BITS OF MY APRIL

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Books

If you need a story to take you away from your current cares and stress, this is it: The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein.

 

In Following Jesus Through the Eye of the Needle, Kent Annan faces a lot of difficult truths and challenges involved with the disparity in the way we value life in developed versus developing areas. He doesn’t shy away from asking the tough questions, even if he has no pat answers.

 

Brad Meltzer must be a good writer, since he kept me going through 500 pages of politics, presidents & aides, CIA, FBI, freemasons and intrigue, which is definitely not my preferred subject matter for reading! I especially appreciated his pacing, and the short chapters in The Book of Fate.

 

Imager doesn’t have a breakneck pace, but I don’t need that in a novel. I liked the protagonist, the thorough backstory of the international politics, and the depiction of strong women in a story about a man. I will definitely try the next book in this series by L. E. Modesitt Jr.

 

Considering that there wasn’t anything really surprising about Hugh Howey’s Wool Omnibus, I find it difficult to pinpoint why I like it so much. I’m always up for an alternate “world” convincingly drawn. The characters are compelling. The writing is good. Do you need more reasons to read it?

 

Apparently Inversions cannot stand alone, and I should have read the other Culture books by Iain M. Banks to understand these stories.  Two narratives are told in alternating chapters; both are the tales of foreigners who are in positions (physician, bodyguard) close to the rulers of their lands.

 

Neither The Book Borrower nor On the Island were worth reading. I would not have finished them if I weren’t sick and desperate for distraction.

 

Imager’s Challenge, the second in the series, continued with many open story arcs from the first book. It was an enjoyable read. What resonated most with me was the idea that people want things to be easier, not better.

 

Movies

We all found The Croods to be very entertaining.

 

500 Days of Summer was a tough call for me; I like Joseph Gordon-Levitt, but I really dislike Zooey Deschanel. There didn’t seem to be much story to tell, and the character of Tom’s sister Rachel was very unbelievable.

 

The plot of The Bourne Legacy is a bit murky, but it was mostly enjoyable as an action adventure. The Bourne movies always dismay me with how casually other lives are seen; it seems to be okay to kill or injure people who aren’t part of the Big Evil Plot but are in the wrong place at the wrong time, such as bystanders in the chases scenes, or security guards.

 

Expendables 2 is noteworthy only in the number of “action stars” (possibly dinosaurs) who appear in it: Sylvester Stallone, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Bruce Willis, Chuck Norris, Jean Clause Van Damme, and more.  The sheer number of deaths is overwhelming. The storyline… not so much.  I did laugh at the ridiculousness of it, and at some of the throwaway lines they gave the stars.

 

Flight is not a movie about airplane flight. It is perhaps about fleeing yourself. Mostly it is about substance abuse. And it contains unnecessary nudity.

 

Chasing Freedom is based on a true story about a young woman from Afghanistan seeking asylum in the USA.  If that appeals to you, you’ll probably like the movie.

 

Blog post you should see

How churches should address abuse

It’s important to note that churches are not the only place where the tragedy of child sexual exploitation occurs. Unfortunately, pedophiles prey where they can gain access to children, and that includes schools, day care facilities and sports programs. What seems to be uniquely dangerous within the church, however, is a tendency to attempt to deal with the problem internally instead of involving legal authorities. Some pastors may feel that they can exact accountability and punishment within the church community. Unfortunately this practice in harmful in many ways. It shields perpetrators from facing legal How consequences, and it also puts other children at risk since the perpetrators have no criminal record of their actions.

 

How to get along with an introvert

Introverts are like that cell phone you’ve got that needs to be recharged several times per day. In their minds, they’re running a lot of applications.
Go deep or go home. Mostly, introverts live in their minds and they think about why things happen or they daydream or whatever. Shallow conversations about the weather, at least for me, are painful. I just don’t want to have them. It’s not that I want to talk about politics or theology, I don’t, but I don’t want to have conversations that aren’t going somewhere. I want to talk about your passions, your fears, your musings about why you think life is the way it is. The cool thing is, once I know we can go there, I can talk to that person about anything shallow, including the weather. I just have to know we can go to the deep end when we feel like it.

 

How to keep it together when you’re depressed

 

Reasons my son is crying

 

Quotes

Charles Wu:

I realized a couple of years ago that not only am I not super-skilled at anything, I’m not even particularly good at being myself.

 

BITS OF MY MARCH

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Books

The Emperor’s Soul is a great story, and as usual Sanderson is terrific at creating an alternate world. I wish he would have expanded this to a full book, not just a novella – it ended too soon.

Christian fiction that doesn’t whack you over the head! While I was reading Offworld, I was dreading the arrival of the preachy part that makes it Christian fiction, but I was delighted that it never came. Instead, it is simply some science fiction from a writer who happens (I assume) to be a believer. The writing is pretty good; I may look for more books from Robin Parrish.

Not Alone (Stories Of Living With Depression) may be useful for someone who does not have depression and wants a glimpse into what it can be like. As a person who is depressed, on the whole I did not find it helpful. There were perhaps three sentences in the book that resounded in me, but honestly I don’t feel any less alone.

While I don’t have problems with Judy Alexander’s Desert Medicine, I also can’t really think of much to recommend it. The writing is satisfactory, and I don’t mind that it doesn’t wrap up neatly at the end. I just can’t think of any particular reason to be enthusiastic about it.

David Gregory’s The Last Christian was preachy fiction, although the difference was that the author is preaching to the converted, to make them into better Christians. Although the premise was slightly interesting, the writing was just passable. The most interesting aspects were the issues around whether someone “without a human spirit” can still connect with God; it could’ve been a better story if he had explored that more.

The line between truth and exaggeration is blurry in Jenny Lawson’s Let’s Pretend This Never Happened.  While entertaining, I can’t think of anyone to recommend this memoir to because of the pervasive cussing.

I wanted to like Chris Cleave’s Little Bee but in the end I didn’t.  Although the character of Little Bee was intriguing, the story as a whole didn’t hold together for me, and most of the other characters were flat.

 

  Television

I keep hearing fervor for Downton Abbey and The Walking Dead so I made a point of trying them online this month.  I only watched one episode of DA and was  bored; I found the main characters thoroughly unlikeable. TWD seems to celebrate gore more than necessary, and honestly I keep comparing it to the book The Passage and TWD isn’t winning.

 

Movies

The Odd Life of Timothy Green was a sweet story, and a tearjerker. CJ Adams is a good actor (note to Lucas: it is possible to find good child actors… Jake Lloyd was awful). I also laughed, so it isn’t JUST a tearjerker.

Jack the Giant Slayer was okay but nothing special. We both felt that it should’ve been Isabelle wearing Erik’s crown at the end, not Jack.

Tuck Everlasting was pleasant enough, if a bit slow-moving. It considers immortality and death, which is a bit unusual for a Disney film.

 Quotes

Ashley Garrett:

The path of grief is not a straight line.  You don’t start off in the deepest slough then climb up each step to get back to peaceful.  Grief moves forward, but in a looping line.  You’re going along, making progress then you hit a loop and your stomach lurches and everything is flipped upside down and you land right back where you were a few weeks or months ago.  Eventually, the loops get smaller and spread farther apart, but they’re still there to…well, to throw you for a loop.

Richard Beck:

To be shamed, then, for being normal, average, good enough or a failure is to be shamed by a fear-based illusion. Basically, you are being shamed for being what you are–a human being. That’s the tragedy of modern life: You are not allowed to be a human being. You have to be better, something more. A god. Otherwise you’re a failure.

Ty Wenger:

A good marriage is a bit like a pet boa constrictor: either you feed it every day or bad things happen.

 

BITS OF MY FEBRUARY

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Books

So few pages, yet such a great reading experience from Rebecca Stead! When You Reach Me is richly detailed and well written, and brings you back to the delightful and difficult parts of being eleven. The $20,000 Pyramid is a small part of the plot, which is the only reason I could find for it to be set in 1979, but the chapter tie-ins to the game show are a nice touch. This is YA at its best!

 

Linda Medly’s graphic novel, Castle Waiting, was very enjoyable, with b&w art that is detailed and lively. Although there is no “proper” plotline in this unhurried depiction, the linked tales are rewarding with a strong slant toward feminine strength, uniqueness, and alternative families/communities.

 

The Martian by Andy Weir is self-published and wonderful!  A mere 99 cents (on Kindle) brings you humour and science on Mars. Watney is an engaging character and staying only with his POV wasn’t practical if he were ever to leave Mars, but I was disappointed when it switched away from his log entries.

 

Much of Learned Optimism (Martin Seligman, PhD) is interesting, but it promises more than it delivers.

 

Although the storyline of Page by Paige is nothing special, the sketchpad-style creativity of this graphic novel makes it worthwhile. Gulledge’s ability to visually show the protagonist’s inner life is delightful. After initially reading the story, I went back several times just to take in more aspects of the drawings.

 

After reading Midwives last month, perhaps I was expecting too much from Chris Bohjalian’s The Double Bind.  Nothing special here, and I don’t typically prefer mysteries, which this nearly was.

 

While I think the content is useful, the way it is presented in Leadership and Self-Deception gets in the way. I felt that the authors were being condescending. I’d prefer straight information with stories as examples, not the whole thing presented as a story.
I read this book aloud in the car while we drove to Minneapolis.

 

I wanted to like Rebecca Stead’s First Light but I felt the characters were less real than I wanted them to be. I also shouldn’t read stories that take place in frozen places, since I can’t enjoy that aspect at all!

 

As you read my review of Beyond Ordinary, keep in mind that I like Justin & Trisha’s blog and have been awaiting their book with anticipation.
This is another marriage book that asserts that you must be in perfect relationship with God to have a worthwhile marriage. It seems completely unreasonable to me to claim that only Christians can get marriage “right.”
There is not much advice in the book other than the selflessness associated with devotion to God.
(This was another book that I read aloud in the car.)

 

I was given Marina Nemat’s Prisoner of Tehran, and never would have selected it to read on my own. Although this memoir was moderately interesting, there isn’t enough content about Iran or its struggles to make that the reason to read it. The writing style is quite dull and it feels false to have such unemotional writing about the tragic events in her life.

 

I gave Divine Appointments a try because I recall being entertained by Baumbich’s Dearest Dorothy books. This one was kind of a slow slog, with one of the character’s emotional-outlet writing being the worst of it. Unfortunately, the reader is continually told what is simmering below the surface in the characters’ hearts, rather than allowing us to see it through their actions.

 

Movies

There was a lot more beer-drinking in Blue Like Jazz than you usually see in “Christian” movies. I didn’t attend college so I can’t comment on how accurately that is portrayed (85% performance art?!?), but it seems that Don’s crisis of faith is too easily dulled by liquor.  The animated interludes definitely were not my favourite parts, but the film itself has many entertaining and humorous moments. Lauryn is the strongest and most interesting character, which is not great since her role wasn’t central. In the end, I don’t know if I can really say that I recommend the film, but I do think it is worth 90 minutes of your time simply because it is different and may cause you to think.

 

Brave had a lot of laughs and was entertaining, but I’m not sure about its overall message.

 

Blog posts you should read:

If you are a Church Person, read this.

 

In my ears

the Gray Havens

 

In the kitchen

I’m tired of cooking. When I was a teen and pre-teen, my mom used to desperately dread having to plan food for our family and I totally get that. The list of ingredients that are good for us gets shorter and shorter.

 

5 random things about February

1. We saw The Dishwashers at PTE. I wasn’t captivated by the script or story but could admire the set and actors.

2. We stopped in at Albertville for the first time (just to get jeans at the Calvin Klein outlet).

3. Four eight-hour drives is 32 hours, which felt like a lot.

4. This has been a feeling-old month: failing eyesight, greying hair, indignation at the prices on restaurant menus…

5. Best fast food: SmashBurger

 

BITS OF MY JANUARY

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BOOKS I’VE READ

The first book of  2013 was Around the Corner by Elizabeth Wrenn.  I related to Deena, especially in her struggles about putting herself first or learning to be herself after years of being “just” a wife and mother. I’ll definitely seek out more books by Wrenn.
My favorite quotes:
“From laughter to tears, 1.2 seconds. Middle-aged women were the Maseratis of emotion.”
“…working seventy-hour weeks, even for a good cause, was a kind of infidelity.”

Susan Palwick’s The Necessary Begger is a story of crossing dimensions, and it has just enough of an alien viewpoint to make us look differently at many things we take for granted about how things are. I enjoyed it tremendously!

 

Even if it is historically accurate, the portrayal of women in Gods and Kings by Lynn Austin is just too depressing.

 

The premise (gate to an alternate world where Europeans did not make it to America) of S. M. Stirling’s Conquistador is good but the execution is long and padded.

 

I didn’t know anything about Angry Conversations With God by Susan Isaacs before reading it, but I had to give it a try given that ballsy title. I’m glad I did.
Favorite quotes:
“Be careful to whom you bare your grief, especially if it’s someone churchy…”
“These were nothing but middle-class white girl’s tragedies. But I was a middle-class white girl, with a middle-class white girl’s faith. In fact, my middle-class white girl’s tragedies ceased to be the tragedy at all: the tragedy was God’s response – total silence. I couldn’t hear God or see God or sense God anywhere or in anything. Some people call this the Dark Night of the Soul. It was dark, all right. And silent. And I was alone.”
“What did I want to hear? That it was all my fault? Actually, that would have been easier. Because then I would’ve been in control of the solution.”
“Father Michael:  The human soul is meant to expand. Things that once captured your heart may no longer be able to contain it.”
about church: “I gritted my teeth and went.”
And this particularly striking exchange:
God: I resent you for blaming me for everything. And I do not exist to give you what you want.
Susan: Do I exist to give you what you want?
God: Well, actually –

 

Midwives by Chris Bohjalian was a page-turner; it was very difficult to put down. The writing and the story are very compelling. It felt almost like a true account, and I was impressed that a male writer was able to tell this female-viewpoint story so well. 

 

My impression of Just How Married Do You Want To Be? may change if I re-read it, or as a result of discussing it, but on the whole I was disappointed. From what the Sumners write, it is impossible to have a real marriage if you are not a Christian; this seems an untenable position.  I disagreed with the authors regarding a few other areas as well. There were a few bits of encouragement and interest, but there were many concepts that were not brought into practicality.

 

I wanted to like Mark Mathabane’s Kaffir Boy, but that’s a tall order. The author comes across as annoying, preachy, and selfish. Certainly, there are revealing details of life in apartheid South Africa, and we should know these truths. Yet, his self-involvement becomes quite grating at times; his siblings, for instance, are portrayed as purely one-dimensional characters.
Mathabane describes his early years in minute detail, and also recounts conversations as if they were recorded, and these affectations cause me to wonder how much is true and how much is an effort to present himself in a certain light.
I do respect Mathabane for his perseverance and determination to improve his future. However, I greatly wish that he had been paired with a better editor when the book was being prepared.

 

Although goodreads shows it as third in a series, the copy of The Road to Grace (Richard Paul Evans) that I had made no mention of it, and I often felt like I’d walked into a movie which was already well underway. Now I understand that it isn’t meant to stand alone, and it certainly cannot. It is not a long book; I don’t understand why the story wasn’t released whole. The message of forgiveness is good, but the presentation could have been improved by not chopping up the book.

 

TELEVISION

Season three of Burn Notice ended with more of a cliff-hanger than usual!  Now I am motivated to get season four. (And motivated to plan a vacation so that we will watch it! winky)

 

It seems like there are a LOT of shows ending now: Flashpoint, Private Practice, Fringe, Last Resort

 

MOVIES

Lions For Lambs is a 2007 film about being American, and being engaged. There is a LOT of dialogue in this movie – not much action considering that the point is a call to action.

 

To me, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey‘s hyper-realism looked cheesy and cheap (yes, I saw it in an AVX theatre). In that respect, the LOTR movies had a better look to them. I didn’t appreciate the dwarves-washing-dishes scene – if they’re cutting scenes, why not that one? In a lot of places, the acting seemed really forced or amateur, and was painful to watch. It often seemed more like a junior high drama production than a $500million professional endeavour.

 

Zero Dark Thirty relates each step of the search for and attack on Osama bin Laden. The movie is about the manhunt, not about the characters, yet the cast is strong and I thought it was well directed. Of course, I like the portrayal of a strong woman (Maya). I think it managed to not be very political, but instead prompts us to ask ourselves things like: Is it riskier to act or not to act? What will revenge cost?

 

BLOG POSTS YOU SHOULD READ:

Jamie  Howison on friendship. I am saddened by the lack of such friendship in my life.
But what do you think – in friendship, should we never express the equivalent of “you made your bed; now lie in it?”

 

Sharon Holland on connecting. Highlights:
I have been surprised how many people assume that their friendships only exist by fragile accident. But they don’t. If I am in your life, it’s because I want to be. If I have a kind word or a friendly welcome for you, it is meant. I’m not flawless, but when I hurt people it’s by accident. If I know your name and I smile when I see you, it’s because I’m actually glad you’re here. Sincere friendships already test my introverted energy; artificial friendships feel like death to me. They are not in my tool set.
My friends are not friends by chance. I can chalk up that first meeting to Providence, but I kept at it because I like you. At the risk of sounding pompous and maudlin, I chose you. And it means the world to me that in some fashion, you chose me back.
…if I can suggest one thing to keep in mind this year, it’s that most people are lonelier than you think. Most of us wonder if we really matter to that other person. Everyone feels on a hard day that they must have been forgotten. The ripples from small kindnesses can be huge.

 

IN MY EARS

Lily & Madeleine have lovely harmonies and arrangements, but I wasn’t as enthralled with the recordings on their album as I was with the no-track versions they did on video. Those (guitar-only or piano-only) are captivating; find them on youtube.

 

IN THE KITCHEN

We served supper for eight on the 14th, to celebrate my dad’s 70th birthday. Cooking for eight is really different than for three. And the male:female ratio was 6:2 so that also affects how much food is necessary!

In January, we cooked caribou for the first time; it was tasty.

 

5 RANDOM THINGS ABOUT JANUARY

1. Coming back to the arid winter after two weeks in a tropical climate is so brutal – I need some humidity here!!

2. New favorite cocktail: Paloma

3. Famous Dave’s BBQ restaurant is very popular!  Arriving at 5:20, we waited 75 minutes for a table. Admittedly, we needed a table for ten, but the waiting area was packed like public transit in Asia.

4.  “Shuffing” mahjong tiles is NOISY!!

5.  I accepted the inevitable and got glasses with progressive lenses.

 

January’s GOOD RIDDANCE:

I was sick for too much of January!  Can I say good-bye to the virus that hung on so long? I certainly hope so but I’m pessimistic about my chances of not starting all over again with a cold/flu.

 

What I’m looking forward to in February:

– a short trip to Minneapolis

 

CHRIS BOHJALIAN QUOTE

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“I wish my life weren’t this record album that’s almost over, and only the first couple of songs were any good.”

HAPPY ANNIVERSARY!

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Today I’m celebrating that 25 years ago a wonderful man joined his life to mine.

It’s weird to think about how young we were then. I was 19 and he was 21. These days we spend time with some folks that age (lindyhoppers) and YIKES they’re young! Our son is 23 and he certainly is young.

Or maybe it’s weird to think about how old we are now.

Either way, it’s weird.

It’s weird to think that on that day, 25 years ago, I went down the aisle and made vows, having no idea what those promises really meant, or whether I could keep them.

It’s weird to look back and see that we got married without any real idea of what it means to love or be loved.  We had no idea the level of sacrifice we had signed up for.

It’s weird to think about all the ways we made our wedding ceremony “meaningful” without understanding the depth of those meanings. We became inextricably linked.  Becoming “one flesh” is real, and the pain of a broken marriage is as real as the tearing of flesh.

It’s weird to think that my young and basically clueless groom could bring so much love & joy & goodness & healing to the life of his (equally dopey) bride.

I love you, Lyndon.  Happy 25th anniversary!

 

ELIZABETH WURTZEL QUOTES

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“That’s the thing about depression: A human being can survive almost anything, as long as she sees the end in sight. But depression is so insidious, and it compounds daily, that it’s impossible to ever see the end.” 

“There is a classic moment in The Sun Also Rises when someone asks Mike Campbell how he went bankrupt, and all he can say in response is, ‘Gradually and then suddenly.’ When someone asks how I lost my mind, that is all I can say too.”

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