Monthly Archives: September 2011

Hooray for Caturday!

I love Caturday. It gives me an excuse to talk about (and take excessive amounts of pictures of) my favorite person cat. In case you haven’t noticed yet, I sometimes forget Cambria isn’t human.

I’m so familiar with all her little sounds and expressions; she’s a very good communicator. There’s the “I want more food” meow, a purr that says, “I’m lonely,” and a certain little yip that says, “I hate it when you leave me home alone all day. Now rub my belly and tell me I’m cute.”

We had our first small group meeting this week, and during the ice-breaker I had to name one of my embarrassing habits. As I thought about it, I realized that my most embarrassing habit is not one of my many ODC-induced oddities, like always counting the walls and  ceiling tiles wherever I am, but talking about my cat like she’s human. And also talking to my cat like she’s human. It’s pretty bad. For example, I shared this little exchange went down when I had been working at my book store for about three months…

Me: “…and when I got home, she had knocked over the trash can and there was garbage all over the kitchen and living room. I was livid!”

Boss Man: “That’s crazy. Who was watching her.”

Me: “No one. I left her home alone.”

Boss Man: “Home alone?! How old is she?”

Me: “Two, almost three.”

Boss Man: “You left a two year old home alone?!! Who does that?!”

Me: *light bulb clicks on over my head*: “Um, Bud, she’s a cat.”

Boss Man: “Oh. I thought you had a daughter.”

Me: “No, not that I know of. Cambria is a Siamese cat.”

Boss Man: “But I really thought you had a kid!

Me: “Um. No.”

Boss Man: “Huh. I always thought Cambria was a strange name for a kid.”

So there you have it. Proof that I will probably be crazy cat lady in T minus twenty years and counting. Now if you’ll excuse me, my furry mini-human cat is demanding attention. I just got the “I was playing and I spilled all my water on the floor but now I’m thirst. Halp!” leg-brush-and-loud-meeeh-sound combo. Motherhood Duty calls.

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Old Book Smell

I am simply ravished by old books. I love them. Maybe more than I love most people. Shhh. Don’t tell.

I love the smell of them and the look if them. They make me happy, like seeing an old friend after a long time apart. Everything about them invites me in as though I was made to read their crumbly pages.

I love how they double as great reading and great decoration.

And did I mention they smell incredible?

I love opening up a newly acquired antique book and finding an inscription from the giver to the receiver…

For Pat, on her 23rd. With Love, Shel.

Phoebe R. Rosenberg, October '45

W.L.W.

or old notes…

Barbara Briggs, 2369 First Avenue, N.Y. 10035 6E

or slip of paper, a long-forgotten, make-shift book mark.

Sometimes there are underlined passages, but no notations.

What about the passage spoke to this ghost reader?

I want to know: who has held this book? Was it a student, or just a good, old-fashioned book nerd? Did they love it? Hate it? Read it on assignment? Was it a gift they never really cared for but kept out of duty to the loved one who selected it for them? Where has this book traveled? How did it come to this shabby little book store or garage sale or library cart of dime and quarter cast offs?

When I hold one of these old treasures, it’s like I’m holding a whole life in my hands. The paper is brown and wrinkled, sometimes creased with long-suffering and experience. You can keep your perfectly cared-for collectors tomes, I want the books with a little dirt on their binding, with a few turned down corers, and lots of that intoxicating old book smell.

Cambria loves old book smell too.

This is my oldest and best-smelling book. It was printed in 1908.

So now, whenever I’m reading a good book, or any book really, I make my mark. I underline the passages and write out my thoughts. Maybe someday my grandchildren or great-grand children will discover these notations long after I’m gone and learn something about the world they never knew, or see a familiar passage in a whole new light, or somehow feel a little closer to me across the times that divide us.

Maybe my offspring won’t keep all of my ninety-nine thousand books and some other book lover will pick up a few of the volumes from my library in a shabby little book store or garage sale or library cart of dime and quarter cast offs, and they will inhale the old book smell, and decipher the scribbles in the margins, and the cycle will continue.

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Wednesday Book Review: Garden Spells and A Mennonite in a Little Black Dress

“Wednesday?” You ask. “What happened to weekend book review? You know, that thing you posted a mere five days ago?” Let me explain.

Last week I had a brilliant idea. Since I read a book, sometimes two, every week I should start doing a review of the book/s I read each week the weekend after I finish them. Blogging gold, no? Okay, so maybe it’s not a particularly original, but it was good none-the-less. Then I hit a little snag.  I was sick this past weekend, so I finished not one but both of my books by Monday. And since I was finished with my assigned reading, I was bored. What’s a girl to do? Start reviewing in the middle of the week, that’s what!

So, without further ado, I introduce you to my new brilliant-ish idea: The Wednesday Book Review.

Ta-da!

As you may remember, I read these two books this weekend, as planned:

You may be asking yourself why this is assigned reading and who assigned it to me. That’s easy: I assigned it to myself. I find I read better if I assign myself books, usually one fiction and one non-fiction per week. I write them down in my planner  like so: “Saturday 9/10: Begin Garden Spells and Mennonite. Finish by Friday 9/16.” “Friday 9/16: AMANDA! Finish your books!” “Saturday 9/17: Begin Map of Time and Half Broke Horses.” Etcetera, etcetera. It may seem a bit extreme, but I only plan a week or two in advance, and otherwise I’m all over the place, starting new books willy-nilly and meandering through seven books at a time and rarely finishing them in an orderly fashion. I might start four books during one week while I’m in four different moods and not finish a single one of them for a month. It’s a mess. I’m a mess. So I’m forcing discipline upon myself. It’s a little weird maybe, but it’s how I’ve managed to stay on track for my Reading Challenge.

Speaking of discipline, I’ll move on now.

I’ll get into the books in a second, but first take a look at this picture:

Is it just me, or do these two authors look eerily similar? I discovered this oddity on Sunday night, and I kept imagining each picking up the others book, flipping to the author info page in the back, and one exclaiming in shock, “Oh my! It’s the sister that mom and dad always said was abducted in the seventies and never found! No doubt about it, that’s ______ alright!”, while the other shrieks, “It’s one of the kids from the family that lost me! I’d recognize that nose anywhere!” And then both rushing to inform their families that long-lost Suzie/mystery sister had been found.

But maybe it’s just me. I was drugged and perhaps a little delusional after two straight days of reading, sleeping, and eating soup. Even without the imagined reunion of long-lost siblings, they do look similar, no?

No? No. Okay.

Mennonite in a Little Black Dress, by Rhoda Jenzen (long-lost sister #1) was amusing to say the least. Janzen grew up as an ethnic Mennonite, which is to say that her family has been Mennonite for as long as there have been Mennonites upon the earth. Growing up jeans and shorts were forbidden, low German was spoken in the home, and yummy morsels such as Borscht   and Warmer Kartofelsalat were sent for school lunches wrapped in wax paper. Any mention of sex was prohibited, as were playing cards, foul language, which includes not only the better known four-letter words but also lesser recognized ones such as “fool”, designer clothes and anything else considered “vainglorious”, slumber parties, dancing, smoking, and 99% of television.  The Mennonite world she describes is strict but loving. Her people are scrupulous, thrifty, and hard-working, if not a little overly zealous at times.

Jenzen was never completely sold on the Mennonite tradition, but did always believe in God. With one Masters Degree already under her belt, she was planning on enrolling in a Mennonite seminary for a “luxury degree,” aka, “a degree because it sounds like fun, not because I plan to pursue this as a career.” She was chased away, however, but the overly excited letter of the only other woman enrolled at the seminary. This lone other woman was so excited! She was six-letter-pages-long excited! Together, they would blaze the path for women to attend Mennonite seminary! Wielding the double-edged sword of sisterhood and prayer they would fight the patriarchy!  Hoorah!

The day after receiving this letter, Jenzen applied to twelve grad schools. Soon she was focusing on her graduate studies as a grammarian and marrying a handsome but troubled atheist with whom she would have an off-again on-again fifteen year marriage before he eventual left her for a man named Bob that he met on gay.com.  A few days after the split, she was involved in a horrible car crash that left her barely able to care for herself. With her husband gone and her home located on a lakeside in Michigan in the middle of winter,  she had few options but to go home to her solidly Mennonite parents to recuperate.

Janzen account of going home is funny and witty and smart, all the things I like best in a memoir. She does not agree with her family in many areas, but she mostly treats them with respect and love. She also does a very good idea of explaining her views on the areas where they differ and why she no longer holds this particular set of beliefs. My only frustration was that she does  sink into a mocking tone at times, which is not vicious but it does come across as an air of superiority.

But, overall, the good far outweighs the annoying here. Growing up about three minutes away from Amish (and Mennonite) Country, and having been homeschooled alongside many good Mennonite kids, I know a little bit about their culture, but an insider’s perspective is always interesting. My favorite part by far were the stories about her hilarious mother who can find something positive to say about anything and has an odd comfort with bodily functions and fluids. The most interesting aspect to me was that out of a family of four kids, two boys and two girls, the boys have both remained Mennonite and the neither of the girls practices anymore, having moved on either to other denominations or out of the Christian faith entirely. I’m not sure exactly what caused this gender divide or if it was a fluke, but it fascinated the psychologist in me.

My next book, Garden Spells, by Sarah Addison Allen, was fantastic! I had read another of her works, The Sugar Queen, last year and absolutely adored it, so I was expecting this one to be good as well. It did not disappoint. Allen is a master of magical realism. The book focuses on the Waverly sisters, Claire and Sydney, who were abandoned by their mother at the family home in Bascom, North Carolina, where they were raised by their grandmother and elderly cousin, Evanelle. They are the last of the Waverlys, a family known for their magical garden and it’s unusual properties, as well as for their own subtle brands of magic.

Sydney takes off for New York City the moment after she graduates high school, determined to shake Bascom off her boots and leave the name of Waverly and all it’s implications behind, just like her mother did years before. Claire remains behind to tend to the family garden and home. Still wounded from her mothers abandonment and blaming herself for her sister departure,  she has grown into a stoic loner, her only real interaction coming from Evanelle and the clients she garners from her catering business.

Then, years later,  Sydney shows up unexpectedly with a daughter of her own in tow, fleeing from some unspoken terror. The sisters must learn to make peace with their past and themselves if they are to live life together. And of course Sydney’s terror catches up with her, and of course love is a possibility if the sisters can just work through a few flaws first.

Garden Spells was a delightful. It was a pretty quick read, a beach read if you will. It was so easy to slip into. I’d read for what seemed like fifteen minutes and look to discover two hours had passed. A few of the plot elements were predictable, but the atmosphere was so delicious that it hardly mattered. I wanted to put the story on like a coat and walk around in it for a few days, even if I did know what to expect next. To that end, I’ve already ordered Allen’s third book, The Girl Who Chased the Moon, so I can dive back into this quirky Southern small-town world she’s created asap.

And now that I’m waaaaaay ahead of my reading schedule, I’ve started this little book that I really wanted to read but wasn’t sure where to fit in (Okay, okay. I lied. At this point I have my “assignments” planned pretty far in advance. Call it an illness.) :

So far I’m 56 pages in and I’m fascinated! The world of Hollywood in the 1950’s is intriguing, as is Audrey herself. Did you know that she was considered a sexless, mediocre-looking oddity when she entered into the business? Or that she never really wanted to be an actress but a dancer? She was talked into acting by Colette, the author of GiGi, but she still didn’t believe she was a good actor until long after her success in Roman Holiday. Aside from Ms. Hepburn, it was apparently quite a difficult effort to get Breakfast at Tiffany’s made, and it almost didn’t happen. But that, my friends, is a story for another review. Happy Reading!

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Craft Geek

A lot of my conversations since moving go like this:

Friend/Acquaintance: “Oh, you moved here/there to help start a church? Is you husband the pastor? Are you the pastor’s wife?”

Me: “Hahaha….no.” (If you’ve met Tyler, you know why this is funny. Tyler+Public Speaking=Panic Attack.)

F: “Does he lead worship? Are you the worship pastor’s wife?”

M: “Um…no.”

F: “Oh. Then what do you do?”

M: “He’s not a pastor at all. And I make stuff.”

F: “Oh……”

These conversations are frustrating to a certain degree, because it really is easier to show you than to tell you. So for the sake of avoiding future awkward conversations, this, dear friends and acquaintances, is what I do…

Which is to say, I make things. Specifically, I make sets to go with each new kids series for both the elementary and preschool class rooms, and I come up with and make the crafts, games, etc. for the elementary class each week.

I also do this…

We had only boys one service, so we did the logical thing: we built a Ninja hide-out from chairs and the twister mat.

Sock puppets!

Singing and/or Dancing. It's hard to do both at the same time.

Ollie Octopus, our craft area mascot.

Dress-up relay race, anyone?

Which is to say that I play games, make stuff, laugh a lot, and learn even more with the coolest 1st through 5th graders around every Sunday. I love it! Some of the best blessings and biggest lessons I’ve learned have come from my time spent with these kids. (And although you wouldn’t know it from Jonah’s face in that last picture, the kids have almost as much fun as I do.)

And this is what Tyler does…

Which is to say that my husband is the Hingepoint Church sound guru who likes to take pictures of the service and his gear on occasion from behind his soundboard. He also records and mixes the sound on any albums the Hingepoint worship band might drop.  I have zero talent in the music and sound mixing business, but I’m told by those who do that Tyler is very good at what he does.

So there you have it. In California, much as in South Carolina, I’m a craft geek and my husband is a nerdy gear-head. That is what we do.


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What I’ve Learned in the Last Twenty Months.

I am a good Christian girl, I suppose.

I’m a pastors daughter, I got saved when I was four. I went to a Christian college, and twenty months ago I moved from one coast to the other to help start a church. Also I was homeschooled, which I think gives me 10,000 good Christian bonus points automatically. I own at least three study Bibles, I’ve read Augustine and Piper and I Kissed Dating Goodbye. I can explain and defend my thoughts on all five points of Calvinism, and I know what “Christian worldview” means. (Also, I know all about “lifeworld,” or “lebenswelt,” worldview’s sister concept. Thank you Dr. Bruce, for making me waaaaay too into philosophy.) If you can think of something else that would make me more of a quintessential “good Christian kid,” e-mail me post-haste, but I’d bet you my Awana’s vest I’ve got that base covered too.

I’d never thought much about my inherent Christian-ness until college. Growing up in the Midwest, Christian’s weren’t the majority, but we weren’t uncommon either and no one judged you. If you wanted to you went to church, or if you didn’t then you didn’t, and only the church-goers themselves made a fuss either way.

Then, I got the bright idea to go to college in the Bible Belt. I am convinced that even the Devil himself goes to church on Sunday morning when he’s staying in South Carolina. And everyone is watching everyone else closely in an effort to gauge their neighbors over-all spirituality. How much does she dress up? How big is his Bible and what translation is it? Does she get into the music too much or not enough? Does he eat enough fried chicken at the luncheon afterwards? All these components are then calibrated to determine the exact percentage that one really loves Jesus, and if you are found wanting beware of the evangelizing that will ensue!

I may be exaggerating some, but honestly, Southern Christianity is a tough game to play, especially for an unsuspecting Midwestern college student who just wants to get her degree and read a few books in the quietness of her dorm room in peace. Instead of peace I discovered that I was one of the ones found wanting. All sorts of things counted against me. I read books by un-Christian authors and had the audacity to like them. I enjoy white wine; I do yoga sometimes; I still don’t understand why martial arts are apparently evil; and I am passionately devoted to a college football team that is not in the SEC (O-H! I-O!)

For a little while these things had me in a tizzy. Had I missed something?! Was I interpreting scripture wrongly? How could I have miscalculated so drastically for so long?

And then I figured it out, the key to my confusion. In Ohio, and I suspect in much of the Midwest as well, Christianity is an element in the culture but not a dominant driving force behind it as it is in the South. And when a religion, or anything else for that matter, becomes a cultural zeitgeist, it has a tendency to become a competition. I woke up one morning and realized that I had stumbled upon a religious community where even the most sincere believers often found themselves scrambling to keep up- to make sure that they too had read the latest theological best seller, and had downloaded the newest worship album, to make sure they remained relevant.

Relevant. I haven’t decided for certain yet, but I’m fairly sure I hate that word. (But I love the magazine. Thus my uncertainty.) It has come to mean so many things in this generation, in the South and outside. It’s that illusive catch-phrase for the modern church that everyone seems to throw around, but no one can ever concretely define. Everyone is abuzz, trying to make their services and programs “culturally relevant,” but what does that even mean? Does it mean we update our music and have neat, modern graphics and our own i-phone app? Does it mean that we curse and start evangelizing in bars, buying a pint for anyone who will hear our case? Do we hire a hipster band and start selling coffee in the back, our deacons doubling as baristas?

I’m not necessarily down on any of those suggestions, but I am questioning the meaning behind it all. If you can’t define it (“it” being relevancy), is it worth striving for? Why not just pray about it and do church the best way we know how? If relevancy is something to be sought after and obtained wouldn’t it happen organically as we lived in our culture and Christian community simultaneously?

I don’t really have answers to these questions, but I do know what’s working for me. I quit.

The tenants of my faith: read the Bible, study it, practice it, and always bring the cat along.

I quit trying to be a good Christian kid. It was exhausting, and I’m far too free-spirited and messy to get it right for very long, so these days I just try to focus on following the tenants of my faith instead. I’m not naturally very cool (Remember the homeschool thing? Plus, I grew up Baptist.), and I can never seem to keep up with the cutting edge. I’m always a few trends behind. But I can read those three study Bibles and try to live out what I’m learning with sincerity. It’s not pretty, but I’m giving it my best.

I, along with my husband, Tyler, and several friends, recently left the South. I didn’t get my dearest wish, to go back to the comfortable Midwest to live out my life among the corn fields, but God did grant me something pretty cool. After uprooting ourselves and moving to the desert region of Southern California, we’re getting to help start a church. Here again is a whole new spiritual atmosphere.  Most people here don’t go to church, at least not regularly. Some think we’re crazy. Many are interested in the same way you’re politely interested in your neighbor’s tomato garden and grand baby pictures, which is to say you’re happy for them, but you really don’t care that much. Some are completely apathetic without the pretence of being happy for us at all. And a few are very interested, which is why we’re here.

Unbeknownst to us, we’re also here to learn a few lessons. This new spiritual climate has really taught us a lot about sincerity, or maybe it was the sudden onset of near-poverty that did the trick. We’ve struggled to make ends meet our whole marriage, mostly because we’re young twenty-somethings just starting out in a dreadful economy and not from lack of trying. But our first year out here was by far the worst. We got jobs that helped us scrape by, and the Tyler lost his job, and my book store clerking paid the rent, sort of. But food and gas came from an unemployment check, and most of the time it was food or gas, not both together. I know there are people around the world who have it much worse than we ever have, but you don’t realize just how brave those people are until you realize that unless someone takes pity on you, you won’t eat until Friday and today is Wednesday.  We’re not the type of people to beg for food, but I had to get over that in my prayer life. God was teaching me sincerity, and it started with the most sincere versions of, “Give us this day our daily bread,” that I knew how to pray. We had to learn Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego  prayers. They promised not to deny God even if He let them burn, and I was learning that God was still good even if I went hungry. He was still good when I was tired, when I had to walk to work, and when the skin of our teeth was all used up last month and we didn’t know what we were going to make it by now. God is good. Period.

Once I began to ingest the truth of His goodness funny things started happening. Friends we hadn’t spoken to in years would send money. Families from church would ask us over for dinner on the exact day that our supply of ramen noodles, rice, and beans ran out.  I found money in our medicine cabinet once. Our parents became a safety net around us, even from 3,000 miles away, and even though we didn’t ask.

If you look back in the Old Testament, it was in the desert that God rained down manna and brought forth water from a rock. It was in the wilderness that ravens brought meat to God’s prophet by His command. And it was in a desert just north of LA that we learned God really is our provider, the author of our lives. Before we were asking God to shine a light on the path so we could see, but now we were clinging to Him, like a koala on His back, and letting Him do the walking. Like being in the back seat when your dad is driving you in a storm, it was comforting. We were able to rest, and we passed through the season unscathed.

Unscathed, but not unchanged. My faith flows from a deeper place these days. Though life is more predictable, and neither my tummy nor my gas tank have been empty in a while, my faith is a little tougher, a little weather-beaten, and a lot more sincere. It’s couched these days, not in memorized idioms and regurgitated catch phrases, but in the terms of the deep thankfulness of someone who had the rug pulled out from beneath her feet unexpectedly.  Now when I give the man on the street corner money it’s not because I feel an obligation, or because that’s what good Christian girls do, but because someone once gave me money for lunch when I would have otherwise had none, so now I understand a little bit better what Jesus meant when He said that to feed and clothe the destitute is to feed and clothe Him. Grace and love feed and clothe us all. To be truly Christ-like, I must also feed and clothe out of a place of grace and love. His hands and feet saved me both by the nails they took and by the tender care they gave in my darkest hour, and to be a Christian who’s faith is relevant to the world around me I must in turn be His hands and feet to others who are in darker hours.

Well, there’s that tricky little word again. Maybe in the midst of life I did find a few answers. At the least, I’ve figured out how to translate my long-held beliefs into something truthsome and organic and mine; something with wheels that can carry me over smooth roads and rough patches alike; something that I know deep in my soul like the sound of my own name or the feel of my own skin. My faith has become relevant to me, and that, I believe, is the first step, the first shovel full of dirt as I dig for my answers in this garden of questions.

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Filed under Christianity, Some Thoughts

9/11/11

9/11/2001.

I was 14 years old.

I was at church babysitting for my mom’s Bible study. I had just turned on the TV to pop in a Veggie Tales, and when I looked up there it was- the first plane crashing into the first tower.

I sat back on my knees, my mouth agape. Something of this magnitude is hard to process anyway, but at the tender age of 14 I didn’t know what to do. So I did what any normal, freaked out 14-year-old does: I cried.

I cried, and then I made the kids play with play-dough on the other side of the room while I watched the continuing coverage. I watched the second plane. I watched until the moms came to get their kids. I watched when we got home and all afternoon. I watched the next day too. And the next. I wasn’t very long in this world, but I knew mine had changed forever.

9/11/11

It’s been ten years now, but I am still changed. I think we all are, even if it’s in a tacit way that we can’t quiet put our fingers on.

When I woke up this morning and looked at the date on my phone I had a vivid flashback to that day, as I do every year on this date. I could still see the images moving across the television in my mind. I’m better equipped to handle emotional situations now, but pictures of the towers burning and the people caught unawares covered in ash still bring tears to my eyes. Coming to terms with mortality, realizing that there are people who hate you, who would kill you in an instant, just because of where you were born, is a hard pill to swallow. If anyone ever needed proof that man is inherently evil, this is it.

Today as I reflect, I’m praying for all the families who lost loved ones on that fateful day. I’m praying for our country and our leaders, that they can lead us well in these uncertain times. I’m praying fort us all, that we never forget, and that in the face of evil we will choose love.

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same?.” Matthew 5:43-47

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It’s a Lazy, Lazy Caturday

This is the face of a lazy cat:

How lazy, you ask? This lazy: she begged me for a chance to blog. “Pleeze, Manda, lemme blog. Ai loves bloggin! And look at how cute Ai am. Pleeeeze!” So I did. Because I’m a sucker for a cat who can talk. And now that the novelty has worn off? She’s gotten lazy.

I told her we'd begin blogging at 8:30am sharp, but she took a nap instead...she did the same at 9:30, 10:30, and noon.

When I confronted her about her tardiness, she just licked my hand...

and went back to sleep.

I tried to talk to her about her plans for the day, and in typical teenage fashion, she pretended I wasn't there.

Oh, but she has plenty of time to work on Tyler’s computer stuff with him. Just because he offers a warm computer monitor and all I’ve got is a laptop that I won’t let you sit on because if you do I can’t type doesn’t mean you can ignore me, young lady!

The traitors, caught in the act.

"What??! Ais comfy."

Or maybe it does. I keep forgetting that being the one with opposable thumbs and a driver’s license does not mean I’m in charge around here. Oh well. At least she’s cute.

"Zzzzzzzzzzzzzz....."

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Filed under Cambria, Caturday

Weekend Book Review: A Book About September in September

I knew I had to read The Girl who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making the moment I read the title. I mean, for the love of vocabulary, the author inserted Circumnavigated in to the title like it was no big deal, so I knew it was probably intelligently written. Also, I read a review that mentioned something about a dragon whose dad was a library. I didn’t understand how that could be possible, but this was Fairyland, and I was up for anything.

On occasion (and by occasion, I mean every four or five books or so), I like to read something from the juvenile fiction realm. They tend to be a little less complicated than adult books. You don’t have to navigate a sea of sex and love and other potentially pernicious subjects. They leave those things to the big kids so that the young reader (and I) can have the simple joy of focusing on the story without any messiness. I’m not afraid of the messier things, I just look at juvenile fiction as a vacation of sorts.

Catherynne M. Valente’s first forray into the world of fantastic fiction was a home run. I was delighted by this inventive, intelligent, highly unique story.   It begins without much fan fare: The mischievous Green Wind takes pity on a rather bored Nebraskan girl named September sometime during World War II. He takes her to Fairyland where she is labeled a ravished child, offers to go on a quest to recover a witches stolen spoon, takes up the company of a wayveryn (similar to, but different from, a dragon) who was sired by a library, sings her own death to sleep, sails to the bottom of the world, and has a whole host of other adventures.

September learns a few things along the way, though the tale is never didactic. She learns that although her mother has to spend many long hours working in a factory now that he father is away at war, leaving her young daughter a bit lonely, her mother’s strength is what has taught her to be strong enough to complete this journey. She learns that sometimes, if we’re not careful, we can become what we never wanted to be. She finds her first true kindred spirits and learns the cost of love. And she learns that if you are not a fairy but you eat fairy food in a forest where it is always autumn, you will turn into a tree.

I adored this book. I would recommend it to children and to adults. In fact, if you have some little mini-you’s running about, you might consider reading it aloud together as a family story time book. The narration is witty and amusing, the pace is fast, and with a few simple character voices thrown in, it could be a whole heap of fun. Even if you choose to not read it aloud, I still very much recommend this book.  As I noted before, it is intelligently written and the concept is wholly original. Valente doesn’t ride on the curtails of popular fantasy trends- there are no vampires to be seen here, and no Harry Potter-ish themes. She does not copycat Tolkien, and Fairyland is not a miniature Narnia. Though she makes use of old standbys like witches and fairies and wizards, there are plenty of new creatures to get to know, and the old ones are treated in unique ways. For example, witches can only look into the future, they can’t do magic. Magic, of course, is the realm of wizards, who can only do magic, they can’t cast spells because spells are the territory of sorceresses, who can cast spells but can’t change people into things because only enchantresses can do that, and so on.

But perhaps Valente’s  greatest achievement is that her story stands on its own two feet. Fairyland is very new and inventive, but you get the feeling that Valente knows it as well as you know the house you grew up in. She has sailed its seas and plumed its depths thoroughly, she can walk its hallways in the dark without tripping, and thus being a citizen of the place herself she can now write about it with credibility. I loved it, and I’m betting that anyone with half an imagination will too.

Also, for anyone who is interested, this is what I’m reading this week:

Garden Spells is the newest hit in the magical realism realm (a la The Time Traveler’s Wife), and Mennonite in a Little Black Dress is the memoir of a woman who, due to a series of unfortunate events, has to go back to the Mennonite community she left long ago, and the culture clash that takes place. It should be fun! I’ll be back next weekend to report on my literary escapades. Until then, happy reading!

PS: What have you been reading? Anything good I should add to my list?

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A Tiny Vacation

We’ve been trying to get away just the two of us for months now, but something always manages to come up last-minute.

Saturday night we decided to just do it. Tyler had Monday off, I switched shifts with a friend, we booked a hotel, and Sunday afternoon we jetted off after church. We arrived in San Buenaventura (aka Ventura), around 4:30, just in time to check into our hotel, get settled in, watch a wedding on the beach from out balcony, and eat some amazing sea food at Aloha.

This is the restaurant, which we could see from our hotel room. I forgot to take pictures of my food because I a: was starving, and b:am really new at this. Forgive me?

The food was really good! I had the crab stuffed shrimp, and Tyler had the herb crusted Salmon. I also ordered a tangy Zinfandel, but wound up with a plumy flavored Merlot. The poor waitress seemed to know zero about wine, and was kind of flustered about it, so I just drank it anyway.

After dinner, we took a little stroll down the beach and out onto the pier. It was dark and a bit chilly, but it was beautiful none the less. The moonlight on the water at the end of the pier was magical, but unfortunately we only brought camera phones with us, not actual cameras, so equally as magical pictures were not to be had. Just this sad picture of a sign:

So much for rules three and four. We literally saw a couple of chain-smoking vagabonds not merely camping but living on the pier.

We did, however, get some great pictures the next morning! Our hotel room was tiny, but we had a decent view of the ocean and pier, we were very close to the beach, and our bed was so comfortable that I never wanted to leave.

The view to the right of our balcony...

to the left...

and directly in front.

Some scenes from our early morning ramble along the beach…

You can't really tell here, but the tiny white dog in these pictures has a life vest on, and he surfed on a surf board like a human. It was really funny.

A little friend we made.

You can tell Tyler was the main photographer because, sadly, this is the only picture I got of him. But I promise he was there the whole time, looking as dashing as always!

It was so refreshing to be out on the beach so early. The sea-salt breeze does wonders for a sleepy mind. There were some surfers, and a few people walking their dogs, but it was quiet other than the sound of the waves.

After our stroll, we decided to walk up to Main Street to the Busy Bee Cafe for some breakfast. Again, I forgot to take pictures like the amature that I am, but Tyler did get this funny one:

The world's largest mug of orange juice. And no, I'm not wearing a pilgrim hat, that's just a poorly placed lamp.

I got one also, of the mini jukebox at our table:

I put in a quarter. My selections: The Unchained Melody by the Righteous Brothers, and This Magic Moment by The Drifters.

The authentic 1950’s decor was really fun, and again, the food was great. I had cheese blintzes, and Tyler had some amazingly fluffy pancakes.

Full and satisfied, we headed back to walk the pier in the daytime:

While I enjoyed the view like a normal human being, Tyler took pictures of seagulls and signage:

This one's actually pretty good.

These signs were scattered all along the pier. The homeschoolers in us had to stop and read every one.

After our walk, we packed up and checked out of our room before heading back up to Main Street to explore a little more. We found this really cute book store called The Calico Cat, which, sadly, did not happen to have a real book store cat inside. But we both discovered some treasures:

An original 1913-ish French printing of some preludes for Tyler...

And a few old-ish books for me. (Pardon the cat. I clearly took this picture at home. I tried to move so she'd get out of the picture, but she kept following me, so I gave up. What can I say? She really likes books. )

We also found this cool fountain…

…and some food.

I, yet again, was too intent upon demolishing my meal to remember a picture. I had one of my favorites, fish and chips. The fish was delicious, but the homemade tartar sauce was what really made the meal. Tyler had a pulled pork BBQ sandwich, and, of course, we had a few drinks.

We then decided to cruise down the 1, also known as the Pacific Coast Highway , a little bit just because we weren’t ready to leave yet. We ended up in Santa Barbara, which we really liked a lot. We didn’t go many places, but we drove all over town, and we’ve already decided that we’re definitely going back sometime soon. We did stop for a snack at Rockin’ Yogurt though, and it was delicious.

This yummy blend of vanilla yogurt, mango, kiwi, and strawberries made me one happy girl!

And then our tiny vacation came to a close. It was short, only about 34 hours, but it was so good to get away and just be with each other. And I can honestly say that the California coast line is one of my favorite places to visit!

Until next time, Ventura!

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Filed under California Dreamin', Travels

Dr. Who, Blue Shampoo, & Life-Changing Fruit

Some odds and ends…

No smurfs were hurt in the taking of this photo.

1: I am in love with the show Dr. Who. And maybe Dr. Who himself. Tyler and I started season one this week, and I only have one question: why has no one introduced me to this amazing show before?! I don’t think I ever knew what true, TV show love was before now. Hallelujah.

2: I’ve made a terrible, horrifying mistake. I bought blue shampoo. I thought it was just the bottle, but no. The shampoo is blue. It’s like squeezing melted smurf goo into my hands. I know it’s a weird reaction, but it creeps me out. It smells good, and it makes my hair feel amazing, but I just can’t make myself use shampoo that looks like liquified mold. I’ve been secretly using Tyler’s shampoo for the last week or so. I guess the cat’s out of the bag now. Sorry, dear!

3: Speaking of cats, they are ridiculous. Namely this cat:

Yes, we own a monster TV. Seriously, it weighs more than Tyler and I combined and could probably eat us for dinner if it so desired.

We took a spontaneous trip to Ventura Beach Sunday afternoon into Monday to celebrate Labor Day and the six-year anniversary of the day we met. (Yay for love!) In that short period of time, Cambria managed to turn into a jungle cat. This is where I found her this morning. Is there any situation in which she allowed on top of the TV? Yes. If the ground is covered in hot lava, then she is allowed atop the TV. But I can assure you, the ground was not covered in hot lava. I know because I was standing on it. She also stole flowers from a vase on the counter. Again, counters are completely off-limits to kitties, except in a hot lava situation, which, again, was not happening. She has lost her furry little mind.

Not only has she not been following the rules, she’s been acting like we left her alone for a year. She woke me up last night twice because she was laying on my head. Purring like it was going out of style. Then, she woke me up two more times because she wanted me to pet her. Um, who is in charge here? Oh, the attention starved cat is in charge? Thanks for clearing that up for me.

4: A few pictures from Ventura to hold you over until I post in more detail about our absolutely fantastic weekend:

The view from our balcony, first thing in the morning.

We took an early morning walk on the beach. It was just us, the surfers, and a few really cute dogs and their people enjoying the beautiful morning.

5: On the way back from Ventura, we stopped at this cute little fruit stand by the side of the road. It was nestled beside a large orange grove, so I hoped that the oranges would be especially good. Good does not begin to describe them. More like amazing. We got all this…

Oranges, and apples, and mangos, oh my!


plus  a few more apples and oranges that we already ate, several ears of sweet corn, and a bottle of hot sauce imported from Mexico that Tyler had never seen before and therefore could not live without, for $9 and some change.  And all of it is fantastic. The stand is called Francisco’s Fruit. Should you ever be heading east on the 126, you should stop and pick up some of their life-changing oranges.

Well, I’ve probably ignored my hubby and cat enough now. I’m off to watch more Dr. Who and eat some Nutella toast. And probably some mango.

Ciao!

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Filed under California Dreamin', Odds and Ends