Monday, March 5, 2012

Practical Spirituality: Lewis and L'Engle

OK, I've read a bunch of loooong dry books lately and needed some tried-and-trues, preferably under 300 pages. So I reread some of my very favorite books on, well, not spirituality exactly, but on applied spirituality. They're how-to guides with practical tips of living a good, a morally good, life, and the rewards of that kind of life.

One of my all-time favorite books (top five? top seven, certainly) is C. S. Lewis' The Great Divorce. It informs a lot of my beliefs about redemption. The last chapter gives me chills every time. Plus I think it's a great story: the damned who are sick of hanging around hell take a field trip to heaven. Cool, right? (Does anyone say "cool" anymore? No? Just me?) The damned get to stay in heaven if they want, but they mostly don't, because they've got some appetite or habit or need that has twined so tightly around them that the original building, the soul underneath the habit, has been entirely taken over. There's just not much of the person left to actually want salvation.

What I especially love/am terrified by is that many of these choking habits don't seem all that dangerous in the beginning. But what starts out as cynicism or self-sufficiency or pride in one's work or even possessive maternal life can, if not pruned and tended, suffocate the soul. OK I've carried this evil ivy imagery too far. Anyway. If you like Screwtape Letters, try Great Divorce - I think it's even better.

My other spiritual re-read was Madeleine L'Engle's Circle of Quiet. Here's my goodreads review:
 A Circle of Quiet (Crosswicks Journals, Book 1)A Circle of Quiet by Madeleine L'Engle

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is a personal collection of reflections and journaling from Madeleine L'Engle, who, it turns out, is quite an interesting person. She's one of those authors I wish I'd grown up next door to so we could be lifetime friends. This book, the first of four "Crosswicks Journals," is starting feel its age -- forty years and some -- but there's so much that still grabs me. L'Engle talks about parenting, and Christianity, and punctuation, and small town New England, and she covers this range with earnestness, humor, and compassion.

I've read and reread this book since childhood, and this time through I realized how much it's influenced me. In it I was introduced to many of my favorite authors - Dorothy Sayers, George MacDonald, Josephine Tey. And my life motto comes from this book: a friend of L'Engle's, Hugh Bishop, said, "Love is not an emotion. It is a policy."

This book is ultimately about both: it's about the practical policy choices that lead to the heart of love. If you're a fan of Anne Morrow Lindbergh's Gift From the Sea, or Annie Dillard's Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, you might pick this one up and see what you think. And then let me know.

View all my reviews

Thursday, March 1, 2012

what was I thinking?

There is no way I can read 200 books in a year. What was I thinking. I feel like I've done nothing but read for the last month (as my laundry pile proves) and yet Goodreads tells me I am 22 books (11%) behind my goal.

That is a lot of percents. Maybe I will start reading shorter books. Do backs of cereal boxes count?

The best book I've read so far has been The Submission, by Amy Waldman. It's great. It checks all my literary boxes: American perceptions of Islam, post 9-11 politicking, inscrutable characters you want to thwomp because they just don't GET it, and cairns. Which is my new favorite word.

Here's the cliffnotes of my review over on Goodreads, in case you, too, like cairns:

The SubmissionThe Submission by Amy Waldman

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

"The Submission" is about all kinds of submissions. The first is a design submission for a 9-11 memorial, the winning submission, which turns out to have been submitted by a Muslim. The second submission is the place of Islam -- which in Arabic literally means "submission" -- in America, and the related debate that the winning memorial designer inadvertently launches. The third submission is how characters submit or not to this debate and its repercussions. This cast of characters ranges across the political and religious spectrums, from grieving 9-11 family members, to politicians on the make, to ambitious reporters, to a Bangladeshi widow living illegally in New York with her own secret. Dum dum DUMMM!

I wish I could give this book 4.5 stars. I can tell it's a linger-er that will stay with me. Both the characters and the ideas will, I think, take up permanent space in my brain. But the plot was a bit slow-moving, and I wonder if to someone with different political beliefs would think it unfairly caricaturing. (I'd love to know!) From my perspective, even the distasteful characters had really wonderful depth and richly-painted motives.

It's not a cheerful book. But it is an excellent book, well-written, intelligent, and evocative. Forget The Scarlet Letter - this is what kids should be reading in high school.

View all my reviews

Thursday, February 23, 2012

200 Books or Bust

This year I'm going to read 200 books. This is my new Project. 2011's Project was to gestate, bear, and maintain in general health a baby. 2010's Project was to write a novel about dystopian, demon-invaded New England. But for 2012 I want to read 200 books. I plan to do this while also keeping my house more or less running and my one-year-old more or less tended. Luckily I have long years of book-related multi-tasking experience from which to draw.

Things I Have Done While Reading a Book
  • practiced the piano
  • shaved my legs
  • Pinterest
  • talked on the phone (but not with you, I swear)
  • folded laundry
  • cooked bolognese sauce
  • eaten bolognese sauce
  • applied mascara
  • pushed a baby-filled stroller
  • jumped on a trampoline
  • pushed a stroller on a trampoline
  • no, I made that last one up
  • scrubbed a bathtub
  • camped with Bedouin in the Syrian desert 
  • vacuumed
The Kindle makes much of my multi-tasking simpler. I pity Younger Me and her unwieldy tree-corpse books. (Pro tip: a tube of toothpaste is ideal for keeping a book open while hands are occupied. It's small enough to leave most of the page readable, and smooshy enough to allow customized weight distribution across the pages. This has helped me through many a blow-dry.) But how did so many parents survive infant-rearing before e-readers? They must've had freakishly strong one-handed grips. Or else their sleeping/breast-feeding/fussy babes would've been constantly peppered with falling paperbacks. This only happened once or twice to my startled baby, and if I hadn't been Kindling, his adorable little nose might no longer be so adorable.

But I think outfitted with both Kindle and low standards of housekeeping, I miiiight be able to make it through 200 books this year. At any event I'm going to try. I'll recap the books I read here, on my poor neglected blog. Come join the party.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

so Courtney Love and a polar bear walk into a bar. . .

Just a few days left till Manchild's arrival. I have left the nesting phase and entered hibernation.  (This pleases Peter a great deal; in the fluffy white bathrobe that I wear at least several hours a day now, he thinks I look like a polar bear. I think it is very, very brave of him to say this out loud, and only the fact that my top land speed these days can charitably be described as "slothlike" has made it possible for him to say it more than once.)

OK, I kind of see his point. Throw in a Roku remote and a bigger belly and that guy in front is pretty much me.

My brain is also in hibernation. It just took me twenty minutes, five google searches, and three manuals to remember where the heck to load the paper in our printer.  (Answer: paper tray. In the front of the printer. Labeled in letters 3 feet tall. Where it's always been.)

And this morning I did a Really Bad Thing that my brain was too slow to stop. I looked in the mirror; my bangs were too long; I picked up some scissors and everything went wahoonie-shaped. When I regained awareness fifteen minutes later the bathroom was ankle deep in hair. And I looked like this. Minus the chemically-enhanced (?) smile.

It's not that I don't know the rules. I KNOW that the old "just tidying them up" routine only works between sober hours of noon and 6pm. And I know that in between snips you must carefully lay down the scissors, examine your reflection critically, and make a measured judgment before resuming. But this morning my hibernating brain left my arm all alone, and my gleefully unsupervised arm kept chopping. And the best part is how the resulting mess is going to be documented For All Eternity in next week's obligatory hospital pictures.

Oh well. Having missed out on the chance to have our very own Awkward Pregnancy Photo, the least we can do is Awkward Hospital Photo.

Friday, January 21, 2011

pouf the magic dragon

Two weeks (ok, and a bit) to go before Manchild appears. And I still have to learn how to install a carseat.

My nesting urges and my swollen feet are vying for preeminence.  Like when I start scrubbing baseboards with a toothbrush, only to find I can't bend my ankles enough to get up again. But then I am in a perfect spot to crawl around on the floor and pick up lint by hand. Which, it turns out, is very rewarding. It doesn't solve the getting up problem, though.

A nesting urge that DOES work well with swollen feet is online shopping. It's hard (for my conscience) to argue with "it's for the BABY." Less hard for Peter to argue with that, somehow. My conscience is a bit of a pushover.

I decided the other day the VERY THING I needed to make the perfect nursery for Manchild so he grows up with the exact right amount of love/challenge/fun was a Moroccan pouf. Seriously. It's for the BABY.

The problem is Moroccan poufs are trendy and therefore pricey. But I found the excellent store From Morocco With Love, AND a 50% coupon (not sure when it expires, but try HOLIDAY30). And as a result, I now have a super cheery red leather pouf.

For, you know, the baby.
 Embossed Leather Pouf

From Morocco With Love is also awesome because it's a nonprofit and funds projects in Morocco. So my purchase was for the baby AND the good of humanity. Conscience happy, baby soon-to-be-happy -- everyone wins.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

one more baby blanket

Ok I found the baby blanket to end all baby blankets. (Warning: the following image might cause your ovaries to explode. View at your own risk.)


Double-sided knit monkey goodness! And check out those simian faces -- some are winking, or sleeping, or puckering up. The mind boggles.

Now I'm going to go google cute baby animals until I run out of Kleenex. Seriously, I think my tear ducts are connected directly to my burgeoning uterus. You should've seen me trying to watch the fabulous documentary Babies last night. I think I may have had Peter a tad bit concerned.

Me: "Look, the Mongolian baby's crawling!" *sob* "Look, the American baby has the hiccups!" *sob* "The Namibian baby is blowing kisses, she's too precious, I can't stand it!" *extended sobbing and whimpering about how BEAUTIFUL and PURE babies are and maybe something about how they smell like angels and unicorns*

Peter: *turns on light, finds me floating in a puddle of tears* "Um, maybe we should watch something a little less intense."

I may or may not have hit him. But he may or may not have deserved it.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

baby quilt roundup

For Christmas I finished my first quilt EVAH. Yes I am a stud.

(Have I told you that a church leader made me promise as a teenager never to touch a sewing machine again? I think she was afraid I would maim myself or others. But I SHOWED HER, huh.)

I may be getting a bit too cocky, but having now become Accomplished Maker of Quilts, I feel like I ought to be able to whip a baby quilt together before Manchild makes his appearance. In 4 1/2 weeks. Am I nuts?

The next step is picking a pattern. I'm drawn to this super darling modern chain quilt (you can buy the pattern here).

The Modern Chain Quilt Pattern Tutorial,  PDF

Here's another awesome one that I would have to figure out how to recreate myself, not being authorized to pay this lovely store $320 to make it for me. Which would probably involve things like math and and measurements and manful attempts to not swear.

Equilateral Triangles Crib Quilt

Then there's this baby blanket that's knit in a brainless garter stitch. But look at those colors! The evil geniuses at purlsoho have put together all kinds of yarn kits for this blanket with all kinds of breathtaking colorways.

YUM. Is it time for another project?

Monday, January 10, 2011

it just won't die

Yay -- blog resurrection! I feel a little like Seriously So Blessed, who is always apologizing for not posting in forEVer.  (As she wonders, chillingly, "if I don't blog it, does it even really happen?")

So I have been an epically bad blogger.  But I figure with a bouncing baby boy due in just under 5 weeks, it's time to reestablish an online presence.  Because I'm pretty sure we're going to have the adorablest, best-behaved, most darling baby of all time, and everyone will want to see millions of pictures and read about horrifying diaper disasters and so on.  Amirite?

What have I been doing besides blogging? A little bit of traveling (let's see: Syria, California, London, Barcelona, Utah), a little bit of teaching, millions of projects (I even finished a couple dozen), writing a novel and a half, gestating in general. Oh and thinking up lots of Things I'll Never Do When I Have Kids. They're pretty much like this list from the ever-hysterical Pregnant Chicken.

As a present to you for actually reading this far, let me gift you this lovely image of a sweaty man crammed into a mouse costume selling balloons outside the Umayyad Mosque in Damascus. I'm not sure if he's an homage to the martyred Hamas Mickey Mouse look-a-like, or just some random woodland creature, but trust me he was super creepy in person.  When I Have Kids I solemnly swear I will never let them near sinister possibly terrorist mice.

That's one promise I think I can keep.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

a drop of golden sun

My middle name is Rae, like a drop of golden sun.  And this necklace makes the insane winter we've been having seem sunnier.

The price tag would make my house a little chillier, though.

These vintage $7 earrings make me happy too.
A Burst of Inspiration Earrings

Here's a great print: babushkas AND sunshine.  Try not to smile!
Sunny Russian Doll Babushka 7x5 Print

But my favorite all time sun painting is this one, with Akhenaten.  (Speaking of: did you see the awesome Egyptology news?)  I love the sun's hands, and how its feeding ankhs -- little vitamin D packets -- to Akhenaten and Nefertiti. 

Man, I need me some sunshine.  Who's up for a cruise?

Monday, February 15, 2010

from The Novelist


It turns out February's been rough on my blog. I started a crazy challenge to write a novel -- 50,000 words -- in 30 days. My brother and two sisters are in on the madness too.  I've just passed 23,000 words: 15 days and 27,000 words to go.  I've always wanted to write a novel and even though this one is, well, craptastic, I'm thrilled to finally be getting something down.  (Plus, once it's done I plan to start referring to myself in third person as "The Novelist."  As in, "The Novelist requires breakfast in bed" and "The Novelist is too busy writing A Novel to do laundry this week.")

Although it's taken a toll on my blogging.  Sorry about that.  Words are pretty much leaking out my ears by the end of the day and they won't seem to stay on the computer screen.

I sure am thinking about books, though.

These book cover postcards are fantastic.

I covet this anthropologie book wallpaper.  I'd love to have it line the walls and ceiling of a reading nook.  I'd love to have a reading nook.  And while we're at it, how about a pony?

Here's a lovely book box to hide treasures in.
And, for reading, a new favorite:

Thursday, February 11, 2010

presidents day

Nowhere within a 50 mile radius is celebrating presidents day this year, in a desperate attempt to lower the number of days school will be going in june -- but we can still celebrate!

to wear:
this clever founding fathers wig necklace.
Silver Patriotic Powder Wig Silhouette Necklace

to read:
Mornings on Horseback: The Story of an Extraordinary Family, a Vanished Way of Life and the Unique Child Who Became Theodore Roosevelt by David McCullough.  I haven't read this yet, but I might have to get it.  Most of what I know about Theodore Roosevelt comes, shamefully, from Arsenic and Old Lace.  

to listen to:
1776 soundtrack.

to watch:
this chilling documentary on North Korea.  Who's grateful for good leaders?

Wednesday, February 10, 2010


Actually I love a good snow storm, but this has been insanity.  And we've been hit again, after we spent 7 hours over the weekend digging ourselves and neighbors out.  My back's still recovering.

Still, we have internet, we have electricity, and we have a kindle.  So we're doing just fine.

Some other good news I wanted to share: Nahla passed her test!  She is now an American citizen and can start working on getting her husband and son out of Nigerian refugee camps and into jobs and school.  Thanks so much for all your positive thoughts and prayers.  She worked so hard for this, and it is going to make her life so much better.

Have you seen this weatherman freaking out about last weekend's storm?   He was right on.  It really was that crazy.  And that was before today's blizzard of insanity.  10 inches and counting.  We still have whiteout conditions -- and they're talking about another storm on Sunday.

At least I'm getting a lot of knitting done.

Monday, February 1, 2010

stay warm!

We've had snow snow snow -- which makes me want to buy things.  I think it's some spin on hibernation.  Must make the den as cozy as possible.

Anyway, here are my picks to brighten a winter's day. 

To wear: divine leather hex goodness, $350. (A girl can dream!)

To cuddle: yummy Pottery Barn Kantha throw from used saris.  (Not being sold yet -- watch for it this spring.)
Alternate View

To flaunt: comfy heels, $98.

To enchant: lovely suit in stunning color, $115.

Thursday, January 28, 2010


So I teach ESL to homeless adults.  My students are mostly women just leaving abusive husbands and learning to do everything for the first time -- drive, work, go to school.  Only one of my students is happily married.   Except her husband and 10 year old son are stuck in a refugee camp in Nigeria, and she's only seen her son 4 times.

We'll call her Nahla.  Nahla's from Somalia and, until my class, had never set foot in a classroom.  Although her spoken English is pretty good, she'd never learned to read -- not in English, not in Somali.  She's incredible, one of those Glinda the Good people who travel in their own pink happiness bubble.   The one thing that's holding Nahla back is being separated from her family.  She's tried and tried to get them over here, but they can never get a visa.  Even worse, because her husband's a refugee, he isn't allowed to work, and her son isn't allowed to go to school.    A few years ago there was a refugee round up and her husband and son were jailed.  She had to muster together several thousand dollars to get them released.  Her 10 year old son was JAILED in Nigeria.  The mind boggles.

But that was when the economy was good and she had a job; now she worries they'll be jailed again and she won't be able to get them out.  Which is why she's so desperate to pass the citizenship test and become an American.  That way she can bring them over.  Her son could actually go to school for the first time.  Nahla had been eligible to take the test for a few years, but had always been too frightened because the English is really hard. (Seriously: what is a non-native speaker supposed to do with the question "which of the following is not one of the constitutional requirements to be eligible to become president?"  The questions are insanely difficult, even for someone who speaks English and knows American history.  Quick: "what INS form is used to apply to become a naturalized citizen?")

Nahla recently decided that she could start to study for the test.  The test is so hard, I was doubtful she'd be able to make any headway, and for several weeks, she didn't.  But then all of a sudden something clicked and she could remember questions and memorize answers for literally the first time in her life.  She attributes it to God; she fasted all daylight hours in December in preparation for this test.

She takes the test tomorrow.  If you have spare prayers/ meditations/ positive thoughts, could send them her way?

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

rope jewelry

Jewelry's on my mind.  I'm tardy to the rope party, but found these great pieces I wanted to share anyway. 

For $230, Sabrina Dehoff has this divine 4- strand rope:

Here's a great necklace from Munted Kowhai (though I would probably change the necklace's name).  I bought earrings from this store and love them.  The necklace is only $35.
Image of Peen Fok

Greedy Girl, a must-read blog, had a post today about wonderful The Vamoose.  This knotty nautical bauble is $29.
the sailor's knot necklace

I couldn't pull off this necklace ($65), but I know some of you who could:
Image of Convertible B.I.G. Braid

These bracelets smell like sunshine! And they're only $4 a pop.
Image of Medium Sailor Knot Rope Bracelet with Satin Stripe

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

valentine jewelry

We covered Valentine's Day cards; now for jewelry!  As Mae West said, "I have always felt a gift diamond shines so much better than one you buy for yourself."

 Geek love.

Loving Naomi Murrell's cheery necklace -- I'm on a big wood pendant kick.
Image of Love Necklace ~ Rock Maple Wood & Sterling Silver

Hourglasses are crazy romantic; is it the  "gather ye rosebuds while ye may" subtext?
The golden hourglass. Old world 2010 collection.

So charming, my favorite color combo, and people! That's velvet frigging ribbon!
Comet Necklace

Understated and adorable.   If I had a brother who had a girlfriend, I would nag nag nag him to buy her this.  (Good thing you're off the hook, brothers mine.)
little rose ring

Because hearts are fantastic.  And girls love sparklies. 
 fool's heart, gold

Tooth-achingly sweet
little love note

Monday, January 25, 2010

letterpress valentine cards

Letterpress cards make my heart beat faster.  Here's a roundup of my Valentine faves.

So you love a geologist?  Mazel tov.  Get this card from egg press.

Scallops, diving bird, pepto-bismol pink, cute murderous infant -- that's amore!
Letterpressed Love Note - Fallen 

Because nothing says "you light up my life" better than a Mexican wrestler.  Or two.

 I adore Zeichen Press, and also this "strange and wonderful" card.  (Also adore the word "trilobite." If that is in fact a trilobite.  Not sure.  Still: trilobite.  Trilobite trilobite trilobite.)
Image of You're strange and wonderful.

Simple and gorgeous. Possibly gorgeous enough to work as a "what the what? Was yesterday February 14th AGAIN?" card.
 I Love You Roses Card

When you know exactly what you want for Valentine's.
Valentines Day - Besame Mucho - 4bar Letterpressed Card and Envelope

For the Pandora aficionado: juxebox love.

Hate Valentines Day?  Or suffer from low blood sugar? Either way, here you go.
Passion Haiku - GingerDead Goth / Alt Greeting Cards w/ Envelopes (5 PACK)  - Valentine / Anti-Valentine / Love

Thursday, January 21, 2010

favorite recent blogs

Since I've been, um, embarrassingly incommunicado for a while, I have billions of links and movies and books to share.

Top Three Recent Fantastic Blog Discoveries

I only found this blog a few weeks ago, but already it's becoming a highlight of my daily Google Reader ritual.  It combines impeccably curated finds and a lovely, restful layout: be still, my heart! 

 Along with the eponymous store, this is a treasure trove of boho sensibility.  The store carries hand-blocked sheets for the little folk, but a line of grown-up goodies is rolling out soon.  And in the meantime, the blog is a great source of eye candy.  Like this wonderful Australian store, Fenton & Fenton.  


Word of advice: run to the bathroom before you start reading this collection of real, live, whacked out passive aggressiveness.  As a veteran of, wait for it I figured this out one time, 67 roommates, and a former cubicle dweller, I can totally relate to these.

this is why your waitress is cranky by passiveaggressivenotes.

you can do it, frankie! just liiiiive!

House Of Frankenstein Revive

Well guess who's still alive.

Top Three Reasons I'm Back to Blogging

1.  The power
2.  The prestige
3. It makes me happy to write every day
   3a.  and by "every day" I mean . . . three times a week.
   3b.  cause that's reasonable, right? as a starting point?

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

home. sweeeet home!

Hubba hubba.

Oh, honey.

Please, please: be mine.

This gorgeous Moorish home (in Key West, whoudda thought it?) was built by a team of Moroccan artisans who camped out in Florida for a year.  (Hilariously, they got weekly check-up visits from the FBI.) 

I love love love it. The hand tiled floors, the incredible wood ceilings, the mashrabiya screens -- I swear we are meant for each other.

I figure all that stands between us is about $50 mil.  Well, that and my poor sweet husband, who is still coming to terms with our awesome new wallpaper.

Check out more photos and details at Architectural Digest.  (Seeing this house alone was worth our magazine subscription.  Which, come to think of it, we didn't pay for.  Thanks for the Christmas gift, Amberphivia!)