4.27.2011

"I discovered that if you really keep your eye peeled to it and your ears open, if you really pay attention to it, even such a limited and limiting life as the one I was living on Rupert Mountain opened up onto extraordinary vistas. Taking your children to school and kissing your wife goodbye. Eating lunch with a friend. Trying to do a decent day's work. Hearing the rain patter against the window. There is no event so commonplace but that God is present within it, always hiddenly, always leaving you room to recognize him or not to recognize him, but all the more fascinatingly because of that, all the more compellingly and hauntingly. . . . If I were called upon to state in a few words the essence of everything I was trying to say both as a novelist and as a preacher, it would be something like this: Listen to your life. See it for the fathomless mystery that it is. In the boredom and pain of it no less than in the excitement and gladness: touch, taste, smell your way to the holy and hidden heart of it because in the last analysis all moments are key moments, and life itself is grace."


Frederick Buechner, Now and Then

4.25.2011

learning to read, all over again

Have you ever studied a foreign language?

Have you ever studied one that uses a different alphabet?

Maybe one that is written in the opposite direction of what you're used to?


I've been studying Hebrew since January. This isn't the first foreign language I've studied, but it's the first one I haven't been able to read. And let me tell you this: when you can't rely on your eyes to help you out, your ears do a lot of working. It's been really good for me, though. After the first few lessons, I could feel my super-rusty language-loving brain getting back into shape. I love learning this new language, and I don't know if my brain is functioning any better necessarily, but it's running on a different gear, and that's kinda fun. We're moving at a nice clip now, and I can almost feel synapses in my head reconnecting as I learn a new pronoun or a new verb.

I must tell you that it is very reassuring to know that I am still capable of learning a new language. For a while there, I wasn't so sure I'd ever succeed at that again.

So now, after 10 weeks or so of speaking, I'm beginning to teach myself how to read and write in Hebrew. There aren't many letters in the Hebrew alphabet, but it's been surprisingly difficult to pair up letters with sounds with any consistency. I know it'll help me in my studies, though, and it'll be a huge benefit to be able to read when we go to Israel.

The course instructors are an older Israeli couple. The husband, Moshe, is a retired doctor of some sort and is so excited to see us growing in our abilities. The wife, Tori, is very sweet and encouraging, too. They seem to work well together and it helps to have both male and female voices to get the male and female conjugations right. And there's a bonus: Moshe has a hilarious sense of humor and is full of funny commentary.

The other day, one of my classmates was asking about some conjugations. Tori helped him get to the right answers, and then Moshe piped up and said "Now do you want to know why that is?" My classmate said yes, and Moshe leaned in and said "Because that's the way it is."

And that's the way it is, studying Conversational Hebrew at the Jewish Community Center in Denver, Colorado.

4.22.2011

the literary monogamist

life is too short not to read good books.


I read that quote somewhere, a long time ago, and in all this time, it has bugged me. The way a rock stuck under my foot when I'm wearing my Birkenstocks would bug me. Birks are a prison for tiny pebbles.

The problem with the quote is that I am one of those people who feels compelled to finish every book. Even when I don't particularly care for the book(s) I'm reading. Reading, which is something I've loved for just about as far back as I can remember, can sometimes resemble a chore. I strap a nice heaping 'should' onto something I'd rather enjoy, and my attitude about it changes.

Does this sound familiar? If you've been reading here a while, it might. About three years ago, I was mired in some pretty nasty depression and anxiety (too much debt, impending unemployment, and an odd but lastimg lapse into wedding PTSD, because it takes a special kind of person to be traumatized by weddings and I am that kind of person). I'd been knitting, but not necessarily in a good way. I had too many projects going, which led to some ridiculous but very real pent-up anxiety and mental self-flagellation. I know. About knitting. Ridiculous, yes. So I decided to go firmly against the knitting grain and become a monogamous knitter.

The benefit to having more than one craft project going at any one time is that when something new catches your attention, you can work on that for a while, until you feel like coming back to one of your unfinished projects. You have options, and the only downside is that maybe your projects won't get finished as quickly as they would be if they were the recipient of sole focus. But you don't usually have to start all over when you're returning to a half-knitted scarf.

Books are a little different - for me at least. I don't know about you, but I have a hard time holding more than one story or argument in my mind, and there's always an expiration date. This was true even before the head injury, but it's more true now. Back before I cricked my neck and swole my brainz, I could read more than one book as long as the books were different genres. Nowadays, if I don't finish a book in two weeks there's a good chance I'll be completely lost by the end, having already forgotten the beginning. If I'm going to read, I need to read one book at a time.

I'm good with this one-at-a-time system. I cook one meal at a time, I have one conversation at a time, I knit one project at a time, I read one book at a time, and most days I don't even remember to consider multitasking. This way is simple. It works for me. That's what is most important, right? It works for me, at this point in time, with my current capabilities.

Accepting this is sometimes difficult. I want to be one of those people who can remember multiple stories at a time. The truth, though, is that I'm doing well if I can remember the first names of the 8-or-so ladies who get together Wednesday mornings for knitting group at the church. And so now, five years later, I am still choosing to embrace the 'new' me and this 'new' reality.

To make it easier on myself, I need to let go of the self-imposed rule that every book I start must be finished. Because life really is too short to slog through books just for the sake of slogging through them. And when my reading capacity is as limited as it is, I need to do some favors for myself.

What about you - do you feel like you have to finish every book you start? Do you have multiple books going at a time? What's the best book you've read recently?

4.20.2011

the D word

But I can't think of anything good about divorce as far as the children are concerned. You can't kid yourself about that, although many people do. They say things like, "It's better for children not to grow up with their parents in an unhappy marriage." But unless the parents are beating each other up, or abusing the children, kids are better off if their parents are together. Children are much too young to shuttle between houses. They're too young to handle the idea that the two people they love most in the world don't love each other anymore, if they ever did. They're too young to understand that all the wishful thinking in the world won't bring their parents back together. And the newfangled rigmarole of joint custody doesn't do anything to ease the cold reality: in order to see one parent, the divorced child must walk out on the other.


from here.

4.18.2011

4.15.2011

a cookie recipe and a subtle birthday hint

Behold, the long-awaited (but requested!) losing cookie recipe that is actually full of the winning:

Ingredients:

3/4c honey
3/4c sucanat*
1c butter, softened
1tsp vanilla
1 large egg
2 1/4c flour
1tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt (use less if you like your cookies shockingly sweet)
1 giant hershey bar, chopped
1 ghiradelli semi-sweet or dark chocolate bar, chopped

1. heat the oven to 375
2. beat honey, sugar, butter, vanilla and egg. stir in flour, baking soda and salt. add more flour if you need to.** stir in the chocolate chunks
3. drop dough by rounded spoonfuls about an inch or two apart on a cookie sheet.
4. bake until they're done. for me, i check at 10 minutes and decide then.

NOTES:
- *use turbinado or, if you must, brown sugar in place of the sucanet
- **the honey makes the dough pretty wet, and you want a stiffer dough, so you may need to add a few tablespoons of flour when you get to the end.
- mixing some whole wheat flour in makes these nice and hearty - great for dunking in milk, in my opinion
- because there's so much honey in this recipe, you aren't going to get very crispy cookies. if you like crispy, you'll have to look elsewhere.




Because my birthday is Sunday(!), I plan to make up a batch of these. The jury's still out on whether I plan to share any with Brian.

4.13.2011

book review: The Charlatan's Boy

I've got another review for the Blogging for Books program. Are you tired of these yet? Here's the scoop: I received a copy of this book from the publisher, WaterBrook Multnomah, and I'm fulfilling my end of the bargain by posting my review here.


Let's be honest for a moment here. I just finished The Charlatan's Boy, and I LOVED IT!! This novel is so sweet, so charming and soooooo much fun to read. It starts with the cover, which is a fantastic piece of artwork, and the story is interesting and satisfying. It's told in the first person by a boy named Grady.The diction and turn of phrase connote a Southern type of place - maybe Georgia or Louisiana - with swamps and the associated legends of the Feechiefolk who live in them. 


Grady is an orphan who has been working with a huckster named Floyd for as long as he can remember. He and Floyd leapfrog from one village to another, coming up with all kinds of shows and schemes to make money off the inhabitants of Corenwald. Think State-Fair-act-meets-two-man-circus. Throughout the account of their antics and travels, Grady continues to reflect on his history - or his lack thereof. Knowing nothing of his family and unwilling to believe anything Floyd might tell him, Grady feels lost and out of place wherever he goes. His favorite show with Floyd is their feechie show - it's when he is playing the role of a wild he-feechie that he feels content. 


I spent my time with Grady hoping, along with him, that some day he might learn about himself and find his family. He's a sweet, insightful, earnest and unassuming hero, and Jonathan Rogers (the author) has delivered him to us flawlessly.


See my full review here. I would love it if you rated my review, too.
Also posted at Amazon here.

You can see all my Blogging for Books reviews here.

4.11.2011

reading, and lack thereof

As I was wasting away from The Funk a couple of months ago, trying desperately not to cough up a lung and apparently torquing a rib, which, OUCH, there were brief but glorious periods when I found myself able to read.

The Funk had burrowed its way into my nasal passages and was building a homey little nest in what felt like the space immediately behind and below my eyes. For nearly two weeks, my days were spent squinting at the ceiling, or, when our wireless router was feeling benevolent, at the iPad as it played all 5 seasons of Say Yes to the Dress (which is perhaps the most delightful show ever made, especially to me, the girl who didn't go wedding dress shopping but who would have loved it).

But delightful as that show is, I am more of a reader than a tv watcher and I have something like 130 books languishing in my TBR pile, or more accurately, my TBR shelves. Not to mention the 450 or so on my paperbackswap reminder list and the additional 180 or so on my wish list there. So really, if I'm going to be quarantined and unproductive for two weeks, I at least want to be reading, if at all possible.

The problem is, it wasn't possible. And my up-to-then established habit of voracious reading came to an embarrassingly quick halt.

It has now been 6 weeks or so, and I have managed to make my way through approximately 3 books, one of which was read aloud to me and another of which was a decorating book, heavy on the photos. For some reason, I've had a hard time finding the reading mojo. This is frustrating because now I have both the time and the ability to read, and my incoming-to-outgoing books ratio has progressed way beyond the point of 'discouraging.'

I think the slowness can be attributed at least in part to poor choice. I keep starting books that I think will be nice, only to realize that I am maybe not so into them. But of course, I have to finish, because I'm stubborn like that. (You were surprised?) And there, it seems, we have solved the Case of the Missing Reading Impetus.

And now I am stuck. Last night I finished the Draggiest Book of All Draggy Books (which would really not be that draggy at all for a normal person) and I can't decide what to pick up next. After a series of false and frustrating starts, I'm a little bit gun-shy.

So I ask you: what would you choose? Here are some options:

- Fun, useless chick lit
- Brainy book on social media strategy (I'm actually into that stuff)
- Quirky, maybe bizarre, novel (which..ahem...I was supposed to review within ten days of receipt, which was like 20 days ago)
- Serious books on faith/doubt/spirituality, deep but think-y and 'good'
- Fun books on faith/spirituality, interesting but maybe not quite as compelling as the doubt-y ones
- Norton's anthology of poetry
- The book we're currently reading in Sunday school (affectionately known as Breakfast Club)
- Essays on Judaism through the lens of Christianity

4.08.2011

this will make your friday even better

Brian has an account with something called StumbledUpon. What this does is take notes on things you like and then, one by one, it presents you with another website it thinks you may like. Could be pictures, could be blog posts, could be top ten lists, could be videos, could be TED talks, could be anything. You give it a thumbs up or a thumbs down as soon as you're ready to make a judgment call, and then it gives you something else. I haven't signed up because I don't have much room for brain clutter, being introverted and all. Brian, however, he is all about the brain clutter. Being extroverted and all. He likes all that rapid-fire stimulation coming at him all willy-nilly.

My head would explode. It starts to overheat just thinking about it.

(Now, if there were a StumbledUpon for knitting patterns, maybe I could give that a shot. And that, ladies and gentlemen, is my million-dollar idea.)

Anyway. Brian will, in the throes of another evening with StumbledUpon (our lives are so glamorous), occasionally send me gems.

And this, my friends, is a gem. The shiny kind, that fits perfectly into that old ring mount you've had lying around for years.

4.06.2011

an etsy item you should see

You guys.

I needed a new glasses case. And I found one. From this shop. And I love it.

Check it:

photo by WickedStella


You can see his brother here.

Check it out. You will laugh. And maybe you will buy your own? (Note: there's nothing in it for me.)

Besides, it's almost Easter. And I'm pretty sure Jesus is the closest thing to 'zombie' this world will ever see.

4.04.2011

attitude of gratitude

My family has a fairly open gift-return policy. We give things to the people we love with a hefty dose of 'I will not be offended if you don't like this' subtext. That's not to say that we give haphazardly and without much thought toward the recipient. If I had to guess, it might be a practice developed in response to (alleged) difficulties of finding something that I like. Ever been told you're hard to shop for? I have. (That's why I maintain an online wishlist year-round. Problem solved.)

This return policy, though, it's pretty nice. But I recently found something that could add a whole new dimension, making said policy even more effective.

Behold, the Gift Complaint Form.

It's cute, though at first glance the notion of complaining about a gift is off-putting. But it reminds me of the feedback forms at the college dining hall, so nostalgia mitigates the otherwise-unwelcome pang of complaining about gifts.

Plus, the serious and official format and middle-schooler language of an already fairly ridiculous concept makes it funny to me. It could be an interesting surprise response to a gag gift, too. Or it could be a gag itself! I'm giggling at the thought of my brother receiving one of these in the mail from me (in 'response' to a fictitious gift, maybe?).

My birthday isn't very far away, but I don't plan to be using this form in any serious manner. Still, it's kinda fun to look at, right? (Though if any kid of mine submitted one to me, things would not go well for said kid.)

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