I have been really convicted for about a decade not to gossip, and have been working on that ever since. I actively hate gossip, but I still do it when I get frustrated. But I think it's one of the great scourges of mankind.
Then last spring, I got really convicted not to worry. That's one of the other great scourges of mankind.
The Biblical mandates not to worry (see, for example, the end of Matthew 6, Luke 12:22-26, Philippians 4:6-7, 1 Peter 5:6-7, and Hebrews 13:6) and not to gossip (see Ephesians 4:29, Proverbs 16:28, Proverbs 20:19, and James 1:26, among others) are really clear. There aren't any gray areas. God says, "don't."
I am encouraged by my friends who have also decided to opt out of the gossip-and-worry circuit. It is hard work. And I will give it to you straight...it can be a little lonely sometimes, because dispensing with gossip and worry is really counter-cultural. You will start noticing that gossip and worry are foundational to a lot of conversations that you have to just walk away from or even actively disagree with. And I have found it's not enough just to have thick skin, or a stubborn determination -- I need the full armor of God on (see Ephesians 6:16,17).
Replacing worry and gossip with prayer is key.
My friend Bianca recommended this book, and it has been really helpful in reducing my anxiety. I will battle the urge to worry my whole life, but it's a good and worth-it battle. :)
I am loving the book Crazy Busy: A (Mercifully) Short Book About a (Really) Big Problem by Kevin DeYoung. I recommend it.
Chapter 6 is called "A Cruel Kindergarchy—You Need to Stop Freaking Out about Your Kids." :)
The last chapter, called "Embracing the Burdens of Busyness—You Suffer More Because You Don’t Expect to Suffer at All" has probably been the most convicting for me, and I think is the most unique content in the book.
from left to right, seated: Ma, Pa, and Mary
from left to right, standing: Carrie, Laura, and Grace
This just in from the Facebook page for The Wilder Life: My Adventures in the Lost World of Little House in the Prairie:
Happy birthday Pa and Mary! On this day in 1836, Charles Ingalls was born in Cuba, New York, and then in 1865, his first daughter, Mary Amelia Ingalls, was born in Pepin, Wisconsin.
Thank you, Jennifer K., for sharing this! :)
Hey, I wanted to apologize to any of you (Michele) who started our ambitious reading program with All the King's Men and wondered what happened to me. :)
I have been reading as planned, but I had remembered that I had purchased two books about Lincoln for my Kindle (the week before I figured out the reading program) that I had wanted to read before I see the movie with Daniel Day-Lewis.
So I am simultaneously booking it (ha) through Lincoln's Melancholy: How Depression Challenged a President and Fueled His Greatness and Team of Rivals.
Actually, I'm about to finish Lincoln's Melancholy and start Team of Rivals. And I'm also reading All the King's Men.
I don't usually do this, because it's dumb and a bit confusing. But I'm on a movie deadline, people. A movie deadline. (I don't actually think I'm going to finish Team of Rivals before I see the movie, but I am going to try before it leaves theaters.)
By the way, I'm reading the version of ATKM that WASN'T edited by Noel Polk, and Michele read the one that WAS, so we are well-rounded and will be able to have a discussion about whichever one you chose to read, if you did.
I won't do this to you again. Or to me. :)
Onward and forward, readers! Onward and forward. And maybe also upward but hopefully not downward.
Awhile ago, our Melanie came up with a thoughtful reading plan to take herself systematically through several classic novels.
Full of more enthusiasm than common sense, I vowed to join her. I was already absolutely swamped with activities and other reading commitments that year, which is doubtless why the idea of reading for pleasure made me so giddy.
I succeeded in reading exactly zero (naught, nil, nada, zip) books off her list, and provided exactly zero (naught, nil, nada, zip) support to her in this exciting endeavour.
I'm sorry, Melanie. I know better than to make emotion-fueled promises (My favorite authors! A friend! Books! Yes! Whatever you just said, a thousand times, yes!) but I still do it sometimes, anyway.
Last week as I lay in bed reading People magazine on my cell phone while Bob slept soundly next to me, I realized two things:
(1) For the first time in years, I do not have any existing reading commitments, and
(2) Without a reading plan in place, I might fritter away my entire year reading celebrity gossip. (Reese Witherspoon had her baby!)
So I've done gone and got me a reading plan. Yep.
What I did was to start perusing the three following "Best Novels Ever" lists:
The 100 Greatest Novels of All Time by Robert McCrum at The Observer
100 Best Novels by The Modern Library (I used both the Board's List and the Reader's List)
All-Time 100 Novels since 1923 by Lev Grossman and Richard Lacayo at Time
I didn't choose these lists because I believe it is possible to come up with an objective, empirical list of "best novels ever". I also didn't choose these lists because I agreed with them. I chose them because when I Googled "best novels" these came up in the first (credible) results. They gave me a good framework and some boundaries to work with.
Each list is flawed in its own way, but it was interesting to see how many novels landed on all three lists: The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie and To Kill a Mockingbird come to mind.
As I thought about how to organize my list, it dawned on me that there are 26 letters in the alphabet, and 52 weeks in the year.
So these were my first tidy thoughts:
(1) I would only choose books off the three lists referenced above, because that gave me some boundaries and assured I wouldn't only read books by Jane Austen and the Brontes. :)
(2) The list would be in alphabetical order by title, and I would read the books in that order.
(3) My list would consist of 52 books, with two books beginning with each letter of the alphabet (26x2=52), and I would read at the mathematically pleasing pace of one book per week.
(4) I would not read any book I'd already read.
I quickly realized, however, that this plan was not realistic, and therefore doomed to failure.
I cannot read a novel a week. Some books are long (hello, Count of Monte Cristo) and some weeks are busy (hello, Christmas).
Some letters of the alphabet are short on classic book titles (X and Q, although you could cheat and call Don Quixote a "Q", but I didn't want to start cheating because that's a slippery slope, although I did kind of cheat with To Kill a Mockingbird, because that's technically a "T" since "To" is not an article, but I made it a "K" anyway ... are you following me? Hello?)
And although I've read several of these books before (I have Jane Eyre, Emma, and Wuthering Heights memorized, for instance, while Watership Down, Gone with the Wind, and Robinson Crusoe are vague memories from my teens and twenties), I should reread some of them, precisely because I really love them, or because I don't remember them, or because I kind of remember them but want to see how age has changed my perceptions.
Also, I felt strongly that I should WANT to read every title ... no "shoulds" because they were "important" or because they started with a trickier letter (I'm looking at you, Ulysses).
So then I came up with a more realistic plan:
(1) The list is in alphabetical order by title, and I will read the books in that order. (Some letters have more than two titles, to make up for the dearth of options when you get to the end of the alphabet.)
(2) I only chose books off the three lists referenced above, because that gave me some boundaries and assured I wouldn't only read books by Jane Austen and the Brontes. :)
(3) I have given myself two weeks per book. Some will take less time and some will take more time, but the plan is to finish the list in two years.
Here's my list of 52-books-in-2-years-God-willing-and-creek-don't-rise.
Feel free to join me if you mean it, and also if you don't mean it. (My favorite authors! A friend! Books! Yes! Whatever you just said, a thousand times, yes!)
All the King's Men by Robert Penn Warren
An American Tragedy by Theodore Dreiser
The Big Sleep by Raymond Chandler
Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh
The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoyevsky
The Call of the Wild by Jack London
The Charterhouse of Parma by Stendhal
The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas
Dune by Frank Herbert
Double Star by Robert A. Heinlein
Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card
Emma by Jane Austen
Frankenstein by Mary Shelley
The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand
Go Tell It on the Mountain by James Baldwin
Gone With the Wind by Margaret Mitchell
Housekeeping by Marilynne Robinson
The Heart of the Matter by Graham Greene
Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte
Jude the Obscure by Thomas Hardy
Kim by Rudyard Kipling
To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
The Lord of the Rings (#1-3) by JRR Tolkien
Light in August by William Faulkner
The Maltese Falcon by Dashiell Hammett
Moby Dick by Herman Melville
Native Son by Richard Wright
1984 by George Orwell
One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez
Of Human Bondage by W. Somerset Maugham
The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie by Muriel Sparks
The Pilgrim's Progress by John Bunyan
A Passage to India by E.M. Forster
A Room with a View by E.M. Forster
Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe
The Spy Who Came in From the Cold by John le Carre
Scoop by Evelyn Waugh
The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway
Something Wicked This Way Comes by Ray Bradbury
Three Men in a Boat by Jerome K. Jerome
The 39 Steps by John Buchan
To the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf
Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe
Ubik by Philip K. Dick
Vanity Fair by William Makepeace Thackeray
Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys
Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte
The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins
The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Graham
Watership Down by Richard Adams
Yarrow by Charles DeLint
Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert M. Pirsig
I should mention that we're reading The Hobbit out loud as a family right now. But that isn't daily.
If this works, I will do it again, but use different lists next time. I've made a little form so that I can do a little book review on each book for you. :) And I'll make a little list of them over in the right sidebar. Alrighty, All the King's Men. Ready, set, GO!
He is always erudite, sometimes goofy, often hilarious (he has written for the New York Times and the Atlantic Monthly, and as an English major at Yale, he edited the Yale Record, the nation's oldest college humor magazine), and he speaks very openly and winsomely about his faith in Jesus and his desire to serve the True and Living God.
I realized everything I had rejected about God was actually not God. It was just dead religion. It was phoniness. It was people who go to church and do not show the love of Jesus. It was people who know the Bible and use it as a weapon, people who don't practice what they preach, people who are indifferent to the poor and suffering, people who use religion as a way to exclude others from their group, people who use religion as a way to judge others.
I had rejected that, but guess what? Jesus had also rejected that. He had railed against that and called people to real life and real faith.
Here is his speech given at the National Prayer Breakfast this past February. It's good. (Thanks, Christy B., for telling me about this.)
Writing, to be effective, must follow closely the thoughts of the writer, but not necessarily in the order in which those thoughts occur. This calls for a scheme of procedure. In some cases, the best design is no design, as with a love letter, which is simply an outpouring, or with a casual essay, which is a ramble. But in most cases, planning must be a deliberate prelude to writing.
Did you know that an illustrated edition of The Elements of Style exists? I did not, until last week, when I was looking for a Kindle edition of it because my old paperback copy has fallen to pieces.
And now I own this illustrated copy instead of a Kindle copy. Form over function every. single. time. :)
It is lovely. Maira Kalman did the illustrations.
If you have missed The Elements of Style in your life, I guess I should tell you that the "White" author listed above is none other than E.B. White, whom you may know from Charlotte's Web and Stuart Little and The Trumpet of the Swan.
White said that writing was "difficult and bad for one's disposition," but he kept going, and this is a great encouragement to me.
He also said "real life is only one kind of life -- there is also the life of the imagination."
Which of course is perfectly true.
Bob and Claire were both shocked to discover E.B. White was a man. I was shocked to discover that they were shocked to discover this.
I finished up Mockingjay this week. I think I have mini PTSD. Geez, Louise.
One thing I have been thinking is that they need to use some music off Elliott Brood's Days Into Years album for the soundtrack in the next two movies. I love (love) this album.
It was inspired by a trip the band made through a bunch of WWI and WWII battlefields and cemeteries several years ago up the coasts of France and Belgium. They were, in particular, inspired by the Canadian invasion of Juno Beach on 6 June 1944.
We hold onto each other
For who wants to die alone?
We forgot that we were men
And where we came from and where we laid our heads
And the wounds we had
We all knew they'd never mend
And when I'm sure my days are numbered
Find a nice place in the fields
And thank that little voice inside my head
For such good company
Last week, I noticed that Trenton Lee Stewart, the author of The Mysterious Benedict Society books, would be speaking at Vroman's to promote his new book, The Extraordinary Education of Nicholas Benedict.
So I asked Claire if she'd like to go, and she got very excited. :)
I was not able to take her myself :( because I had a meeting last night, but Bob was able to get off work early and take her, and they had a great time. Bob is a fun date. :) He estimates there were fifteen to twenty kids and ten to fifteen adults there.
Mr. Stewart did a presentation for fifteen or twenty minutes, and then took questions for half an hour or so. Then he signed books and gave away invisible pens.
The most interesting things to Bob were as follows: (1) That when Mr. Stewart goes on book tour, he is gone for weeks on end. Bob thanked him for coming out to see us Californians, because Mr. Stewart is away from his own sons when he tours. (2) That Mr. Stewart developed two of the characters in his books by splitting one character he had already created for a short story into two.
The most interesting things to Claire were as follows: (1) When Mr. Stewart signed her books. (2) When Mr. Stewart talked about his own sons. (3) When Mr. Stewart talked about Constance's Rude Poems. (Apparently he has had many requests for a separate book of Constance's Rude Poems, but he said he gave it a try and it didn't work out.)
Bob and Claire both said (1) Mr. Stewart seems like a really nice guy, and (2) he's very well-spoken and amusing. Today and tomorrow on his book tour he'll be up in the San Francisco area, and then Saturday he'll be in Vancouver, B.C.
Claire wrote "Yay!" and the date with her invisible pen. :)
Can you see it?
I just finished reading a sweet, funny, wise book called My Friend, My Hero, My Dad: The Extraordinary Influence of an Ordinary Man by Stephen Altrogge. (Stephen and his dad, Mark, write a blog called The Blazing Center that I enjoy.)
It is a quick read (about 86 pages), and the Kindle edition was only 99 cents. (Even if you don't have a Kindle, you could read it on your computer on a free Kindle reader from Amazon. It doesn't look like this book is in print anymore.)
I recommend it. It made me tear up because it is so sweet. :)
You can read the Preface and see what you think by clicking on the "Click to Look Inside" book cover here.
Here's another Szymborska poem, because just because she isn't in the news anymore this week, doesn't mean I don't still miss her.
I’d have to be really quick
to describe clouds—
a split second’s enough
… for them to start being something else.
they don’t repeat a single
shape, shade, pose, arrangement.
Unburdened by memory of any kind,
they float easily over the facts.
What on earth could they bear witness to?
They scatter whenever something happens.
Compared to clouds,
life rests on solid ground,
practically permanent, almost eternal.
Next to clouds
even a stone seems like a brother,
someone you can trust,
while they’re just distant, flighty cousins.
Let people exist if they want,
and then die, one after another:
clouds simply don’t care
what they’re up to
And so their haughty fleet
cruises smoothly over your whole life
and mine, still incomplete.
They aren’t obliged to vanish when we’re gone.
They don’t have to be seen while sailing on.
(Translated by Stanisław Barańczak and Clare Cavanagh)
Have any of you collected any of the new Puffin Classics? They are pretty, reasonably priced hardbacks. (They're less than $12 each on Amazon.)
I also like them because they fit in the old-fashioned telephone cubby in our hallway. :)
Claire and I were playing with Kinotopic more this morning, because it's fun! I thought it would be fun to mess around with this pretty Puffin cover from The Secret Garden. I think it looks a little smoother on the actual Kinotopic site, because there it's a little movie there rather than just an animated gif.
We are fortunate to live close to southern California's oldest and largest independent bookstore, Vroman's. It has a lovely second floor devoted to children's books, and Claire and I like to go poke around it sometimes for fun. It's one of those places that has a lot to look at, and you don't need to actually buy anything to enjoy it. (Although we usually leave with something or other.) Claire and I spent some time there yesterday while we were waiting to meet Bob for dinner.
I should mention that Claire used one of her birthday gift certificates to buy herself a pair of fake glasses. She was trying them out yesterday, and is quite taken with them. I didn't let her wear them to school this morning, but she has plans to put them on as soon as she gets home.
On Saturday, we had a little Harry-Potter-themed family birthday party for Claire. (On her actual birthday she went bowling with a few friends and then came back to the house for pizza and cake.)
I say "a little Harry Potter birthday party" because if you Google "Harry Potter parties," you will see that some people have devoted their life savings and the bulk of their days on earth to throwing really huge and elaborate Harry Potter parties, in which their entire homes are remodeled to look like Hogwarts.
These looked like a lot of fun. :D
I just did my typical thing where we only decorate the dining room. This keeps it under control. :) I was in charge of food and decor. I kept it simple ... we had (at Claire's request) shepherd's pie, peas (my brother-in-law Greg said it was the first birthday party he had ever been to that had peas), English muffins, and, inexplicably, peppermint creams. Also, cupcakes.
Bob was in charge of all the fun activities. He also made the butterbeer.
And whoo I'm telling you, that boy had FUN.
He had a little Ollivander's wand selection ceremony in the kitchen that involved Claire and her cousins all standing on chairs watching a science experiment in the microwave ... it was incredibly clever, and I'm going to videotape him doing it and show you later on in case you ever want to do it yourself.
He made THE BEST butterbeer, and I'll have him show you that, too.
He also made a Quidditch pitch in the front yard and ran a quidditch practice (after previewing the quidditch game in the first Harry Potter movie with the kids).
And he came up with a really great Sorting Hat ceremony (a random drawing rather than a test, although he did rig it so that all the kids ended up in Gryffindor) that was one of the funniest things I've ever seen, because both my mom and Bob's mom ended up (completely randomly) in Slytherin and were then cheering Slytherin on. They totally cracked me up.
I put Harry up the day before the party, and then was scared by him all day whenever I walked by. I kept thinking Bob was home from work.
I found these quidditch broomstick favors here, and the directions were here. They were very fast and easy to make. I filled the base up with Skittles Riddles, which are a different flavor than the color would indicate, and which seemed kind of magical. :)
Isn't Harry realistic? Seriously, I jumped out of my skin about twenty times on Friday.
We had a blast.
Happy 200th birthday, Charles Dickens! :)
The art of Dickens was the most exquisite of arts: it was the art of enjoying everybody. Dickens, being a very human writer, had to be a very human being; he had his fault and sensibilities in a strong degree; and I do not for a moment maintain that he enjoyed everybody in his daily life. But he enjoyed everybody in his books: and everybody has enjoyed everybody in his books even till today. (G.K. Chesterton)
I dug around in my bookcase and found the two Szymborska volumes I own. The one on the left is in Polish and is very slim, and I bought it in Krakow in 1993 for less than a dollar. The złoty was redenomiated in 1995, but when I lived there, I think there were usually about 10,000 złoty to the dollar.
Anyway, not very much money at all for such good poetry, even if my math and memory are both wrong.
The volume on the right is still available used through Amazon (and here is her author page), and is a good English translation. This book enjoyed a brief, fashionable stint in Starbucks after Szymborska won the Nobel Prize, and I bought it there because I wanted it, but also to rescue it, because Starbucks seemed all wrong for it. It was kind of a cultural reconnaissance mission while I stood in line for a latte. Come here, book. Come home and live with me, and I will treat you right.
I should mention that though her themes are often grim -- she is, after all, an old Pole, which means she survived idiot Nazis and idiot Soviets -- she is very, very funny.
Stanisław Barańczak, who (along with Clare Cavanagh) did the translations, is himself an award-winning Polish poet.
Here's another Szymborska poem I really like. It swims back into my head on a pretty regular basis.
We're Extremely Fortunate
We're extremely fortunate
not to know precisely
the kind of world we live in.
One would have to live a long, long time,
than the world itself.
Get to know other worlds,
if only for comparison.
Rise above the flesh,
which only really knows
how to obstruct
and make trouble.
For the sake of research,
the big picture,
and definitive conclusions,
one would have to transcend time,
in which everything scurries and whirls.
From that perspective,
one might as well bid farewell
to incidents and details.
The counting of weekdays
would inevitably seem to be
a senseless activity;
dropping letters in the mailbox
a whim of foolish youth;
the sign "No Walking On the Grass"
a symptom of lunacy.
I am sad to hear that Wisława Szymborska, one of my favorite poets, has died.
(It is pronounced "Vees-wah-vah Shim-bor-ska". The crossed "L" always makes a "w" sound in Polish. The "w" always makes a "v" sound. The "sz" always makes a "sh" sound.)
I used to see her sweeping her front walk when I lived in Krakow. She was just normal. Except the inside of her brain was not.
But this was three years before she won the Nobel Prize, and I was back in the U.S. when she did, and I always wondered if that meant she couldn't just sweep her walk anymore. It must be wretched to be famous if you are a poet. I think most poets are ingoing rather than outgoing. I guess you get the occasional Lord Byron, but he was more like an actor, really. I bet most poets just want to take their Nobel Prize and slink on home.
Szymborska's poems are deceptively simple. Here is one of them:
Nothing can ever happen twice.
In consequence, the sorry fact is
that we arrive here improvised
and leave without the chance to practice.
Even if there is no one dumber,
if you're the planet's biggest dunce,
you can't repeat the class in summer:
this course is only offered once.
No day copies yesterday,
no two nights will teach what bliss is
in precisely the same way,
with precisely the same kisses.
One day, perhaps some idle tongue
mentions your name by accident:
I feel as if a rose were flung
into the room, all hue and scent.
The next day, though you're here with me,
I can't help looking at the clock:
A rose? A rose? What could that be?
Is it a flower or a rock?
Why do we treat the fleeting day
with so much needless fear and sorrow?
It's in its nature not to stay:
Today is always gone tomorrow.
With smiles and kisses, we prefer
to seek accord beneath our star,
although we're different (we concur)
just as two drops of water are.