To hear the words of love

Where I live, we’re anticipating snow and an icepocalypse (thanks to eager weather forecasters who thrive on the drama of a scary forecast). Because of the amount of ice we may get, it’s likely we’ll lose power, not something that endears this winter to me any more than it already hasn’t.

But I thought you might like some book recommendations, in case you lose power and are cut off from TV and movies and the outside world in general. These three books are my first three library books in ages. Two of them made me wait months while they worked their way through the library hold list, and the other practically leapt off the shelf at me when I walked by. I’ll share them with you in the order that I read them. Continue reading

The new library card

When I was growing up, one of my favorite adventures was accompanying my parents to the library. There was a beautifully illustrated Cinderella (way superior to Disney’s version) that I checked out as much as possible and wish now I could find in a used bookstore somewhere.

I spent many happy hours reading at the library, and my parents always encouraged me to check out plenty of books. There’s still that one science fiction book from when I was in late elementary school or maybe already middle school, the one about the girl who finds out she’s actually a clone when she takes an unplanned detour that lands her face-to-face with one of her clones. I read it quite happily for 20 or 30 minutes and then set it back on the shelf, for some reason not checking it out. I regretted that decision because I wanted to find out what happened but had completely forgotten the name of the book. I searched the shelves for the book on many subsequent trips, never finding it again.

People flock in, nevertheless, in search of answers to those questions only librarians are considered to be able to answer, such as “Is this the laundry?” “How do you spell surreptitious?” and, on a regular basis, “Do you have a book I remember reading once? It had a red cover and it turned out they were twins.”
― Terry Pratchett, Going Postal

My dad was something of a hero at our local library. I had checked out a beautiful picture book on our state, and when the library thought I had lost it (despite my knowing and insisting I had returned it), my dad paid to replace the book. Months passed. The book turned up at the library, mis-shelved. The librarian called to apologize and asked if he wanted his money back. He told them they could consider it a donation. And so, he became a hero to them (which also helped get us out of a few overdue book fines). It’s wise to endear oneself to the local librarian.
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What to do during the shutdown

You may be wondering what to do with your time while we all wait for broken politics and broken politicians to reopen the National Parks. I have a few suggestions.

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National Parks are still closed eight days later, and though there’s access to some places, some of the closing measures seem punitive, designed to make citizens as mad as possible.

I simply don’t understand this quagmire, but instead of letting it make me despondent, I’ve searched for ways to be grateful and to fill my time with activities that soothe and heal and calm my soul.

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Nothing beats a stunning sunset at the close of the day. I could have missed this one had I been focused on watching the nightly news instead of sitting on the porch swing at the close of day.

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The federal government can’t shut down autumn. Get outside. Visit a state park (or even parts of National Parks that you can still get into. Or simply go for a walk in your neighborhood.

Fall is here, and it’s bringing its beauty with it. The government can’t mess up some things. So go outside and look for the change of seasons. Visit a pumpkin patch. Go leaf collecting. Fill up your bird feeders and see who’s still around looking for seeds.

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Good reads!

Even if the weather isn’t cooperating where you are for outdoor adventures, or autumn hasn’t yet made an appearance, there are still ways to tune out the shutdown. Read a good book!

I’ve been catching up on my unread book pile lately and thought I’d share some of them with you.

A friend and fellow writer posted an interview with Nadia Bolz-Weber on her Facebook page recently, and as soon as I listened to the interview, I was hooked. Bolz-Weber is the author of Pastrix: The Cranky, Beautiful Faith of a Sinner & Saint, a stunning memoir in which Bolz-Weber describes the damage done to her as a child growing up in an ultra-conservative church, her subsequent path through alcohol, drug abuse and recovery (not to mention a few tattoo parlors) and into a Grace-filled life as a Lutheran pastor. If you have read this book, I want to sit down and talk about it with you over coffee.

But this book isn’t for everyone. It may not be for you:

  • If you mind salty language (Bolz-Weber can make even sailors blush sometimes).
  • If you think church shouldn’t welcome certain groups of sinners (not you, of course, but the really bad sinners like drag queens, swindlers, alcoholics, government officials … ahem).
  • If you think God’s grace can only happen to certain people who then go on to live out perfect, conventional, acceptable lives.
  • If you think a female Lutheran tattooed “pastrix” (a pejorative for women pastors) has nothing to say that could change your heart about or for God and those whom God calls us to love (our neighbors, our enemies, ourselves).

Anyway, like I said, if you read the book, I’d love to discuss it with you.

Since I like to alternate between fiction and nonfiction these days – an easy way to cleanse my reading palate – the next book I picked up was Louise Penny’s The Brutal Telling, the fifth in her Inspector Gamache series. I don’t want to give too much away because it is a mystery and is the fifth in a series set in a small Canadian village with characters I’ve grown to love, but I will tell you this: The Brutal Telling is Penny’s best book yet. There are more in the series, and I’m woefully behind. So she may have better later books, but The Brutal Telling is haunting and magical and masterful. I love what Penny writes on her website about her own books: “If you take only one thing away from any of my books I’d like it to be this: Goodness exists.” This belief in goodness comes through in the way she writes, and the goodness in her complex characters shines through even the darkness inside them.

Next up on my list to read: Alberto Salazar’s 14 Minutes: A Running Legend’s Life and Death and Life. That’s not a typo. This world-class runner, now a coach to running greats such as Mo Farah, Galen Rupp, Dathan Ritzenheim and high school phenom Mary Cain, spent 14 minutes dead. No pulse dead. My husband has already read the book, and I’m looking forward to the inspiration it promises.

How about you? Are you finding good ways to distract yourself from the government shutdown? What about your favorite books that you’ve read lately? I’m always looking for recommendations to add to my to-be-read book stack.

Garden envy … er, inspiration

When my husband and I stroll by a certain neighbor’s yard, the one lined with Black-Eyed Susans at the front of her garden, he says quietly, “That looks really nice.” He’s right. The eight bushes shine their own light in the setting sun.

I walk through a meadow filled with Black-Eyed Susans and feel a need to capture a small part of that golden riot in my own yard.

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A field ablaze with Black-Eyed Susans

I want to plant as many Black-Eyed Susans as I can find, except that I’m not sure how they’ll do in our less sun-filled garden spots shaded by towering trees. I hate to waste the money, and even more, I hate to waste the plants if I can’t put them in a good place to grow.

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Perhaps this one bloom will bring many more.

So I’ve started with two pots full – just to try them out – knowing I can add more if these two thrive where I’ve put them.

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This one enjoys a sunny spot on the porch steps, but I must find a place in the ground for it.

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In the ground. Will the deer and chipmunks leave them alone?

They’re in the ground now, and time will decide how they fare.

While I wait for time and the flowers to decide their own fate, I read Sandra Cisneros’ sweet coming-of-age book The House on Mango Street and am moved by what the young narrator – a girl with my name in Spanish – says right there on page 33:

You can never have too much sky. You can fall asleep and wake up
drunk on sky, and sky can keep you safe when you are sad. Here
there is too much sadness and not enough sky. Butterflies are too
few and so are flowers and most things that are beautiful. Still, we
take what we can get and make the best of it.

I plant because I want butterflies too many to count and flowers too numerous to pick a favorite and a garden that captures beauty, so that no one walking by will say there is not enough of any of it.

But there’s this small part of me that wonders: is envy what drives me to fill the garden? Or is it inspiration?

Running for an imperishable wreath

When I was six years old, I held my mother’s hand while we gleefully smashed the tiny acorns that scattered the sidewalk in front of our church.

When Lopez Lomong was the same age, he was ripped from his mother’s tight grip, taken by soldiers from under the trees where his family and others from surrounding villages had been in prayer during a church service.

I was born in America. Lomong was born in southern Sudan (now South Sudan). To quote Robert Frost, “That has made all the difference.” It’s a difference I can’t begin to grasp.

Lomong is one of my Olympic heroes, representing the USA in two Olympics – in 2008 in Beijing where he also served as flag bearer in the opening ceremonies and again this past summer in London where he came in 10th in the 5,000 meter final. I feel blessed that I got to see him earn a spot on both the 2008 and 2012 teams, watching him race at the U.S. Olympic Track & Field Trials in Eugene, Ore.

Lomong runs a victory lap after winning a spot on the US Olympic team this past June in Eugene, Ore.

Lomong runs a victory lap after winning a spot on the US Olympic team this past June in Eugene, Ore.

Lomong’s story is nothing short of amazing: from being abducted by soldiers in war-torn Sudan to living in a refugee camp in Kenya for 10 years to a journey to the United States where he would become a citizen and live out his own version of the American dream while never forgetting the other boys and girls left behind in Sudan.

Lomong has shared his life – its struggles and triumphs – in a moving memoir published last year, called Running for My Life. Never has a book title been so accurate. Running saved his life.

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Lomong’s remarkable memoir of his life so far

Lomong’s book was one of the Christmas presents I gave my husband, and I read it right after he did, knowing that I needed to keep the kleenex nearby. I was still unprepared for how the book would affect me emotionally. Continue reading