Monday, December 19, 2011

browning was half right

This week, I used half of a famous quote in a status update to tell family and friends that we rejoiced over the safe return of our daughter after three and a half months. “All's right with the world.” And that's the way I felt, like the world had been put back to its rightful order.

The entire quote, as many know, is, “God's in His heaven. All's right with the world.” As you may not know, it's a quote from Robert Browning's Pippa Passes, a poem published in 1841. Which means, of course, that it has nothing whatsoever to do with Kate Middleton's sister, just as an fyi. She is not that old.

But I got to thinking about the line. And what I got to thinking, at Christmastime, was that, it's not true.

Not that I don't believe in heaven (I do), nor that I don't believe God has things under control (I most definitely do). But that more than anything, I believe that had he stayed in his heaven, nothing would be right at all. 

The unbelievable news of Christmas is that He didn't. He could have—but he didn't. He chose to leave. He chose to come here. He chose to make a way that all could be right with our world. He chose to sacrifice his own perfect world and turn it upside down so that ours could be made whole.

That's not a God who sits up in his heaven and benignly moves a few pawns and knights to make sure all is right, or at least nothing is going totally to hell. It's one willing to go there himself to make sure of it.

That's a Christmas message I can't truly comprehend but one I can get fully behind. It's no cute baby in a manger. It's no warm feeling about friends and firelight. It's a revolution. Which is what we needed. So, all's right with the world.

Monday, December 12, 2011


Twenty-one hours and forty-two minutes.

That is how long it will be until middle child's airplane from Guatemala (via Atlanta today) touches down in Chicago. But today, I'm wondering how long it will be before everything lands in order in the world she returns to.

Three months ago, a pretty mature nineteen-year-old left us for her first extended time away from home. Very extended, and very away. Tomorrow, someone else will return. Someone who has seen things I haven't seen, done things I haven't done, and thought thoughts I haven't thought. Someone who is ready to take her place at the adult table and be respected for those thoughts. Even if she is wearing her Disney Princesses tiara. And I wonder if she will find it difficult to make us move over and give her that place.

I've always been somewhat bothered by the phrase in church circles, "Our youth are the church of tomorrow." It has always made me wonder what we think they are today. Just place holders, like somebody's hat or jacket left on a seat to make sure the space is occupied until something more important comes along?

No, they're also the church of today. Here and now. And let's face it, next to God, the difference in wisdom, maturity, and time between 19 and 49 doesn't amount to a whole lot. We're on pretty equal finite footing compared to the omniscient and eternal.

It's time to move over and make space at the table. We might be surprised at what the church of tomorrow has to offer today. I don't think I will be, though. I think I'll just be very, very proud. Including the Princess tiara. Only a truly mature person could carry that off.

In twenty-one hours and 25 minutes.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

right down santa claus lane

A few days ago, I posted on Facebook that seeing a trucker driving down the road with a giant light up Santa as his copilot had made my morning. Judging by how many people 'liked' that status, few of you actually judged that statement. But I'm not naïve enough to believe that no one did.

I know that Santa is a touchy subject. I know that tacky holiday decorations can become grounds for divorce. I know that podcasts, blogs, and entire books are written blasting the lack of Christ in Christmas. What I don't know is why we Christians are so defensive about the holiday.

Because it just seems to me that, if we wanted to put Christ back in Christmas, we have the ability to do so fairly easily. It doesn't take a court case. It doesn't require refusing to shop at a place that says “Happy Holidays” to its customers. It doesn't mean telling someone else's kid that Santa is an invention of the devil.

All it takes is meeting people the way he would choose to meet them this time of year. A few thought I've been pondering:

  • Jesus is probably more offended by the ways we spend the money he has given us at Christmas time than whether we spell his name 'Christ' or 'X' (a perfectly valid 1st century shortened form).

  • Jesus would likely prefer we work as hard at displaying him in our lives as we do fighting to display him in a manger in public.

  • Jesus, I suspect, doesn't care nearly as much about whether we do or do not believe in Santa as whether we do or do not offer people grace and forgiveness whether they've been naughty or nice throughout the year. (Although, in fairness, I'm pretty sure he, too, would be revolted at having to listen to “Santa Baby” twenty-six times in department stores and doctor's offices.)

  • Jesus probably sees that cashier who said, “Happy Holidays” as an overworked, potentially hurting, person he loves, not someone to be snipped at for being too slow and offending my Christian sensibilities.

I want to be the kind of Christian who makes people want to celebrate Christmas the way it should be. I believe that comes from showing them that the baby in the manger changes lives—starting with mine. So, I think that's a little of what it would look like.

Finally, I'm fairly certain Jesus would not pepper spray anyone. Just an fyi.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

my worst secret

So, my friend Jeanette recently aired her besetting sins in her blog ( Which gets me to thinking that perhaps I should reveal my greatest dark secret. Prepare to be shocked, ladies. (And gentlemen, too, I suppose, given what you might assume about women.)

Ready? I really didn't like The Notebook. I know--it goes against all known laws of chickdom, apparently. Child #3 loved it, and she convinced me to sit down with some popcorn (kettle for me, butter for her) and watch every girl's favorite flick.

"He climbs the ferris wheel, mom, and tells her she has to go out with him or he'll fall! Isn't that romantic?"

Being a mom, my reaction was slightly different. "No, it is not romantic; it's kind of stalkerish, and if anyone ever behaves that way around you, I'll probably call the police." Way to quench the budding romantic in my child, right?

Now, I have read plenty of romance novels in the past. I love princess movies. I would cry at a good Walmart commercial. So I am not unromantic. But I don't get it. And here's the crucial problem for me--I really don't want a man who would turn into a sad drunk hermit just because he lost the girl. That's not romantic. I want a guy with more self-worth than that. I want to be a women with more self-worth than that.

I have to wonder, if a man isn't strong enough to live without me, even if he desperately doesn't want to, will he be strong enough to live with me through the struggles of life and marriage and family? Just a question for my daughters. Any daughters. A question I hope they ponder carefully when romance seems like the ultimate goal and thoughts of life thereafter hang out in that hazy place called, "Oh, nothing like that will ever happen to us."

So where's the balance? Watching and reading things to escape is fun. Sometimes necessary. But I guess I don't want my three daughters getting their notion of what it means to be female and find romance from most of them. Sweet nothings are great, but as someone else put real love better--

"Dear children, let’s not merely say that we love each other; let us show the truth by our actions." 1 John 3.18

Tuesday, October 25, 2011


Some people are really good at that “finding the silver lining” thing. Annoyingly good, some of them. As in, you just want to whack them upside the head occasionally to give them something to complain about. But they would probably thwart you in that, too, and just come up with some cheery reason they needed to be whacked and how it gave them great perspective on what it feels like to be whacked or some such drivel that makes you feel guilty and annoyed simultaneously.

Anyway, I want to see how good you all are at it. No, I won't whack anyone. Really, I promise. I want to know what you can come up with as the positive spin to put on things we normally don't give a positive association to.

For instance, getting up early is not a positive thing for me. When I married 25 years ago I gave my husband two rules. No discussing gross anatomy class at the dinner table. And NO talking to me for the first hour after I wake up. This was for his own safety, believe me. So, I'm not a morning person.

Nevertheless, I do get up each day to get child #3 to school by seven. And the fall is when I realize that it has some great perks. Like the photo above. The streetlights are still on for a bit, while the sun begins its pink and yellow ascent over our cobbelstone street through town. It's a sight, every day, that never gets old. Then, if we're lucky, the fog sits over the river or the nearly lake. It looks so soft, like it also knows not to be too harsh on me too early. It's a beautifully gentle way to ease into a day. Plus, I have a thing about driving into fog. I actually love it.

So, I'd like to know what the silver lining would be in this situation for you. What makes getting up early worthwhile?

peacocks we have heard on high . . .

Some of you will hate me for this post. I have an admission to make. I don't mind Christmas decorations in October. I may be only one year shy of getting to join the red hat society, but every year I still love to walk through Christmas displays at the store. Yes, I do. I always will. There is something about twinkling lights that makes me joyful every time.

I do not and will not ever do plastic or blow up lawn decorations. I think my husband might actually consider that fair grounds for separation, so even if I wanted to, I would not do this. But lights? The more the better, as far as I'm concerned. They make me happy.

So this year, I fell in love with the light-up peacock lawn ornament at Menard's. Yes, tis true, as far as I know, peacocks have nothing to do with Christmas. Absolutely nothing. I cannot even think of a remote, random tie in. Even my imagination is coming up blank here. Maybe the Twelve Days of Christmas? Nope, no peacocks there, amidst all those other birds. But still, I love it. I shouldn't. I know this. But I do.

And now that I've admitted this, you must share. What is your guilty holiday pleasure?

showing up

I'm trying to create my website, and I have run into a problem. The experts tell you to make it personal—get people to feel they know you. The best way to do that, oh all-knowing experts, is to use photos. Which is where the problem comes in. I have realized, in looking through old digital files, that there are precious few photos of me.

We have, you understand, innumerable photos. That is not the problem. Our family contains two avid amateur photographers. We have files and files and files of every possible cross-section of the Eiffel tower in all lights. But few of me at said Tower. Because, while my husband takes all the artistic shots, I take all the family shots. And I am not in them. Which makes it a challenge to find fun “personal” photos for a website.

There are a few of me, taken by the kids. But all mothers everywhere instinctively know what those look like, don't you? They are the, “Let's take a picture of mom with her mouth full of something she can't identify,” or “Let's get mom falling asleep on the couch after catching the midnight bus back from the Colosseum” variety. Or worse, “Let's get mom in her bathing suit.” Not going public anytime soon.

After inheriting two bins of photos from my deceased mother and having no idea who anyone in the photos is, I made a promise to myself that I would never leave my kids with that memory vacuum. Thus the twelve or so scrapbooks in my room. My kids will have pictures complete with ID. But, it appears, they won't have any of me. And that defeats the purpose of leaving them with memories, doesn't it?

So today when I took child #3 to the arboretum for what may be the last glorious day of fall, I started. I made sure she took a picture of me with the scarecrows and trees along with all I took of her. Thirty years from now, they'll still know what they look like. But they may need a refresher course on me. I'd better start showing up in the pages.

Has anyone come up with good ideas for getting more of you in family photos?

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

apples on the sidewalk

Last week I went to my neighborhood Apple store for my second lesson on “How to teach a woman twice your age how to use her new laptop, and you'd better be respectful about it or I'll tell your mother.” I didn't quite expect the sight at the front door. A shrine. Candles, flowers, and lots of . . . apples. Haven't seen that kind of mash up since the Buddhist shrine at the place I got my nails done that had an Egg McMuffin as its offering.

A shrine to Steve Jobs. Who deserves it, I suppose. But it did make me think how ironic it was. Not at all to downplay his amazing genius or contributions to our current age—I am, after all, typing this on said new Macbook laptop—we have to admit that he's had some role to play in the American lifestyle of disconnectedness. The plug in and drop out phenomena. Not a causal/personally responsible role, but a player in the action. And now, that generation that doesn't talk to people face to face anymore feels so connected to a perfect stranger that they leave him flowers and apples. Just a little . . . odd.

So my question for today is, to whom are we connecting? To our sons, daughters, spouses, neighbors, parents? Or to strangers who entertain us, inform us, or enrich our technological lives? Who receives our devotion and interest? And, to whose lives are we contributing on a personal level so that they feel truly connected to us?

Maybe they won't leave you a shrine. I'm kind of hoping no one ever leaves me one. It's a little creepy. My kids will probably keep my picture on the fridge for a couple weeks, at least, when I'm gone, but I don't think they're the shrine type. Besides, what might they leave??

Where are your connections?

Friday, September 30, 2011

the cosmic Target lane

On the way to our ever-present Target, there is a double right turn lane. If you go into the far right one, you can turn right on red. If you choose the other, you can't. Which one I choose depends on my level of urgency. It's kind of a cosmic test, really. Today, I chose the left one. The person tailgating me chose the right. Big surprise there.

I just felt no need to gain that extra forty seconds. But why? I was in a hurry. In the course of the day I had to: finish book edits and email them, pack for a four-day trip, cook dinner for my family for said four days, run errands, shop for an outfit to perform a wedding in, and go to an art exhibit. In addition to the “normal” stuff.

But I felt patient. And it started me to wonder, have you ever noticed that your patience level doesn't seem to matter whether or not you are actually pressed for time? If I don't feel stressed, even if I know in my head I have a hundred and one things to do in the day, it just doesn't translate into impatience. On the other hand, if I let myself feel overloaded, I get cranky. And no one likes me in cranky mode. The circumstances can be exactly the same. The not-so-common denominator is attitude.

Which makes me wonder again. If I chose a patient attitude as soon as I felt stressed, might I be a nicer person? This seems kind of elementary. But most things are that we still fail to practice. Good manners aren't rocket science. They're just tough on the execution level. But execution is a choice, always will be. We tend to assume it just happens--that we're at the whim of circumstances, other people, hormones, genetics. But really, we're at the whim of only ourselves. The key word in the paragraph above was let myself feel overloaded.

So, I think may try it. It sure felt better today to be me in the left lane than I imagine that woman felt in the right, needing to tailgate me to get one minute ahead.

Of course, thirty seconds later I sat in the left turn lane widening my eyes and thinking, The arrow just turned green, people. Lets go! So clearly this patience thing has some work to go.

How do you create patience under stress?

barn doors and broccoli

Don't close the barn door after the horse is gone. Better late than never. What did you learn from these proverbs you probably heard as a child?

You learned that people can say totally opposite things and both believe they're right, thus truly confusing the rest of us. This is what I'm re-learning right now as I read two different books on how we should eat.

The first one, Food Matters by Mark Bittman, argues that we need to eat less meat and make more careful meat choices in order to survive as a planet. He also explains lots of things we really do not want to put into our bodies, mostly things with more than ten letters in their names that anyone without a chemistry degree cannot pronounce. Unrefined grains and fruits and vegetables are the best diet for the body and the planet, according to Bittman.

The second, Fat to Skinny by Doug Varrieur,, encourages me to eat more meat and little to no grain or sugar. (Fruits carry quite a bit of sugar, by the way.) Pretty much anything else goes.

So, to whom do I listen? Well, the first author makes sense, and I definitely feel like he's correct about the dangerous path we're on as a collective people with our eating habits. However, listening to the second has caused me to lose ten pounds, a feat I have not managed in the last four years with any other plan. So, who's right?

And my conclusion is that they both are. Which is also true of the proverbs above, right? Some things are never too late, while others cause lifelong regret. The trick is in knowing how to discern which is which before it's too late. If, in fact, it's ever too late. See what I mean?

So, I'm making peace with both. Less meat with more concern for its origin. More homemade and fewer chemicals. More raw veggies. (No, neither author forbids me to cook them. I just don't like cooked vegetables. A serious flaw in any plan to become a vegetarian.) And at least until goal achieved, very few carbs. Both authors can live with that. And so can I.

One is making me more conscious of how what I eat impacts the earth and my body. The other is making me lose weight, finally. I endorse both.

What conflicting advice have you had to make peace with?

Monday, September 26, 2011

more lesson from english class

I have always loved the poem “Mending Wall” by Robert Frost. But I have never agreed with the antagonist's assumption, “Good fences make good neighbors.” My sympathy flowed with the writer, who sensibly stated,

Before I built a wall I'd ask to know

What I was walling in or walling out.”

Now, though, I may understand the other guy.

Shortly after our new neighbors moved in, I murdered all the turf grass and weeds in our front ditch area and planted it full of rescued prairie plants. It was going to be an awesome display of flowering awesomeness, and mower-free as a bonus.

Until the day I got home and found that someone had scraped all the topsoil away, along with the plants, and reseeded it in grass. Huh? It didn't take long to figure out it was our neighbor. It helped that we had an eyewitness.

A lot of work had gone into that planting. And the plants had been free; we could not afford to replace them. What was he thinking by coming onto our property and treating it as his own?

I could have caused trouble. But, I figure you probably don't mess with a guy named Rocky who owns a construction company. First, that means he is big. Second, he has access to backhoes and other large machinery to make sure if he had to bury you in the back forty, he could. And no one would ever know. Oh, did I mention several hunting rifles, too?

Besides, I really do try to live by the motto of "kill them with kindness." Or, as Jesus put it better, "Love your enemies." Most of the time.

I killed the new grass and started over. I am stubborn. And, a couple years later, it looks good. But he has since built a fence so he can keep his perfect green lawn on his side, and I can keep my prairie and gardens on mine. And though I didn't like the idea at first, I realize now, sometimes good fences do make good neighbors.

Sometimes, we actually get along better with someone if we have boundaries that tell one another, “This is my space, and this is yours.” I don't like it. I am naturally a wall-breaker. But sometimes.

Sometime, there are situations and temptations in our lives that are the same. We need to draw a fence around them and tell ourselves, “Keep out.” It's best for both sides. I didn't get that when I taught “The Mending Wall” to high school kids. Now, I think I do.

Do you have a favorite poem? Something one taught you that you still remember?

Sunday, September 25, 2011

into the weeds

Yesterday I mowed the lawn. Not earth shaking, I realize. But when you haven't mowed the lawn for a month due to the fact that the mower has to be jumped every single time you want it to start, and given that I am terrified of jumping it myself because I am certain it is going to explode in my face though I have plenty of evidence to the contrary, well, it hasn't gotten done.

So into the midst of this backyard meadow I rolled, and soon I spied a frog jumping out from under the mower. I do not want to run the lawnmower over a frog. Besides the obvious gross factor of frog parts squishing out the side (no jokes about frog legs for dinner please), I am basically a kind person. I cried for over an hour when I accidentally ran over a rabbit four years ago. My husband assumed I was having a psychotic episode born of the fear that I was going to leave my kids and die just like the rabbit. (It was a couple weeks before my transplant surgery.) “No,” I sobbed, “I killed a bunny! Isn't that enough reason to be so upset?” Apparently not. Bambi must not have been a big influence in his childhood. But then, he grew up in a state where antlers are haut décor. What did I expect?

Every time I passed that particular spot, the frog hopped just far enough out of the way and further into the tall grass. For nothing would he hop into the grass that was already mown. To him, that was the dangerous territory. The tall grass where he could hide was the safe zone. Except in reality, it could not have been more the opposite. Real danger lay where the mower had not yet passed.

So, how do I act like a frog? Hopping toward danger that looks safe when hopping the other way, into what looks scary to my mind, is the better path? What comes to mind first is my instinct to flee confrontation any way possible. It's safe, right? No one will get mad at you; no one disagrees. Telling the truth about what I need or want or feel is scary. I have no idea if I'll get run over by a ticked off lawnmower. But through lots of experience avoiding it, I now know avoiding the truth comes at a far higher price.

Sometimes I feel like God is looking on me saying, “No, you idiot! Don't jump into that! Jump toward the scary stuff. That's really where I'll keep you safe.”

Are you a frog? I'd love to know how, and to know I'm not the only one.

Friday, September 16, 2011

details, details

My daughter just took a ten-hour bus trip across Guatemala to reach the agency she'll be serving with for the next three months. During out first phone conversation, I casually (I thought) mentioned, “I suppose I shouldn't ask about the bus trip.”

“No, well, there's a reason I didn't include every detail in the email.”

Which is to say—Mom, no you don't want to know. There are some things about which you would prefer to remain in blissful ignorance. And the funny thing is, that's true.

I know what imagine. I imagine it resembled the road we saw this summer at Hurricane Ridge, on the Olympic Peninsula. Obstruction Pass Road. I mean really, doesn't the name tell you something? Something that's an obstruction just willfully intends to be difficult, right?

To be fair, all the literature about this particular road (and I use the term 'road' to mean 'gravel path someone sarcastically refers to as a road just to see who will attempt to drive down it in an Airstream') warned: Unless you have a real off-road vehicle, do not even attempt this drive. Meaning, if you hail from the suburbs and truly believe in your heart your Hyundai Tucson can go off-roading, you are delusional. Turn back.

Oh, and a death wish. You should have one of those, too. As I have neither, and as that morning the fog was thick enough that you would not even see a guardrail two feet from your car if one did exist, (they didn't) I declined. (By the way, Obstruction Pass Road is not the one to the left in the top picture. It's the one that veers to the right--and disappears somewhere down the mountainside.)

Add to that random kidnappers and bandits (which typically do not exist in the Olympic National Forest, except for some rogue elk) and you get my idea of this road she took in Guatemala. But I choose not to imagine.

Have you had this odd psychosis as a parent? You really choose not to know? Sure, after the fact, when we can swap stories. But at the time it's all coming down, do you want to know the dangers your kids may be in?

Our daughter is so happy making connections with and serving people who are very different from herself. She is discovering much about the world around and inside her. These are good things. These are the things I want to know about. And I can live with the unease that these good things don't always come safely or easily. As long as I don't have to know the details.

I'd love to know how you handle this puzzle.

Monday, September 5, 2011

goodbye, thing 2

I'm a cryer. I cry over movies, books, and TV shows. I cry when I give a speech or preach a sermon. I have been known to cry over a well-dramatized commercial. So when I resolved not to shed a tear at the airport bidding child #2 goodbye for a 3 1/2 month mission trip to Guatemala, I doubted my chances of success. Full leave, you understand, to lose it when she was out of sight dealing with the TSA (on her own), but I refused to make her feel bad about what she was doing by dissolving in front of her.

Just made it. And now, at what child #3's facebook status puts at 99 days, 12 hours, and 43,521seconds until her return, I have found it is not as I expected it to be. I expected sadness. Tears. Quiet. A feeling that something was not quite right. More tears. What I did not expect was the physical pain. The three-day upset stomach. The lethargy that has nothing to do with the intense knee pain from two days in a cramped car. The profound sadness deeper than tears, which come so randomly anyway at all times. And now I understand just what that phrase "deafening silence" really means.

No one is singing Disney songs at the top of her (very powerful) lungs. No one is finishing my sentences. No one is quoting Austen, Tolkien, and Monty Python at me all in the same conversation. So, perhaps in the interest of all parents who have said goodbye to an offspring lately, I should compile a list of the good things.

--No one is hogging the bathroom for 45 minutes every day.

--No one is leaving her dirty socks, computer cords, dishes, and schoolbooks all over five rooms and then not knowing where they are. (The books, that is. She has never cared where the dirty socks and dishes are.)

--No one is using the car and computer that belong to her. So, extra for us.

--No one is telling me, "Oh, by the way, you're driving ten of my friends to the movie in a half hour. And could you stop and get some food for us, too?"

But let's face it. Not one thing is better here because she is gone into the world in her own.

But the world is better. And isn't that the tradeoff we hope to make as parents?

It hurts like real grief always hurts. But it means, while everything feels all wrong, it is indeed all right.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

stranger than fiction

Imagine you did something illegal when you were seven years old. In point of fact, you didn't even really understand that you did it. But, you did. Now imagine that, ten years later, someone told you you were going to lose everything you had ever known--your home, family, school and work--because of it. Are you imagining? How do you feel about that upheaval of life as you know it?

Now imagine that this isn't imagination for thousands of people. And you will know why I have written the novel for young adults that I have and why I believe so much in getting it out there.

My characters are fictional. So, if you like, read the story of someone for whom this story is real.

Not everyone is going to like what the book has to say, though I try to be balanced. But I think that Melissa would.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

so here's my firepit candidate

I said I'd post my answers, and momma always taught me to do what I said I'd do. (The fact that I didn't always listen could have affected a couple of job performances in the past. Mommas really do know these things.) So here they are:

  • What was your favorite assigned book from high school?
A tie between Merchant of Venice and Great Gastby. Sure, the first is not really a "book." But I can still recite quite a bit of Portia's mercy speech for you, if you like.

  • What was your least favorite/most detested/one you burned in the fire pit just as soon as you finished the final exam on that puppy?
Can you believe I don't really remember? I did truly loathe anything Steinbeck. Oh, I know, I know. A Farewell to Arms. How repetitive and depressing can one man get?

  • And what book did you discover later in life that you learned to love or wished you had discovered earlier?
So many. It was not until freshman year of college that I discovered The Chronicles of Narnia (via my Jewish roommate--how funny is that?). I quickly made up for lost time.

A few years later, another friend introduced me to Anne of Green Gables. How did a girl who grew up devouring Little House books miss that? I adore Anne, and I think I gave birth to her as well.

A Wrinkle in Time. One of the best children's books ever. Ever. And adult as well.

Finally, sometime in high school my brother gave me a book and told me, "This is the best book ever written. You have to read it." I dutifully read a few chapters and said to myself, "This is the most boring book ever written. I could not finish it if you threatened to pull out all my teeth." It was The Silmarillion, by J.R.R.Tolkien.

Years later, when the first Lord of the Rings movie was scheduled to appear, my husband, also a huge Tolkien fan, decided to read the books aloud to our girls. My husband. My brother. Must be a guy thing, right? After seeing the movie, I went home and read all three books straight through. They are now three of my top five favorite books of all time. That's a pretty good standing for an author I considered boring as heck years ago.

So now you know my reading likes and dislikes. You also know, never judge a book by how you felt about it, or its author, a long time ago. Give everyone a second chance. Except James Joyce. I will never give him a second chance. One bout of torture in college was enough.

Anyone else brave enough to share?

Monday, August 15, 2011

better than colin

My husband is amazing. (Yes, he even beats out Colin Firth.) Why? Some time ago, I was talking with a person at our church about how the music was not really to my husband's taste, but he loved it there anyway. The person looked at him, then responded, "Yeah, he looks more like an NPR kind of guy to me." I laughed more than out loud. You could pretty much put that phrase on my husband's tombstone. He is an NPR kind of guy.

But since our first day at the new church, he has never looked back in his enthusiasm, because he knew great things would happen there, and he wanted to be a part of that. I have always been rather amazed by that, but I have begun to realize how grateful I should be as well. I have a man willing to put aside his preferences, styles, and comfort zone for the greater good of his family and, ultimately, a lot of people who have been helped. That's pretty cool, especially given that our generation is the most me-centered, my rights, my needs one I think has ever existed.

Yes, including the present young one. We (rightfully) decry the riots in London, but let's face it, we are the generation that started the self-love fest. We're kind of reaping what we sowed. On the whole, this upcoming generation is more generous of their time and money than we were. They have their issues, but they do care. In that way, they may resemble our fathers who fought in the Greatest Generation than us. Thank heaven.

So today, I'm thankful for a sacrificial man. What about you?

Saturday, July 30, 2011

We've been talking about young adult literature. I'm curious about your experience. I love the stories some of you have shared about a book that made a lasting impression on you early in life. (And early in life is getting later and later the older we get, right?) Let's be real here, some of us are having a hard time remembering what we read in high school. So those of you still there or around there, help us out, OK?

So, please let us know:
  • What was your favorite assigned book from high school?

  • What was your least favorite/most detested/one you burned in the fire pit just as soon as you finished the final exam on that puppy?

  • And what book did you discover later in life that you learned to love or wished you had discovered earlier?
The more input we get the more fun I'm going to have, at least, reading through to see what has affected other people.

I'll share mine later.

kick me, please

I am working on a marketing plan for a novel. Not so long ago, I would not have shared that information in public. One, I don't talk about my work much. Two, I don't like to sound remotely presumptuous. Three, I know that if I say it people are going to ask me about it. And then I'm stuck actually doing it. And I really hate accountability.

Yet I have learned not only to accept it but need it. I've never been good with criticism or correction. I like to play Lone Ranger a lot. I never outgrew the two-year-old mantra, "I can do it myself." But one thing getting older does for you is teach you a couple things, one of which is, no, I can't. The other is, if I want to do it myself and actually get it done, it helps a lot to have someone around to kick me in the butt.

Now, I prefer to choose those people myself. The position is still not open for anyone to apply. Folks who like to randomly correct others should generally just, not.

My kids hold me accountable. "Mom, you really shouldn't have said that." And that's OK. They're usually right. Since they possess quite a bit of their mother in them, however, plus the commonality of teenagerdom, this is not a reciprocal arrangement. I am not allowed to make them aware of their own mistakes. They do not, obviously, make any.

My husband, honestly, not so much. I prefer to keep that relationship more lover/friend than teacher/parent. The latter does not work for me. And he gets reminded of that every so often.

Real friends--the kind who are not perfect themselves and therefore will never say to me, "Well, how many times have you done that now?" qualify. My pastor can keep me accountable. My colleagues. And that's pretty much the short list.

Why now? Because it's way more important to me now that the things I want to do, the dreams I have not realized, the growth I'd like to flourish, really happen than that I preserve my pride. So, I'm working on a proposal. And you can hold me to it.

As to the twenty pounds I'm working on . . . well, you might want to tread lightly there. The list is even shorter.

What helps you get that kick you need every so often?

Thursday, July 28, 2011

oh no, not the turtle again

I promised, so I'm coming back to this literature thing. Some of you are scared off right there. The word "literature" has terrified you since since Mrs. Finley in 10th grade stared at you through her little nose-perched glasses and asked, "What is the symbolism of the turtle in Grapes of Wrath? And you thought, "I have no clue, but I do know he took an awful dang long time to cross that stupid road, and I took that as a hint at how boring the other 345 pages would be, so I never got past page 36, and please stop staring at me!"

But I am not Mrs. Finley. And the question on the table was, what makes a book a classic worth asking young people to read despite (or because of) the sad elements in it, and what makes a book simply depressing without a lot of redeeming value in assigning it to kids who have enough garbage in their lives to deal with?

The above example is actually a pretty good one, for me. I have to admit right off, this English teacher despised Steinbeck in high school. Too depressing and too vulgar. I'm still not a huge fan, but I did a 180 and taught Of Mice and Men later because could go back and see the incredible value in the lessons of that book and the mastery in its writing. So, sad and harsh isn't always bad.

Then there were the things we had to read because teachers were trying too hard to be "relevant." I know I'll step on toes here, because people love these books, but I hated, hated, hated reading things like The Outsiders. To quote a review, "This book forever changed the way that Young Adult fiction was written (and) also changed the way that teenagers read, enabling a generation to demand stories that reflected their actuality."

And my feeling at 14 was that what it did was talk down to teenagers and tell us that teachers knew all we cared about was our own issues and feelings, and therefore we would now be fed a steady diet of books written about our "reality," which they were only guessing at as far as I could tell and embellishing quite a lot at that. And I sat there thinking, "I am not a stupid selfish high school kid who can't see past these four years and four walls, and will you please treat me like someone who can do better?" And that's the way I feel when I look at my daughter's summer reading list that is full of depressing novels written about "teen reality." Where are the books written about life's reality and rising above it?

What would your criteria be? How would you decide between what makes something a classic and what is simply depressing and unnecessary? I think I'd at least start with the question--Does the book offer a redemptive solution at the end, so that the sadness isn't all there is?

Shakespeare, for all his tragedy, at least tells us how to avoid the same fate if we take notice. Though, were I to tell the tale of Romeo and Juliet, I'd probably offer the moral that girls who get married after knowing a guy for ten minutes might deserve what they get. Not to mention considering stalkers at their windows perfectly acceptable.

What else? Please chime in.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

do you still hate your high school english teacher?

OK, now you've done it, my friends. Hit two of my hot buttons at the same time. I'm talking about a facebook conversation about literature in high school that I just had to jump into. Even though I know the possibility of confining myself to a facebook word count when discussing teenagers, literature, and teen depression is about as likely as me cliff diving in Mexico. And it's way bigger than one blog post, so I imagine there may be several.

So, I'm the mother of three teenage girls, a former high school English teacher, and a writer, currently working on my first young adult novel. I care passionately about what kids read. And too often, I'm really discouraged by it.

You might think I mean the books they choose to read for themselves, but I don't. I mean the ones their teachers/administrators require them to read. The list reads like a Who's Who and What's What of everything that could possibly go bad with the world and, specifically, their lives. By the end of freshman year, most kids should, according to their literature books, have suffered the death, imprisonment, abuse, or addiction of at least one parent; war-related trauma; rape; a car accident that killed their best friend and/or sister; and probably an end-of-the-world cannibal scenario thrown in as well. The fact that most kids don't seems to have escaped the purview of literature teachers everywhere.

My youngest daughter's summer freshman reading list last year was a good case in point. I do not recall one book on the list that wasn't flat out depressing. And having talked with teens and lived through a lot of teenage depression, this does more than annoy me. It alarms me. At an age when kids are so prone to doomsday thinking anyway (Something bad happened to me today. Therefore, my life sucks. I guess everyone's life sucks. Is there anything worth getting up for tomorrow?), why do we feel the need to fan the flame? Shouldn't we consider maybe putting books in their paths that send the message, "Life is beautiful, even if you have to hang on a while to get there?" For whatever reason, we think feeding them "reality" means feeding endless messages about how ugly the world is, instead.

I'm not unrealistic. My own mother died while I was in high school. So did my sister. A very dear friend killed himself. I get that bad things happen to kids. The question is, is that all we want them to know? Do we really want to spend four years affirming their fears? "Yep, you're right. Life sucks. Now graduate and get out there!"?

What do you think? It would be great to generate some opinions and even some reading alternatives. Back to this later!

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

acting my age

I love being 48. Not ashamed to own my age. Prepared to flaunt it. Better than the alternative. So what inspires this mutual love affair with my age? Purple hair.

Do you really want an explanation, or, as one of my favorite Harry Potter lines goes, "After all this time, (have you) just learned to go with it?" So, last night was the first dress rehearsal of The Wiz, our community theater production. Last night, I came home with purple hair and purple glittery fingernails. And today, before my haircut appointment, I had to go shopping and commit several other public offenses.

Five years ago, I would never have ventured out of my house with purple hair. I would have been mortified at the thought. What would people think? Say? What children might I frighten? Today, I was completely amused. Now, I imagine what people might say, and it's fun to let my imagination go. It's not got far to go. I know what I might have said about a 48-year-old woman with purple hair wearing decidedly not mom-jeans not long ago.

Now, it is so darn much fun not to care. And that's why I love being 48.

What do you love about your age?