This is Stephanie at her best - witty and wise, poking fun at herself, describing her life in essays that had me laughing out loud.
Stephanie's descripThis is Stephanie at her best - witty and wise, poking fun at herself, describing her life in essays that had me laughing out loud.
Stephanie's description of learning to use clipless bicycle pedals was hysterical. Her assessment of the writer's group was spot on (and made me feel pleased, and somewhat smug, that I do write for my blog, at least occasionally).
I love how kindly she describes Joe (to my knowledge, Stephanie has never referred to her husband as 'Fang'). She explains the benefits of her powerful imagination (as well as the spectacularly entertaining disasters that her imagination conjures up). Snap is a sweet essay that explains why we should just give in, and smile for the camera.
I read the story about the family skunk just before going to bed, and dreamed that our basement housed families of dogs and cats and raccoons, all living together happily. There was also a cobra in my dream basement; he made me nervous, and I wondered what Stephanie would make of him?!?
Beg, borrow, or buy The Amazing Thing, and enjoy a good read!...more
Each volume's series editor [Robert Atwan] selects notable works from hundreds of magazines, journals, and websites
From the back cover of Essays 2013:
Each volume's series editor [Robert Atwan] selects notable works from hundreds of magazines, journals, and websites. A special guest editor, a leading writer in the field [Cheryl Strayed], then chooses the best twenty or so pieces to publish.
The essays were essentially short memoirs, stories from the author's perspective. I read them all, enjoyed most of them, and found some incomprehensible. My favorites were those that offered insight into a life not my own: Doyle's His Last Game; Stielstra's Channel B; Schmitt's Sometimes a Romantic Notion; Yoshikawa's My Father's Women; Kerstetter's Triage; Sampsell's I'm Jumping Off the Bridge; and Harvey's The Book of Knowledge....more
I remember the horror and concern when Elizabeth Smart was kidnapped from her home. I remember the relief and amazement, nine months later, when she wI remember the horror and concern when Elizabeth Smart was kidnapped from her home. I remember the relief and amazement, nine months later, when she was returned to her family. What really amazed me, in the years that followed, was the sense that she had come through this intact, that she was coping, that she seemed to be living a normal life.
Of course, I only knew what I saw in the media - and I didn't follow closely, and only saw snippets of even that information. But I knew she had founded the Elizabeth Smart Foundation, to prevent and stop predatory crimes. I knew she spoke out on behalf of victims. But I was curious as to how she had managed to cope, apparently, so well.
So, even though I worried a bit about being a voyeur, I wanted to read her story, as told in her memoir My Story (with Christ Stewart). I wanted to see what she herself had to say.
Smart described in detail her nine months with Mitchell and his wife. She did not describe his abuse in detail, except to recount - over and over - "he raped me." She did describe her thoughts - the thoughts of a fourteen-year-old - as she tried to figure out how to survive.
She told of her faith, and how this helped her endure. She told of several miracles that encouraged her. And she told of persuading Mitchell to return to Utah, from California, knowing that if anyone was still looking for her, it would be in Salt Lake City.
I think, ultimately, that her mother's advice, when Smart finally was home again, was the beginning of her recovery.
Elizabeth, what this man has done is terrible. There aren't any words that are strong enough to describe how wicked and evil he is! He has taken nine months of your life that you will never get back again. But the best punishment you could ever give him is to be happy. To move forward with your life. To do exactly what you want. Because, yes, this will probably go to trial and some kind of sentencing will be given to him and that wicked woman. But even if that's true, you may never feel like justice has been served or that true restitution has been made.
But you don't need to worry about that. At the end of the day, God is our ultimate judge. He will make up to you every pain and loss that you have suffered. And if it turns out that these wicked people are not punished here on Earth, it doesn't matter. His punishments are just. You don't ever have to worry. You don't ever have to even think about them again.
You be happy, Elizabeth. Just be happy. If you go and feel sorry for yourself, or if you dwell on what has happened, if you hold on to your pain, that is allowing him to steal more of your life away. So don't you do that! Don't you let him! There is no way that he deserves that. Not one more second of your life. You keep every second for yourself. You keep them and be happy. God will take care of the rest.
Smart followed that advice. She hung on to gratitude and faith, and let the pain and anger and hurt go. She wrote
. . . I decided very early that I only had one life and that I wasn't going to waste it.
As of this writing, I am twenty-five years old. I have been alive for 307 months. Nine of those months were pretty terrible. But 298 of those months have been very good. I have been happy. I have been very blessed. Who knows how many more months I have to live? But even if I died tomorrow, nine out of 307 seems like pretty good odds.
Those nine months were, as Smart said, pretty terrible. But what Smart has done since then is pretty amazing, too....more
I generally enjoy Mary Oliver's poetry, and (as any who have read my blog will know) I am somewhat fond of dogs. Accordingly, I thought this would beI generally enjoy Mary Oliver's poetry, and (as any who have read my blog will know) I am somewhat fond of dogs. Accordingly, I thought this would be the perfect book - but not so. Shortly after starting this book, I heard the quote from Oscar Wilde, "All bad poetry springs from genuine feeling," and immediately thought of the Oliver book. It is clear she genuinely loves her dogs, but the poetry is, for the most part, below the quality I am used to seeing in her work.
I did like the pencil drawings in the book; my favorite is the cover photo of Ben, who reminds me of our Bonnie....more
I read this a few years ago. My recollection (it's risky, remembering a book after time has past) is that the story and characters held my interest, aI read this a few years ago. My recollection (it's risky, remembering a book after time has past) is that the story and characters held my interest, and that the writing was lovely - like a painting....more
Overall, I thought Sleeth had good ideas, although I thought she had to stretch her analogy pretty far, to link them to an Amish lifestyle.
She introduOverall, I thought Sleeth had good ideas, although I thought she had to stretch her analogy pretty far, to link them to an Amish lifestyle.
She introduced ten general principles that lead to her "slower, simpler, more sustainable life:"
1. Homes are simple, uncluttered, and clean: the outside reflects the inside. 2. Technology serves as a tool and does not rule as a master. 3. Saving more and spending less bring financial peace. 4. Time spent in God’s creation reveals the face of God. 5. Small and local leads to saner lives. 6. Service to others reduces loneliness and isolation. 7. The only true security comes from God. 8. Knowing neighbors and supporting local businesses build community. 9. Family ties are lifelong; they change but never cease. 10. Faith life and way of life are inseparable.
In the chapter on homes, she emphasized that “No big house or yard care means more time for family, friends, and God.” She also talked about the importance of hospitality - which is easier if you aren't stressed about all the aspects of keeping a home running. She pointed out that soup makes a great meal, and is easy to prepare and serve - that idea has stuck in this non-cook's head!
She made an interesting statement about technology:
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average American spends just nine minutes per day in religious and spiritual activities. This disparity between how much time with technology and how much time we spend with God says much about our priorities. I think it indicates that technology is supplanting God in our hearts and affections. We are pursuing technology with an abandon and intensity that should be reserved for God alone.
If true (she didn't cite references for her stats), this is very telling. (I know that I spend a disproportionate amount of time on social media.)
In her chapter on simplicity, she stated, “Simplicity involves cutting back on two major kinds of stuff – the kind that fills our houses and the kind that fills our calendars.” We all struggle with this, and our book group spent a good bit of time discussing the challenges inherent in this effort.
Regarding service (chapter 6), she wrote
[God] wants us to serve him with a glad heart, not because he is lacking anything, but because the very act of getting outside our selfish, small concerns enriches us. Service is the agent through which we act out our love for God and for one another. Serve God: serve your neighbor. In doing one, we are doing the other.
This made me think of Mosiah 2:17: "when ye are in the service of your fellow beings ye are only in the service of your God."
I think that's the most important side effect of simplifying our lives - we have more time and energy to serve others. Certainly the principles that Sleeth shares can help us in this endeavor....more
McMillan sets out to study our way of growing and distributing food. She works in California farm fields; in Walmart's produce section; and in the kitMcMillan sets out to study our way of growing and distributing food. She works in California farm fields; in Walmart's produce section; and in the kitchen of an Applebee's restaurant. She reports her experiences faithfully, with anecdotes about co-workers and families she meets, with stories from her jobs, and with abundantly researched facts and figures. I did not find it "compulsively readable" or "compelling" (as touted on the back cover). Still, I would recommend it, for the good info and insights it offers. ...more
I finished this book a week or so ago, in a late-night reading marathon. I am still not sure what to say about it, but I can recommend it.
Dana is a mI finished this book a week or so ago, in a late-night reading marathon. I am still not sure what to say about it, but I can recommend it.
Dana is a modern black women, married to Kevin. We meet them in the prologue, where we learn that Dana has lost her left arm. The how or the why are not offered -- just a few snatches of conversation, and a sense of foreboding.
The story begins in earnest, in 1976 Los Angeles, as the couple are unpacking and settling into their new home. There is a sudden moment of confusion, and Dana finds herself beside a river. She saves a boy, Rufus, from drowning, and then reappears in her home. Kevin reports, in amazement, that she was only gone for seconds, and they try to make sense of this puzzle.
Dana is transported again and again, to the same time and place - a slave-holding plantation. Each stay is longer, and the danger greater. Rufus grows into adulthood and prepares to take his role as the plantation's owner, while Dana does her best to learn the rules of survival for a black woman in the antebellum South.
The writing was spare and compelling, as I followed the story, eager to see how it led to the ending foreshadowed in the prologue. ...more
Anne Lamott's Traveling Mercies: Some Thoughts on Faith describes, in a series of essays, Lamott's path to God. There was nothing earth-shattering orAnne Lamott's Traveling Mercies: Some Thoughts on Faith describes, in a series of essays, Lamott's path to God. There was nothing earth-shattering or deeply profound, but I enjoyed her writing, her stark experience, her insights.
At one point, she describes why she (a single mother) makes her son go to church with her, and I think this describes her own reasons for going:
The main reason is that I want to give him what I found in the world, which is to say a path and a little light to see by. Most of the people I know who have what I want - which is to say, purpose, heart, balance, gratitude, joy - are people with a deep sense of spirituality. They are people in community, who pray, or practice their faith; they are Buddhists, Jews, Christians - people banding together to work on themselves and for human rights. They follow a brighter light than the glimmer of their own candle; they are part of something beautiful. I saw something once from the Jewish Theological Seminary that said, " A human life is like a single letter of the alphabet. It can be meaningless. Or it can be a part of a great meaning."
She talks about things breaking - "hearts, health, confidence" - and shares words from her preacher:
Our preacher Veronica said recently that this is life's nature: that lives and hearts get broken - those of people we love, those of people we'll never meet. She said that the world sometimes feels like the waiting room of the emergency ward and that we who are more or less OK for now need to take the tenderest possible care of the more wounded people in the waiting room, until the healer comes. You sit with people, she said, you bring them juice and graham crackers.
(which made me think of Alma's teaching that we be willing to bear one another’s burdens, that they may be light, and that we be willing to mourn with those that mourn, and willing to comfort those that stand in need of comfort).
Lamott shares Raymond Carver's poem, Late Fragment, in her chapter on belonging to a community:
And did you get what you wanted from this life even so? I did. And what did you want? To call myself beloved, to feel myself beloved on the earth.
We take many paths to find our community, and our God, and I don't think one is more right than another. Lamott writes about the many mistakes and bad choices she's made in life, and about the losses she's experienced. And then she celebrates, not just being beloved by her community of faith, but by her God:
The mystery of God's love as I understand it is that God loves the man who was being mean to his dog just as much as he loves babies; God loves Susan Smith, who drowned her two sons, as much as he loves Desmond Tutu. And he loved her just as much while she was releasing the handbrake of her car that sent her boys into the river as he did when she first nursed them. So of course he loves old ordinary me, even or especially at my most scared and petty and mean and obsessive. Loves me; chooses me.
The title of her book comes from what the old people at her church said when anyone left for a while: "Traveling mercies: love the journey, God is with you, come home safe and sound." Her book, really, describes her journey, which leads her, finally, home, safe and sound. ...more
A while ago, I read Kristof and WuDunn's book, Half the Sky, detailing the oppression of women.
I've seen the movie Water, which tells of Hindu women lA while ago, I read Kristof and WuDunn's book, Half the Sky, detailing the oppression of women.
I've seen the movie Water, which tells of Hindu women living in an ashram for widows, including the child Chuyia, and of their mistreatment.
Just the other day, I read of an FBI sweep that rescued more than 100 children from a sex trafficking ring, including 10 here in Michigan.
I am aware of the plight of many women in our world, both here in the U.S. and abroad. But nothing I've read or seen touched me as much as Patricia McCormick's book, Sold. Although it is written for teen-age readers, I found it compelling and moving.
The narrator is Lakshmi, a thirteen-year-old girl living in the mountains of Nepal with her mother, stepfather, and baby brother. She describes the hardship and poverty of their life, the small joys and the sadness. She tells of her goat Tali, and of the cucumbers she is growing (and which she has named). She tells of the four babies born between her and her brother. She describes drought and hunger, and then the falling of too much rain.
When the night rain soaks the ground past the soaking point, when the earthen walls around the paddy melt away, when the rice plants are sucked out of the earth one by one and washed down the slope, there should be a sound, a noise announcing that something is terribly wrong.
Instead there is a ghostly hush that tells us we have lost everything.
Lakshmi's stepfather arranges for her to go to the city, where she will work as a maid. She looks forward to being able to send money home to her family, just as her friend Gita has done. She describes her journey, and the amazing sights and sounds and smells.
But of course, as I read, I knew where she was really heading, and I dreaded the fate that awaited her. She fights and resists that fate, but eventually succumbs to the inevitable.
I cannot tell which of the things they do to me are real, and which are nightmares.
I decide to think that it is all a nightmare. Because if what is happening is real, it is unbearable.
Lakshmi's mother had taught her, "Simply to endure is to triumph." The other girls teach her how to get along in this new life, she learns some Hindu words from a young boy, and she continues to dream of paying off her debt so she can return home. One day, the boy gives her a pencil.
It is shiny yellow and it smells of lead and rubber. And possibility.
I have been beaten here, locked away, violated a hundred times and a hundred times more. I have been starved and cheated, tricked and disgraced.
How odd it is that I am undone by the simple kindness of a small boy with a yellow pencil.
As I read, I believed this would end well, that Lakshmi would be one of those to escape the brothel and its horrors. It heartened me to read that she herself still had the drive to get away:
I know something else as well. I know that I would endure a hundred punishments to be free of this place.
On her web page, McCormick wrote, "It was important to remember that, in even the grimmest of situations, there is kindness as well as cruelty, terror as well as boredom, and even, surprising as it may seem, humor." Her excellent book conveyed all this....more
One day, Harold Fry receives a letter from an old acquaintance, Queenie Hennessy, telling him that she is dying. Harold wriJoyce's book was delicious.
One day, Harold Fry receives a letter from an old acquaintance, Queenie Hennessy, telling him that she is dying. Harold writes a quick response and walks to town to mail it, but instead keeps walking (both to his and his wife Maureen's surprise). He simply puts one foot in front of the other, walking without any sort of plan, other than his goal to reach Queenie (some 600-miles north) before she dies. He figures things out as he goes, and spends the miles thinking about Maureen, and his son David, and his friend Queenie (and about blisters). He ponders moments from his past and considers the world around him. He talks with strangers, who willingly help him toward his goal (granted, some of them are a bit off-kilter). Ultimately, he opens his eyes to the truth in his own life, and to what really matters, and exchanges his pride for happiness.
My sister recommended this to me, and I recommend it to you - it left me feeling quite happy and content....more
I don't remember where I heard about Josh Hanagarne's book, The World's Strongest Librarian, but it piqued my interest: a Mormon librarian, who liftsI don't remember where I heard about Josh Hanagarne's book, The World's Strongest Librarian, but it piqued my interest: a Mormon librarian, who lifts weights and has Tourette Syndrome.
My quick assessment? Hanagarne's memoir gets a solid thumbs up. It was well-written and interesting, and made me care about Hanagarne and his family. In the process, I learned a little about about life with Tourette's.
Hanagarne's memoir mixes stories from his job as a librarian with stories of his life: his loving parents; his efforts to control his Tourette's; his experiences as a Mormon missionary; his strength training; his repeatedly interrupted university studies; his search for his place in this world.
I was a bit worried about the Mormon aspects of Josh's life. I remembered from the review I'd heard that he is no longer active in the LDS church, and I worried that the book would have an anti-Mormon slant. But this wasn't the case at all. As he wrote about his life, his church participation was a part of that life, and he wrote positively about those experiences. Ultimately, he simply didn't have the same belief and knowledge as his family, and so stepped back. He wrote
When people tell me. . . that the church is a controlling, greedy, sinister monster that's only interested in brainwashing people and subjugating women, I say, "I don't know that church, but I can understand why you'd have a problem with the church's history." I know happy, generous people. I know my compassionate bishop. I don't see rubes and sheep. I'm way too ignorant and fallible and unsure to sneer at other people who are just trying to live the best way they know how. I see people who want the world to be better than it is and who are willing to work for it.
I just can't work at it in the same way they do anymore. I can't trust my emotions as confidently as they trust theirs. . . If there's a personal God, I have to believe that he knows my heart, and why I have to do what I'm doing right now. Why I have to live according to what makes sense to me, and not according to what is sacred to others.
Hanagarne eventually becomes a librarian, and writes eloquently about the need for and benefits from libraries (he works at the Salt Lake City Public Library). Talking about patrons of different classes and races and such, and how they struggle to get along, he writes
. . . while we may never find specific, actionable solutions, a good library's existence is a potential step forward for a community. If hate and fear have ignorance at their core, maybe the library can curb their effects, if only by offering ideas and neutrality. It's a safe place to explore, to meet with other minds, to touch other centuries, religions, races, and learn what you truly think about the world.
He sees libraries, and the items that circulate from libraries, as leading
to members of the community gathering in the same place. People who might never lay eyes on one another elsewhere. In this digital era when human contact sometimes feels quaint to me, this is significant. If libraries themselves become quaint because they house physical objects and require personal interaction at times, so be it. For that reason, I believe physical libraries always need to exist in some form.
What I liked most about this memoir, I think, is that it seems so honest. Hanagarne is simply a nice guy, with a terrible affliction. He never really overcomes his Tourette's, but he finds peace in his life just the same. At one point, he talks about what he'll tell his son about his attitude toward the church. It comes across a recap of what really matters to him - and Tourette's is not a part of that recap:
What I'll tell Max is that I love his mom, his grandparents, and his aunts and uncles and cousins more than anything. I'll tell him that they are my life, and they are a life worth living. When he asks what I believe, I'll tell him that I do believe in many of the tenets of the church:
Be kind and compassionate.
You are responsible for your actions and should be accountable for them, if only to yourself. . . .
Don't lie, kill, steal, or cheat.
Family is the greatest joy on earth.
Study the best books.
Be accountable to yourself. . . .
I'll tell him that I was the luckiest, happiest kid in the world. I will tell him that there are no words I can use to describe how much I love my parents, and how grateful I will always be for them.
Go find yourself a copy of his book, and enjoy! ...more
The plot is a simple one: Ursula Todd is born, and dies. She is born again, and dies again. And again, and again. The novel takes us through her manyThe plot is a simple one: Ursula Todd is born, and dies. She is born again, and dies again. And again, and again. The novel takes us through her many lives, and her feelings of déjà vu. The novel's characters remain essentially the same, and yet their circumstances are altered. It was fascinating.
The flaw in the narrative is this: how can her life have any meaning, when it is erased each time she dies and is reborn? That aspect was frustrating (once I caught on), but the stories of her lives offered some compensation....more