Monday, January 31, 2011

Reading Update: January 2011

I read a lot in January. And finished nothing.

Which is okay, because I didn't expect to finish anything this month. At the same time, I wish I'd devoted more time to reading.

I'm on track for reading the Bible in 90 days. I fell behind a few times and got ahead a few times (only to fall behind again), but, as of today, I'm right where I'm supposed to be: starting the book of 1 Chronicles. It has definitely been a whirlwind, and I'm not sure how much I'm getting out of the experience (yet), but I'm keeping up.

I'm a little less than halfway through Anna Karenina. This is one I wish I'd spent more time reading. I love this book, and I hate to put it down whenever I have to stop reading. But the Bible commitment has been the first priority, and its 12 or more pages per night generally take up what little reading time I have.

Oh, and there's one other usurper of my reading time: One Thousand Gifts: A Dare to Live Fully Right Where You Are.  This book was written by Ann Voskamp, a blog-friend of mine who is suddenly right in the limelight with her book ranked in the amazon.com and USA Today bestseller lists. Wow! I've been reading a page or two at a time. Generally, it's been this book (and not Anna Karenina) I've picked up when I have only five minutes to read.

I'm half-heartedly continuing Your Secret Name for the read-along. I say "half-heartedly" because this book really isn't "speaking" to me at all, and it feels like a chore to keep reading. I'm thinking I might put this one down for the time being.

Reading goals for February: Continue with the 90-day challenge, make more time for Tolstoy, and continue my leisurely walk through One Thousand Gifts. And try to write at least one, maybe two, reviews for the Saturday Review of Books at Semicolon.

Do you have any reading goals for February?

Multitude Monday #10

I stepped out into the rain early this morning and caught that smell--that moist, earthy Appalachian forest smell that I first learned to love while living in Virginia in the late 1980s, and that became familiar to me as breathing when I thru-hiked the Appalachian Trail in 2000. A part of me wanted to pack up my wet tent, find my hiking poles, and lug my heavy backpack onto the trail for another cold, gray day of following the white blazes.

Yes, I miss even those days.

I wasn't very good about writing things down this week, so the ones below are from memory:

148. past adventures, and friends made there

149. unseasonably warm, sunny days in the dead of winter

150. cold, drizzly, bruised-sky days in the dead of winter

151. seeing a child's joy as she goes down a slide for the first time

152. tea parties, the kind with imaginary cups of tea, hosted by a two-year-old

153. computer techs who treat us non-techies like we're human

154. they way my husband drops everything when I propose an impromptu family trip to the playground

155. Bach's three-part invention in G minor

156. the way a Bach keyboard piece reveals more and more depth the more you practice it, and how the result is greater and greater satisfaction with each playing

157. a friend I can confide in

158. when time-away-from-Li'l-Boo flies and it seems like no time before we're together again

159. feeling the strength coming back to my legs after running consistently for several weeks

160. the ready availability of clean water for refilling my 32-ounce bottle multiple times a day

161. a job that offers new challenges periodically, and (usually) isn't the same old thing every day

162. drizzly-cold Monday mornings

163. being able to call the Appalachian Mountains "home"

164. toy trains

165. seeing her recognize that a word isn't just a fun sound to make, but something that has real meaning

166. the way the rain makes the whole world gleam

167. meals shared with family

168. my daughter's love of books

169. the way she hugs her friend Mo, or her cousin Ella, in greeting

170. Neosporin for a stubborn finger-cut

171. a clean bathtub

172. a husband who can cook

To read more bloggers' endless gifts (or to link to a few of your own), just click the "Multitude Monday" link below.

holy experience

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Saturday Links and Ramblings

Why am I always surprised when it’s Saturday again? I mean, it’s seven days after last Saturday. What else would it be? I'm happy to report that today is a beautiful, mild Saturday. Dan and I hope to take Li’l Boo for a hike after I get home from work.

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A friend and I have decided to take James 5:16 to heart and “confess [our] sins to one another, and pray for one another so that [we] may be healed.” Readers, have you ever done anything like this with another person, or in a small group? I am looking for advice on this practice. I was able to glean some wisdom from Jonathan Dodson’s “Gospel-Centered Accountability,” but I’d like to hear from some of my female friends who have done things kind of thing before.

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Many people posted their thoughts for Sanctity of Human Life Week. This post about adoption, by Greg Lucas, had my throat all lumpy and my eyes all teary. As an adoptee, I felt thankful, once again, to my birthmother, and for the choice she made to give me life—and for the even more difficult choice she made to give me up.

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It seems like a lot of bloggers, at least in the circle of Christian bloggers I follow, are either adoptive parents or are in the process of becoming adoptive parents. It’s like adoption is in the air. In his recent article on the theology of adoption (discussing the book Reclaiming Adoption, Fred Sanders agrees:

“But I think something like the latter, a revival, is happening right now in evangelical theology. There is a movement underway in which Christians, and even whole congregations, are committing themselves and their resources to caring for orphans, partly by adoption.”

I’ve thought about this a lot lately. Honestly, I don’t know if adoption is in the cards for us. It’s not something I feel particularly “called” to do. To be completely frank, I’m still trying to recover from the shock of becoming a mom after 30+ years of not feeling “called” to have children at all.

(That said, I’m sure glad my parents didn’t feel the same way I do.)

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Be sure and check out this week’s edition of the Saturday Review of Books at Semicolon. If you’ve reviewed a book on your blog this week, you can leave a link on her blog and share your review with readers like me who read the book reviews throughout the week when I need a break.

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I’ve joined a club, everyone. I’m not a club-joiner, but I couldn’t resist hopping on the bandwagon of the Curious Ladies’ Aid Society (formerly the Communist Ladies’ Aid Society) (yes, the name was a joke), founded by my friend Tonia at Study in Brown. (Check out the cool C.L.A.S. lady in my sidebar.) The requirement? Take time to send old-fashioned, handwritten letters to friends. And mail them. You know—envelopes, stamps, that sort of thing. I think you can get them at your local history museum, or maybe at the Post Office. I’m not sure. Anyway, I wrote my first letter last week while my computer at work was out of commission. My next letter, which I’ll write this weekend, will be to my Compassion child, Consuelo!

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Skye Jethani writes about how he prefers dead authors to living ones:

“If someone has been dead for a while and his book is still in print and widely read, then it’s probably worth reading.”

Amen to that! In the comments, I listed a few dead authors I really love and included a couple of Lewis quotes that came to mind:

"Every age has its own outlook. It is specially good at seeing certain truths and specially liable to make certain mistakes. We all, therefore, need the books that will correct the characteristic mistakes of our own period. And that means the old books."

And:

"It is a good rule, after reading a new book, never to allow yourself another new one till you have read an old one in between."

For my non-lurking readers (and you lurkers, too!), I'm curious: Who are some of the dead authors that you love most, and/or have taught you the most?

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In closing, here’s a quote from Jon Acuff, whose blog, Stuff Christians Like, has become one of my “daily must-reads” since I discovered it a few weeks ago:

“If you’re going to risk and maybe fail, fail at something that matters. Fail gloriously so that even in failure, lives change.”

Have a good weekend, everyone!

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Thuddy Thursday: 1.27.11

Fitting, don't you think, that I write my first Thuddy Thursday on Mozart's birthday? I think so, too!

Where to begin?

Where do you begin when you feel like you’re diving right back into the middle?

I worked very hard at piano from 2003 to 2008 or so and even had realistic dreams of auditioning for several amateur piano competitions. But then ...

I’ll be honest. My job, which I started in 2007, pretty much swallowed up my life. I’m not saying that as a complaint; I’m just stating a fact. But once I started working this job, piano was moved to the back burner of my priorities.

When I moved, a year later (2008), to the same town where I work, my devotion to piano got knocked off that stovetop and onto the dirty kitchen floor, where it was kicked unceremoniously under the fridge and has stayed ever since.

It’s been almost three years. Part of me feels like a complete loser—all that work, those five years, for what? So I could stop playing for three years, forget how to play all the pieces I worked so hard to learn, and let my technique go down the drain? Who does that?

But another part of me is glad to be back. Part of me is thankful that I haven’t completely lost my technique, or even my pieces.

So, rather than waste my time obsessing over how bad I am compared to three years ago, I’m going to enjoy practicing whatever I decide to practice, and be thankful that I’m becoming reacquainted with something I love.

So, without further ado, here’s my Thuddy report for the week:

Scales, inversions, and arps: With scales and arpeggios, I typically play one octave of parallel motion (whole notes), two of contrary (half notes), three of parallel (triplets), and four of contrary (quarter notes). For scales, arpeggios, and chord inversions, I’ll also play a major key and the relative minor.

My scales, arps, and inversions sound surprisingly good. My fingers tire more easily than three years ago (of course), but I’m happy the feel the notes falling naturally under my fingers, particularly with the hard-earned contrary motion scales.

Bach: I’ve decided to re-learn the Bach Sinfonia (three-part invention) No. 11 in G minor. This is one I learned several years ago, and one of the few pieces I “kept up” after learning it, mainly because I love it so much. After three years of not playing, though, I’m having to clear the undergrowth of lazy technique and forgotten notes and fingering. This week, I’ve spent a total of about 35 minutes working on the first 48 measures of the piece, focusing mostly on measures 17 through 48.

Shostakovich: For my other piece, I’m working on “Waltz - Scherzo,” the fifth little piece of Shostakovich’s “Seven Dolls’ Dances.” It’s a very sweet, early intermediate/late beginner piece. It’s almost too easy, but I’m working on playing it perfectly. With technically simply pieces, it’s too tempting to get lazy and just play it without worrying about playing it well, the way an established concert pianist might play it.

But I want to play to the highest standard I can. And that’s much more feasible with a piece that’s easy on the fingers. Hence my working on this piece.

I also need a few “easy victories” at this stage in my piano life.

Want to know the biggest reason I’m learning this piece? It’s this: I really love the whole suite of pieces and would like to learn all of them. That’s my plan, actually—and this one’s the second one I’m learning.

This week, I put in about 55 minutes of work on the first and middle sections of the Shostakovich. Next week, I hope to focus on it a little less, and on the Bach a little more.

My biggest challenges so far:

Sloppiness and Laziness: Particularly with the Bach, I tend to want to be lazy. This is partly because I’m tired, and partly because I’ve learned the piece before and want to rely on hand-memory, rather than focus on the notes themselves, and how they interact with the other notes. But I know, if I can discipline myself to take the harder route, my understanding of the piece, and my playing of it, will end up being superior to what it was before.

Fingering: This might be a sloppiness/laziness problem as well. I have all the fingering written in for both pieces (from years ago), but I’m not following what I’ve written. So I’ll change it and practice with it the new way a few times ... and realize the previous fingering was better. I need to decide what fingering I want to use and stick with it; otherwise, I’ll have weak links in my playing. And weak links are bad!

I’m really happy to be playing again. Both pieces are actually coming along quite well, and I think the sloppiness/laziness issues will abate as I get back into the habit of disciplined practicing.

And now, in case you’d like to experience for yourself the beauty of the Bach sinfonia I’m learning, here’s an early recording of Glenn Gould playing (and intermittently humming to) it. I love this tempo, which is a bit slower than the tempo of his later recording. At about 45 seconds in is measure 17 ... the unspeakable beauty of that high “B” at the start of the measure gets me every time. It is sheer joy to play it well.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Thuddy Thursday to Come

I’m finding that I’m a lot more likely to post things if I have a theme for a day, such as Multitude Monday and Toddler Tuesday. I’ve been playing with properly alliterative ideas for Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday, and I think I’ve come up with one for Thursdays.

Thuddy Thursday.

World, meet Thuddy. Thuddy, meet world.

Thuddy Theodora (known affectionately as "Thuddy")

Thuddy is the name of the piano in the chapel at the Baptist church down the road from work. As you can see in the photographs, Thuddy is a very Southern Baptist piano, complete with open Bible, candles, greenery, and American flag.

Thuddy from the side

Cleaned up a bit, and with a good camera (better than the cell phone that took these pictures), she could be a model for the cover of a church bulletin, could she not?

I named this piano Thuddy several years ago. Her full name is actually “Thuddy Theodora.” She’s a good little piano, just a bit ... thuddy. Muffled-sounding. But I’m not complaining; I’ve had many wonderful experiences practicing on Thuddy, and I hope to have many more.

So, what is Thuddy Thursday going to be?

Just as I devote Tuesdays at this blog to talk of my toddler, I’m going to devote Thursdays to talk of my work on Thuddy. In other words, I’m going to bore you with reports of my piano-practice sessions. I might get a little creative some weeks and focus more on a particular composer I like or a piece I want to learn. But, for the most part, I’m going to write about practicing. I need to do this for my own accountability. Sorry if I put you, dear readers, to sleep in the process.

Back in the day, I kept something of a log of my piano practices at my Piano Practice blog. I just re-read a few posts from it and am amazed at how much time I was able to put into piano, back in that former life. One hundred and twenty minutes? Seventy minutes? In one sitting? And hoping for another practice session before bed?

Those days are over, folks. Right now I’m happy to get two days a week of 40 minutes each: five or six minutes of scales and arpeggios, 20 minutes on one piece, and 15 minutes on another. And the prospect of taking piano lessons again? Not for a while. Maybe I’ll be able to put more time, money, and effort into piano in the future. For now, I’m happy with what I can get.

So, tomorrow will be the premiere of Thuddy Thursday at Life Downside Up. Stay tuned!

Not a Bad Birthday Gift!

A few months ago, I learned that Amy Grant and Michael W. Smith would be putting on a concert right here in our rural little town in western North Carolina. Now, I was seriously into Amy Grant's music back in my former life. And I cried many a tear at summer camp in 1984 and 1985, listening to Michael W. Smith's "Friends" song as I bid good-bye for the year to my dear friends Noodles and Casserole.

Anyway, back to 2011. The concert is scheduled for February 18--my birthday.

My birthday! Obviously, I was meant to go to this concert.

But then I checked the ticket prices: $50. Per ticket.

No way. No way were Dan and I going to spend $100 for a concert. I mean, I really loved Amy Grant and Michael W. Smith when I was 15, and maybe I would have spent $50 per ticket then, but now? Hmm .. no.

So I put it out of my mind and figured we'd find something else fun--and much cheaper--to do that weekend. Like sitting on the couch and reading books.

Then ... then!

Monday I got an e-mail with the subject line, "Volunteer Opportunity with Compassion International."

"Yes!" I thought. A chance to volunteer with Compassion! I was ready to hit "Reply" before I even read the e-mail.

But I decided to open the e-mail first, and ... there's going to be a Compassion table at the Amy Grant/Michael W. Smith concert! And they need people to "assist potential sponsors at the Compassion table with the sign-up process"!

Needless to say, I volunteered. Yes, I hit "Reply" before I finished reading the first paragraph. Then I went back to read the rest of the e-mail and learned that volunteers will have access to the concert, though a seat isn't guaranteed if it's sold out.

So, we'll get to go to the concert after all. For free.

Most important, I will be spending my birthday--and the birthday of my Compassion child, Consuelo, who was also born February 18--sharing Compassion with others, and maybe even finding sponsors for children who desperately need them!

Yep. I think this opportunity is a pretty good birthday gift for me, and a pretty good way to celebrate my 41st birthday--and Consuelo's 11th. Don't you?

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Toddler Tuesday

Anne has begun saying words.

She’s recognized that “da-da” isn’t just a fun repetition of syllables, but an actual person, her daddy. I’ll hand her something and say, “Take it to Da-da, Li’l Boo,” and she takes it to Da-da. It’s really funny because I’ll hand her something that Da-da doesn’t particularly want—like one of those surfboard-sized maxi-pads she keeps getting into when the rifles through our bathroom cabinets. And Da-da has to act all thankful: “Why thank you, Li’l Boo, for this nice maxi-pad!” Kinda reminds me of when Beau the Cat used to bring us dead birds and mice. Our hearts broke for the little creatures, but we had to show appreciation all the same.

But enough of “da-da.” Let’s move on to “ma-ma.” Because she has begun calling me Mama! Yes, after months of “da-da-da-da-da,” she finally said “Mama.” And she definitely associates that repeated syllable with me. Dan will pick her up and she’ll reach out to me, plaintively calling, “Ma-ma! Ma-ma!” She says “Ma-ma” as she walks toward me and grabs my knees in a leg-hug. (I love that!) If she wakes up in the middle of the night, I’ll hear whimpering and “Ma-ma.” Who can say no to that?

I’m sure there will come the day when I want her to stop saying “Mama” so much. But we’re not even close to that at this point!

Here are a few more words she’s actually said (or tried to say):

choo (when she plays with Mo’s trains; I think it’s shorthand for “choo-choo”)
vroom (or something like that, when she plays with Mo’s cars)
bye-bye (when waving bye-bye to me this morning)
goose (pointing at Mother Goose in one of her books)
shoe (when I put her shoes on)
teeth (I said, “Let’s go brush your teeth,” and she put her hands to her mouth and said “tee!”)
pee (She said this last night when we got to “P” in The Hidden Alphabet. I think she’s familiar with this word, too, since we talk about “going to pee.”)
ba-a-a-a (the sheep sound)
moo (the cow sound)

There are more words, but I can’t think of them off the top of my head right now. She’s also learned just about all of her body parts. And she rubs her belly when she’s hungry—Angela taught her that.

Anne continues to be “into” books. She seems to have the bibliophile gene, which I guess is not surprising. She reads all day at Angela’s. When we got home last night, she went straight to her room, grabbed a book, and stood by my rocking chair, looking expectantly at me. So we read before dinner, and then we read after dinner. Book after book after book.

I’m sure this is just a phase, but ... I hope it’s not just a phase. It wasn’t just a phase with me. I’ve loved books all my life—not just the stories, but the binding, the smell of the pages, the appearance of the ink, everything. Maybe she’ll grow up with that same appreciation (even though she'll probably be asking for her own e-reader by the time she's five). I think it helps that we have hundreds of books around the house.

I’m really looking forward to taking her to the zoo this spring or summer. It feels kind of silly, introducing her to all these animals, and the sounds they make, when all she can see are pictures in books. I want her to see real animals and hear real sounds (and smell real smells!). Right now she knows that a cow says “moo,” but she doesn’t know what that really means.

Once the weather is warmer, I’m taking her to see cows. There are plenty of them in this rural part of the country. Horses, too. And flowers, and lizards, and mushrooms. There’s a whole world out there for her to discover, and I am eager to begin sharing it with her.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Multitude Monday #9

(mostly written last Thursday)

Lunchtime on Thursdays begins at 2:00.

Of course, I eat lunch before that. I eat as I work, grabbing bites between keyboard taps and mouse clicks. And then at two, I punch out and go ... away.

Some days are for piano practice. Some are for writing. Today is for writing.

As I walk the few hundred feet to the little pub where I write, I call Anne’s sitter, Angela, to see if Anne is having a good day.

“We’ve come to town!” Angela’s familiar English accent. “Shall we come for a visit?”

Shall we come for a visit?

“Of course!” I can’t get the words out fast enough. A little part of me rebels—“But you’re supposed to write for an hour today!” But, on this busy day when I’ll be working until 8:00 p.m., I know writing will have to wait.

My heart soars. My little daughter is coming to see me!

I walk into the pub to find two moms meeting for coffee, their little ones in tow. I get into a conversation with them as I wait for my own coffee and learn that we have a few things in common besides being moms of children under twenty pounds.

Then I get my coffee and go to my table to write for a few minutes before my own seventeen-and-a-half-pounder shows up.

I hear them talking, these moms. About the meals they prepare for their children. About how they’ve been teaching them Pat-a-Cake and how this child is saying this or that child is doing that.

I bite my lip and keep writing, or try to. All those long hours of being able to watch a child grow ... I’m missing it. And I hate missing it. I hate not being there for Miss Anne. I hate the feeling that I’m missing her life.

I keep looking at the door, waiting. Half of me afraid she won’t be here in time, and that I’ll have to run back to work just as she’s coming in the door.

Thankfully, that doesn’t happen. She, Angela, and Angela’s little boy, Mo, arrive with a half-hour to spare. Anne sees me and, grinning wide, begins to run, arms outstretched. I take her in my arms and hold her close, smelling her hair and her skin, feeling like it would be the most natural thing in the world for her to melt into me, to return to her first home on this earth, the womb, where I can hold her closer than close, all day long.

It turns out Angela knows one of the moms I’ve been talking to—they see each other at the library and the playground occasionally—so she chats with the two moms while I hold and cuddle Anne. My little girl is hungry for milk, so I nurse her in the darkness of the pub. I watch her little jaw and cheeks move as she sucks, stroke her blond hair with my hand. Her eyes are closed. She looks so peaceful. This is the image I’ll take back to work with me today.

Too soon, it’s time for me to head back to the office. I hug Anne long and tight, hand her off to Angela, and turn to put my jacket on. Anne complains and hold her arms out to me. Once my jacket is on, I take her back into my arms, glancing at the clock on the wall. Three minutes before I need to punch back in.

I set her down, and she walks toward one of the babies, curious. I tell the moms I’ll be in touch (I had them write down their names and e-mail addresses so we can plan a Saturday hike with children in the spring), squeeze Mo’s shoulder, and work out the final baby pick-up details for tonight with Angela.

And then I leave.

My heart breaks each time I leave her. But there is room for gratitude here. Even here. There is gratitude that ...

131. In Angela, Anne has a loving, devoted caretaker all day long while I work.

132. In three-year-old Mo, Anne has a best friend and a big brother.

133. I have a job, and a good one at that. I’m thankful for this because we do have debts to pay off, and not having a job is not an option for me, at least not for the time being.

134. We have health insurance. Thanks to my job, our health insurance is very good and very affordable—a big plus when your immediate family includes a toddler and an almost-50-year-old with a family history of heart disease.

135. Ninety percent of my job is writing and editing. So I like my work. Some days—a lot of days, actually—I love it.

136. Even though I’m not there, Anne still gets to do the things I would have her do: go to the library, play at the playground, be with other children, read until she can’t keep her eyes open any longer.

137. Like me, Angela is all about organic foods, Mary Poppins, minimal (if any) TV, and appropriate books and toys. So I don’t have to worry that she’s feeding bad stuff to my daughter’s body or mind.

138. Angela brings Anne to visit me at work. A lot. Can you think of a better way to take a work break, than to hold and nurse your own child? It sure beats hanging out at the water cooler, talking about football scores.

Is it any wonder that the name Angela means “angel”?

A few more things from this weekend:

139. acoustic pianos--what a wonder of technology!

140. purple (my favorite color)

141. running--how good it feels to move the legs, open up and work the heart and lungs, feel the blood coursing. Saturday’s long run was delayed until late Sunday night, but it was worth the wait.

142. the blue tips of fire flame

143. old quilts, handmade by Dan’s great-grandmother

144. planks of a wood floor lined up, no two grain patterns quite alike

145. the cello--how it instills the combined feeling of loss and comfort

146. the yeasty smell of bread baking

147. windows—giving us a glimpse of the cold outside while we stay warm and dry inside. Open in summer and spring so we can enjoy a bit of outside on days we must stay in.

There are so many benefits to writing down these gratitude lists throughout the week, to be posted each Monday. One of them is that, as I re-read them, I’m taken back to where I was when I first wrote them down.

Join me in writing a list, or read others' lists for today. Just click the "One Thousand Gifts" image below.

Happy Monday, everyone!

holy experience

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Saturday Links and Ramblings

The Saturday Review of Books is up at Semicolon. Consider participating; if you reviewed a book on your blog this week, all you need to do is go to Semicolon and link it from there.

Speaking of book reviews, did you read my recent review here on The Hidden Alphabet? I’d decided in late December that one thing I’d like to do more of in 2011 is write reviews of the books I read. Then, once January started, I felt a little discouraged since the two main books I was reading—The Bible in 90 Days and Anna Karenina--are each about 1,000 pages long, meaning I wouldn’t get to write a review of anything for weeks or months.

Then I realized: Baby Anne and I read books, lots of them, every day! And some of them are really, really good! So I decided, since I can’t review any grown-up books just yet, I can review some of Anne’s. And that’s what I did last night.

Don’t tell, but I’m reading a few (really, just a few) pages of Ann Voskamp’s new book, One Thousand Gifts, each day. I couldn’t wait; I’ve looked forward to reading this one for months. So far, it’s been well worth the wait. Check out today’s (in)courage for warm words from Ann and a slide show that includes some silly 40-year-old girl who is jumping-up-and-down happy to get a new book!

This morning before work, I went to Riverblaze, a local bakery that serves coffee, for an hour or so of writing, as today would be my first day to write in my brand-new notebook. I sat for a long time—thinking a little, waiting a little, pen in hand. And then I started writing.

Here’s something I wrote toward the end of the two pages I filled:

I’ve been thinking about it, and there is one thing I would like to do, or not do, with this notebook:

I don’t want to waste my time on “morning pages.” Not that I don’t want to write in the mornings. I just no longer want to waste my time, or my mind, on the stream-of-consciousness, nonstop-for-three-pages morning pages touted in The Artist’s Way. Rarely have they helped. I want to write the way I did before I read The Artist’s Way: Intentionally. Deliberately. With long quiets. Time for thinking. Slow time for slow-to-come thought, and slow-to-think-out words and sentences and paragraphs.

Not that there won’t be time for manic writing frenzies or brain dumps or laundry lists and schedules, but ... no more habitual hurry. No more “I don’t know what to write I don’t know what to write I don’t know what to write.” No more “What else? What else?” No more thinking the pages are somehow incomplete if I don't fill "all three" of them.

I read The Artist’s Way for the first time in the early 1990s, when it was still hot off the presses. I’ve read it several times, and it’s served a positive role in jump-starting me out of the creative slumps I occasionally fall into.

I took the book’s concept of Morning Pages—writing three pages of stream-of-consciousness thoughts every single morning—seriously. And I’ve incorporated them into my life for the past almost-twenty years.

But I think I incorporated them too much because now, when I sit down to write in my notebook, I feel frenzied, like I need to start pumping out words of stream-of-consciousness nothing. That frenzied feeling has become natural. Also natural is the sense that, if I write fewer than three pages, I’ve somehow failed (not “capital-F” failed, but still). I finish with a sense of incompleteness.

Rarely do I ever just sit and just think and write anymore. I love journaling, but I don’t want it to be the only writing I do.

My time for writing is limited. When I sit down to write, I want to write real things. Not whatever things. And that’s what I’m going to start doing.

That’s what I did today.

The title of this weekly post is “Saturday Links and Ramblings.” Some weeks it will be link-heavy, and other weeks it will be ramble-heavy. Today was obviously ramble-heavy.

Happy weekend, everyone!

Friday, January 21, 2011

Book Review: The Hidden Alphabet

The Hidden Alphabet, by Laura Vaccaro Seeger
Published by Roaring Brook Press; Reissue edition (November 23, 2010)
Recommended for ages 4 - 8

This is Anne's favorite book. Anne is one year old.


Anne reading the "H" page of "The Hidden Alphabet"

This is also one of my favorite of Anne's books.

That's my way of saying that, yes, this is kind of a children's book, but it's not just a children's book. It's a fascinating little "read" for all ages. It's a lift-the-flap book, yes, but it's not your typical lift-the-flap book.

Laura Vaccaro Seeger, author (and illustrator) of Anne's other favorite book, First The Egg, plays with the idea of negative space in this book of letters and pictures. Each page is covered with a black flap that contains a cut-out square or rectangle. Inside the cut-out is what looks like an object that begins with the letter for the page. For example, there's a picture of a fish inside the cut-out for the "F" page.

Then you lift the flap. In a seeming trick of the eye, the object in the cut-out becomes the negative space for the actual letter.

Does that make sense? It's an optical illusion in action!

The "fish" turns into the space between the two horizontal lines of the letter "F."

For "Q," a quotation mark turns into the inside of the letter "Q."

With most of her books, Anne turns the pages quickly, more interested in her newfound ability to turn pages than she is in the book's actual content (er, the pictures). Even if I'm reading to her, she wants to push on.

And if it's a book I've already read to her a hundred times? She makes it clear, halfway through, that she's bored with it, and let's move to the next book now, please Mummy.

But The Hidden Alphabet? This book is 32 pages long--much longer than her "touch and feel" board books--but she never gets bored with it, and we've read it at least a hundred times. And she never asks me, halfway through, to read something else. She doesn't rush through the pages of this one.

She touches the drawing in the cut-out, lifts the flap, looks at the picture, puts the flap down, and gently turns the page.

Oh, and she likes to stick her arm through the cut-outs, too. But hey, she's one. One-year-olds do that kind of thing. Fortunately, the pages are pretty thick and durable.

On amazon.com, I read that The Hidden Alphabet is recommended for ages 4 - 8. Obviously, in our family at least, it appeals to a much wider age range than that. (Though I must admit, Anne did rip the "G" flap the other day, so I can see why it isn't recommended for children under four. If you do buy this for your young child, you might want to always read it with him or her, rather than letting the child look at it alone.)

Here's a trailer for the book. It's kind of a spoiler because it pretty much shows you the entire book. But at least you'll be able to see what I haven't been able to describe very well here. Enjoy!

(If you watch the trailer, let me know which letters are your favorite! My favorites are F/Fish, M/Mouse, and P/Partridge!)

Five-Minute Friday

Lisa-Jo at The Gypsy Mama is doing a fun little Friday writing-thing. She provides a prompt, and you write for five minutes. Her topic for today is to "think of the most unique person you encountered while you were out and about this week, and write them into life for us."

Since I don't have anything to post today, I'll bite.

START

Out and about? Out and about? Who has time to go out and about? Work and home, work and home, work and home, and that's it. Maybe go to the coffee shop where everybody knows my name and I know theirs. Same old same old. Yep. My boring, predictable life.

I went yesterday morning and there were two young men sitting there, two young men who clearly lacked exercise and sun exposure and possibly several days of sleep. Two young men I'd never seen before in this place where everyone knows everyone else.

I could tell by looking at them that they were into computer games and science fiction. And maybe philosophical conversations, the kind we got into in college late at night.

I don't know how I could tell. I just could.

I went to the counter, popped off my earbuds from my iPod, and bid Helen good morning. Helen is in her seventies, working three mornings a week at the coffee shop because she likes the conversation and doesn't have much else to do.

"The usual?" she said.

"Of course!"

Then she made an odd, worried face and whispered something. I can't read whispers, so I shrugged and pushed a scrap of paper and a pen toward her. She finished grinding the coffee beans for my Americano, then scrawled, "Weird!" She glanced toward the two men sitting in the front of the shop.

I smiled. "Why?"

"Singing," she wrote, and then said in a voice just louder than a whisper. "One of them sat there and sang to himself for five minutes while the other one kept his head on the table. Singing!" The last word came out in a hiss. "And they've been here for two hours!"

"It takes all kinds, I guess," I said in my library-voice, and we both grinned. Then we resumed our "normal" voices, chatting as usual while she finished up my drink.

On my way out, I smiled at the singer and his friend (though I didn't know who was which), but they were busy talking and seemed to look right through me as they continued their conversation.

As I walked past them, I caught a word that sounded like "nanotech." I didn't know if their topic was science fiction, computer games, or late-night philosophy, but was sure it was one of them.

Or maybe they were talking about iPods. I shrugged, put my earbuds back in, and walked out the door.

STOP

(OK, so that was just about the worst thing I've written in a long time.)

Just to add ... even if I try to "tell it like it is (or was)" when I write, I just can't. I must admit that I stretched the truth a little bit here and there in this exercise. OK, so I made up probably 62 percent of it. Sorry 'bout that. But rather than call me a liar, let's just say I'm a "natural-born fiction-writer," OK? OK!

Oh ... and I just realized I didn't write about "the most unique person I encountered" this week. That person would be my daughter. Sorry, Anne. You were usurped by a couple of sci-fi chanteurs who really do exist. But if you'd said "nanotech" ... ? Yeah, I'd have blogged about you then. Seriously.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Restoring ... Piano


Some of what I practiced today: from
Bach's Three-Part Invention in G minor

I played piano—no, I practiced piano—today at lunch.

I think my blood pressure must have gone down a few numbers.

I didn’t want to go back to work. I like work--particularly lately, as I’ve taken on some new responsibilities for support season. But I didn’t want to go back. I wanted to stay in the little chapel at the Baptist church and practice those twelve or so measures of Bach. I could have stayed there for hours.

Piano has been a part of my life, on and off, since 1974. I opted not to major in music in college, but only because I loved English just a little bit more than I loved piano. I minored in music, though, and took private piano lessons throughout those four years.

After college, I found piano teachers, mostly graduate music students at LSU. I loved to play, but, more importantly, I loved to practice and learn. And I always felt more comfortable doing so under the guidance of a more learned pianist.

I stopped taking lessons in my late twenties. I hadn’t stuck with a single piano teacher for more than a few months (mainly due to scheduling and my lack of money). I still played, though, all the time (I had an acoustic and a digital in my apartment). But I thought my days of formal study were over.

Then I got married and moved to North Carolina in fall of 2003. In late December of that year, just a few days before Christmas, I met with my new piano teacher for the first time. I told Deborah that I wanted to seriously study piano, the way I had in college. I wanted her to push me, and I was willing to put whatever time and effort I needed into piano.

And she did, and I was. For five good years, I worked hard and reached a level of skill I'd only dreamed of before. I documented a lot of that experience on my old blog before creating a whole new blog, just to write about piano.

But then ... I stopped. All of it. There were several reasons--some deep, some not. Maybe I'll write about them here later. What's important, for now, is that I'm playing again.

I have several things going for me regarding the piano. For one thing, God’s given me some degree of talent. For another, I love the piano. Love it. And I love to practice. Yes, I actually enjoy doing scales and arpeggios, and drilling the same two or three measures for fifteen, twenty, thirty, forty minutes. Sitting down to play a piece? Yeah, that’s nice, too. Particularly if it's Bach.

Still, I’m more into the journey than the destination when it comes to piano. And I started back on the journey this week. After a couple of years of not practicing as much as before hardly touching the piano at all, I’ve begun practicing during my lunch hour again. It’s only three days a week, but that’s three more days—and almost three more hours—than I’ve been getting. And I’m thankful for that.

For now, I’m working on “restoring” one piece I learned several years ago, and I’m working on a new piece, a very easy one, mainly so I won’t get discouraged. My fingers feel like they need a good dose of WD-40. Discouragement is a real possibility. I don’t want to go there.

I’ll be posting on my piano progress once a week or so. I’m a little nervous about telling you that, dear readers, because I’ve “come back” to piano several times in the last couple of years, only to have it not last. But I have a good feeling about this time.

And yes, coming back to piano is part of the whole “restore” thing. (But you probably knew that, didn’t you, dear readers—at least those of you who know me well!)

Your Secret Name Post: One Day Late!

I'd planned to post on Your Secret Name yesterday, but I ended up working a long day and just didn't have it in me once I finally got a break. So here we are, a day late.

Today I’ll be writing about Chapters 5, 6, and 7 of Kary Oberbrunner’s Your Secret Name as part of Marla Taviano’s read-along.

Oberbrunner begins Chapter 5 with the question of “Who am I?” and soon gets to his theme that, “on some level, we’re all imposters” (60). Why is this? Because, not knowing who we really are (i.e., not knowing the Secret Name God has for us), “we all wear a certain set of masks” (60). He goes on to say that “many of us wear our masks far too frequently—and we’ve lost touch with our potential for who God created us to be.” I thought there was a lot of truth in that statement. At some point, if we wear them long enough, the masks cease to feel like masks at all.

Chapter 5 soon becomes confessional, with Oberbrunner writing about how he became a cutter (a person who cuts his own flesh as a form of self-injury)—and, in his words, an imposter, pretending to be everything he wasn’t. And then he switches to the Jacob/Esau story and makes the parallel of how Jacob was also an imposter, pretending to be Esau so he could get Esau’s blessing from their father.

In chapter 6, after writing about the dehumanizing nature of namelessness, Oberbrunner returns to the Jacob/Esau story. Then he moves to Satan’s rebellion against God and subsequent expulsion from heaven, and then to Adam and Eve’s attempt, under Satan’s influence, to unsuccessfully “buy” their Secret Names. Next, he moves back to his own life and his cutting, and how he had something of a breakdown (which was bad) and was able to begin getting help (which was good). Then he goes back to Jacob and Esau, where Rebekah, to save her favorite son’s skin, has Isaac send him away to Paddam Aram.

Honestly, I found chapter 6 a little disjointed. While Oberbrunner’s own story is compelling, the switching around from story to story made this chapter a little hard to follow.

In Chapter 7, Oberbrunner write about three “heartbreaks” he got his senior year of high school:

- He lost his sense of identity when a mugging left him injured and unable to wrestle for the school team. (Wrestling had become kind of an identity for him.)
- He lost his sense of acceptance when a stuttering problem resurfaced at play practice and he dropped out of the school play.
- He lost his sense of independence when his Trek mountain bike was stolen.

Then he goes back to Jacob, who, he writes, was also stripped of his identity, acceptance, and independence. Oberbrunner then tells the story of Jacob’s stairway dream, and how God promises him all the things He will do for him—and how Jacob’s attitude begins to change after that.

For this blog post, I began to write about how I could understand a lot of what Oberbrunner was going through, and began (again) to tell my story of a particularly painful time in my life, back in my late teens and early twenties. But then, three pages in, I realized that, as with my last post (which I deleted), my story isn’t one I want to tell publicly, as it would hurt too many people involved. So all I can say for now is that I could identify with Oberbrunner’s struggles as I read about them, as some of my experiences were similar. And that I admire him for having to courage to share his story publicly.

After writing about Jacob’s dream of the stairway, Oberbrunner writes, “This tends to be the pattern. We get a tiny peek at what could be—the possible—while taking a vacation from what is—the actual.” (90) And later, “Yet for the moment we must be content to simply understand where we are and how far we must travel in order to arrive at our destination.”

That is certainly true, and something I’ve been thinking about lately. I feel like I’ve recently gotten that tiny peek at what could be, and I’m currently in a holding pattern, thinking about how to prepare for the journey.

I also liked this quote:

“God presents our Secret Name in snippets for fear of information overload; the more we envision our new name, the more we want it. The hope is that such a glance, however brief, will inspire us to get on the path of discovering who we were created to be.”

It reminded me of Mark 8:25, which I encountered while doing a word-search on the word restore (since it’s my word for the year). Here’s the whole story:

“They came to Bethsaida, and some people brought a blind man and begged Jesus to touch him. He took the blind man by the hand and led him outside the village. When he had spit on the man’s eyes and put his hands on him, Jesus asked, “Do you see anything?” He looked up and said, “I see people; they look like trees walking around.”

“Once more Jesus put his hands on the man’s eyes. Then his eyes were opened, his sight was restored, and he saw everything clearly.”

I always thought it odd that Jesus couldn’t heal the man the first time around, but then I've read that maybe it was necessary that the man get only a glimpse first. Maybe going from utter blindness to full sight would be too much to handle in one step. Maybe a slow transition is necessary. And maybe I just need to sit and wait and be content with glimpses of restoration I’m getting now, knowing that there is more to come.

As he ends Chapter 6, Oberbrunner doesn’t go into detail about how to get on that path, yet; maybe that’s what he does in the next chapter. I’ll be writing my thoughts on Chapters 8 and 9 here next Tuesday. Meanwhile, hop on over to Marla’s blog if you’d like to read others’ thoughts (from yesterday!) on the chapters I've covered today.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

So Happy!

UPS delivered my first copy of Ann Voskamp's One Thousand Gifts: A Dare to Live Fully Right Where You Are yesterday! This is a silly picture of me jumping up and down in excitement after getting the book:

Jumping: Yes, it's the only way
I can achieve full-bodied hair.

I say "first copy" because I ordered several, all gifts, months ago when I first learned that it was available for pre-ordering. I've been following Ann's blog since 2005 or so, and I've been eagerly awaiting publication of her book.

But ... would you believe that this dorky, scatterbrained reader forgot to order a copy for herself?

I did.

Happily, I won a copy--one of my very own!--in one of Marla's give-aways. And that's the copy I got yesterday!

Last I checked, One Thousand Gifts was was #11 in the amazon.com bestseller rankings. I won't be surprised when it hits #1. Ann is a gifted writer, and I'm thrilled to see that so many are ordering her book, and will be blessed and encouraged and changed by her words.

Congratulations, Ann. As you can see from my picture, I'm very excited about this book, and I can't wait to begin reading.

Toddler Tuesday

What a night we had last night. Anne was crying at around 1:45, so I got up and rocked her a bit. She kept crying, so I took her to our bed to nurse her. Long story short—she ended up projectile vomiting all over herself, me, and our bed. Somehow she managed to miss Dan. It was a little after 2:45 by the time I’d cleaned up and changed her, put her back to bed, and showered—while Dan stripped the bed, threw the sheets in the washing machine, and put new sheets on.

Parenthood has gotten easier in some ways since Anne became a toddler, but it’s gotten harder in others. I guess each stage has its challenges, and each its delights. I’m so thankful for a husband I can depend on, no matter what stage we're in. So glad he was willing to take care of the bed last night while I was washing vomit out of my hair.

In other toddler news, it looks like Miss Anne is a reader. (See yesterday's post for pictures.) She pretty much prefers her books to any of her toys. This thrilled me until I realized she also prefers the bottom drawer of my bathroom cabinet (the one where we store extra toothbrushes and an extra pack of surfboard-sized maxi-pads I got after Anne was born, but never got around to using). So, it’s good that she likes books better than toys. I don’t know if it’s so good that she likes spare toothbrushes and giant pads better than toys, or if that says something about whether she truly is a reader or not. Time will tell, I guess.

But she really does love books. We read fifteen or twenty each night. Her favorites are First the Egg, The Hidden Alphabet, and Mother Goose Remembers. First the Egg and The Hidden Alphabet, both by Laura Vaccaro Seeger, were gifts from my brother. Mother Goose Remembers, by Clare Beaton, was a gift from my mom. They’re reading it together here:


Anne turned 13 months last week. She rarely crawls anymore; she’s all about walking. And, occasionally, falling. She’s doing something like a run, too—a fast little pitter-pattering, shuffling kind of toddler-run. It’s so cute. (There. I knew I couldn’t write a “Toddler Tuesday” without including at least one instance of the word cute. And there it is.)

She’s eating pretty well. She loves meat. Loves it. I think I mentioned this previously. It doesn’t look like we have a budding vegetarian on our hands, particularly since she’s allergic to soy. I’m concerned about her getting enough calcium once she’s weaned. She doesn’t seem to be taking to fortified rice milk.

Yes, she’s still nursing. She still wants to nurse, and I’m not about to discourage her. We’re still in our pattern of mornings, evenings, and just-before-bed during the week, and more on weekends. As long as neither of us feels compelled to quit, we’re going to keep going. The only drawback at this point is having to pump twice a day. It’s inconvenient, particularly now that we’re working shifts at work. Also, since Anne’s not wanting so much breast milk (not even from a sippy cup) during the day, a lot of my pumped milk is not being used. For the first time since Anne was born, I’ve been able to store up bag after bag of my milk in the freezer. I’m not sure what we’re going to do with it all, but it’s there.

Anne continues to be a delight. I love her more every day. The downside is that it is more difficult to leave her every morning. The upside of that is some pretty sweet reunions at the end of each day. Absence definitely makes the heart grow fonder. And that’s the silver lining I’m focusing on for now. (How’s that for back-to-back clich├ęs?)

I love my sweet girl!

Monday, January 17, 2011

Multitude Monday #8

What a week. Last week was a time of emotional ups and downs. It was also a week of long hours at work; I totaled almost 50 for my six days of work. It's hard to miss my daughter so much, but it makes the times I do have with her that much more special.

Here are some things I was thankful for this week:

109. the crunch of days-old snow

110. warm sun melting snow on a still-cold day

111. how cold doesn't bother the evergreens

112. the sound of baby stirring early in the morning

113. stroking baby's head and back while she nurses--comfortable, warm, and secure

114. baby's first attempts to "moo" when asked, "What does a cow say?"

115. the way she grins when she knows she's accomplished something big (like mooing for the first time)

116. the fact that our town has two coffee shops that are great for writing, even though neither is technically a coffee shop

117. the folks at the Baptist church down the road; they always let me practice on their grand piano during my lunch breaks.

118. when depression unexplainably lifts (many thanks to new friends Audra, Deborah, and others for your prayers regarding this ...)

119. handwritten letters

120. an unlikely, unexpected "slow day" during the busy season at work

121. a brand-new notebook for writing

122. long, slow runs

123. little rocking chairs, passed down through the generations

She climbed into this chair on her own yesterday morning.

124. king cake

Homemade!

125. knit caps in Mardi Gras colors

We got the little cap at Trail Days in Damascus, VA, last year.

126. a rare warm(ish), sunny day in January for going to the park

Behind the plastic "bubble" at the playground.

127. a little girl who loves books

Reading "Touch and Feel Kitten" in her rocking chair

128. when I catch her reading on her own

Reading "The Hidden Alphabet," a present from her Uncle Ghent

129. my friends in the AT hiking community, and their love for little "Scout"

Hopeful and Jen with "Scout" at the 2011 Southern Ruck

130. relaxing after a good meal


If you'd like to read others' "Multitude Monday" posts, click the "One Thousand Gifts" image below; this will take you to Ann Voskamp's blog. At the end of Ann's post for today is a trailer for her recently published book, One Thousand Gifts: A Dare to Live Fully Right Where You Are. I got an e-mail from amazon.com yesterday, telling me my copy has shipped. Woo hoo!

Have a good week, everyone.

holy experience

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Saturday Links and Ramblings

Let’s see if I can make this a regular feature of this blog ...

My latest bout with severe depression started last September, when my daughter was nine months old. It got worse for several months and then, suddenly, in the last week or so ... it seems to have lifted. I feel hopeful for the first time in months.

Speaking of hopeful, my dear friend Lamar Powell, whose trail name is fittingly “Hopeful,” will be setting out on his second thru-hike of the Appalachian Trail this spring and will be keeping an online journal of his hike. Hopeful is a wonderful writer; I never tire of reading his trip reports, his insightful thoughts, and his evocative descriptions of the natural world. I don’t typically following hiking journals, but this is one I’ll be reading every time it’s updated.

Just to make sure, I’ve just added a link to Hopeful’s journal to my sidebar. While I was at Trailjournals (where he and many other hikers store their journals online), I decided to go ahead and add my own past journals to the Look at Me! Writings, Editings, etc., section of my sidebar.

Here’s another good link: Sherry at Semicolon hosts the Saturday Review of Books each week. If you’ve reviewed a book this week, please consider adding your link at her blog.

More links? I learned recently that two real-life friends have begun blogging: Renee in North Carolina, and Allison in Louisiana. Renee’s Family Devotions offers wisdom and suggestions for sharing passages of scripture with folks of all ages, from adults down to toddlers. At The Horton 7, Allison describes life in her family of seven (which includes a set of newborn twin boys). I feel overwhelmed with just one baby; I can’t imagine five. But Allison's posts are entertaining and often—I hate this overused phrase, but it’s true in this case—laugh-out-loud funny.

Well, I’m just home from work and waiting for Old Dan and Little Anne to come home. They’re at the 2011 Southern Ruck at Nantahala Outdoor Center. I wish I could be there; this is the first weekend in many years that I haven’t been able to make it. But I had to work, and it didn’t make sense to go up there after work, at least not with a one-year-old. So Dan and Anne made the "SoRuck" their first “daddy date” and went without me. I know they had a great time, but I hated missing this annual gathering of trail friends. Maybe next year.

That's it for this week's Saturday Links and Ramblings. See y'all Monday, if not sooner.

Friday, January 14, 2011

My Word for 2011: Restore

The light there isn't so good, but the pub/coffee shop is slightly musty smelling and not crowded a perfect spot for writing. So I've begun going there a couple times a week during my lunch hour, not to eat but to write.


And today, while there, I realized I'm almost to the end of my latest notebook. The notebook feels light and fat, the pages worn, with smudgy edges.


It's taken awhile this time, to get through this notebook.

Journaling, I can usually fill a 100-page college-ruled notebook, cover to cover, not using the faint pink margins, in just over two months. This one took me almost six.

The last one took close to a year. I'm getting better. Getting back into my lifelong habit that eventually resulted in this little collection of almost 30 years of my innermost thoughts:


In the past couple of weeks, a handful of bloggers I follow (see links at the end of this post) have been writing about having a single word for 2011. This word is their theme, or their guide, keeping them in touch with what they deem, in that hopefulness of late December, is going to be important in the year ahead.

I was not going to jump on that bandwagon. A word for 2011, or for any year? While I appreciated what other bloggers were writing about their year-words, and even admired them for it, I didn't feel compelled to follow that path.

Fair enough, right?

So why did the word "RESTORE" keep working its way into my thoughts? "Rest," I thought one day early this month after reading about yet another blogger's chosen word. "I'm not having a word for the year, but if I did, it would be 'rest.' Lord knows I need it."

Later, as I wrote in my journal, and thought, and wrote some more, my non-word "rest" stretched into "restore," and I realized: Maybe I don't want a word for the year, but it looks like I'm going to have one. And that word is restore.

It almost seems like the word picked me. Maybe because I needed it. And I do need it. Much more than I need plain old rest.

Restore. I liked it. It seemed right.

I don't mean that I want life to go back to what it was before it became "downside up." I don't want to undo anything that's been done. But some restoring is needed in this tired old girl--physically, emotionally, spiritually (and any other -ally words you can think of).

I hope to write more (lots more!) on that later. Including how that little word broke into my thoughts one restless night last week as I struggled over a major life decision, and how it guided me to make the right decision. And how I probably would have decided differently, had that word "restore" not interrupted me.

And how the word "restore" led me to that little table at the musty-smelling pub/coffee shop near work today, and how I'm going to start going there twice a week during my lunch hour to write. Because few things are as restoring to me as an hour or so with a notebook, a pen, and my thoughts.

For now, I'm just sharing the news with the many, many (OK, ten or so) readers of this blog: My word for 2011 is restore.

(My apologies for the low quality of the pictures. I'm not a photographer, not even an amateur one, and my cell phone camera isn't the best.)

A few others' words on their words:

Ann at Holy Experience
Chris at Compassion International
Megan at Sorta Crunchy
Sarah at Welcome to Love

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Reading Update

OK, moms of small children, I have one question for you: How do you find time for books?

I've taken to carrying my copy of Anna Karenina everywhere with me. I read while waiting for my lunch to heat up. I got to read for ten minutes yesterday after punching out from work, waiting for my computer to finish crashing so I could restart it and go home. I read last night by the light of my dashboard while driving the icy roads home from the office. (Not really. I just wanted to make sure you were paying attention.)

And that's just Anna Karenina.

I'm about a fourth of the way through AK and hate that I'm having to read it in such fits and starts. Oh, to be able to relax in front of a fire, on a comfy couch, with hours ahead of me for reading this wonderful story! That's not gonna happen anytime soon, so I take what I can get.

In the challenge to read the Bible in 90 days, I'm ... keeping up! It hasn't been too difficult; with the 90-Day Bible, I need to read just twelve pages a day. This Bible doesn't have any commentary, other than the basic meanings of names and measurements, so it's easy to read quickly. (I love commentary, but my goal for this reading is to read broadly rather than deeply, to get a "big picture" of the entire story, from Genesis to Revelation. And the 90-Day Bible is great for that.)

I've been doing my Bible reading at night before bed, which has been both a good thing and a bad thing. Good because it's a set time in which I'm not continually interrupted. Bad because Leviticus is not the best thing to read when one is already tired. (But good because, well, if insomnia is a problem ...)

I'm also keeping up with the Your Secret Name read-along and will continue to post my thoughts on it most weeks.

Finally, I've been reading Depression: A Stubborn Darkness, by Edward T. Welch, recommended to me by my pastor. I'm just a couple of chapters in, but I'm thinking I might write a review of it once I've finished it. I typically read a few pages of it at night, after the Bible and before sleep.

It's been a challenge to make time for reading. It seems like I'm at work all the time (we're in early support season, which means 10-hour shifts five days a week, plus four-hour shifts on Saturdays), and when I'm not at work I'm in full-time mommy/wife/homemaker mode. Reading early in the mornings is usually out of the question because Anne is (again) not sleeping through the night, and I need every last bit of sleep I can get before going to work.

Taking Anna Karenina everywhere with me, participating in a read-along that asks us to cover only a few chapters a week, and doing the 90-day Bible challenge have all been good and necessary approaches to helping me make time for reading in this very busy season of my life. My general mood has improved, and I think it's partly because I've been able to find snatches of time for books. My attitude has definitey begun to change in recent weeks; rather than feeling frustrated that I never have time to read, I'm feeling thankful for every spare moment I can get.

What are some tried-and-true approaches you've used to fit reading into a busy schedule?

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Have You Read ...

... any of your birthday bestsellers?

BiblioQuest has a neat tool that gives you a list of New York Times bestsellers for the week of your birth. If you live in the U.S., be aware that you need to enter your birth date "backwards" -- for example, if your birthday is January 12, 1980, you'll need to enter it as 12/01/1980.

I must admit, I haven't read a single one of my birthday bestsellers, though I have seen one of the movies made: The Godfather. (The book was #2 when I was born.)

So, have you read any of the bestsellers listed for your birthday week?

Why I Removed My Last Post

The gears clicked in my head all morning, and part of the afternoon, yesterday. I was excited about writing my post for Your Secret Name. For whatever reason, this whole bloggy read-a-chapter-or-two-and-then-write-about-what-you-read thing excites me. Perhaps that's because I rarely find people who are reading the same books I am, and I've often wished I there were folks I could discuss my reading with.

So, I wrote out a post over my late lunch hour, tweaked it a bit, and put it out there.

And felt kind of sick. For several reasons. The main one being that I wrote about something from my past that I realized I'm not comfortable sharing here.

The post was up there for about six hours, and I got a couple of very nice, supportive comments, which I appreciated.

But, in the end, I decided to remove the post. It wasn't fair to my family, my daughter, or anyone else who was involved at that phase of my life, for me to keep it up there.

My apologies to those of you who got a "File Not Found" message when clicking the link at Marla's blog.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Toddler Tuesday

Here we are, dear readers, at yet another Toddler Tuesday. I'm actually writing this on Monday, and I hope I'll have some pictures to add before publishing this post.

The lovely Miss Anne is one day shy of thirteen months old. Thirteen months: That's the age Cousin Ella was when Anne was born. And I thought Ella was so old then! Walking and everything!

And now I have my own little walking, stair-ascending and -descending, hair-brushing, gesture-making, ball-rolling little boo.

I would take a picture of her going up the steps, but she moves so fast that I fear the picture would be little more than a blur. She's slower going down the steps, but not by much.

She's learned to "roll" a ball. It's very cute; she stands completely still, a serious look of concentration on her face, and releases her hold on the ball by miniscule degrees until it finally drops out of her hands and rolls away (usually after hitting her foot). And then she flies into action: grinning, clapping, squealing, and running after the ball so she can "roll" it all over again!

She loves to have her ears cleaned with a Q-tip. I know I'm not supposed to do this often (if at all), but I've twirled the Q-tip gently in her ears a couple of times when I thought I'd gotten water in them when rinsing her hair. Well, now she puts her finger to her ear and tilts her head to look toward the sink, where I store a plastic container of Q-tips. When I reach for a Q-tip, she squeals approvingly. Yep, she's got me trained.

I mentioned in a previous Toddler Tuesday that she's trying to brush her own hair. Well, she likes to brush Mommy's hair, too.

She also likes to put things on her head. And on my head. And on her daddy's head. The other night, we all sat in the kitchen, holding spoons and cups on our heads. Such is family life with a one-year-old.

And here's a picture for you: This is Miss Anne discovering pizza.


(Yes, I know she's allergic to milk (therefore, cheese) ... but Dan's heart was set on letting her try bona-fide square pizza from Ohio, so we let her have a little bit. (I think she would have eaten the whole slice if we'd let her!)

Monday, January 10, 2011

Multitude Monday #7: Snow Day Edition

This morning was a rough one. Only after I got to work did I realize what a great blog photo-op I'd missed. Ah well, next time ... though I hope there won't be a next time.

I was halfway to work (which is normally a three-minute drive from home) when I ran into a snow bank and got stuck. After a short wait, help from a tow truck, and $55 to the towing company, I made it to work. It was frustrating, but I'm glad to be here safely, and I'm thankful that the tow truck was able to come so quickly, and that the towing company guys were so nice. One of them even drove me the rest of the way to work because I was concerned about sliding again!

I haven't lived in Louisiana since 2003, but I still use the old "I'm from Louisiana" excuse when I mess up when driving in the snow. And I used it this morning. After they pulled me out of the snow bank, one of the guys asked, "Do you think you can make it to work now?" and I gave them an "Are you kidding?" look and said, "I'm from Louisiana."

"Oh, OK. I'll be happy to drive you myself, ma'am. You just get in the passenger seat and we'll be on our way."

Here are a few things I've been particularly thankful for this week:

92. snow (It's a pain when you have to drive in it to get to work, but it sure is beautiful.)

93. opportunities and possibilities

94. poetry

95. a boss who is patient and understanding (I think it helps that my own boss also has a small child.)

96. not needing to put in as many hours at work as I'd planned (This happened Saturday! I drank in every extra moment I got to spend with my little daughter!)

97. two little one-year-olds, playing together

98. my daughter's delight (complete with grinning, squealing, and clapping) at learning she can roll a ball

99. having a good vehicle for getting from place to place, snow or not

100. the feeling of bliss, comfort, and rightness that settles in whenever I sit down to work on a creative-writing project (Yes! I got to put in some "novel work" for a half-hour yesterday!)

101. the company I work for

102. being able to look back on a difficult decision and realize that I made the obvious right choice (even though it didn't seem so obvious at the time of the decision)

103. a change (for the better) in perspective

104. the sense of possibility in friendship--when you meet someone and have a really good feeling that, "this person and I are going to be really good friends."

105. when you learn that the other person feels the same way

106. Mary -- You were one of those to whom #104 and #105 of this list definitely applied. Sadly, our budding friendship was cut short by a drunk driver. Today would have been your 30th birthday. Rest in peace, my friend.

107. verses like Ecclesiastes 3:4 and Matthew 5:4, which remind me that mourning and grief are a real and necessary part of life, and that having faith in Christ doesn't mean such things will conveniently take leave of our lives. For whatever reason, that truth can be so hard to swallow.

108. and to end on a lighter note ... the sheer fascination that a flushing toilet can hold for a curious one-year-old

Hope you have a wonderful (albeit snowy, for those of you in the southeast and elsewhere) week, dear readers! And, if you think about it, please say a prayer for Mary's family (and particularly her mom, Rose), who continues to struggle with the loss of this beautiful young woman.

holy experience

Thursday, January 6, 2011

About Good Books ...

Dr. Holly Ordway in her blog post, "Developing a Taste for Good Books":

In truth the real classics, the works that truly have earned a place in the canon, are read because they’re the most satisfying and enjoyable books to read. They are, in the most concise way of putting it, good books.

Yet for many readers, the classics are books that seem dull and difficult, only to be read under duress, for a class or a particularly unfortunate book group. Why is this? There are a lot of reasons ... but one reason is a simple one: if you haven’t developed a taste for good books, you won’t enjoy them. Conversely, once you do develop that taste, you’ll find the best books, the classics, to be the very best of literary friends.
I particularly like what she writes about "fluff":

Inoffensive fluff has the problem that it can deaden one’s capacity for appreciating truly great literature. It’s not the content that’s the problem. The problem is that fluff is sticky. You get used to it. Bad writing is easy to read; you don’t have to wrestle with it, because whatever’s there, is right there on the surface. Bad writing doesn’t make you think; it numbs the mind rather than develops it ...
Good stuff. Read the whole thing here.

Dr. Ordway posted this early in 2010. I recently started following her blog, Hieropraxis, which features short essays on apologetics, literature, culture, and the like.

Ordway is an English professor and a former atheist who loves Hopkins and Donne, so I can't help but feel that she's a kindred spirit. I highly recommend her book, Not God's Type: A Rational Academic Finds a Radical Faith, published last year by Moody Press.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

A Race I Don't Think I'll Try

A few minutes ago, I got an e-mail from my friend, Janet:

"I have found the race of my dreams! This year, I am signing up for the Krispy Kreme Challenge in Raleigh, NC on February 5, 2011. I cannot wait!"

"Well, that's nice," I thought, and wondered, "Is this a marathon? Half-marathon? Will there be doughnuts at the end of the race?"

So I checked out Janet's link and found this:

"Beginning at the NC State Belltower, each runner runs 2 miles to the Krispy Kreme store located on Peace St. in Raleigh. After downing a full dozen of the famous Krispy Kreme doughnuts, the runner must run the 2 miles back."

Oof! Two miles? On a dozen doughnuts? Will there be barf bags stashed along the way?

Another friend provided this article by Greg Garber of ESPN.com, which quotes Greg Mulholland, the winner of the first Krispy Kreme challenge in 2004:

"You've got the mass of doughnuts in your stomach that's sort of sloshing around," Gaddy said. "Then you start sweating, and you're sweating glaze, you're sweating Krispy Kreme glaze, and it's coming out of your pores. You feel your arms are sticky, you're starting to salivate, but it's not saliva, it's syrup."

Can you imagine? Do you even want to imagine?

This actually looks like fun (though I won't be trying it!), and it's for a good cause: the NC Children's Hospital.

(It also reminds me of one of my happiest moments on my Appalachian Trail thru-hike: The day I scarfed down five Krispy Kreme doughnuts, all within an 8-minute phone conversation with my grandmother. Oh, happy day!)

Speaking of running and races, I'm hoping to run a few races this year, but nothing major. I'm tossing around the idea (again) of the Flying Pig Half-Marathon in May, but if I'm going to do that, I need to start training on Monday. Most likely, I'll do a few 5K races in the spring, and maybe a longer race in the fall.

I've begun keeping track of my workouts at Buckeye Outdoors. I'll also be listening to my best virtual running buddy, Steve Runner, as I begin to cover more mileage over the next couple of months.

So, do I have any runners among my readers? Anyone planning any races you'd like to share in the comments?