Tag Archives: books

Good Things #27: 2013 Edition

What were some of the highlights of 2013? Miley Cyrus, of course. Actually, that isn’t true at all. I made it through the year without laying eyes on her infamous performance, and I hope to keep it that way. (This might frustrate Kate, the queen of the internet, merely because it solidifies my old-fashioned and misplaced irritation with modern technology.)

My highlights might not by Hollywood-worthy, but they’re the best of another sort. And there are only six, not five or ten or fourteen, because six is how many I thought of.

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1. Cafe shopping. There’s something about opening new doors for the first time, wondering what you’ll find behind enchanting names like Breaking New Grounds, The Blue Mermaid, or my favorite, Grendel’s Den. This has been a year of finding new digs, partly because – for the first time – I have a steady paycheck and I don’t live in constant fear of “Oh my gosh, do I have five dollars in my account?” anymore. There’s something about dark wood and dim lighting that makes me want to curl up and pay hand over fist for delicious things. Good thinking, restaurant owners.

2. Making music. My friend sent me a recording. It was me and seven college friends singing “An Irish Blessing” at one of our recitals. It’s an eight-part piece and because sopranos are a dime a dozen and I have a little more weight to my voice I’m Alto I, a part I never feel comfortable singing. I listened to it over and over, remembering how the sound filled the hall, what it felt like to make music with people I’d shared so many memories with. This summer, I’ll be singing an eight-part song at my college roommate’s wedding, five years after we made this first recording.

May the road rise up to meet you.
May the wind be always at your back.
May the sun shine warm upon your face,
the rains fall soft upon your fields
and until we meet again,
until we meet again,
may God, may God hold you
in the palm of His hand.

[This is a similar recording of the arrangement we sang by Graeme Langager, only ours was mixed voices.]

3. Friends. I read this quote in Anne Lamott’s Help, Thanks, Wow: The Three Essential Prayers, and I paused because I have felt this intensely this past year:

They say – or maybe I said – that a good marriage is one in which each spouse secretly thinks he or she got the better deal, and this is true also of our bosom friendships. You could almost flush with appreciation. What a great scam, to have gotten people of such extreme quality and loyalty to think you are stuck with them. Oh my God. Thank you.

I am so grateful for friends who understand me. I am also grateful for friends who, when they don’t understand me, love me anyway.

4. Christian Wiman.

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When I first encountered Christian Wiman, I was so overcome with overwhelmed-ness that I emailed an old art professor to share my joy. It was this article that first introduced me to this man of faith and art, and what was it that caught me so immediately? This man who was faced with his own death (cancer) slowly and carefully examined his latent faith and found it there, curled deep inside him, even when he thought (and maybe hoped) it was dead. My Bright Abyss, Wiman’s collection of thoughts on faith, may very well get a post of its own, but here are some of my favorite quotes:

Life is short, we say, in one way or another, but in truth, because we cannot imagine our own death until it is thrust upon us, we live in a land where only other people die.

…it involves allowing the world to stream through you rather than you always reaching out to take hold of it.

Falling in love seems at the same time an intensification of consciousness and the loss of it. Never are the physical facts of existence more apparent and cherished, and never is their impermanence more obvious and painful.

I think of this when I hear people say that they have no religious impulse whatsoever, or when I hear believers, or would-be believers. express a sadness and frustration that they have never been absolutely overpowered by God. I always want to respond: Really? You have never felt overwhelmed by, and in some way inadequate to, an experience in your life, have never felt something in yourself staking a claim beyond your self, some wordless mystery straining through words to reach you? Never?

He is currently in remission, and his latest book of poetry, Every Riven Thing, is on my list.

5. Boots. This might not seem to fit with the other things in this post, but this year I discovered the beauty and ease of boots.

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They immediately transform any mediocre outfit into a work of, if not art, at least style. Oh, you’re wearing THAT again? Wait, what are those? Oh my gosh, I love them!

Crisis averted.

6. Recommendations. This is a blend of numbers three and four because good friends recommend good things. I get most of my music from other people, from my city-friend to my brother, and a lot of my books are recommendations, too. My friend Bryn who blogs over at All My Roads, recently wrote a post of 14 Books for 2014, and I was struck by how great they are. Not only had I loved the ones I’d already read, but I wanted to rush out to the book shop and grab the ones I hadn’t.

[And miracle of miracles, my city-friend went and bought me Flannery O’Connor’s A Prayer Journal – with no prompting from me – and I wonder if my friends who don’t know each other are in cahoots.]

It’s good to have people you trust in your life to tell you what to read. And listen to. And do.

So, there you have it. Enjoy your Wednesday!

 

Good Things #26: A Smattering of Things

Friends who don’t twist your arm but somehow always get it out of you. I’d been holding it in the whole time. That’s something I’m not particularly good at, but there are some things better off left to stew for awhile. I’d been smiling and laughing and whatever else the moment called for, but finally, on the phone in the dark, I spilled my guts.

They weren’t pretty.

I didn’t do it because she begged me, and I didn’t do it because I felt an obligation. It was like a letting go, a release of all that I’d been holding onto for far too long.

And what did my city-friend say, miles away in her apartment?

She reminded me that every week I write about something good, and I should remember that.

Exactly what I needed on a Sunday night in December.

My bedroom at Christmas. There are few things more delightful than a cozy bedroom, and while I can’t fit a tree in here, I do have a balsam candle that’s almost as good. I strung lights around the window and made an attempt at a garland (gingerbread cookies and cranberries – the logistics are harder than you’d think).

photo 1I also set out the Christmas dolls my mom bought me when I was little (I think they may have partly been for her, but I hold on to them nonetheless).

Set them out on my new bookshelf, made for me by a friend. Yes, you read that right. Seems the stacks of books surrounding my bed was an abomination that couldn’t wait. Pretty pleased with how it turned out.

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Aladdin. The musical is over. It was so much work. The kids were wonderful, and I laughed through the whole show. My father chided me, saying it wasn’t nice, but they know me. They’ve been listening to me laugh for two months now. They know it’s for love.

Surprise packages. I don’t remember the last time I got a package in the mail. Okay, I do. I bought some cds with an Amazon gift card last year. But you know what I mean. Yesterday, I came home to a little white package on the island. I didn’t recognize the address. Out came a paperback of flash fiction with a card from my uncle. I don’t even think he knows I have an affinity for flash fiction, but there it was in my kitchen. I stuck it in my bag and carried it around all day, but it looks like it’ll have to wait for evening and a glass of wine.

Sippican[Also, not quite sure about this character. Sippican Cottage? That can’t be his real name. And his blog is hilarious. More to come.]

Music. I rediscovered this classic from my friend’s blog last week. Nothing like a good, melancholy Christmas song.

Only one week left, guys. Buckle up. Today’s my shopping day. Watch out.

Good Things #19

This fall has been a particularly beautiful one.

Morning commute. This is not something I generally consider a Good Thing, but yesterday morning was the most beautiful drive. I looked out and saw fog lying low over the fields, the trees red and orange, the sun shining in that October-morning way. I wanted to stop the car and run through the fog, but imagining it was second-best.

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Books. Writers’ group met this past week, and we talked about John Gardner’s The Art of Fiction. “I’ve never read that,” I say, and my friend hopped up, ran to his shelf, and pulled out his copy. I’ve only read the preface, but already I’m in love. Addressing the fears that so many wanna-be-writers have, Gardner says:

Most grown-up behavior, when you come right down to it, is decidedly second-class. People don’t drive their cars as well, or wash their ears as well, or eat as well, or even play the harmonica as well as they would if they had sense. This is not to say people are terrible and should be replaced by machines; people are excellent and admirable creatures; efficiency isn’t everything. But for the serious young writer who wants to get published, it is encouraging to know that most of the professional writers out there are push-overs.

I love this. Partly because I think, “I knew it!”, and partly because I feel like I need to admit, “Yes! It’s true! I DON’T clean my ears as well as I should!” I can’t wait to get into this book.

Music. I first heard this band in my city-friend’s apartment last spring. I didn’t know who it was and I didn’t figure it out till a few weeks ago when another friend said, “Hey, I think you’d like these guys.” I like their lyrics and I love their sound. Good writing meets good music. “When Your Back’s Against the Wall” is encouraging in a not-hoaky way – give it a try.

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Chickens. There was a long while where I was not grateful for chickens. I hated doing them every day, I hated how they acted like they were starving when there was clearly food in the feeder, and I did not like that I had to clean out the henhouse. While not all of that has changed (I still do not rejoice in the early mornings…), I am so thankful that I get to eat farm-fresh eggs and sell them to friends and family. It’s actually been hard to get enough eggs recently – something I’ve never had to deal with before – and I’m considering expanding the flock next spring. There’s nothing more beautiful than an assortment of eggs.

Movies. Okay, this is not so much a recommendation as a plea: I haven’t seen a good movie IN FOREVER. Are there any out there? Please.

Ode to My Library

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Photo courtesy of Elizabeth Thomsen

I forgot about libraries for a little while. I think it happened because studying English in college bombards you with reading, and whatever fun reading I did was in snippets and chunks and I had more than enough of my own books to fill those few moments.

After graduation, I rediscovered the library.

Wait, you’re telling me there’s a place where you can read books and watch movies FOR FREE?

[insert snarky remark from father about “nothing’s free” and “taxpayers” and “argh”]

I walked to the library swinging my arms and I walked back home with them full.

~     ~     ~

The library of my childhood was a tiny one-room schoolhouse that had been converted. The children’s room was in the basement, and I remember the musty smell and the red shag carpeting. The librarian was sharp, as all children think librarians are, and the books I remember most are the long shelf of yellow-spined Nancy Drew books, the Little House books, and the audio books to help me learn French (I was a little precocious).

[I was reading On the Banks of Plum Creek on a bright summer afternoon. I left it in the seat of the swing – to do what, I don’t know – and it poured overnight, huge sheets of rain. I was horrified at the puffy, destroyed mess, and when I returned it with my head hanging, I didn’t think they’d let me check anything out ever again.]

[I repeatedly checked out the movie Fern Gully, even though it terrified me. I loved the woods, maybe, that’s why. I kept doing it, over and over. Very strange.]

[We discovered a Your Body book, me and my best friend, and we huddled in the corner, giggling. The librarian didn’t say anything, but her eyes burned me when she walked by. That was probably the worst thing I had done to that point.]

When I was in third grade, my Laura Club gave a presentation during the Summer Reading Program. We talked about pioneers and the Little House books. We made sugar cookies from Laura’s cookbook and homemade lemonade. We felt like grown-ups, and when I look at the pictures, I can’t believe how little we were.

~     ~     ~

In high school, a new library was built, bigger and more modern. It was even closer to my house, and when I was sixteen the same best friend and I got a job shelving books. Every Thursday night and one Saturday a month, you could find me in the stacks trying to remember how to shelve “Mc” and “Mac” and which went first and shoot! I got extremely well-versed in the alphabet. I also timed myself to see how many books I could shelve in ten minutes. Sometimes the job got a little too quiet…

~     ~     ~

This past week, I walked to the library to check out Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close for my book club. I also found a book on writing nonfiction, and I checked out two movies, Skyfall and A Few Good Men (simultaneously feeding my love of British things and my love of Tom Cruise). My mind is being opened up with four pieces of art, and other than taxes, I didn’t pay a dime.

Libraries are one my favorite things about the modern world. So much knowledge under one roof.

If this nation is to be wise as well as strong, if we are to achieve our destiny, then we need more new ideas for more wise men reading more good books in more public libraries. These libraries should be open to all—except the censor. We must know all the facts and hear all the alternatives and listen to all the criticisms. Let us welcome controversial books and controversial authors. For the Bill of Rights is the guardian of our security as well as our liberty. – John F. Kennedy

A Past Worth Preserving

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I wrote my great-grandmother’s “biography” when I was nine or ten. It was terrible. It all started because I had a magazine, and I wanted to interview her for the “Premier Edition.” (My aunt had worked for a magazine for a few years after college, hence the language.) I took a yellow legal pad and a blue pen and sat across from my great-grandmother in my dead great-grandfather’s blue recliner. The sun shone hot through the bay window, and I remember feeling pretty grown-up, asking all these questions. I had a legal pad, after all.

I asked her about growing up in the early 1900s. I asked her what she did for fun, what school was like, what her home was like filled with six people. I asked her how her hometown was different during WWI than it is now, and I asked her what she liked to eat and how she met my great-grandfather. I wrote furiously because I didn’t want to miss a word and the thought of writing shorthand never occurred to me. My great-grandmother’s handwriting was always beautiful – smooth and looped – and mine was hurried and uneven and merely served a purpose.

I think I was in awe of the sheer amount of time sitting across from me. Born in 1909, my grandmother had seen both World Wars and all the other atrocities and beauties of the 20th century. I crafted the interview with all the intensity of a ten-year-old who wanted desperately to preserve the past, and a copy of that old magazine is tucked away in my great-grandfather’s briefcase where I keep all my old creations.

I’d forgotten about the interview and the resulting mini-biography until this morning. For Christmas my mother bought me a book by Donald Hall, the former poet laureate: String Too Short to be Saved: Recollections of Summers on a New England Farm. It’s a thin paperback, first published in 1961, and it has a poet’s carefulness of language and transcendent moments.

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Hall writes of his grandparents’ farm and the summers he spent living and working alongside them. He writes of moments in the hayfield when all he ever wanted was to hay, and of a time when he was so exhausted and thirsty from picking blueberries that he couldn’t imagine his 70-year-old grandfather was still plugging away, stripping the low-growing bushes of their tiny wild berries. The love Hall felt for his grandparents and the place is so palpable, it made me fall in love with them myself. His poetry was born in the fields of New Hampshire.

Hall says he had a “need to conserve the past,” and I know that is what I felt sitting across from my great-grandmother, desperate to grasp this other life that I would never know.

It seemed abominable to me that I had only one life to live, and that the realities and hardships and loveliness of this woman’s life would be lost to nothingness when she died.

I don’t think she herself felt such a desperation.

During college, Hall found himself longing for his friends during the lonely summers in New Hampshire. He doesn’t hide the horrible guilt he felt, and I knew exactly what he was talking about; the deep love you have, yet the desire for something stirring inside you.

The book ends as I knew it would. His grandfather dies when Hall is 24, and even though that is the way of every life, I cried. I haven’t cried at a book in a good long time, and I was surprised and glad that no one was around. How can you explain crying over someone else’s dead grandfather? Someone who’d lived a good life and worked hard and loved well?

I think I was struck as much by the beauty as the sadness. There was such strength in the life of this man I will never know, this grandfather who had shaped a young boy more than he realized. I saw the sweet progression of life, the stories of family and friends and small-town myths all woven together. It was not mysterious. It was not filled with world-travel or adventures or death-defying heroic acts. The adventures and heroic acts were contained in the fields of generations of farmers, and they breathe in the pages of this book.

My great-grandmother’s life is much the same way. She grew up and lived in the same city until she was 95 and moved in with my aunt and uncle. She didn’t go to college, but she loved words and music and games. She had four grandchildren, six great-grandchildren, and she made lemon meringue pie and cole slaw for every family dinner. She went to Niagara Falls and took pictures and she attended the same church her entire life.

What is this desire to preserve the past? In some ways it feels like an avoidance. I am constantly living in the past or the future, my eyes set both forwards and back. I hold on to my great-grandmother and my grandmother’s words tightly, as if they hold some secret to a better time. How do I get that? I wonder. How do I get stories? How do I live? I don’t think either one of these women ever really thought about that; living was what you did, not what you thought about.

I am striving to live some huge life, some remarkable, adventurous life. I’m wondering if I have my priorities straight. Maybe a past worth preserving doesn’t have to be of legendary proportions; maybe it has to be true.

Summer 2008 016The summer after I graduated high school – all six of us kids on our yearly vacation.

Reading and Trains and the Beauty of Timing

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I bought another book I didn’t need today. It called to me from the stack at the used bookstore. I popped in (against my better judgement and against the wisdom of my wallet), thinking I could poke around and leave without buying anything. I should’ve known better.

It was a paperback copy of Annie Dillard’s An American Childhood.

I reasoned for a moment: You’ve already read this. You do not need to buy this.

But I knew even as I held its soft covers in my hands that I would buy it. That I should have my own copy. You really shouldn’t keep recommending a book that you don’t own. At least, that’s what I told myself as I went up to the cash register.

When I think of this book, I see myself on the train. I’m holding a hardcopy from the library, and I’m reading as the brakes squeak and smash me against the side of the train (this happened only a few times, I’m sure, but in my mind it was a constant interruption). I consumed this book with a fervor that surprised me; I’d tried reading Pilgrim at Tinker Creek the year before and I’m pretty sure that I will never get further than three pages into it.

There is something to be said for timing.

Dillard’s book spoke to me from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, where a little blonde girl discovered the world and her place in it. I was a barely-bigger blonde girl, interning at a large publishing house for the summer before heading back to college. I rode the train every day, and every day I thought Is this what will happen to me? as I watched middle-aged men and women silently board the train, silently ride the train, and silently get off. Was this what life had in store?

“I discovered myself and the world, and forgot them, and discovered them again”
― Annie DillardAn American Childhood

[a poem wrote itself hurriedly on the back of a receipt from lunch. it was about being little and memories and contradictions. it was born out of Annie Dillard and the receipt is still in a book somewhere.]

The train moving forward, the hardcover book in my hands, my feet propped up on the runner. My stomach growling because I hadn’t packed a big enough lunch (again!), and my mind wandering to my senior year of college and what the heck am I doing and what the heck am I gonna do? The city slowly slipping away behind me and Annie’s world opening up.

“In short, I always vowed, one way or another, not to change. Not me. I needed the fierceness of vowing because I could scarcely help but notice…that it was mighty unlikely.”
― Annie DillardAn American Childhood

There was too much of me in her and it scared me. How important is it to be unique? I started hoping it wasn’t too important, because my uniqueness was being written away.

Every day I went into the city and every day I worked in a little gray cubicle. The words began to blur on the screen, blur on the page, blur in my mind. I longed for my lunch hour when I could take my little peanut butter and jelly sandwich (yay for cheap meals!) and eat in the gardens and watch poor unsuspecting people and yell at audacious squirrels. I loved words. I loved learning about publishing. But not talking for eight hours a day WAS KILLING ME.

So I escaped to Annie.

“As a child I read hoping to learn everything, so I could be like my father. I hoped to combine my father’s grasp of information and reasoning with my mother’s will and vitality. But the books were leading me away. They would propel me right out of Pittsburgh altogether, so I could fashion a life among books somewhere else.” ― Annie DillardAn American Childhood

Annie Dillard was to my 21-year-old self what Joan Didion was to my 23-year-old self. It’s all about timing. Who knows? Maybe I wouldn’t love either of them if they’d switched places.

~     ~     ~

So I bought another book I didn’t need. I think I bought it for the memories as much as anything; they’re all wrapped up inside. The book’s sitting beside me without a line or mark in it. Who reads their own paperback without marking it up? I don’t understand it. I can’t wait to get my hands on a pen.

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Reading Slump

There is a stack of books by my bed that keeps toppling over. Okay, 2.5 stacks. My sister has been gracious enough not to say anything, but I’m sure it’s bugging her. There’s no possible way I could read so many books at once, so why do I insist on having them haphazardly flung around my bed?

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I spend a lot of my time wishing I had more time to read. If only I didn’t have to drive so much! I could be reading RIGHT NOW! The storm this weekend gave me a glorious snow day (!), so I had three days to fill with movie-watching, coffee-drinking, and book-reading (and it was impossible to go anywhere for the first day and a half, so I couldn’t throw my books aside for live friends, like I often do to the poor things). I was ecstatic. I piled books high on the coffee table, eager, unsure of which to start first.

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It didn’t matter which one I chose though. Cost of Discipleship was challenging (and embarrassed me a few times, actually – more on that later), but I got tired quickly. Mary Oliver, with all her beautiful expressions of nature and its inhabitants, could not take me outside my own head, and at the end of each poem, I was unsure of where I’d gone and how I got there. Jeffrey Eugenides, no matter how hard he tried with his characters’ 20th century woes and struggles with depression, could not keep me even half-engaged. Ruth Reichl, in all her food-love and witty descriptions failed to transport me to the world of the New York Times.

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I felt out of sorts, and I didn’t know why.

My book club met this week, and I was (again) the book club delinquent, arriving without having read the extremely interesting Quiet: The Power of Introverts. We had a fabulous time of birthdays and talking, but I hated that I keep not connecting with books.

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Books have been my friends since I was five years old. The first book I read was Fun with Dick and Jane, an old green copy my mom and I bought at an outdoor flea market. Since that day, I’ve devoured all kinds of books, with the exception of science fiction (Sorry, K, I can hear you groaning. I tried.). From Little House to Anne of Green Gables to Betsy, Tacy, and Tib, I read all the classics. And then came the high school standards, followed by four years of collegiate-level reading that sometimes made me want to gouge my eyes out.

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[This was literally the worst book I read in college. It was for an Irish Literature course, and we had to write a two-page journal response to each reading assignment. I remember sitting in the library, looking down at the quad, and realizing life was too short to read such horrid stuff.]

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[We sang a setting of Thomas’s poem “Fern Hill” my senior year of college. I remember asking our conductor, “But what’s going on? What does it mean?” He looked at me and said, “Isn’t that your job, English Major?” I was sufficiently humbled. Here’s a recording of this amazing piece.]

I’ve been reading for nineteen years, but for the past few weeks, books have not spoken to me. I’ve tried. I’ve opened them gingerly, carefully, admitting them into my consciousness. I’ve focused on one book at a time, to see if that helped at all. It didn’t; I felt even more scatter-brained and self-focused while I was reading. I listened to music while I read. I turned the music off. I committed to a chapter a night. I made no commitments.

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[I didn’t discover Auden until the fall of my senior year. “Stop all the clocks” and “The More Loving One” still make me cry.]

My relationship with books is cooling. Or, at least, it seems we’re on a “break.” It’s an awful thing to say about my dear friends of so long. I wonder if this feeling of distance – of complacency – is at all what a long, tired marriage feels like: you have loved deeply, but now you barely recognize your own love.

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[This was for my British Lit class my junior year. I had a skinny little paperback that I riddled with sophomoric notes, and that has since been lost in the abyss that is my bedroom. I refuse to buy another copy.]

I’m hoping it will come back. That my eagerness for books and characters and interesting stories will surge up and remind me of all the wonderful things that can be learned, all the beauty that comes from reading. I’m hoping that a magic book will rest in my hands, transforming my view of the world and my place in it.

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[I read all the Austen novels when I was around 15 or 16. That’s probably the perfect age to read them for the first time. I think I’m almost ready for round-two.]

Until then, I’ll keep reading. A page here and there, at first. And then a little more, and a little more. Again, I see a kinship with that long marriage – a working-at-it until it brims over with new life.

Books teach me new things every day, even when I’m not reading them.

A Birthday Wish

I looked at the faces surrounding me. They sang “Happy Birthday,” and I laughed when they added theatrics and operatic ornaments. “Make a wish!” they said.

I held my own hair back and thought: What should I wish for?

~     ~     ~

Last year, when I turned 23, I begged my mother not to do anything. “Just dinner with the family,” I said. “We can go to my favorite restaurant, but I don’t want a party.”

I think she was a little relieved, because she stresses out whenever we have a party.

So we went to my favorite place – a dark, cozy, old restaurant that serves lamb and red wine – and I thought that was exactly what I wanted. Here were my parents, my siblings, and delicious food.

But when I got home, when I sat in my room reading, I realized that wasn’t what I wanted. I’d chosen smallness, because there wasn’t enough of me to celebrate how I wanted to celebrate. I needed quiet, but it wasn’t what I wanted. I was grateful for my yummy rack of lamb, but there was something missing.

~     ~     ~

[“You have to do something, Cath. Have a party. Invite everyone. Do what you want. We’ll help you, both of us, and we will have a blast.”]

~     ~     ~

So this year, that’s what I did. I had a party. I surrounded myself with people I adore. There were moments when someone new would walk in the door, and I felt almost like crying. Wait, you are in my life! You are amazing! I can’t believe how good God has been. 

[When he gave me the little package of paperbacks – all copies of “Decision Making by the Book” – I threw my arms around him shamelessly. It’s good when friends read your blog and buy you books to give to your friends. “Hopefully you won’t find the new cover quite as ugly as the old one!” he said, laughing. I gave every last copy away that night, and the six more coming in a few weeks will be dispersed just as quickly.]

One of my friends said to another: “This party’s interesting: it’s classy, I mean, there’s brie, but then there’s dancing.”

That’s pretty much perfect.

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(This picture is all of us laughing when B cried excitedly: “And an unlit candle to grow on!” “Isn’t it an extra LIT candle to grow on?” I said. I guess every family’s different… :))

That’s the difference, I think, between my 23-year-old self and my new 24-year-old self: I’m tired of not celebrating. I’m tired of not letting people know how much I love them. So what if it surprises them? So what if it might seem like too much? Love is too much, really, when you think about it. It’s crazy how big love can be. This year is going to be about freedom, and that freedom is showing people who I really am, what I really think, and how I really feel.

Even if it’s sometimes too much to handle.

So that’s my goal (or my wish, I guess you could say): love bigger and show it better.

Thanks for a great birthday.

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Artsy-blur affect. Blowing out 24 candles: the best way to use that college-educated diaphragm.

P.S. I’m a little less broke than I was last year!!! Hurrah for moving up in the world!!!

[Weekend Thoughts]

How do you know when you’ve read a book that’s changed your life?

You want to give a copy to all of your friends.

Unfortunately, that isn’t financially feasible for me at the moment, but here’s a shameless plug for a book that’s probably out of print (and therefore deliciously difficult to find among wobbly stacks at little used bookstores):

“Decision Making by the Book” by Haddon Robinson.

Ignore, if you can, the horrendous title and the equally ugly book jacket, because let me tell you, IT’S WORTH IT. The whole time I was reading, I thought of moments in my life when I wish I’d already had this sucker in my back pocket.

What if “What’s God’s will in this situation?” isn’t even the right question to ask?

What if “How can I glorify God?’ is a much better one?

I wish I could force my friends to read it, but my powers are only so strong.

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Went to a museum Saturday with my city-friend. We got lost on the way (Surprise! I stink at directions!), but we didn’t panic, which is a vast improvement and I think shows that we’re maturing. They asked if I were a student, and for a second I thought, Yes, and then I realized, No, and had to pay the entrance fee. No photography was allowed, but we furtively snapped some photos of the cool bathroom. So retro.

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This afternoon, I went to a coffee shop to get work done, found a too-tiny table without a plug nearby, and plunked down, hoping to get at least some of it finished. Sent some emails about the musical (Alice in Wonderland, Jr., by the way!), and was able to just start writing my midterm exam for Latin I when WHAM! my computer died. So sad. But I thought I’d truck on, using good old pen and paper, when a girl’s tiny voice rose above the din and said, “Just so you all know, we will be closing at 3:00.” She paused. “That’s in two minutes.”

Oh well.

Headed home, made some Genmaicha tea, sat down to finish writing the midterm…and started writing this blogpost instead.

So now, according to the bizarre countdown on pbs.org, I have roughly 3 hours and 31 minutes until “Downton Abbey” starts. Can I finish the test?!?! We shall see.

Mr. Van Allsburg

When I nannyed, I used to read Polar Express to the boys, curled up on the couch. I would make homemade hot chocolate, and I remember showing them how to sprinkle cinnamon over the top before we settled in to read. The story was cute, but what I remember most were the illustrations – the rich colors, the shapes of the snow, the train through the countryside.

Today at the bookshop, we had Chris Van Allsburg himself. He signed copy after copy of Polar Express, but other titles, too: Jumanji, The Sweetest Fig, The Wreck of the Zephyr. People lined up out the door, down the sidewalk. It was a good day at the little bookshop! All of us were there – from the owners and the manager to every last part-time employee – all a-buzz. We even wore necklaces with gigantic colored bells that jingled when we moved. It was like we were Polar Express elves or something.

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[We couldn’t believe it when large white flakes began to fall against the gray sky. And when the train came through, it was like a fairytale.]

There was a moment when I was ringing in a customer and the ancient register was whirring away, that I thought Oh my gosh, what if this thing freaks out? What’ll we do?! I’m pretty sure the register is from the 1940s (or pretty close), and I could’ve sworn I saw smoke. I wasn’t the only one eyeing it with a little trepidation.

It held out, though, and at the end of three hours of asking customers if they needed a book, ringing them in, running their credit cards, etc., I was finally able to meet Mr. Van Allsburg. He was quiet, reserved-seeming (but he had been signing books for three hours). He wore an argyle sweater and he had a nice, white beard. He shook my hand and smiled, writing To Catherine – Chris Van Allsburg, 2012.

It’s nice to see how an author does a book-signing; there are kind, soft-spoken, interesting-and-interested writers out there. When I left for the night, I went back and thanked him, shook his hand again. I gathered my things, put my coat on, and stepped out into the lightly falling snow.

What a privilege.