A quote I like

"As a person of faith, you do not have to keep Christ in Christmas, he is already there.  He is there with the lonely, the depressed, the joyful and the confused.  He is there with the widow and the orphan, with you, with me and with the atheist.  As people of faith it is in these places, fueled by grace love and hospitality, we can, not bring Christ back to Christmas, but join with him in the work he is already doing, and sometimes work he is already doing in spite of the best intentions of his people."

From Organic Student Ministry


"The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making" - Catherynne M. Valente

CircumnavigatedFairylandIn September's world, many things began with pan.  Pandemic, Pangaea, Panacea, Panoply.  Those were all big words, to be sure, but as has been said, September read often, and liked it best when words did not pretend to be simple, but put on their full armor and rode out with colors flying. - p. 51

Some of the most common reviews don't affect me at all.  I don't really care what the New York Times, The Washington Post, Time Magazine, etc. think about a book.  

I do look carefully at books recommended by some of my favorite bookstores - Flyleaf Books in Chapel Hill, the Regulator Bookshop in Durham, and Malaprop's Bookstore in Asheville.  I love to browse in their "Recommended" or "Staff Picks" sections.  At Malaprop's, the staff member whose tastes are the closest to mine usually has her recommended books at the bottom right hand end of the "Staff Picks" shelves.  

That's where I found The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making (back in June when I had my vacation in Asheville).  Granted, I was already looking for it because of a review that they'd had in a Tumblr post.  Unfortunately, I can't find the exact post, but it highly recommended the book and said to ask any staff member if you couldn't remember the title while you were there.  

The book had three recommendations which also almost sold me on it right away.  Neil Gaiman's recommendation was on the front cover, Tamora Pierce's was on the the second page, and Peter S. Beagle's was just below hers.  When three of the most creative fantasy authors recommend a book (and I don't know if I've ever seen another book recommendation by Peter S. Beagle), then I look at it very seriously.*  

Recommendations aside, I always read the first few paragraphs of a book.  If I love the writing style, the plot isn't actually as important to me - or... maybe it's that, if I love the writing style, liking the plot seems to flow naturally from that (as long as the plot isn't too depressing/gory/etc.).  If I don't like the first few pages, I'll read a bit from various points in the first few chapters.  If I don't like the writing style, I probably won't finish the book.  

The first paragraph charmed me:

 Once upon a time, a girl named September grew very tired indeed of her parents' house, where she washed the same pink-and-yellow teacups and matching gravy boats every day, slept on the same embroidered pillow, and played with the same small and amiable dog.  Because she had been born in May, and because she had a mole on her left cheek, and because her feet were very large and ungainly, the Green Wind took pity on her and flew to her window one evening just after her twelfth birthday.  He was dressed in a green smoking jacket, and a green carriage-driver's cloak, and green jodhpurs, and green snowshoes.  It is very cold above the clouds in the shantytowns where the Six Winds live.

 I bought it at Malaprop's.  It continues to charm me, and I'm about 1/4 of the way through.  It's one of those books that I only read when I have lots of energy and attention so that I don't miss any little detail.  

However, I'm not sure I'm going to continue where I am.  I was reading it this evening, and realized, about the time that I got to the quote at the beginning of this post, that it would be a beautiful book to read out loud. 

Younger son is 14 yo now so, before June, it had been a while since I read out loud.  In June, I injured my hand and there were lots of things I couldn't do, including dishes and cooking.  I started reading out loud to dear husband while he was cooking, and younger son and older son usually ended up in the kitchen listening too.  So far, I've read many chapters of Let's Pretend This Never Happened** by Jenny Lawson, which is a hilarious book, and the first chapter of The Americans:  Fifty talks on our life and times by Alistair Cooke,*** which is as thoughtful as you'd expect from him.  

I think I'll start reading this new fantasy out loud soon.  

*  Here are the three reviews:  

  • “A glorious balancing act between modernism and the Victorian fairy tale, done with heart and wisdom.”—Neil Gaiman 
  • “September is a clever, fun, strong-hearted addition to the ranks of Bold, Adventurous Girls. Valente’s subversive storytelling is sheer magic.”—Tamora Pierce, author of The Immortals series 
  • “When I say that The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making reminds me simultaneously of E. Nesbit, James Thurber, and Eva Ibbotson, I don’t mean to take anything away from its astonishing originality. The book is a charmer from the first page, managing the remarkable parlay of being at once ridiculously funny and surprisingly suspenseful.  Catherynne M. Valente is a find, at any age!”—Peter S. Beagle, author of The Last Unicorn

** Also bought at Malaprop's on vacation.

*** Bought at The Book Exchange on vacation.  It was a wonderful vacation for bookstore browsing!


"The Magician's Elephant" by Kate DiCamillo

MagiciansElephantI had forgotten we had this book so, when I recently found it on the shelves, I read it right away.  It's a lovely children's book about an elephant who appears magically and the lives that get intertwined and changed as a result.  

I love this quote:

...he knew, without knowing how he knew, how to sing.

He knew how to construct a song out of the nothing of day-to-day life and how to sing that nothing into a song so beautiful that it could sustain the vision of a whole and better world.

Quote from The Artful Garden by James van Sweden

ArtfulGarden "...because a garden is in part a scene intended for viewing, its design shares the two-dimensional, depictive quality of painting or drawing. But because it is also a space through which you move, the garden must also be handled as a sculpture.  Unlike sculpture, however, a garden is constantly changing, and so, like music and dance, is an art form with a fourth dimension, that of time.  In part, this dimension of time and change is a function of how we experience gardens, which is typically as a progression of sights, smells, textures, and views.  Managing that involves a process that the gifted San Franscisco garden designer William Peters has defined as 'choreographing a walk.'"   p. xix

Given my love of gardening and dance, I could end there.  But...

"A garden changes through the natural processes of growth and death.  The living elements of the garden are always expanding or shrinking, changing color, texture, even form, with the seasons.  It's this that makes garden design so uniquely challenging and rewarding.  The choreographer or the composer sets the time in a dance or ballad; in the garden, nature keeps the beat, which means that the progress, even for the most expert gardener, is always unpredictable.  A garden is always, ultimately, a mystery."   p. xx

From The Artful Garden by James van Sweden

"The Game of Sunken Places" - M.T. Anderson

GameofSunkenPlaces"The woods were silent, other than the screaming." (p.1)

  That's the first sentence of The Game of Sunken Places.  It starts off with a scream and continues being active and intense.  The book has its restful spots, but there aren't many of them.  Gregory and Brian visit his uncle for the summer and get caught up in a board game that comes to life. 

Sounds like Jumanji, right?

It's not.  There are far more layers and twists to this story.  You think you have something figured out, and then it gets flipped over and becomes something else.  The game is possibly deadly.  The characters aren't always what they seem.

You should also read the entire book - don't skip the afterwords. 

This book also has one of my favorite recent quotes, by a character whom I won't name:

As they walked, [character], whose television reception was poor, asked questions about the outside world.  He was fascinated by airplanes and condensed milk and mail service.  "Airplanes.  Wow.  It's hard to believe that some people take them for granted," he said.  "I've always wanted to fly.  I used to dream I was a bird all the time.  That would be great except that it was always a penguin." (p. 115)

"Love and kisses, The people who live in Edward's head"

The first few days after knee surgery, I'm supposed to rest and keep my knee elevated.*  This gives me lots of time for books and movies.  Here we go:

The last time I had knee surgery (I'm hoping not to make this a habit), I ended up reading lots of John Grisham, Dan Brown, and Michael Crichton books - absorbing books with fast moving plots but not lots of emotion, although they usually do feature either a significant other or kids to add some zest to the dangerous scenes (think Jurassic Park II, which adds kids to the mix so that the scientist can be even more worried**).  Not my usual preference for reading, but they were the only type of books I could concentrate on.

I've diverged a bit this time.  In chronological order:

Lavendermorning Lavender Morning by Jude Deveraux.  I always enjoy her books, however many of her 40+ books I've actually read.  One, A Knight in Shining Armor, is one of my favorite books.  Lavender Morning was not one of my favorites, but it was pretty good (though there were a few too many convenient plot twists). It takes place near Williamsburg, VA, which is always a plus.  It continues the pattern in Remembrance  of having two different plots going - one modern and one historical - but they mesh far better than in Remembrance. It did seem to end too abruptly. 

Utopia Utopia by Lincoln Child.  This one I found by Googling "If you like Michael Crichton...," and it's a  worthy successor to my Crighton/Brown/Grisham phase.  Utopia is a theme park - like Disneyworld, except historically accurate and far more technologically advanced.  Criminals have cracked the technology in order to extort, and the computer scientist*** is the only one who can beat them.  It's one of the best novels of this genre that I've read - gripping, fast-moving, and nary a scene nor a character are extra.  I read it in an afternoon.

Confessions of a Shopaholic by Sophie Kinsella.   I quit after 100 pages because the main character got on my nerves.  Daughter (who had nothing else to read one evening) said that it gets better after the first half.  So far, it strikes me as all the parts (deservedly) edited out of Bridget Jones.  Of course, since I have little interest in shopping (besides books, music, and plants), this probably isn't the best reading choice for me, although I really enjoyed one of her other books, The Undomestic Goddess.

Austenland Austenland by Shannon Hale:  A Jane Austen/Colin Firth addict spends three weeks at an Austen themed resort.  Everyone there must always act as if they're in an Austen novel - no electronics, few modern conveniences (fortunately flush toilets are included), maids, manners, etc.  She's looking for the love which, as the introductions to each chapter demonstrate, she's failed to find.  This one is interesting for the romance, modern reactions to Regency manners, and demonstration of how boring Regency life must often have been (and I say this as a fan of Regency stories).  I passed this one on to daughter because she'll enjoy it as much as I did. 

Wishful Drinking by Carrie Fisher:  Interesting, but a bit too one-note for me. 

HowIPaidforCollege How I Paid for College:  A Novel of Sex, Theft, friendship & Musical Theater by Marc Acito:  The title is quite accurate.  It's a coming of age about the final year of high school and making college choices - if your coming of age includes coming out of the closet (although I thought it was rather obvious in the first chapter), and your college choices aren't affordable so you have to resort to extortion and embezzlement.  The Sex part is also quite accurate - more TMI than I'd like in a book, and books about sex in high school are usually rather... fumbling and awkward (Knight in Shining Armor has far better romantic scenes that don't leave you with pictures in your head that you'd really rather not have).  Even with the TMI scenes, it's a hilarious book.  This afternoon's reading. 

One quote that hit a bit too close to home for me - the main character has gotten a job singing in a church:

I feel the same way about Mass as I do about Gilbert and Sullivan:  it's a lot more fun to do than to watch.  To actually be an integral part of the worship service, as necessary as the [bread] and the wine, is an experience that's both heady and humbling, and every weekend I walk away from it feeling refreshed and invigorated.  (p. 272)

Is that part of why I enjoy choir so much?  Must ponder...

I started reading The Colour of Magic by Terry Pratchett but, being still influenced by How I Paid for College, kept misreading everything as excessively bawdy, so I decided to come blog instead. 

We've also watched:

Monsters versus Aliens:  Fun, and a good thing to watch the first day after surgery. 

Boston Legal:  The episode in season four after Alan's assistant is acquitted of... I won't tell you since you might want to watch it. 

Star Trek:  We didn't have a chance to watch this when it came out so it was one of my first choices to rent this week. Having grown up with the original series, I wasn't sure what I would think.  I absolutely loved it!  It took me a bit to get over the different actors playing the characters, but the story was involving, and the humor was well placed.  

Still to go:  Speed and The Pirates of Penzance, one of my all-time favorite movies which younger son doesn't really remember (therefore part of our homeschooling this week).  

The post title is from How I Paid for College.  The main character is legally an adult and legally independent, but still in high school.  This means that he writes his own absence notes, such as:

To Whom It May Concern,

Please excuse Edward's tardiness.  He was mentally ill this morning.

Love and kisses,

The people who live in Edward's head

*  Last year, I didn't rest enough with my foot elevated so I ended up with too much swelling by the third day (purple toes).  I wasn't going to have that happen this time so I've been a fanatical foot elevator.****

** But at least that time, he kept his shirt buttoned - unlike that scene from Jurassic Park which always makes me laugh because of its total gratuitousness.

*** With a significant other, a former significant other, and a daughter.  He has to keep all three safe and save the day.  

**** For those interested in the surgery results... I'll try to make a long story short. Last time, the orthopedist found a meniscal tear and trimmed it.  That's all.  I was in lots of pain, had to take strong painkillers, had reactions to them, and was on crutches for a week.  This time, the new orthopedist found five different things wrong in my knee, any of which could have been causing pain, and took care of them.  I took the prescription pain medicine once - the first night - half a dose.  I've just been taking ibuprofen since.  I only use crutches on stairs and when going long distances.  I don't use them around the house.  I can bend my knee already, even though it's all wrapped in bandages.  I'm still waiting for the pain I had last time to start, but it hasn't.  Which reminds me, I'm late for my ibuprofen, which I'm supposed to take for anti-inflammatory reasons, but which I keep being late for because there's not enough pain to remind me.  I'm amazed.  Tomorrow, I go for my first physical therapy (last time that didn't start for two weeks), they unwrap my leg, and I get to take a shower!!!

It's the little things.  :)

Two Quotes and a Kitty

Middle school is a tragic time for us all, and as we held hands at school dances, the skeletons in our closets were able to tango without too many people noticing.
(The Full Spectrum, ed. David Levithan and Billy Merrell, p. 112)
He saw almost two hundred miles of countryside, most of it sprawling world metropolis, and savored every inch, tried to grok it.  He was startled by the size of human cities and their bustling activity, so different from the monastery-garden cities of his own people.  It seemed to him that a human city must wear out almost at once, so choked with experience that only the strongest Old Ones could bear to visit its deserted streets and grok in contemplation events and emotions piled layer on endless layer in it...

Mike looked forward to returning to Washington in a century or two to walk its empty streets and try to grow close to its endless pain and beauty, grokking thirstily until he was Washington and the city was himself - if he were strong enough by then.  He filed the thought as he must grow and grow and grow before he would be able to praise and cherish the city's mighty anguish.
(Stranger in a Strange Land by Robert Heinlein, p. 188)
Lina kitty.  I just found this one on my camera.  I think daughter took it, but I'll have to ask her tomorrow morning.  No one else confesses to it. 

On Not Keeping in Touch, a New Blog from an Old Friend, and Creativity

PA030020 I am notoriously bad at keeping in touch.  It's not that I don't think of people, and it's not even that I don't think of getting in touch.  I'm too perfectionist about it.  If I call, I've got to be in the exactly right frame of mind to talk.  If I write, I've got to have the exactly right words that will be worthy of the recipient's time.  The same goes for e-mail.  Blog comments?  They'll hang around on someone else's blog forever!  What could I say that would be worth that?

I keep waiting for the right time to phone or write, and days stretch into months into...

I've lost touch with more people that way - people that I've really wanted to stay in touch with.  I do keep up with a few friends from high school and college through that old standby, the Christmas letter.  However, even that has fallen by the wayside this year - so far.  I was going to write a Christmas letter after my knee surgery when I'd have lots of time to sit.  I didn't take "keeping the leg elevated" into account and ended up reading lots of books in bed instead.

The Christmas letter turned into a New Year's letter, then a Happy Martin Luther King Jr. Day letter.  The letter is done.  I just have to finish making it perfect editing it.  This week is too busy so it won't be a Valentine's Day letter.  Maybe I'll just color it green and send it out on St. Patrick's.

Continue reading "On Not Keeping in Touch, a New Blog from an Old Friend, and Creativity" »

Coraline - Neil Gaiman

Coraline I borrowed Coraline from a friend months ago, and I don't really know why it took me so long to getting around to read it.  At 160 pages, I finished it in less than 24 hours, and greatly enjoyed it.

It's more of a fairly tale, almost, than a book.  Coraline finds another world, the same as hers, but not, on the other side of a door in her house...

How to give a sense of the book without giving away too much of the plot - particularly when the book is shorter?  The world on the other side is better, but all is not what it seems, and she must set everything right again.  It's a bit creepy, but very enjoyable, and does not have a pat ending.

Two quotes, the first, one from G.K. Chesterton which starts the book:

Fairy tales are more than true; not because they tell us that dragons exist, but because they tell us that dragons can be beaten. 

the second, from the book (but not giving away any of the plot):

"The reason you cannot see the mouse circus," said the man upstairs,"is that the mice are not yet ready and rehearsed.  Also, they refuse to play the songs I have written for them.  All the songs I have written for the mice to play go oompah oompah. But the white mice will only play toodle oodle, like that.  I am thinking of trying them on different types of cheese."

Coraline didn't think there really was a mouse circus.  She thought the old man was probably making it up.  (p. 4)

There's a movie coming out soon, and I think they did pretty well.  Trailer here

"There are no ordinary people"

I've always loved this quote by C.S. Lewis.  Today, I found it, again, at Desiring God:

It is a serious thing to live in a society of possible gods and goddesses, to remember that the dullest and most uninteresting person you talk to may one day be a creature which, if you saw it now, you would strongly be tempted to worship, or else a horror and a corruption such as you now meet, if at all, only in a nightmare. All day long we are, in some degree, helping each other to one or other of these destinations. It is in the light of these overwhelming possibilities, it is with the awe and the circumspection proper to them, that we should conduct all our dealings with one another, all friendships, all loves, all play, all politics. There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. (The Weight of Glory, 14-15)

I try to remember this. 

BTW, blogging will be light for the next half week (at least) - we've got a busy weekend planned, and the weather is lovely so I'll be spending as much time outside as possible.