Tuesday, December 17, 2013

My Mind's Worktable

Currently Reading: Louisa May Alcott's Christmas Treasury and The Thinking Woman's Guide to Magic by Emily Croy Barker

The words in my head simmer and bubble and boil. I give them another quick stir and lean in to observe the ways they twist and reshape themselves. Ideas still sit on the counter, rising slowly under their tea towel. Hot with impatience, words start to jump from the pot. Why are they always ready before the ideas are?

The snow comes down and the world is white with inspiration. I stir and measure, knead and sift, filling the winter morning with carols and prayers and memories, content to be at my mind's worktable. I dip my hands in, ready to create something from nothing. As I grind and chop and peel, the pile of words grows taller and taller. Soul, mind, and hands work in happy unison. All is peace. All is joy.

Saturday, November 30, 2013

Thanksgiving with the Alcotts

Currently Reading: Alcott in Her Own Time by Daniel Shealy and The Signature of All Things by Elizabeth Gilbert

"November had come; the crops were in, and and barn, buttery, and bin were overflowing with the harvest  that rewarded the summer's hard work. The big kitchen was a jolly place just now..." 
~ An Old-Fashioned Thanksgiving

Mine was an Alcott Thanksgiving. Yesterday, I spent some downtime reading the opening pages of An Old-Fashioned Thanksgiving, between bits of the biography I started last week. Curled on the couch with my family tonight, we celebrated the holidays and Louisa's birthday with a viewing of Little Women (the 1994 version). The first bars of the opening music floated into the room and the tears were already in my eyes. After two days of feasting and thanking, decorating and Christmas caroling, the time was right to visit the March sisters.
A few months exploring books in North Carolina, Corca Duibhne, Ireland, Philadelphia, and Cambridge, I am now back in Concord, Massachusetts with the Alcott family. Just in time for Thanksgiving and Louisa's birthday. This new (to me) biography is a collection of memories, interviews, and memoirs from those who knew her and the Alcott family personally: colleagues, peers, friends, and family. The book is my place to sink into on these cold November evenings, like a mug of hot chocolate, a warm blanket, my cozy refuge from the wind and the chill. I listen with rapt attention to voices and memories that bring me to a Concord I can only imagine and a woman I'm getting to know even better.

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I have seen Louisa through the pen of the scholar, her own letters and journals, some of her literary works, and now through the descriptions of those around her. I enjoy viewing her through this alternate lens. New stories abound, new poses are struck, new words are said, forming images of her demeanor and character that didn't find their way into her works. In these memories, Louisa falls onto her bed with a dramatic flop; the barn rings with playful shouts and dramatic soliloquies; she whirls around and curtsies in the lane; she moves her hands to illustrate her words; she covers her pain with humor and "bright flashes of wit." I can finally see her as others did, and she is all sparkling eyes and droll comebacks and noble passion. She is no different from the woman I found in her letters and journals, but these memories serve to reinforce my image of who she was- the dutiful child, the passionate crusader, the witty storyteller, the sharp mind, the Jo-ian personality. Not a perfect person but perfectly herself.

Reading about her through the eyes of others holds both a danger and an advantage. Sometimes those we are close to know us better than we know ourselves. They see the good qualities that we overlook; they recognize the faults we do not see. Louisa was certainly hard on herself, with high expectations she felt she would never attain. (That sounds all too familiar to my ears.) She rarely wrote of her triumphs, except in the humblest of tones. So watching her laugh and clap her hands and keep a room of people in stitches with her witty observations is such a joy.

But even though they can observe us in ways we cannot, those around us often fail to know us fully, only seeing the part we present to them. They aren't privy to the struggles, the fears, the hopes that swirl around unseen in our minds and hearts. So much we keep hidden, even from our closest companions. No matter how close they were to her, most of her contemporaries couldn't know exactly who she was. And time changes our perspectives and our memories. I read these recollections, wondering how much of the writer's descriptions depend upon Louisa's fame and reputation, rather than their own opinions at the time.

These observations both hide and reveal the real Louisa, and I force myself to recognize that I too will never truly know her. But I never stop trying. In this book, once again, I find her, living and breathing, made alive through the words of her contemporaries, the world in which she inhabited and her relationships with neighbors, friends, and peers as real to me as any scene in my own world. When I look up, I am startled not to find her standing in front of me.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Coming of Age

Currently Reading: The Alcotts by Madelen Bedell and The Signature of All Things by Elizabeth Gilbert

I finished the book The Yonahlossee Riding Camp for Girls under a full moon, in my car as I drove home. The two most terrible words- "The End"- echoed through the car and I reluctantly turned it off. The night was simply lovely, ringing with the fullness of life. The perfect end to a rich book. I turned over the ending in my mind- Thea at the train station, the young recognizing that she too will be old, watching the future fly by like a train pulling out from the station. Lighter than air, heavier than water, I felt so small under the large harvest moon, but also expansive. In that moment, I felt like I discovered a mystery of life, a mystery that brings with it a feeling of imbalance, like the dizziness of standing on the edge. It is aloneness and togetherness all at once, and it hurts with an ache of cold slipping under my clothes. I had the urge to open my arms and gather the night up, to sift through it and make sense of it all- of this living and this dying, of each terrible sweet moment, of actually feeling so intensely it hurts, and of not knowing how to find the words to accompany the understanding. Suddenly, I was giddy with the not knowing, with the no words, addicted to the feelings of bigness and openess, cradling the weight of feeling inside my body like an unborn child. Right then, I wanted to see it all, to be that transparent eyeball, to be nothing in order to be everything. There are books that make me feel the answers are out there, but I just don't have the right questions.
Last night, I closed the covers of A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. I leaned back on the pillows, the room quiet with sleep, and cried for the poignancy of childhood left behind. Evocative in its simplicity, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn took me through the emotional wringer this week. Twelve pages in, an uncanny feeling swept over me, like an out-of-body experience, that this book was a piece of me that I had never known about. My breath caught in my throat. Since then, I have found my own thoughts and musings and concerns reflected in the characters living in the book, and each time, I inwardly stagger. How, how could part of me exist in something else that I did not create, whose birth occurred decades before my own? Could it be that we are not as different and singular as I have always thought? After reading Brooklyn, I feel so connected to the world, connected to life, and to those around me, reassured that I am not alone in my thoughts but that we are more alike than we realize, all part of each other. That is undoubtedly why Brooklyn is still a favorite, more than sixty years later, for just as I see pieces of myself in Francie and Katie and Johnny, so has every other reader who has ever pulled it from the shelf. That is true magic- a book that speaks to everyone.

Monday, October 7, 2013

Autumn Lessons

Currently Reading: Small Wonder by Barbara Kingsolver and The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane by Katherine Howe

I crack the door open just a bit and inhale. October has made her sweet, too-short presence known around here- in the cornstalks camouflaging from green to brown, in the apple-decorated signs pointing to orchards up the road, in the red and yellow paint-tipped treetops, and in the piles of pumpkins in every yard. My tomato plant waves farewell and I prep its box for a new planting of garlic. I cut my last crop of lemon verbena, dreaming of the tea I will make this winter. The air smells like nutmeg and cinnamon, even when there's nothing in the oven. Like sun on skin, I soak in the season, knowing all too well how desperately short it lasts. We are only one week in and I have already taken part in most of my autumn traditions: apple cider candle on the table, butternut squash soup and pumpkin muffins from the kitchen, visits to orchards and farmer's markets, decorating with leaves and gourds, reading to give myself a little chill up the spine. Cemetery visits and a Hocus Pocus night still await.

The earth is pulling back now, changing from a wild child of hot days and bare feet into a wiser, calmer woman. Each day begs me to stop and watch the transformation, even for several sweet moments. The death of leaves, floating down to nourish the ground for spring, force me to reflect on life, its hard questions and beautiful answers. I think of years past, of people with names and faces who are also now part of the ground, but also part of our collective conscience and our memories, part of our present and future in the choices they made and the lives they lived. The past and all of its lessons follow us as the sun follows its track across the sky, but I often look around and wonder if we have forgotten how to hear it and how to learn from it. It seems sometimes that we live in an age where we believe we already have all the answers, leaving no time or space for what the past might teach us, refusing to be open to the possibilities of truth. The truth pinches and stings, and asks us to take responsibility for ourselves as a society, and none of that is pretty, so we ignore it. We work hard to deny our own culpability, easily passing the buck onto our neighbors, or the government, or other religions.

In our haste to shed our responsibility, we forget that we are not alone in the human struggle. That ages of people have gone before us and we live every day with their long-ago decisions and mistakes. Those coming after us will hold our priorities and legacy up to the light someday, because our choices now will be their reality soon. Until we learn, we cannot hope to teach. When we deny our earth's changes and refuse to take steps to fix it, we ignore what people already knew 100 years ago and allow our futures to be threatened, just to maintain a standard of living we do not deserve. When we respond to terror with more violence and calls for retribution, we forget that generations have done so before, with only pain and anguish as the end result. When we erect barriers between each other, using our words and our prejudices to turn humans into statistics, we forget our own humanity. Scariest of all, when we act on self-righteousness and ignorance, we cease to hear the calls of the slave, the condemned, the internment camp, the Civil Rights marchers, and the lessons their ages told. Like weights, these lessons are heavy to hold, but we must lift them in order to gain strength as a society.

The leaves fall. The autumn, more than any other season, asks for my patience and my time, beseeching me to be still amid the rush, to think outside of myself. This is where the truth lies- in a prayer, in the silence, in the large, wide world, asking for my attention. This is the perfect time to answer.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Thoughts in the Woods

Currently Reading: Small Wonder by Barbara Kingsolver and My First Summer in the Sierra by John Muir

Fall has returned from its long hiatus, slipping silently into summer like a diver into water, without a splash. We greet each other as I sit under the tree where I sat a year ago. I see the ghost of myself a few feet off, head bent in concentration, her posture vibrating with nervousness and excitement, unsure of herself at the precipice of something new, yet ready to conquer. I salute her and pull my book from my bag, already stamping this place again with my memory. As the sun swims downward, I read my latest Barbara Kingsolver- a book of essays, the lyrical words and crisp fall breeze knitting a cocoon around my body. I read of hopes and fears and finding solace in the wild things. "Among the greatest of all gifts is to know our place." Yes. Me too. Always. Barbara Kingsolver has it- the magic of blending quiet words with a powerful voice. She pulls the detritus away and reveals shining nuggets of truth in mere sentences. It is a haunting power, and I eagerly sift through the debris with her. "People need wild places...We need to be able to taste grace and know once again that we desire it."

I look at the time and then at the woods nearby. There's time enough. Quietly I stuff the book away, hitch up my bag, and follow the steep trail into a grove of trees that quickly muffles the sights and sounds of students. I take my time, wending down the path, stopping to watch a chipmunk- their voices sound like the chirp of birds, how did I never know that- and coming to a little bridge, shielded from the bike path nearby, utterly alone and yet surrounded by life.

Slowly, I feel my mind stop its whirling dance, like a bird alighting on a fencepost. Letting go of the to-do lists written on the chalkboard inside my head, the endless litany of things to be done and things to worry over, I sink down and lay on the bridge. Pulling my body into various stretches, I breathe in and out, centering myself here, with the trees and the birds and the chipmunks. Now. Now is good. Feeling small is good. I lay down on the bridge, my gaze stretching up and I feel such a surge of love for the plants and animals. A connection thrums through my body like a plucked guitar string, bringing sudden tears to my eyes. I am part of this, I am of this, we are all of the same God. The trees above me seem so strong and enduring, but they are slowly being poisoned as I lay here, the whole earth bleeding out with each second that passes. The trees are the tangible past, our history, hundreds of years of days and nights that I get to witness. I wonder if the seedlings at my feet will someday stretch over the heads of my great-great-grandchildren or if this secret place will be a parking garage or a wasteland and trees will be beyond memory. And I feel such love and protectiveness for this massive system which is dying, but I cannot save it and I am filled with despair.

I stand and breathe in the oxygen these trees are making for me. I exhale some carbon for them. We feed each other. I feel so whole in the green silences, as I always do, as if I found something I forgot I was missing. In the wildness, I can let myself be me in a way I cannot in the world of people. The trees watch me with no judgment, no agenda, and I whisper promises we cannot keep to the leaves that flutter like fragments of paper above me. We could learn from the trees, ways of being that could save our souls. To watch and listen and let others be. To stand firm, but without malice or judgment. To understand our place and the larger picture we fit into. To love without destruction. I want to fill myself with the trees, with their knowledge and patience and beauty, and carry it with me like a talisman against all of the things I cannot change. I lift my arms above my head, like a child begging to be picked up, waiting to be anointed. Trying to slip my fingers into this awesome silence, offering my prayers and holy words to the caverns of leaves and branches above.

The sun is low. As I turn and walk on, the chime of bells from a campus building swells into the silence, the capstone of the sanctuary's architecture. There is still hope. There has to be.

"Look and listen for the welfare of the whole people and have always in view not only the present but also the coming generations, even those whose faces are yet beneath the surface of the ground- the unborn of the future Nation." ~ The Constitution of the Iroquois Nations

Sunday, September 1, 2013


Currently Reading: Too many to count. I'm greedily reading as many books as possible before school starts again.

In the airplane, on the way back from a whirlwind Colorado weekend with my best friends, while reading Flannery O'Connor, I came upon this line: "You found out more when you left where you lived." While it only marginally lessened the ache in my stomach, I recognized its truth. In just three days, I found out many things, things I have reflected on in the days since we returned.

I discovered the power of my own body, as my knees and back and legs carried me up a mountainside, surprising me with their strength and deepening my appreciation for what is mine. I learned about the treasure of time, especially when there is so little of it, and that once in a while, time ceases to exist, and past and present loop quietly together. I learned that while things change, sometimes we do change together. And sometimes a few things stay the same. I realized that my restlessness is not just a phase, but something that is pulling me to somewhere-else, preparing me for the time when we will embark on a new, life-long adventure amid new scenery.

Mostly, I found out that I don't have to work so hard to keep my friendships, that the fear of loss and of being left behind which I carry inside of me doesn't need to be there anymore. It is enough to be myself, to let go and trust that it will hold itself up, like learning to float on the water for the first time. I am learning to trust the people I love not to leave me, but to stay and love me back, not for what I do but for who I am. It is a hard lesson, one I have struggled with most of my life. But I have started to learn how to shed that weight, recognizing the beauty of freedom from fear, like standing on the mountaintop, with everything below and everything above, just floating on the wind.

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Garden to Table

Currently Reading: Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver and Notes from a Small Island by Bill Bryson

With summer comes an obsession with food that I cannot (and will not) ignore. I itch to tackle every farmer's market within a 50 mile radius, even driving long distances to wander past tents and feast my eyes on the abundance; I stare at vegetables and fruits, soaking in their colors; I make "Dear Santa" lists of new and different recipes I want to try, with a zest unmatched in the warmer months when shopping for food becomes a chore, rather than an adventure. Unless I'm in a rush, cooking is a delightful hobby, one that I really enjoy and take my time with. I love lifting the cover off my CrockPot to see firm yogurt where there was milk just 5 hours before. Cracking eggs is one of my favorite things to do. I could stand over a pot of butternut squash soup for hours, just smelling it. With my husband at my side, my kitchen becomes my playground. (He'll tell you this isn't true when I'm tired and cranky. He would be right.) Some of my favorite recipes lately: Tortellini with summer squash and peppers (thank you to my friend Joanna for that idea!); enchiladas; honey wheat bread; green bean and chicken salad; veggie fritatta; and zucchini muffins.

I don't label myself when it comes to food. I don't eat only organic, I'm not vegetarian or vegan, I'm not a pure locavore, and I don't abstain from gluten or dairy or anything else YahooNews tells us is bad for us this week. We eat less meat in our household than most people but we usually have at least one meat meal a week. We do stay away from highly processed food, as I choose to make it myself if I can. The yogurt, cereal, stock, beans, salad dressings, granola bars, dips, and doughs in our house are all made from scratch. (I hope to add more to this list as time goes on.) And I try to make all of our meals from scratch as well. No frozen or boxed dinners in my kitchen! So I suppose I am a "from scratch" kind of foodie, reclaiming food production as much as possible for a person without a garden or greenhouse. (And believe me, I've already started planning those.) But these decisions are my own and are not necessarily the answer for everybody. Not everyone has the time, opportunity, or money to make the same food decisions and I respect that. And I know a lot of people who make even stricter, and better, food decisions than I do. We all do what is best for us. My least favorite thing is someone pushing their own lifestyle on me, so I refrain from doing the same. While food and how it's made is very important to me and my family, it's not always a priority for others. And that is just fine with me. The one thing I will always promote, however, is the farmer's market. Or as I like to call it: heaven-on-earth.

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Source: Facebook.com

This morning, my mom, aunt, and I went to a local farmer's market, my first time to that particular one this year. I was giddy for days, in anticipation. While I usually hate to wake up before 7:00, if a farmer's market is the destination, there is no such thing as too early. The morning was perfect- a blend of blue sky and warm breeze that seems to be a special trademark of the Midwest. Music was already playing in the gazebo as we approached. The square was bustling and full- of flower stalls and craft tables, families enjoying a picnic on the lawn, the heavenly aroma of baked goods, produce of every shape and color, a multitude of dogs on leashes, the scent of homemade soap, and above it all, a sense of familiarity and community. It sounds too perfect to be true. But it's not. This is how grocery shopping should be.

Farmer's market people are like pet people- friendly, helpful, and talkative. I find myself chatting with vendors about the location of their farms, which library they go to, where the milk came from in that amazing block of feta cheese. I love to just wander past the stalls, imagining these vegetables and fruits in the soil only a few days before, trying to visualize where they grew and what they will taste like. I find myself inadvertently reflecting on the wonder of shopping locally and being more of an active part of the garden-to-table process. At the farmer's market and in my kitchen, I feel my healthiest, strong in body and soul, proud of where my money goes and excited about the new swag I bring home. Shopping at the farmer's market is the best therapy I know. Today, the therapy resulted in bags of summer squash, swiss chard, bell peppers, red leaf lettuce, corn on the cob, eggplant, and feta cheese. And Mom scored some fantastic apple cider donuts- breakfast in the morning!

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I've been feeding my food/cooking craze with Barbara Kingsolver's Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, an inspirational read that serves as part gardening guide, part expose, part farming memoir; and some awesome cookbooks: Local Flavors by Deborah Madison; Make-Ahead Meals Made Healthy by Michele Borboa; and of course, my go-to cookbook Bible, The Homemade Pantry by Alana Chernila. New books I'm excited about: Michael Pollan's Second Nature: A Gardener's Education, Slow Food Nation by Carlo Petrini, and Real Food by Nina Planck. I have three weeks off from school and I have big plans. Making cheese (or at least ordering the ingredients.) Trying new vegetables (I'm looking at you, eggplant). Blanching fresh ears of corn. New types of bread. Oh yes. It is going to be a great month in my kitchen.

What do you love best about the farmer's market? Is there a particular food that gets you going? Do you have any recipes (or your favorite cookbooks) to share? I love more inspiration! :)

Saturday, August 3, 2013


Currently Reading: Louisa May Alcott: An Intimate Anthology and Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver

It's been a summer of....

Women writers. Louisa May Alcott, Barbara Kingsolver, Virginia Woolf, Edith Wharton, Jane Austen, Anais Nin. Reading about them, learning about them. Gleaning a little inspiration.

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Mrs. Dalloway has been my favorite so far. I read part of it while traveling on a train, which may have lent some extra charm to the experience. The book  left me breathless, exhausted and full. When I remember it, I still feel dizzy with pleasure.

Travel writers and travel plans.
Exactly three more weeks.

Cooking with the fresh stuff.

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The colors slay me.

Sister time and family time.

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I think this is one of the most beautiful pictures of Jenn I've ever seen or taken. It is all of her elegance, her calm, her depth- just in one picture. (P.S. She's not sleeping. She had no idea I took this.)

Home with Hobbes.

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Someone got a harness and now loves to explore our balcony.

Visiting Nate at the museum. 

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Animal loving.

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Homework and tea.

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This morning, with a little Irish news radio thrown in. It helps me feel like I'm back in Sixmilebridge.


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Happy weekend!

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

The History Room: My Favorite Day

Currently Reading: Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf and The Unbearable Lightness of Being by Milan Kundera

She walks into the Local History Room as many of them do- timid, unsure. She is about my age, with long blond hair and a pretty smile. Her eyes are uncertain. She talks quickly, with a nervous energy that tells me her story long before her words do. She is here for a reason. They always are. The books, the obituaries, the newspapers all pause in anticipation, wondering if they have her story, if they will be what she needs.

Her mother had been adopted, she explains to me breathlessly. They had just learned the name of her real grandmother and that she had been a high school senior here. They are trying to find her, they've just started their search, and would we have her old high school yearbook? She pauses, still unsure, now a bit afraid. I smile, trying to convey some sort of reassurance in a single glance before answering in the affirmative and grabbing the key to the yearbook cabinet. I find the one she needs and show her to a seat. The History Room waits, breathless. Thanking me, she pulls out her digital camera and begins turning pages. I leave her, returning to my desk to afford her some privacy. Ten minutes later, a sob bubbles into the History Room, filling every corner with its pain and its relief, asking to be heard. I hear. I turn, to see her bending over the page, her blond, wispy hair falling across the photograph of the grandmother she's never known. I go to her, touching her lightly on the shoulder. She turns to me, her eyes pleading, holding out the yearbook, no longer unsure but still afraid. In a voice as innocent as a child's: "This is the first time I've seen my grandmother." These are not the first tears shed here, as pieces come together and stories are rediscovered. She is not the first to cry here and she will not be the last. Without words, I put my arms around her and we stand quietly, crying together, creating a moment of fragile strength, a bond linking the past to the present, the living to the dead.

Sunday, July 7, 2013


Currently Reading: Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf and The House at the End of Hope Street by Menna Van Praag

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Looking back over the books I've been reading lately, I start to sense a theme. Many are memoirs, many involve travel, and most lead me to more self-reflection and inspiration in my own life. After a bit of a hard winter, my perspective has shifted, brightened like the July sun, illuminating my life and my expectations by focusing not on what I want, but on who I want to be. Much of this has come from the books I have been reading, each one perfect for the inner growth spurt I feel I am having. Though very different, the books Have Mother, Will Travel by Clare and Mia Fontaine, and The House at the End of Hope Street by Menna Van Praag, speak similar words to me. In one, a mother and daughter travel the world, learning lessons about themselves in the places they end up. In another, three women find refuge from pain and hopelessness in a magical home that shelters and guides them. To me, both books depict a sense of refuge, of safety- whether finding oneself amid new vistas or in a safe, magical home, the protagonists learn to breathe, examine their lives and pick up the pieces. It left me realizing how important places of refuge are, both literally and figuratively, for it is often in the quiet and the apart where we finally hear ourselves, and can listen.

The idea of a sanctuary, of a safe place apart from life, has always beckoned me. I am drawn to the silent, to the peaceful. I meander through cemeteries, I sit in darkened churches, I crave the solitude of nature. In a way, books are also my sanctuary, cathedrals in my mind in which I can be alone but also be surrounded by myself and by the world. In Ireland, we spent almost every day exploring ancient monasteries, their ruins one with the ground and the trees and the water that envelops it. At each, a sense of rightness, of belonging, filled me. There, in the sacred and the quiet, where human creation becomes indistinguishably entwined with God's, I could hear myself more clearly than ever before. One day in particular stands out, alone with Nathan on a stretch of Inishmurray Island, the island of Molaise's monks. On a day bright with blue and scudding clouds, I stared out to the sea, listening to the waves and the wind, and thought of nothing but where I was. No worries, no plans, no thoughts beyond gratitude. My mind, for the first time, was truly mine, uncluttered and free. That island filled my bones and it sustains me still. Closing my eyes, it is still my place of refuge, for though I change, it never will.

I need those places of sanctuary, but I also need to learn to carve one out inside of myself. After reading these books, I recognize how much more I want to reflect on my perspectives, my attitudes, and my expectations, how imperative it is for me to listen to that desire for refuge and quiet. I don't have to travel to faraway lands to hear myself; I don't even have to leave my living room. Wherever I am, I want to spend more time seeking out the quiet and stillness, listening to myself and learning from the soft voice that can only be heard when the mind is stilled.

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Book Therapy: Carry On Warrior

Currently Reading: Without Reservations: The Travels of an Independent Woman by Alice Steinbach and The Omnivore's Dilemma by Michael Pollan

Never underestimate the power of book therapy. After writing this post last week, I spotted a book sitting on the new shelf at work that was on my list but not on my "in-the-near-future" list. On a whim, I grabbed it, thinking it might be just the thing to heal me and give me some answers. Don't tell me God doesn't find a way to put the perfect book in our hands, right when we need it. He's done it for me before and He did it again.

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I've been reading Glennon Melton's blog at Momastery.com for almost a year now. She is funny, witty, sharp, inspiring, and downright relatable. Her blog, unlike others I read, is not about sharing perfect pictures or adorably cute stories about her perfectly dressed kids. It's real and raw, a memoir of sorts, highlighting the beautiful and hilarious alongside the difficult and challenging. Her newly published book, Carry On Warrior, is all of that times twelve. She writes about herself, but in a way that makes you feel like she is writing about you. A former drug addict, alcoholic, and bulimic, Glennon found her healing in writing, in expressing the real and the honest, in being true to her own voice. Hers is a fresh voice, one I had heard in my own soul but not in many other places. But as I've found through the book and in connecting with readers through her blog, we all carry a similar but unique voice within ourselves.

Momastery and Carry On Warrior are like that, a place to go to understand that we are not alone, that we all struggle and mess up and have bad hair days. It's no judgment, it's acceptance, it's community. The words at the top of the blog's page says, "Momastery is where we practice living bigger, bolder, and truer on this earth. Where we remember what we already know: We can do hard things, Love wins, and We belong to each other." Holy amen. That is exactly how I want to live my life and my faith. Faith and living are not solitary endeavors. As both the book and the blog prove, when we accept others, when we share our problems and difficulties, connecting over the funny and the hard, when we all start admitting that we are not perfect, there is no more pressure. Because we realize we are all perfectly imperfect. We can concentrate on the real things in life, not the unimportant things. We can tell the truth about ourselves. We can open ourselves up to each other. We can be honest to the person we are. We don't have to pretend to be someone we're not. In a world where the pressure mounts daily to do everything just so, and to be a certain type of person, this book and Glennon's blog is a refreshing wake-up call. Life is about MORE. More than fitting into a mold or hiding who we are. Life is about finding our passions and being there for each other and teaching our kids about Love and finding the God inside ourselves and each other.

Some of my favorite essays in Carry On Warrior discuss faith and our responsibility toward others. Like me, Glennon holds some beliefs that would probably get us both thrown out of some Bible studies. We are hard-core Christians, and we define ourselves as such. But we also love gay people and believe they go to heaven too. We believe that all religions follow the true God, just in different ways. We believe following Jesus goes above and beyond following the Bible. Do you know how long I've wanted to write these beliefs but have been too scared to do so? I suppose I had good reason, since anytime I have ventured to voice my faith, I have been knocked down. By God-fearing family, no less. But guess what. I'm not hiding anymore. (Even if I'm a teensy bit nervous about posting everything I just wrote.) Reading Carry On Warrior, I realized I am not alone. And isn't that the biggest blessing of life, the biggest gift God can give us? He gave us each other. I loved Glennon's discussion of the meaning of Namaste, which Mother Teresa used to repeat to anyone she met. It means, "The divine spark in me recognizes and honors the divine spark in you." We all have God in us, baby. The God in us allows us to connect with the world, with the people around us, because God is in all of them too. In the last week alone, that sentence, that Namaste, has changed the way I react to people. In a good way, in the greatest way. I am still traveling down this faith-and-life journey of mine, but now I can see that I always will be. I will never have it "figured out." But that is something to embrace, not fix. I don't have a "life plan" but I do have a goal now, one that involves working on running into my life and not away from it. The feelings from last week aren't necessarily gone, but I feel less alone in those feelings than I did.

Carry On Warrior is rejuvenating. I want to stand on the highest peak I can find and shout out my heart, because this book reminded me that it is safe and wise and OK to do that. By sharing my heart and my thoughts with others, I could get burned. I could be judged. I have been before. But more likely, I will just find better, deeper connections with God and with other people. And that will be a glorious, holy thing.

If you decide to read it too, let me know. I'm dying to discuss this book.

Saturday, June 8, 2013

Writing What I Cannot Say

Currently Reading: In the Shadow of Blackbirds by Cat Winters and Mr. Penumbra's 24 Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan

*Full disclosure: I did not want to publish this. I wrote it as a cathartic outlet. But I am posting it because in order to be brave, sometimes we have to put ourselves out there. Which is not easy. I probably won't want to talk about it. I really didn't edit it or rewrite it. Stream of consciousness, from my mind to my fingers.*

I am a person in waiting. Waiting for my life to start, waiting for something to change. Waiting. I recognize this side of myself and I try to fight it. I breathe, deep and slow, centering myself in the "here", in the "now", willing myself to let go of the mind-images I carry with me of an undefined and unguaranteed future because it has become more than a hope or a dream, it has become baggage, weighing me down, dragging me back from my potential now, right this minute. I don't want to be the girl Incubus sings about, waking in the morning and realizing my life has passed me by. I hear the warning. Like Thoreau, "I did not wish to live what was not life, living is so dear; nor did I wish to practise resignation, unless it was quite necessary. I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life, to live so sturdily and Spartan-like as to put to rout all that was not life.....” So how can I get from here to there?

For me, this perspective is a relatively new development, one that has only manifested in the past year, after difficulties and disappointments have made it hard to focus on the silver linings. I started noticing it when I found myself becoming reticent to talk about myself to others. Friends, acquaintances, family coworkers ask me how I am, whether out of politeness or real interest, and I find myself not wanting to talk about how I am. I don't tell my stories, I don't share my thoughts. I tell other people's stories- I talk about what a friend is up to, what my sister has planned for the summer, the weddings and events coming up in the lives of those around me. I discuss the books I read, because they allow me to express my deeper thoughts without talking about myself. But I don't talk about me. I don't want to live in my life, I don't want to talk about it, because, I reason, there's nothing to talk about. I work. I go to school. I wait. I read to escape it all, because I need other stories besides my own. I listen like a fiend to those around me, mostly because I'm a good listener, always have been, but also because I find myself desperately clinging to their stories, to their lives, because it feeds something within me that my own life does not. Now I find that I don't write about myself either. My journal lies untouched, my blogs and essays focus on my books. I delete myself from the equation, if I can. My life feels like it is nothing but the wait. And I don't want it to be so. I want to be myself again, to live uninhibited, satisfied to be in the moment, like I used to. I'm trying to figure out how to get to that point, but something is hindering me. I am hindering me.

Today, I'm using this space to say it all. Which is terrifying, because I am a bit unfamiliar lately with sharing my deep stuff with those around me. I'm better at hiding it, not exposing it, or focusing on the fluff instead of the meat of my life. But I am trying to fix this, and maybe this is the way to do it. To write what I cannot say. To be honest, to be a truth-teller. It feels so good to let it spill out, to pull it up and dump it out. I know and I feel that it's time to wake up, to be brave, to change my perspective. I want to be happy. I want the little things in life to be enough. I want to live big, even when my world is small. The biggest challenge is figuring out how to do it. On that, I am stuck, searching for a way but not really finding anything that works. But I'm trying. I have that.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

The End of May

Currently Reading: The Red-Haired Girl from the Bog by Patricia Monaghan and The Obituary Writer by Ann Hood

A quick pop-in! Three things:

I encourage you to check out my new essay published on the Literary Ladies Guide website, discussing nature in Anne of Green Gables. Here's the link: http://www.literaryladiesguide.com/literary-musings/beyond-beauty-the-natural-world-in-anne-of-green-gables/#more-1690
I'm just starting to get into this "writing-outside-my-blog" thing and I would really love to hear some feedback, so feel free to comment!
Last week, I finished Life After Life by Kate Atkinson, which is probably the best novel I have read so far this year. It was mindblowing. And very difficult to describe, so I won't even attempt it. I can give you a glimpse, however, of the thoughts it raised in my mind as I read: how fragile and powerful are the trajectories of our lives; the pull and tug between free will and choice as the book dipped and flung itself into both; the ponderous, unanswerable questions of life and death and outcomes and consequences and the implications of our lives on the world, on each other, on history. How little things might lead to broader implications. How new decisions might still yield the same result. How little control we have over our destinies. How much control we have over our destinies. Life After Life was exquisite.
Also finished The Selected Letters of Louisa May Alcott. (Can you tell I'm on break from school?) The letters, like the journals, were such a pleasure because I felt fully immersed in LMA's world, her voice, her perspective. I actually enjoyed the Letters more because they were more conversational and detailed- often, I felt like Louisa was just talking to me, describing her thoughts and her doings. Like Louisa, the words were fresh and vibrant, as if they were written yesterday. I feel a deeper connection to Louisa the more I read of her, and these Letters strengthened that connection intensely. In fact, having read collections of both her Letters and Journals, I feel like I know her intimately, as a friend, as a kindred spirit. She is more real to me now than ever before.
So, a good May overall. June stretches before us, ripe with the promise of farmer's markets, museum visits, long walks, and a weekend vacation with friends up North. Books in the queue: In the Shadow of Blackbirds, some Ralph Waldo Emerson, Shadowfell, and Mrs. Dalloway. School starts again in two weeks, but I'm not focusing on that yet. My focus is on the good ahead.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Journaling Ireland

Currently Reading: The Selected Letters of Louisa May Alcott, The Red-Haired Girl from the Bog by Patricia Monaghan, and Life After Life by Kate Atkinson

I kept an "Ireland journal" on our trip, spending an extra hour or so before bed writing down my thoughts and impressions of the day, preserving the memories before they got stale. Although some nights I was almost too exhausted to stay awake, I knew how essential it was to put our journeys into words. Besides my photographs, the journal is my most beloved souvenir. Some excerpts, for your enjoyment....

May 18th
".....Our next stop was Corcomroe Abbey, a Cistercian monastery from the 12th century. It was so remote and peaceful, gray stone against a green hillside. It was haunting in its loneliness but with a quiet, strong dignity, as if it knew it was no longer what it was, but it held on to the pride of what it had been."

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May 20th
"What an amazing day. We walked through a sixth century monastic site, looked in tide pools, tasted the salt spray of the ocean on our lips, found seagull eggs, and sat on the cliff rocks, listening to the wind and waves, surrounded by nothing but nature and stone remnants of the island's holy past. I can't even begin to describe the magic of Inishmurray..."

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May 21st
"On the way home [from our trip to the Aran Islands], Nathan treated me by stopping at a public beach along [Galway] Bay. It was entirely empty, but for us, and with  my pant legs rolled up, I got to splash in Galway Bay. The sun came out, piercing the water with light and creating a scene of such beauty- sun and water, cloud and sky, mingling together to create something perfect."

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May 24th
"I am not a city person. I have never been comfortable in bustling crowds, surrounded by a crush of people and traffic. Yet with that said, I have to admit that I love Dublin....I love the streets, winding and narrow, flanked by buildings that have stood here for hundreds of years. There are no ugly skyscrapers blocking the sky, no subway thundering overhead. There is room to breathe, beautiful statues and buildings, not to mention Merrion Park & St. Stephen's Green. The city breathes the history of Joyce, Wilde, Yeats; it stands still at the GPO...Walking through Temple Bar or Grafton Street, on cobblestones leading me past street musicians and shoppers, or people sitting outside enjoying the surroundings, I felt surprisingly comfortable."

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May 27th
[In the Dingle Peninsula]...."Sand in my toes and fresh air in my lungs, laughing with Nathan as the Shannon River guides us home and the essence of Ireland, everything we've come to know and love- signs written in Irish, bright green farmfields, stone walls covered in ivy, baby lambs and cows in every pasture, brightly colored cottages, B&B signs- flashes past our windows. That is the epitome of a wonderful day."

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May 28th
[After visiting Coole Park]..."The biggest gift Coole Park gave me today was an acceptance of having to leave and return to reality. It is as if, having seen so much loveliness these past few weeks, I am now full, with enough inside of my soul to sustain me for years to come. It gave me inspiration, to go back and accomplish something of my own. But most of all, it acted as a farewell, acknowledging my new place here and returning all the love I have for this country with some love of its own."

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Friday, May 10, 2013

My Literary Irish Fix

Currently Reading: Life After Life by Kate Atkinson, The Selected Letters of Louisa May Alcott, and The Red-Haired Girl from the Bog by Patricia Monaghan

Now that it's May, I'm getting even more homesick than normal for Ireland and nostalgic about our trip last year. So bear with me, because there will probably be a couple of Ireland-themed posts here for a while.


When thinking the other day about our trip, I started thinking about the books I had read to prepare for it. In an attempt to patch the cracks in the foundation of Irish history and imagery in my head, I voraciously delved into new reads and quick rereading in the weeks and months before we left. For so many years, reading was the only way I could travel there. A series of fantasy novels and one beautiful poem were the catalysts that began my fascination with Irish mythology, which led me first to Irish history books, from there to more novels and poetry, continuing on to a senior thesis where I waded knee-deep in the great Irish poets, which culminated on a May day as we boarded a plane to find the land for ourselves. It's been almost a year since we went, and with the warm weather and greenness blossoming around us, I find myself caught between the luxury of having such powerful memories to mentally relive, and the deep desire that Ireland was in my immediate future rather than my immediate past. I can only gaze on my pictures, remembering exactly what the air smells like near the sea or the exquisitely unexplainable feeling of waking up in a new place, ready to greet another Irish morning. For now, these books are my favorite ways to return.

The Sevenwaters Trilogy by Juliet Marillier
        I don't read as much fantasy as I used to in high school, but I remember exactly how formative and world-shifting it can be. I've studied enough by now to know that much in Juliet Marillier's Sevenwaters Trilogy- comprised of The Daughter of the Forest, The Son of the Shadows, and The Child of the Prophecy- is historically inaccurate. But in these books, none of that matters. The series is magic floating from the page, a world that I love to escape to, as I sink back into familiar territory with faces that are real in all of their flaws and all of their goodness. I first came to Ireland in this series, encountering "Tir na nOg", the "Tuatha de Danaan", the Celtic festivals of Bealtine and Lughnasa. It was a new world I had stumbled into and I don't think I have ever really left.

Frank Delaney
          I am a big fan of all of Frank Delaney's books set in Ireland, especially when I listen to him read the stories on an audiobook, a seanchai (storyteller) reborn for the 21st century. I wrote about one of Delaney's books last spring in this post, so I won't repeat myself here. My favorites of his are Shannon and Ireland; the latter I brought with me last year, rereading snatches of it in front of our peat fire (I have yet to find a cozier experience). Delaney opens a side of Ireland that is both refreshingly new yet so familiar. I remember driving past the Shannon River, my feet on the dashboard, grinning with glee as we drove through towns I'd only ever heard of in his books, the real and the literary worlds colliding.

How the Irish Saved Civilization by Thomas Cahill and The Flowering of Ireland by Katharine Scherman
        I've read many Irish history books since my passion for Ireland began. I am mostly interested in pre-Christian and early medieval Ireland, so most of my books reflect that taste. While there are many that I love to come back to, these two are my favorites. Cahill's work is the perfect introduction to this time period, a history book for the masses that reads like a novel and sucks the reader in. I reread The Flowering of Ireland right before our trip last year. In doing so, I was reintroduced to Inishmurray Island; little did we know that would be the best part of our entire trip. In dry terms, the book is an in-depth study of the coming of Christianity to Ireland, and the early medieval Irish culture. But none of it feels stale. It's fresh and true, captivating and downright interesting, as it brings to life not only the ancient historic record, but also the physical remnants that still remain.

Galway Bay by Mary Pat Kelly
        Sometimes you stumble upon great books. Sometimes they're recommended by others. And sometimes great books seem to follow you around until finally, finally you pick them up. This book kept popping up in my life- on the bookstore shelves, on the shelving cart at work- until I realized this book really wanted me to read it. So I did. And I don't know why I waited. The novel is based on the author's great-grandmother's life- her family's struggles through the Great Famine in the 1840s, their subsequent immigration to America, and the new challenges they faced in Chicago as strangers in a new world. It is several things at once- the portrait of a family, a powerful image of the horrors of the Famine, and an in-depth look at the growth and development of the city of Chicago, particularly its link to the thousands of immigrants who ended up there. It's raw and it's gut-wrenching, but it's beautiful on many levels.

The Dublin Saga by Edward Rutherford
        Actually a series of two, entitled The Princes of Ireland and The Rebels of Ireland, the Dublin Saga is a fantastic way to learn about Irish history, from pre-Christian times to Irish independence in the 1920s, while still reading a novel. A completely engrossing novel at that. Rutherford's writing and the individual characters make the history in the book accessible and real, a history of the people, rather than the rulers. Isn't that the way it was and has always been- history lived through the lives of average people? The book tracks several families through the generations, set against the backdrop of historical events like the Battle of the Boyne or Easter Sunday 1916. It also charts the founding and development of one of Ireland's most wonderful cities, Dublin, which helped shade in the details and color my view of Dublin as I walked its streets.

William Butler Yeats' poetry.  
        The Song of Wandering Aengus will always be my first love. I first discovered Yeats' poetry in high school, and continued studying him in college, writing a final thesis on him and the other Literary Revival writers, thinking and breathing his poetry and plays for an entire year. I have more favorites now, poems that stop me in my tracks with their power and majesty. Yeats too became part of our trip last year. In Sligo, we visited Yeats' grave, looking out onto Ben Bulben, which really is as magnificent as they say. We were lucky enough to look at many of his original manuscripts and books at an exhibit in the National Library in Dublin; bending over the protected pages, tears streamed down my face at the privilege I had been granted.

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My experience in Ireland was heightened because of his words, the way he introduced me to his country. I was more ready to understand and to embrace it, because of him. As we stood on the coast of Inishmurray, looking out on the sea, I recited The Lake Isle of Innisfree to myself. And for the first and only time, there was no more longing.
I'm back in Ireland again, not in a physical sense, but between the covers of a book. I just started The Red-Haired Girl from the Bog by Patricia Monaghan, a memoir. I am less than a chapter into it, but it is already apparent that if I had written a book about our trip, and my relationship and passion for Ireland, Red-Haired Girl would be its twin sister. One of my favorite quotes so far is this: "I know Ireland not as a single place but as a mosaic of places, each one steeped in history and myth, song and poetry."

I have only been to Ireland once, but already I know it is one of those places that never quite leaves you, a lovely song that haunts you for the rest of your days.

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Friday, May 3, 2013


Currently Reading: The Selected Letters of Louisa May Alcott, The Guynd by Belinda Rathbone, and Life After Life by Kate Atkinson

May is here! Blessedly, my semester is winding down and I am feeling the first breaths of freedom mingling with the scent of spring. My shoulders already feel lighter and I am ready for several weeks of catching up on projects (including some new recipes I'm aching to try) and taking time for reading, walks in the evenings, and ice cream stops with Nate.

Some happenings from the past two weeks:

My seedlings have sprouted! (No picture this time, but I'll get one soon.) The sight of those first little green shoots, poking out of the soil after only several days, gave me such a feeling of awe. Biology aside, there is something entirely magical about the Earth, her resilience and fecundity, the amazing results that come from the harmony of sun, soil, and water. I have always needed to be close to the Earth, shedding my shoes so my bare toes can sink into the grass, pressing my back against trees as I read underneath them, watching the ever-changing sky. Growing up in the country, and part-time on a dairy farm for some years, I was in constant contact with the world around me. I have memorized scents and sounds that I carry with me, that are part of me like the marrow in my bones. So much of my experiences were prompted and encouraged by my parents and my grandparents. My sister and I were raised to be part of the outdoor world, to appreciate it and to care for it. I yearn for the day when we have our own acres to roam on, so that my children can experience many of the same things I did: the taste of carrots pulled from the ground, dirt still clinging to them; the sight of clothes flapping on the line; watching deer at the pond; rescuing crows and baby ducks; making forts and fairy places amidst the trees; letting the magic of nature influence their creativity and ideas. If I hope to pass anything on to my children, it will be our strong connection to the land, and our responsibility to take care of it, emphasizing the magnitude and privilege of that responsibility.
Nathan has a new part-time job at a living history museum for the summer, which is good news for him and for our pocketbook! He's learning all sorts of amazing historical skills, including fence building and blacksmithing; last week, during training, he got to hold a baby lamb. I couldn't be more envious. He really is an amazing teacher and that translates well into museum work. He knows how to talk to tour groups, how to pass on historical information in ways that are accessible to all age groups. I'm proud of how he has accepted the difficulties and disappointments of not finding a teaching job, and how he strives to find ways to use his talents and follow his passion. His career plans have not followed the path he once imagined, but he does not let that discourage him. He throws himself into the work he does, passionate about all of it, regardless of what it is. He is dedicated, with a strong work ethic, willing to do whatever needs to be done, and I ardently admire that. Sometimes he feels that he doesn't do enough for us, that he could do more. But I think he's Superman.
I met Dr. Jane Goodall last week.

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I'm leaning over awkwardly, barely breathing. She looks stunning, as always.

In a conversation with the woman sitting next to me at the conference, I mentioned that Dr. Goodall was one of my role models growing up. The lady then asked if I had gone into science; when I said no, she laughed and said Dr. Goodall couldn't have been that much of a role model for me. That comment left me speechless for a second. As a young girl, I didn't see her as just a scientist; I saw her as a woman who stuck to her guns, pursued her passion, and made something of herself. Deep down, I think I recognized that I could be like her. Maybe not literally, with chimps in Africa (though at the time, I thought that was the coolest job in the world) but that I too could accomplish anything if I believed in myself. (Cliche? Maybe so, but also a deeply important concept for my young self.) Instead of boy band posters, my walls were papered with posters of animals and Dr. Goodall. She was an inspiration to me, someone I wanted to be when I grew up. I remember thinking we even looked the same, pleased at the semi-similarities- blond, ponytail, plain shorts and T-shirts. No makeup, no fancy hairdo. In my awkward tween years, I appreciated that. Even at 11, I recognized that she had accomplished amazing things by her intelligence and determination alone. I was in awe of her. And in fact, you don't have to be a scientist to appreciate Dr. Goodall, to be inspired by her. I think it makes absolute sense that she can be a role model for any young girl, because of what she accomplished, because of her drive, because she didn't let her gender define her in the field. I still find her awe-inspiring. I cried when she took the stage, as I stood up with the crowd to hoot and cheer. Right before this picture was taken, I looked her in the eye and told her it was nice to meet her. "It's nice to meet you too," she replied. And that was that. I may not be a scientist, but I know she made a difference in my life.
Tomorrow is my Mom's birthday. As I've gotten older, I've come to appreciate my mom more and more, appreciative of not only everything she has done for my sister and I, but also appreciative of who she is as a person. We share so many similiarities and we've gotten closer as friends. I love calling her up after a day at work to chat and laugh. Like all of my parents, she has been one of the guiding forces of my life, encouraging us, supporting us, teaching us. Happy Birthday to a wonderful mother! I'm so blessed to have you in my life.

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Reading at Oma's house. I love old pictures.
Book talks. Books are best when we share and discuss them with others. Thankfully, I work in a library, so I get to talk books constantly. Just this morning, I talked Antigone, Oedipus, Silas Marner, Toni Morrison, and Ethan Frome with my coworkers. The other day, I received a book loan in the mail from my aunt, a memoir set in Scotland, which just goes to show how well my aunt knows my reading tastes. And last night I had a great discussion with one of my best friends on a book we both recently read, Among Others. Just a ten-minute conversation about God and free will and destiny, but it was so refreshing, a reinforcement of our connection and our friendship in one quick book discussion. Sharing books is so much more than just recommending. It strengthens and reinforces our relationships with each other in a way that is hard to emulate in other aspects. Life doesn't offer us many opportunities to bare our souls and reveal what is there beneath the surface. But by sharing books, we are given the chance to open a window that may otherwise remain closed, offering others the opportunity to see deeper within us.
And finally, my latest used book sale finds.

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Why yes, that is my eighteenth Jane Eyre.

There isn't much in this world that beats bringing home a stack of books that cost less than 10 bucks. We did well- Nathan got a stack too. The only downside is that we have started making piles of books on the floor, as our bookshelves can no longer support our terrible book-buying habits. Oh well. Sacrifices must be made. Who needs floor space anyway?

Have a great weekend, friends!

Friday, April 19, 2013

Climbing Mountains

After a week like this, how can one not be left feeling heavy? Heavy with the weight of sorrow and fear, heavy with the knowledge that we can try to solve it by duking it out in the political arena, but evil never hides and people can always find it and use it. Maybe we are never fully safe from each other, a thought that makes me weep. Because we need people. We need each other so desperately.

There are a million reasons to lose our faith in humanity. Look around. Boston might be the biggest indicator right now but every crime committed, every judgmental comment slung about, every voice raised in anger at another, can turn into a cacophony, reverberating through us all, trying to drown out everything else.


Although the world is full of suffering, it is full also of the overcoming of it. ~Helen Keller

I found this quote tonight on Kelle Hampton's blog and it sunk into my soul, dripping into the sadness and the hurt and filling the holes. Because the truth of that one statement can be stronger than the cacophonous evil. Evil doesn't win. But that truth lies in our perspective, in the way we see the world. We could focus only on the first part, on the real-and-never-changing truth that the suffering will always be a part of our reality. And we could leave it there, losing hope. Losing faith. Never taking a step to rectify it. That's one way to see the world.

But it's not the only way. The perspective can shift, the angle can tilt. We can choose what we see, what we zoom in on, how we respond. Perspective and action. A better world might actually hinge on those two powerful things. This week, I attended an Earth Day conference with Dr. Jane Goodall as keynote speaker. Her message that night (the afternoon of the bombing in Boston, though I was not aware of it at the time) was that even though there are so many problems in our world- people hungry, forests decimated, species endangered- the story isn't over. The die has not been cast. She outlined the reasons why she still has hope, why she has not given up. Three things: human intellect, the resiliency of Nature, and the indomitable human spirit. The indomitable human spirit. Indomitable. As in: cannot be dominated. Too strong to be destroyed.

As humans, we are capable of building mountains of hate and judgment and anger... and sometimes those mountains can seem to blot out the view. But we are also capable of love and forgiveness and empathy. We have the power to seek the beautiful amid the brutal, climbing those mountains, dominating them with our indomitable spirits. Let compassion guide our eyes and our hands and our spirits, and there is nothing we cannot do.

Prayers to Boston tonight. Let's go climb some mountains.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Thoughts on a Journal

Currently Reading: The Journals of Louisa May Alcott and Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail by Cheryl Strayed

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It's a privilege, really, to read someone else's private words. A privilege that, quite frankly, gives me a sense of unease and guilt as I read, knowing as I do that she really didn't want her journals to be read after she was gone. Several times these past weeks, I have found myself whispering a quiet apology as I open the covers and slip back in. But I feel I have given her journals the reverence they deserve, and so my guilt does not linger long.

She's witty. She's ironic. She's sharp. Those deep brown eyes don't miss a thing and she records what she observes and feels with a clarity, honesty, and insightfulness, even at a young age, that is truly remarkable. She writes about her world and her life with passion and earnestness, but with a dry wit, and with sarcasm or irony tinging her words. She can make me laugh out loud. She can make me reread a sentence again and again to wring every nuanced meaning from it.

Reading her journals is inspiring and exhilarating. But mostly, I just find myself enjoying her company. Her happy moments, her despondent days, her commitment to her family, her plans and goals, her tireless work ethic- I have gotten to know them all. And I have gotten to know her in a new way, in the raw, real words of her life. I witness the change in her voice as she grows older and her experiences shape her; I hear the world-weariness that never quite goes away, her attempts to resign herself to her duties and her life. I love her younger years the best, because I identify so fully with her there. As she gets older, her journals become descriptions of daily life, her family and her work, less about herself and her feelings. Her opinions are still there, still sharp- but she seems to write her journals less as a means of introspection and more as a narrative of her days.

I understand now the rhythms of her life; I see now that she had to write mostly to provide for her family. I find myself wondering what books she would have written if she had the time and the quiet she desperately wanted, if she could have written for herself, without the pressure of writing for necessity.

There is great beauty in her writing, even though it's a journal and not meant for a reader's eyes, which just shows that she was naturally talented, her writing just an extension of how she thought and spoke.

I haven't finished yet. I don't really want to. 

I was thinking of going on to one of her novels next, but I cannot pull myself away from her world, so I will be moving on to her collection of letters. Through the letters, I expect I will be seeing her life from a new perspective, a different angle, providing me with what I desire most: a multi-faceted understanding of her life. 

Saturday, April 6, 2013

My First Piece

Currently Reading: The Journals of Louisa May Alcott and Through a Window: My Thirty Years with the Chimpanzees of Gombe by Jane Goodall

My piece on Little Women was printed at The Literary Ladies' Guide website several days ago, so I thought I would share the link with anyone who may be interested. I would be honored if you would take a peek:

I know it may seem like a little thing, but it is the first time my writing has been printed outside of this blog for others to read, and I am excited to share my writing with broader audiences. I don't intend to pursue a career as a writer, but it is something that sustains and fulfills me, and I at least want to see where it leads me. This experience has only served to inspire me further and given me confidence in my writing, which I am grateful for.

As for my reading, I am slowly savoring Louisa May's journals, taking a quiet, solitary stroll through them at a leisurely pace, so that I can be fully present in her world, aware of the sights and sounds and emotions of Louisa's life. Yet I have also been spending time in the forests of Tanzania, listening to Dr. Goodall ardently describe the chimpanzees she has studied and grown to love, illustrating their behaviors and social structures and temperaments. In nine days, Jane Goodall will be at an Earth Day conference I am attending, and reading this book is both rekindling the childhood hero-worship I had for Dr. Goodall and also stoking my excitement for the 15th.

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I used to have a poster of this photo hanging on my bedroom wall. It's still one of my favorites.

That's all, friends! Have a great weekend!

Monday, April 1, 2013

Bits and Pieces

Currently Reading: The Journals of Louisa May Alcott

Bits and pieces of the last two weeks:

Spring break came and went, which allowed me to find time to read and finish my third Classics Club book, Early Irish Myths and Sagas by Jeffrey Gantz and my fourth Alice Hoffman, The Third Angel. Myths and Sagas took me almost two months, despite its small size. I have read much of the early Irish literature before, and each time it is hard to get through. Not because it's boring or uninteresting, but because each story is thick with detail and description. It is tempting to skim these tales, letting my eyes flick over the lines of names and places that are mostly unpronounceable. But when I take time to notice and study them, the words and names become so beautiful. I practice sounding them out, checking with the Irish pronunciation guide at the front of the book and smiling with pride when I remember some of the more difficult ones from previous readings. The tales also expand and broaden under my eyes when I savor them slowly. Descriptions of Cu Chulaind's shield or the house Bricriu builds can be tedious, but I try to read them for the history they portray, as much as for the storylines. "The Exile of the Sons of Uisliu" is still my favorite, closely followed by "The Dream of Oengus." (Both tales were the basis of some great Irish Literary Revival works too; long ago, the discovery of Yeats' poem "The Song of Wandering Aengus" began my fascination with all things Irish.) Ever since we returned from Ireland last year, I find that in each Irish book I read, I can picture what I read so much clearer. I know what the Hill of Tara looks like; I can see the deep woods and the crashing ocean foam in my mind as the words take me back to a place I fell in love with, that lives in me still.

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As for The Third Angel? Alice Hoffman continues to amaze me. I don't know how much more needs to be said.
Easter weekend, filled with family and prayers and gratitude to God. Good Friday was everything it should be: solemn, tear-filled, hushed, holy. With each light that is extinguished in the sanctuary, I am shocked anew by the raw and the sacred of the night. I left exhausted, utterly spent by the sheer emotion of marking a sacrifice.
But this is what our church looked like Sunday morning. (Courtesy of Pastor Robert). I would say that a balloon-filled sanctuary is the epitome of Easter celebration and joy.

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I swept through Wanderlust by Elisabeth Eaves in only a few days, satisfying the traveling itch that has engulfed me with the first whispers of spring. At first I worried that, far from putting calamine lotion on the itch, it would only irritate it, making me long to leave and fly to new adventures. But the memoir was brutally honest, portraying the good and the bad of ceaseless travel in equal measures. Through the book, I relived the feelings I experienced in Ireland last May: the exhilarating, terrifying feeling of being a stranger among strangers; the awe of gazing upon beauty I could only have dreamed of; the self-consciousness that accompanies being dropped into a new culture; and the fulfillment of desires for adventure, culture, and knowledge. But Wanderlust did not shy away from the reality that constant movement is not always the answer; downfalls exist for those who can never find happiness in settling, who must always be moving in order to feel alive. And I was truly grateful, after reading it, that I am satisfied with the realities of schedules and routine, and that I don't have to be somewhere else to be fulfilled personally and creatively. The travel itch is still there but that calamine lotion felt good.
Seed planting. With great trepidation, I might add. Spinach and two types of tomatoes. Since I've never started plants from seeds before, I'm nervous that I will inadvertently do something wrong; seeds and seedlings seem so fragile and every gardening website tells you something different to do. I feel so confident in the kitchen (most of the time) but I have no confidence in my gardening ability yet. But I'm glad I've tried- we'll see what becomes of it. Hobbes enjoyed himself that morning, watching over the plants and basking in the sunshine with them.

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Wait until his cat grass starts to grow. He'll be ecstatic.
Finally, some exciting news (for me) that I'm hesitant to share yet but will anyway because when something keeps you up all night with excitement, it's good to share it. I will be contributing a post from this blog on The Ladies' Literary Guide website; they contacted me yesterday about printing it on their site. (By the way, this website, which I was already familiar with, is truly fascinating for anyone interested in classic female writers. Definitely check it out.) Only in the past several months have I thought about spreading my writing beyond the borders of this blog, but it has still only been a thought in the back of my head until now. (Louisa May Alcott may have been an inspiration). I don't know what will come of it, but the excitement is there nevertheless, as well as further inspiration and desire to focus on my writing.

Happy Monday!

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