the Sunflower paintings as her inspiriation so we printed it out and taped it to the side of her easel. After some direction by Mom to sketch the horizontal line and the outline of the vase, this is what she created. I had to paint her "signature" on the vase like Vincent's but this is pretty much her own.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Children's Extravaganza Book Tour

I was so excited to open my e-mail a few weeks ago and see "The Children's Extravaganza" blog tour offered. R and I read constantly (I'm so proud of my bookworm!) so I'm always on the hunt for quality picture books for her and especially ones that point her to God. Kids' books are tricky: the storytelling and diction have to be engaging but not confusing, the pictures need to reinforce the story, and the theology has to be accurate even in its simple text.

God Gave Us Heaven by Lisa Tawn Bergren and illustrated by Laura J. Bryant is part of Bergren’s “God Gave Us…” series. The dedication reveals this book was inspired by Mady Grace, only six years old when she died, and was written “for all those who already know the wonders of heaven.”

The polar bear cub in the book begins by asking, “Papa, what’s heav’n?” Her father responds, “Why, heaven is God’s home…the most amazing place we’ll ever get to see.” The cub’s series of questions and the wise and tender answers from her father as they go about their day make up the rest of the book. The cub asks pretty typical questions—like when will they go to heaven, if they will eat or sleep there, and what will they do all day. The father’s answers don’t assume more about heaven than what we do know from Scripture and they address what the child needs to know--to be secure in her God who created her to worship Him both on earth and in heaven. Especially important though is the answer to the cub’s question of “how do we get there.” The sacrifice of Jesus, depicted in metaphor and illustration of a bridge, shows Him as the Way to our “forever home.” All in all, a sweet book.

I was not familiar with the "Dandilion Rhymes" series by Dandi Daley Mackall, who has authored more than 400 books. (I guess I have a lot of catching up to do when it comes to kids' books.) Her newest books are When God Created My Toes and God Loves Me More than That, both illustrated beautifully by David Hohn.

God Loves Me More Than That, based on Ephesians 3:17-19 on the depth, width, height of God’s love, answers the question posed on the first page, “How much love does God have for me?” Accompanied Hohn’s detailed illustrations (my favorites are the hippos splashing in the rain and the “thunder-rumbling, storm-charged cloud”), the answer comes in a variety of rhymes and word pictures showing God’s love is bigger, louder, wider, deeper than anything you could imagine. I love that Mackall’s book begins with Scripture and then illustrates the concept for young children. The vastness of God’s love is infinite and the intangible qualities of our God are difficult for them (and us!) to grasp. This picture book begins to do that and to reinforce that God’s love is amazing and so much stronger than our earthly love for others and for Him.

Unfortunately, I didn’t care for Mackall’s other book, When God Created My Toes as much, though my issues are minimal. Mackall takes inspiration from Psalm 139:13-16 and then contemplates the unique aspects of toes and knees, head and hair. “When God created my toes did he make them wiggle? Did he know I’d giggle? Did he have to hold his nose when God created my toes?” I love the physicality of this concept and of reveling in God’s creativity, our individuality, and the amazing design of our bodies. But I don’t grasp the purpose of the last line of most stanzas, like this one with knees: “Did we sing our ABC’s when God created my knees?” Or “Did we do a double flip when God created my hip?” I don’t get the “we.” Is it the presence of a soul at conception? And does this indicate a regenerate heart that can have relationship with God before birth? These are the things I think about...and my husband too. He had the same reaction.

And while Hohn’s drawings are, again, detailed and beautiful (and I like addition of the kid’s sketches that accompany the four-color illustrations), some of the drawings show behaviors I would rather my children not do—like finger-paint the walls and furniture or sneak up on Dad while he’s drinking a cup of coffee. As a friend and I were sharing the other day, we don’t want to have to review house rules while reading to our kids. (You may only paint with Mommy. Art supplies stay in the playroom.) I guess this could present a teachable moment: See what happens when you play surprise peek-a-boo with Dad and he's holding a hot cup of...well, in his case it would be a Diet Coke.

If any of these interest you, I have one copy of each to give away to a lucky reader. First to e-mail me gets it. And all books are available on Amazon.com. Click on the links below.

God Gave Us Heaven: http://www.amazon.com/God-Gave-Heaven-Lisa-Bergren/dp/1400074460/ref=pd_bbs_sr_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1218755286&sr=8-1

God Loves Me More Than That: http://www.amazon.com/Loves-More-Than-Dandilion-Rhymes/dp/1400073162/ref=pd_bbs_sr_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1218755325&sr=1-1

When God Created My Toes: http://www.amazon.com/When-Created-Toes-Dandilion-Rhymes/dp/1400073154/ref=pd_bbs_sr_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1218755355&sr=1-1

A couple of grown-up books coming soon! Happy Reading!

Monday, August 18, 2008

The Summer Alphabet Saga

"T" was for trees last week. (I do believe I may have to go until the equinox to get all the way to Z unless I really crank it out these last two weeks!)
So we went to Big Tree Park to see the Senator tree. With the boardwalks, I was able to use the stroller with Big Ben and we walked up to the 3,800 year old tree and went--"yep, that's a big tree." It was pretty amazing and very tall. I asked R if she wanted to continue down the path to Lady Liberty but nope, she was done.
They played on the playground for a while and then we were going to eat our snack. But I kept seeing two of the most diseased squirrels I've ever seen so I decided we were not going to open our peanut butter crackers with them around. R did tree bark rubbings on a variety of trees around the playground and did get a bit dirty. She lost it when she slipped and fell into the wet grass and dirt around one tree. "I'm DONE! I want to go HOME!" she cried. What a monster I've made.
This summer project has been good for us--pushing her beyond her comfort and clean zone and forcing me to be creative, productive, and purposeful with our time. It has been so hard to get everything in. Between meals and naptime, we don't have that much time to do a big project and we are somewhat limited by the boy getting into things or by what he is able to handle. Or by R's attitude when she poops on an idea I've had like my Q is for quilt project. Brat.
All in all, I will be a bit sad when she goes off to her first first day of preschool in just two weeks. Just a wee bit though. Did I mention she completely pooped on my quilt idea?

Monday, August 4, 2008

Pedicures, Pigs, and Pancakes

Today's letter of the day was "P." It may be my favorite letter so far.

First, R wore her pajamas the entire day--even to swim lessons and the library.

We checked out books with pigs, pirates, and parties (If You Give a Pig a Party and Pirates Don't Change Diapers).

We ate popcorn and watched the "Pigs Aplenty, Pigs Galore" episode of Between the Lions for morning snack.

Peanut butter for lunch (no different from any other day there).

Pedicures and pink polish after nap.

And pancakes for dinner.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Week 7 - Die/Live

"I no longer live, but Christ lives in me." Galatians 2:20
Every chapter in this book of 7 hard things has culminated in the final chapter--God asks women to die; God asks women to live. The chapter was lengthy and involved; I had a hard time condensing all the topics into our handout of questions. And there was much we didn't, or couldn't, get into. But I believe we were all convicted, moved, and encouraged by wrestling with the paradoxical idea that we are both dead and alive, that we are called to die continuously and live actively. (And once again, our study and discussion dovetailed nicely into this morning's sermon from Colossians 3:1-4--even with a guest preacher!)
We considered how we know something is physically, literally alive. I loved the responses! We see breath, growth, a desire for nourishment, fruit, bleeding, and reproduction (both inwardly with old cells replaced with new cells and outwardly in the making of reproductions or copies). A plant that is alive will stretch, grow, fill. And, if you've seen my black-thumb garden, you'll know that things that are alive look different, look better that those that are dead. The proof of spiritual life is much the same: there must be growth, change, fruit (of the Spirit), we seek nourishment if we are truly alive (not waiting for it to be dropped into our mouths). We bleed and hurt for the lost and for our world. We are able to heal from wounds (amazing thought that those that are alive in Christ are not slain by wounds of the world but find healing through Christ). There is joy and peace in the appearance of those alive in Christ--we look different, look better than those who are dead or not really living.
And we begin to fail to live fully alive by focusing on our selves, instead of Christ. By settling for the world instead of oneness with God. We don't live out of the reality that we have been raised up with Christ and sit together in the heavenly places (Ephesians 2:6).
We then considered the four "selfless snapshots," metaphors of living and sacrificing--the dual crucifixion, the living garden, living sacrifices, and the free slave. The concept that Christ really lives through us, when we get our self completely out of the way came out to us in a new way. The life of small, daily incremental sacrifices of self--not one large donation of "whew, got that over with, now I'm done--is the call to be a living sacrifice, to see first his kingdom and not mine. And amazingly, we can be free slaves. Employing the picture of the free slave who willingly chooses to remain with his master, piercing his ear to show his commitment resonated with us. This is who we are. We have a transformation that others can see (our piereced ear) that signifies who we belong to. We know that life with the Master is better than any life away from him. That service to Him is sweet and rewarding. That He is benevolent and generous. We are no longer enslaved to sin but to Christ. And we choose to remain a slave to him by the choices we make every day. Though we are prone to wander, prone to leave, being a slave to Christ, resting in his care, becomes sweeter and sweeter.
Our closing time was spent sharing which pair we were called to the most right now--either by the season of life we are in or by what God has laid on our hearts that we need to address. I loved hearing more about what God is doing in your lives. And I especially loved praying for you and hearing your prayers for each other (and for me).
Thank you to all the ladies who joined in this study. I was blessed by your presence, encouraged by your words, convicted by your exhortations, and reassured of God's love and strength. We can do all things through Christ who strengths us. Let us not grow weary of doing the hard things he has called us to.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

NEA List: How many have you read?

If you're the "average" person, you've only read SIX, according to the National Endowment for the Arts. You all of course, dear readers, are not average at all.

So, here's what you do: Copy onto your blog. Bold the books you have read. Italicize the books you intend to read. Underline or change the color of books you love. Then bug those people who have only read six of these.

Reading through this list, I realized that (1) I have spent quite a bit of time reading things other than these books, (2) I'm surprised at some of the "classics" (three Thomas Hardy books, puh-leeze!), (3) I'm surprised at some of contemporary books here (Five People You Meet in Heaven? Time Traveler's Wife, really?) (4) the absence of other African-American writers like Zora Neale Hurstson, Ralph Elliot, Toni Morrison, and Ernest Gaines; only Alice Walker is represented (5) while I've read quite a few, I've never heard of some of these (6) yay! for some of the children's classics like Anne of Green Gables and The Wind in the Willows (7) I've seen the movie; does that count?

Lists like these always bring up questions of quality, diversity, tradition, authority. Who decides what should be included? What are their criteria? What is their intention? Why are there FOUR Jane Austen novels (not that I don't love, love, love Austen, but let's give some space to someone else)? Why no Faulkner or Flannery O'Connor? And of course, based on your schooling or preferences, you may have missed a bunch of these. In Amer. Lit. I, I read other Melville stuff, not Moby Dick, since my prof wanted more diversity. In 12th grade, I took AP English Lit, which meant I didn't read 1984 or Animal Farm back then. And I don't really like Dickens.

Anyway, I can update Good Reads this week with some more "intend to read" books for my shelf. Maybe you'll do the same.

1 Pride and Prejudice - Jane Austen
2 The Lord of the Rings - JRR Tolkien
3 Jane Eyre - Charlotte Bronte
4 Harry Potter series - JK Rowling
5 To Kill a Mockingbird - Harper Lee
6 The Bible
7 Wuthering Heights - Emily Bronte
8 Nineteen Eighty Four - George Orwell (how I taught senior Brit Lit English without having to read this whole thing is probably enough to have my teaching certificate revoked)
9 His Dark Materials - Philip Pullman
10 Great Expectations - Charles Dickens
11 Little Women - Louisa M Alcott
12 Tess of the D’Urbervilles - Thomas Hardy
13 Catch 22 - Joseph Heller
14 Complete Works of Shakespeare (I've read most)
15 Rebecca - Daphne Du Maurier
16 The Hobbit - JRR Tolkien
17 Birdsong - Sebastian Faulks
18 Catcher in the Rye - JD Salinger
19 The Time Traveler’s Wife - Audrey Niffenegger
20 Middlemarch - George Eliot
21 Gone With The Wind - Margaret Mitchell
22 The Great Gatsby - F Scott Fitzgerald
23 Bleak House - Charles Dickens
24 War and Peace - Leo Tolstoy
25 The Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy - Douglas Adams
26 Brideshead Revisited - Evelyn Waugh
27 Crime and Punishment - Fyodor Dostoyevsky
28 Grapes of Wrath - John Steinbeck
29 Alice in Wonderland - Lewis Carroll
30 The Wind in the Willows - Kenneth Grahame
31 Anna Karenina - Leo Tolstoy
32 David Copperfield - Charles Dickens
33 Chronicles of Narnia - CS Lewis
34 Emma - Jane Austen
35 Persuasion - Jane Austen
36 The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe - CS Lewis
37 The Kite Runner - Khaled Hosseini
38 Captain Corelli’s Mandolin - Louis De Bernieres
39 Memoirs of a Geisha - Arthur Golden
40 Winnie the Pooh - AA Milne
41 Animal Farm - George Orwell
42 The Da Vinci Code - Dan Brown
43 One Hundred Years of Solitude - Gabriel Garcia Marquez
44 A Prayer for Owen Meany - John Irving
45 The Woman in White - Wilkie Collins
46 Anne of Green Gables - LM Montgomery
47 Far From The Madding Crowd - Thomas Hardy
48 The Handmaid’s Tale - Margaret Atwood
49 Lord of the Flies - William Golding
50 Atonement - Ian McEwan
51 Life of Pi - Yann Martel
52 Dune - Frank Herbert
53 Cold Comfort Farm - Stella Gibbons
54 Sense and Sensibility - Jane Austen
55 A Suitable Boy - Vikram Seth
56 The Shadow of the Wind - Carlos Ruiz Zafon
57 A Tale Of Two Cities - Charles Dickens
58 Brave New World - Aldous Huxley
59 The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time - Mark Haddon
60 Love In The Time Of Cholera - Gabriel Garcia Marquez
61 Of Mice and Men - John Steinbeck
62 Lolita - Vladimir Nabokov
63 The Secret History - Donna Tartt
64 The Lovely Bones - Alice Sebold
65 Count of Monte Cristo - Alexandre Dumas
66 On The Road - Jack Kerouac
67 Jude the Obscure - Thomas Hardy
68 Bridget Jones’s Diary - Helen Fielding
69 Midnight’s Children - Salman Rushdie (NOOOOO!!!! One Rushdie was enough!)
70 Moby Dick - Herman Melville
71 Oliver Twist - Charles Dickens
72 Dracula - Bram Stoker
73 The Secret Garden - Frances Hodgson Burnett
74 Notes From A Small Island - Bill Bryson
75 Ulysses - James Joyce
76 The Bell Jar - Sylvia Plath
77 Swallows and Amazons - Arthur Ransome
78 Germinal - Emile Zola
79 Vanity Fair - William Makepeace Thackeray
80 Possession - AS Byatt
81 A Christmas Carol - Charles Dickens
82 Cloud Atlas - David Mitchell
83 The Color Purple - Alice Walker
84 The Remains of the Day - Kazuo Ishiguro
85 Madame Bovary - Gustave Flaubert
86 A Fine Balance - Rohinton Mistry
87 Charlotte’s Web - EB White
88 The Five People You Meet In Heaven - Mitch Albom
89 Adventures of Sherlock Holmes - Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
90 The Faraway Tree Collection
91 Heart of Darkness - Joseph Conrad
92 The Little Prince - Antoine De Saint-Exupery
93 The Wasp Factory - Iain Banks
94 Watership Down - Richard Adams
95 A Confederacy of Dunces - John Kennedy Toole
96 A Town Like Alice - Nevil Shute
97 The Three Musketeers - Alexandre Dumas
98 Hamlet - William Shakespeare
99 Charlie and the Chocolate Factory - Roald Dahl
100 Les Miserables - Victor Hugo

Friday, July 25, 2008

Week 6 - Lead/Follow

"...submission is not an occasional event. It is a lifestyle. It isn't a negative obligation on women, but the natural outworking of the gospel in every Christian's life. Submission is an attribute of Jesus, so it ought to show up in all of his followers" (James 161).

Whenever you bring up the topic of leading and following with a group of women, it seems gender tensions inevitably arise. Since the curse, we find ourselves wanting to follow strong leadership but find it lacking; with critical spirits then, we can take over, dominate, and dictate whether in our homes or churches. But every women is called to lead--in action and attitude--and every woman is called to follow--with sacrifice and submission.

This chapter focused us on the centrality of faith and trust in both leading and following. And in looking at Naomi, Ruth, and Boaz, we see the centrality of submission in all three people and the way the gospel is lived out through their actions. Carolyn James devotes a chapter to the role of submission in her book on Ruth. So we started our discussion there.

Naomi deeply desires to see Ruth "well-provided" through a husband, the primary means of provision and security for a woman in that culture. She knows there is a connection between Ruth and Boaz so she sends Ruth to the threshing floor with the intention of securing a marriage that night. She sacrifices her own future security by sending Ruth to Boaz--who is not the closest kinsman-redeemer--and essentially releases her hopes of restoring her husband's land or lineage. Ruth's future, the future after Naomi's death, is most important to her.

Ruth, however, challenges Boaz, the "man of high standing" to undertake a rescue mission that night. Risking humiliation and rejection, she pushes Boaz beyond the letter of both the levirate and kinsman-redeemer laws. Boaz is not a brother (more like a cousin) and not even the closest kinsman-redeemer. Ruth, now barren for ten years, offers to marry Boaz and produce a child for Naomi which will inherit the land and continue the family line. Boaz, not emasculated in the least by this strong woman, listens to Ruth's plan and resolves to act immediately.

Boaz, for his part, sacrifices his own financial and family interests, by joining Ruth. Rather than refuse to help, getting off on a technicality, he recognizes the call of Yahweh to care for widows, to restore families, to show great kindness to the least.

This week's chapter also looked at the lives of Deborah and Esther, two more strong women leaders in Israel's history. Judges 4-5 gives the account of a battle in which Barak, the general of the army refused to go to battle without Deborah with him and in which the greatest victory was given to a Jael, the woman who drove the tent peg through the enemy's skull. In looking at the meaning of "lead" and "follow" this week, I saw over and over again in Deborah's song (Judges 5) that both the leaders of Israel and the people "offered themselves willingly" or volunteered. In contrast, tribes who did not send soldiers were said to be on their ships still or in the inlets of safety. They were unwilling to sacrifice.

This willing offering on the part of both leaders and followers is the call of every follower of Jesus. It is an offering in faith and a dependence on someone else--first God and then others. It demands a complete lack of self-sufficiency and a relinquishing of control, power and to cease fighting. It is a willing, conscious laying down of one's own interests and desires for the sake of another.
  • Do you consider yourself more a leader or a follower? Where are you more comfortable?
  • What does "lead" mean? (You can use your thesaurus.)
  • Why do we refuse to lead?
  • (from Question 2) Examine any obstacles that might be in the way of you being a good emotional leader in your home.
  • What are some practical ways we can lead or initiate in our homes, our neighborhoods, and church?
  • What does "follow" mean?
  • "Faith, submission, surrender, leadership, followship--it's really all about how much you trust God" (157). How do you define faith, trust, dependence, surrender, submission?
  • By faithl...."What would you want the faith chapter to say about you? What does it say about who you are as a leader, and as a follower" (157)?

Monday, July 21, 2008

Still here...

Still without a computer to call my own. So I have to catch up at night as best I can which means trying to remember all the things I wanted to do, e-mails to send, books to order, blog posts to write.

I thought I would catch up on the book reading and movie watching we've done lately. And, side note, I'm currently on both Shelfari.com and GoodReads.com--two book cataloging/organizing social websites that essentially do the exact same thing--which means I'm updating and reviewing books on both sites. If you're on either one, look me up. Maybe one of these days, one site will win out over another but right now I have friends on both and I like certain features on both.

Books - I feel I need to fully recommend Alexander McCall Smith's The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency series. Several people have asked me lately if they are really all that good. I just finished book 6 last night (I believe it is my favorite so far) and I can wholeheartedly recommend them, especially for light summer reading that won't leave you sorry in the morning. McCall Smith is an older Scottish gentleman who lived in Africa for some time. Amazingly, he writes Mma. Precious Ramoswte, the traditionally built Botswana woman who opens the first detective agency in Gaborone, with skill and humor. The books are not Murder She Wrote mystery novels, especially as the series continues, but novels about Africa, about relationships, and about the dreams of the main characters. McCall Smith has a unique style that is readable and enjoyable. You can clearly tell that he loves Africa and its people as much as his characters. In fact, Africa--Botswana, the Kalahari desert, the heat, the dry season, the politics, the changing culture--is as much a character as the imposing Mma. Ramoswte. My favorite character though is actually Mma. Grace Makutsi, the assistant detective and secretary who graduated with an unheard-of 97 percent at the Botswana Secretarial College, a fact that she frequently brings up. She is somewhat awkward and shy at times, dogged by a background of poverty and a peculiar complexion--certainly not a glamorous woman who becomes a secretary with the intention of snagging a handsome executive. But her hopeful attitude toward her future, her ability to rise to challenges, her humility and kindness, and her less than worldly ways make her a great counterpoint to her Boss. Plus, you throw in a manipulative orphanage matron, two foster children, the best mechanic in Gaborone, two feckless garage apprentices, and a mystery or two to unravel and you have a pleasant read for a warm summer night. My only warning--read only one or two in a row. Also, McCall Smith's Scottish "mystery" series--The Sunday Philosophy Club--is also enjoyable though I've only gotten to read the first one so far.

Movies - Two favorites and one I really wanted to like
After reading two glowing reviews from sources I trust, I moved these up in our queue: Lars and the Real Girl and Once. Lars was sweet and quirky and clean (I promise!). I loved how the family and community rallied around Lars and was willing to "become all things" in a way to help him. Once--what can I say? I nearly hit "play" again as soon as it was over. Simply beautiful, affirming, and refreshing (you just have to get past all the f-words, they are Irish after all).

This weekend, we watched The Ultimate Gift with James Gardner, Abigial Breslin, and some others. Gardner plays a recently deceased multi-billionaire. In his video will, he leaves his grandson with a series of tasks (gifts) to accomplish to get to the ultimate gift. It is clear his spoiled, trust-fund grandson needs to learn some values and lessons. For most of the movie, this is done without sap and sentimentality, and even humorously. Then, it jumps the shark with a plot point involving Ecuadorian drug lords and ends predictably. But I'm glad we supported the producers for making a movie with values and morals we share. And they did it better than most. The soundtrack did include some Switchfoot and Sara Groves so it wasn't too bad.

Summer A to Z - We're still trying to make it through the alphabet before school starts. We did accomplish "J" is for "Jumping" with a series of jumping activities outside and an attempt to jumprope. I actually did okay, though my bladder isn't what it used to be. "L" was for "Lemonade" and R and I squeezed lemons for refreshing lemonade with our cookies. Wish I had pictures, but that's more complicated on D's computer. We'll do a few more this week with my mom and brother who are coming down later.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Week 5 - Hold On/Let Go

So sorry I've been a bit behind here. We've been without a home computer for about a week and a half. It's like losing an arm. So, I have to commandeer Dave's laptop at night instead of during my quiet nap time.

I thought this was a long chapter, full of stuff, and our discussion was so encouraging and uplifting as we focused on the amazing things God gives us to hold on to--the Person of God, the Plan of God, the Power of God, the Peace of God, the Presence of God, and the Provision of God. This is what sustains, inspires, and strengthens us.

The things we found the hardest to let go of seemed to center around control--fear, hurt, and expectations. All of these things have our desire to control our lives, be independent, keep hurt and disappointment away, and find a way to maintain our plan for our lives at their heart. One aspect of the chapter which we didn't touch on as much was the need to see Christ as LORD. "Why do you call me, 'Lord, Lord,' and don't do the things I say?" (Luke 6:46). Instead of allowing him to be in control of our actions, attitudes, and thoughts, we control, micromanage, avoid, push away, and seek satisfaction in things other than Him.

In looking at the lists outlined in the chapter, we also reflected on what we need to hold on to to replace what we're letting go of--the only way we will truly be able to let go of these tough things. How do you connect them, so to speak? As you learn to let go of hurt, what do you cling to? And it is a continual process to keep on letting go, putting off the old and putting on the new.

Let go of....
Comfort Level

Hold on to...
The Person of God, Jesus Christ
Plan of God
Power of God
Presence of God
Peace of God
Provision of God

  • Which is the hardest thing for you to let go of?
  • What else do we tend to hold on to that we really should let go?
  • (from Question 3) Why do you think it is so hard for us to open our hands and hearts and let God be our "Everything"?
  • (from Question 2) What sustains, inspires, and strengthens you most in your Christian walk, besides the person of God, himself: God's plan, God's power, God's peace, God's presence, God's people, or God's provision?
  • "Isaiah 65:2 is a powerful verse which gives us a promise we can hang out hats on: "I will answer them before they even call me. While they are still talking to me about their needs, I will go ahead and answer their prayers'" (page 131). How does the "principle of prior provision" sustain you? Have you experienced God providing while you were still praying?

I also appreciated hearing the verses that sustain those in our group--life verses or just ones that have been with us lately for the season of our life--and the stories and reflections everyone shared. For those who were unable to attend, I'd love for you to share yours either here or next week. Next weeks, we'll look at Chapter 6--Lead/Follow.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Week 4 - Proceed/Wait

Some time ago, in my college years, someone recommended a book for single women based on the life and character of Ruth. It has a cheesy title, a kinda corny cover, and nuggets of wisdom for single and married women alike. The title--Lady in Waiting.

This week, we looked at how Naomi and Ruth exemplified both proceeding and waiting with the same character qualities outlined in this chapter. Waiting with integrity, confidence, expectation. Proceeding without all the information, despite obstacles, and without understanding why. For me, this has been another instance of seeing how God's revelation comes (more often than not) after obedience. Motivated by love and loyalty, Ruth's decision to go out into the fields of a strange landowner in a strange community and glean intersects with God's divine Providence("As it turned out," Ruth 2:3). A life of abundant blessing was in store for her. A plan is in the works as Naomi, revived by God's and Ruth's kindness to her, desires to see Ruth well-provided for. Ruth makes a gutsy risk in how she asks Boaz to redeem both the family and the land, for she desires to see both the family line preserved and Naomi secured. There's a night in the barn, a request, and an answer.

But the first words Naomi says to Ruth the next morning: "Wait, my daughter." Having done what was in their abilities to do--placing the request at Boaz's feet--the women wait for their kinsmen-redeemer to do what they cannot--sacrifice his wealth and riches to restore and rescue.

Once again, these "hard things" to do are so interconnected. Fear of failure and a tolerance of mediocrity often keep us from proceeding as God calls us. If we take our focus off Him, we lack trust, faith, and patience in the "before hindsight" time. (We want to live in hindsight, in the look-how-God-sustained-us time, not the in-the-middle-of-it-all.) We want to remain in comfort, security, and what we know; we fear change, the unknown, and what He might reveal in us.

This was a good chapter to listen to others' stories, with their perspective of hindsight or "still in the middle of it"! Continue to pray for those in our group who are waiting to proceed or simply waiting.

  • Which is harder for you--proceed or wait? (Or the third choice brought up: knowing when!)
  • What other Biblical persons are called to proceed? Who is called to wait? What is the common denominator?
  • Are there things in your life God is asking you to proceed with?
  • What are some of the obstacles that hinder or prevent us from proceeding?
  • How patient are you in most areas of life on a scale of 1-10?
  • Are you waiting with a positive attitude towards God and expecting great things from him?

We'll proceed onto Chapter 5 next week--Hold On/Let Go.

Monday, July 7, 2008

G is for Grandparents; H is for Handprint

We spent the Fourth in Titusville with D's parents. Yummy strawberry pie, a porch swing, and visiting with some old friends was the perfect way to spend a quiet holiday. I have no pictures of R with either of her grandparents since she was pretty much on the go the whole time.

Earlier in the week, we bought a stepping stone kit from Michael's to put R's handprint in and then place in the butterfly/herb garden. She was a real trooper, stirring the cement, smoothing it like a pro, and putting her hands right in without a flinch. Pretty remarkable for the girl who doesn't like dirt or mud. She decorated the border with bits of glass and I stamped her name and the year. It coordinates quite nicely with our pink pentas and purple butterfly bush. We'll do B's hands this week and add his to the garden as well.