Friday, May 29, 2015

Book Review: Peace Like A River

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Have you ever read a book and the only way you can think to describe it is in terms of food? You
digest every word and hold the characters long in your mouth to sense their flavorings. The sentences drip with the juice of the craft and you want to savor every bit of voice to the last page. And when you close the book and get up, you're still hungry for more and just a little sad that you only have one stomach.

That was Leif Enger's Peace Like A River for me. Delicious and savory and complicated in all the right ways. It didn't hurt that I read it ocean-side in Puerto Rico, but even if I'd have been working a toll booth at the 11th hour, this book would have heightened my senses and stirred the muse awake. It inspired me to write, and cracked open my brain just enough to suspend disbelief.

It's a Western--not the cowboy, shoot-'em-up kind, but the making-it-in-a-small-midwest-town kind. And it whips family and independence and faith and crisis and the supernatural into peaks of triumph and valleys of sorrow without leaving you overly hopeful or overly hopeless--quite a feat for the postmodern novelist. The protagonist is a 12-year-old boy named Reuben Land, whose name alone serves as an appetizer.  And the voice of the book about left me speechless with its unexpected descriptions, conversational tone, and unassuming depth. Here's an example from page three (page THREE!):

Let me say something about that word: miracle. For too long it's been used to characterize things or events that, though pleasant, are entirely normal. Peeping chicks at Easter time, spring generally, a clear sunrise after an overcast week--a miracle, people say, as if they've been educated from greeting cards. I'm sorry, but nope. Such things are worth our notice every day of the week, but to call them miracles evaporates the strength of the word.

Real miracles bother people, like strange sudden pains unknown in medical literature. It's true: They rebut every rule all we good citizens take comfort in. Lazarus obeying orders and climbing up out of the grave--now there's a miracle, and you can bet it upset a lot of folks who were standing around at the time. When a person dies, the earth is generally unwilling to cough him back up. 

...No miracle happens without a witness. Someone to declare, Here's what I saw. Here's how it went. Make of it what you will.

Just lovely. And that's just the beginning! It's the most perfect novel I've read in a while, and one that I want to own so I can underline the heck out of those delicious sentences.

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Three Things Thursday

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Thing one: We have a fish (for real, y'all).
Remember last week, how we were fish-sitting while a friend was out of town and how my kids loved that fish like it was a new baby? Well. That friend sent me a text this week that said: "I thought it'd be fun to get your kids a fish. What do you think? Is that okay?" And my mind went to their little high-pitched voices saying, "Hi, Dory!" and "Squeakers, do you like your new home?" And to their chubby smooth arms wrapping around the tank and their puckered lips pressed to the glass and I mean how could I POSSIBLY say no? So, we have a fish. For real this time. Its name is Squeakers or Dory, whichever you prefer, and I've kept it alive for three days. The day we got him, Moo said, "This is the best day of the year!!!" Heartstrings, y'all. Mine have been yanked.

Thing two: That time I felt old.
Phil and I went to a wedding this weekend, and had the honor of being at the rehearsal dinner too. And for the first time, I found myself identifying more with the parents of the bride and groom than the bride and groom themselves. Woah. I looked around at all the 20-somethings giving their heartfelt-but-cliche speeches and then I heard the parents talk and all I could think about was what I would say when I had a lifetime of memories and joys and sorrows and had to boil them all down to five minutes or less. And I have to say, while I loved my wedding day, I love having that same man by side 9.5 years later even more.

Thing three: easy Summer Frittata (from Parents Magazine)
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This recipe is fast, cheap, easy, and yummy! It's also flexible, so I've made it without peppers, or with different cheeses (or more cheese!) and it's just as good!

8 eggs
1/4 tsp. salt
2 tsp. olive oil
10 oz. frozen chopped spinach, thawed and squeezed dry
1 cup jarred roasted red peppers, drained and chopped
3 Tbs. grated parmesan
2 Tbs. goat cheese, crumbled

Preheat oven to 375 F. In a medium bowl, whisk eggs with 1/2 tsp. salt. In a large oven-safe nonstick skillet, heat 2 tsp. oil over medium heat. Add eggs and cook until edges are set, about 4 minutes. Top with spinach, peppers, Parmesan cheese, and goat cheese. Bake until eggs are cooked through and the cheese has melted, about 10 minutes. Slice into 8 wedges and serve immediately.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Three Things Thursday

Thing first: we have a fish.
Well, sort of. We're fish-sitting for three weeks for a friend who's on a trip and my kids talk to that thing in high-pitched voices like it's the most adorable creature ever made. It came with a name, but Moo quickly changed it to "Squeakers," which makes complete sense for an animal that makes no sound. He also hugs the tank and says, "Do you like your new home? I think you miss your mama. It's okay. She's coming back in a little while. We'll take good care of you." Fish therapy. Noodle climbs up on a chair and says, "Hi, Dory!" like she's talking to a baby. So the fish has two names. Three, really, if you count the one the owner gave it. And apparently we're going to be pet-owners one day because I can only say no to their cuteness for so long. I'm weakening, but not breaking yet.

Thing next: VBS 
I said yes again. I wasn't going to, but then I read this post from last year where I told myself that I wouldn't want to do it and that I needed to do it anyway, so I said yes. I'm in the "remind-me-never-to-do-this-again" phase, but it'll all be worth it. I think. No, I know. It's been a lot of extra stress prep this year (hence, the blogging break), but I love teaching about Jesus, and know those four mornings really, really matter. Not because I'm such a great preschool storyteller, but because the story I get to tell is best there ever was or is or will be.

Thing last: Mother's Day gift
For over a month I turned over what to give my mom and mother-in-law for Mother's Day. I'm not the world's best gift-giver, but I was determined this year to think ahead and give them something personal and thoughtful and not a gift card. The week before Mother's Day arrived and I had nothing. Well, that's not true. I had a lot of stupid ideas ranging from the cliche bouquet of flowers to the weird  bluetooth tracking device that connects from your phone to your keys but nothing felt right or enough. Finally, I came across THE ANSWER. In her book Bird by Bird, Anne Lamott dedicates a whole chapter to writing a present. I read it and thought: that's it. For Mother's Day, I need to give these women the best of me; I need to give them a piece of writing that's just for them. Why hadn't I thought of that before? So, I crafted two beautiful (I think) pieces for two of my favorite ladies on the planet (another reason I've been absent here). It about killed me, but fueled me all at the same time, gave me such joy to give. Maybe they'll let me share what I wrote, but really the words were just for them, a gift no one else could give and no one else could receive in quite the same way.

Sunday, May 3, 2015

Parachute man, drop me a line!

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You know those parachuting army men that you send flying into the sky on the Fourth of July? The pea green ones with the parachute that's a cross between a Walmart bag and the poncho your mom keeps in the side door of the van? The ones that are sometimes duds, but when they actually ignite and open and glide down, you run all over your dead end street searching for them in your neighbor's steeple-tall pine trees, narrowing your eyes in the twilight? And when you do see them hanging there, looking a little sad and droopy after such a heroic fall, you grab sticks and climb onto your dad's shoulders and yell things at your brothers like, "That's mine! I can TELL!" so they don't knock it out of the tree before you do. You think about what it would take to scale the trunk of a pine tree, flexing your decade-old muscles a bit to see if you're up to it, measuring just how much sap would be worth the victory of nabbing the parachute man first.

And when he's in your hands at last, there's a little letdown because he suddenly seems so small and his parachute (if it's in one piece) just sort of drags behind him like a pet rock. Why do we only think about parachuters with their chutes open?

But then your dad gives you that look, the one you know can only mean a good thing's about to happen. And he takes your men and runs inside to the second story and opens the window and you look up--chicks with beaks open--and there are your men swaying down to you, their chutes open. And the world is as it should be--hopeful and expectant and exciting. For the next three seconds, at least.

I still need parachuting men in my life. Not the actual hot-model ones (although that wouldn't be too bad either). I need the figurative parachuters, those people who've been above the trees long enough to have the lay of the land. I'm down here on the ground trying to explain to my son why it's not okay to pee on my shoe and finding creative ways to work vegetables into meals and having dance parties to Disney songs and a lot of days I feel like I'm desperately looking into the sky for a parachuter, someone to bring me a word of perspective, and someone to tell me I'm heading in the right direction.

I recently read a quote by E. L. Doctorow (I have no idea who he is, but Anne Lamott quoted him, so he must be okay. And a quick Google search reassures me that he's a well-known historical fiction writer. And he has a killer last name, so he's completely reliable). Anyway, my new friend E. L. said, "Writing a novel is like driving a car at night. You can see only as far as your headlights but you can make the whole trip that way." Sounds like good life advice to me. Especially if you're a mom of young kids. Because most days all you can see is what's right in front of you: the skinned knee, the timeout, the laughter around the table, the bath time silliness, the made up songs, the pee on the shoe. It's all so close up that you have no sense of whether or not you're actually heading in the right direction (whatever that is). Which is why I'm learning I need to have people in my life who are on the other side of young motherhood and I need to listen to them.

I was at the grocery store the other day with my kids, who actually love grocery shopping. As we were checking out, a woman behind me said, "You're in such wonderful season." I knew what she meant; I'd heard it before. "Thanks. I think so too," I said with a smile, but I was thinking: Yes, I know, they grow up so fast and I'll miss all the fingerprints on my mirrors. I'm supposed to take this all in. But it's really hard to do that, lady. Even when I think I'm taking it all in, time still seems so slippery. 

She continued and I braced myself for the sentimental "My kids are all grown now" chat, and while she did go there, she also gave me some words from the great beyond that while I knew were true, were hard to believe in the I-have-my-kids-at-the-grocery-store-at-4:00-on-a-Friday moment I was in. She said, "My kids are teenagers now, and I remember when grandmothers used to come up to me when they were little and give me advice, but now I have advice of my own: Raise your children in the Lord, and raise them in the church, and when they're teenagers and they don't want to listen to you, they'll have people in their lives who they will want to hear from."

It wasn't like a revelation to me or anything, but it was a timely reminder from the sky that what I'm doing with these kids each day is about a bigger story than the one I can see and sense all the time. It was a reminder that there's a whole forest here made of these trees I'm among, and that while I can't see the whole, I can keep walking the parts, trusting that the parts are what make the trip so wonderful.