Planet RMFO Blog

November 22, 2014

Karibeth

on candletime.

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I didn’t really say much this year about candletime, the made up season where we light candles every night to fight the darkness of November. But we are still celebrating this year, despite the challenges of a kid who wants to blow out the candles and a cat (Mike read a bunch of stuff online about cats who set the house on fire so he was extra worried this year).

Next week we will start Advent and we will put up our tree. There is nothing like the warm glow of Christmas lights to fill the heart. But for now we sit in November and we light candles. For now, it is enough.

by Kari at November 22, 2014 03:41 AM

November 21, 2014

Karibeth

we ache in secret, memorizing.

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“November for Beginners” by Rita Dove

Snow would be the easy
way out—that softening
sky like a sigh of relief
at finally being allowed
to yield. No dice.
We stack twigs for burning
in glistening patches
but the rain won’t give.

So we wait, breeding
mood, making music
of decline. We sit down
in the smell of the past
and rise in a light
that is already leaving.
We ache in secret,
memorizing

a gloomy line
or two of German.
When spring comes
we promise to act
the fool. Pour,
rain! Sail, wind,
with your cargo of zithers!

by Kari at November 21, 2014 04:13 AM

Jeff H.

40

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When I turned 30 I had something of a existential crisis. I wasn’t cool anymore. I wasn’t young anymore. My glory days were behind me. Blah, blah, blah. Whatever. At 40, nobody has time for that kind of stuff.

I think I was prepared for life to change a lot when I turned 30, but I don’t know that I anticipated how much it would keep changing. I also don’t think I realized how isolated I would feel when all my friends moved away and parenthood and jobs prevented any of us from meeting up anyways. I wish I had a mentor for my 30’s. I had mentors in college and after college, but I’m not sure anyone warned me how hard the 30’s would be.

Football has finally wrapped up and our weeks are starting to relax a little. We were starting to buckle a little under the grind of practices and early mornings, but now that’s in the rear-view mirror and we can start looking forward to the holidays. Our kids are normally fun, but they are a special kind of fun at Christmas.

Today, a tow truck came and took away my Acura Integra. I donated it, and I don’t say this to make you think I am some great philanthropist, I did it for the tax write-off. I was a little sad to see it go, but it hasn’t operated well for almost a year now, so it was time to go. It is however, a tangible reminder that my 30’s are over. I bought the car when I was 25, but it has been my ride all through the 30’s, taking me to a Cornerstone Festival, all over the Southeast, and back and forth to work when I used to commute. I hope someone takes the car and gives it some love (and maybe a loud muffler, neon lights, and a big spoiler.) Just like other parts of my life, everything is changing again.

by jholland at November 21, 2014 02:44 AM

November 20, 2014

Karibeth

yallfest 2014.

I went to YALLfest a few weeks ago with some library friends. If you didn’t click that link I will tell you that YALLfest is a young adult literature festival in Charleston, SC. I had never been before but a friend was organizing a trip and it seemed like too much fun to pass up.

I got to see so many authors I love (seriously, look at this list) and was inspired by their stories and their passion. I love young adult literature and it was fun to be around so many people who feel the same way, to watch the tweens and teens as well as the adults who were having just as much fun as I was.

Two things were particularly lovely to me that day. The first was a tribute to Walter Dean Myers by Varian Johnson, Ellen Hopkins, Nikki Grimes, Coe Booth, and Kwame Anderson. It was a huge honor to hear them talk about him and about their work. Nikki Grimes read a poem from one of the characters in Bronx Masquerade (but not actually from the book) and watching Kwame Alexander listen to it–he was amazed and excited–was a pure pleasure.

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The other big thing that happens at YALLfest is the smackdown, and I don’t know what happened in other years, but this year there were readings from childhood writings, games, some silliness regarding picture book authors trying to break into YA, and of course Libba Bray’s band Tiger Beat.

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My favorite moment of the event was something from the smackdown they called the “First Line Medley” where several authors read the first lines of favorite books. There was just something beautiful to me about the way a line would catch on in the room and the crowd would respond to it – the big ones, of course, like The Catcher in the Rye and The Perks of Being a Wallflower and Harry Potter and The Fault in Our Stars. But there were others I didn’t know (or couldn’t guess) and those were just as wonderful to hear, if only because it reminded me of what a good first line can be. If the ones I already know and love are like a worn welcome mat, the ones I was less familiar with felt like an open door inviting me to explore.

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(Ann Brashares is on the left! ANN BRASHARES. AND SHE WORE JEANS.)

It was a great gift to be in the company of so many readers. I came home with long lists of books and a renewed sense of the place of YA literature in our culture. I hope to go back next year, and you should come, too.

by Kari at November 20, 2014 02:39 AM

November 19, 2014

Karibeth

the prodigal daughter returns.

The first Sunday I went back to church, I felt tender and bruised, like I was not sure what I was doing. I felt tears about to spill over more than once. I still have a lot of questions about my place there, but I was ready to try.

I have never in my life dreamed of missing church on a regular basis, and then I did that, and then it turned into a whole lot of church I was missing. It was an empty space in my life, but it was nice to sit with that ache for a few months, to let myself feel the absence of the people and the rhythms of Sundays.

Atticus was so excited that we would all be going to church together, and asked about it several times. You are coming too, Mama? As we pulled into the church parking lot, he cheerfully called from the back seat, We’re home!

I’m not one to believe very much in signs but even I was like, Ok, I get it. We’re home.

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by Kari at November 19, 2014 02:12 AM

November 18, 2014

Karibeth

two books I finished.

I don’t have a whole reading roundup but I have finished two books and then I abandoned The Goldfinch after wasting a bunch of time on it so I thought I would go ahead and write these two up to get myself back in the reading groove.

Damaged Goods: New Perspectives on Christian Purity by Dianna E. Anderson (via NetGalley)

As someone who lived through the 90s True Love Waits purity culture, I agree with a lot of Anderson has to say in this book. There is a definite need to reframe the discussion around what it means to pursue purity in relationships – it is so much more than kissing dating goodbye or just saying no. I liked how Anderson challenged those ideas head on and offered tangible examples of how purity culture harmed many of us by sending damaging messages. However, I thought the book had a few key weaknesses that diminished my enjoyment of it overall. It’s positioned as an alternative to many others that are aimed at teenagers, and there were parts that did speak to teenagers, but other parts of it were speaking more to those of us in our 20s and 30s who experienced purity culture, and there were a few parts that I thought were speaking to those of us who work with teenagers. Because of that, it did not feel as cohesive as I would have liked. I also thought that her conclusions, which mirror many of my own conclusions, were not explained as well as they could have been. I wished she had done a little more work on the front end to bring the reader along with her, mostly because I feared that she hadn’t done quite enough to convince a skeptical reader (although maybe that wasn’t her target audience? That ties in with my earlier confusion about who the book might be for). Finally, I have to say that I had to raise an eyebrow at all of her stories about couples who waited and then had terrible sex. I understand the point she was making, but I felt like that was just as bad as the stories I heard growing up about girls who had sex and then got pregnant and died. Despite her constant refrain that waiting is an okay choice, too, I didn’t walk away feeling as if she really believed that. The book was strongest as it talked about rejecting shame, a strong message for all of us. In the end, I would recommend this to youth leaders who are interested in finding other ways to talk to their students about sex and who are thinking about what pitfalls to avoid.

Faith Shift: Finding Your Way Forward When Everything You Believe Is Coming Apart by Kathy Escobar (via Blogging for Books)

In contrast to the previous book, I think this one knows exactly who its audience is: people who are experiencing a crisis of faith and who need help figuring out the next step. Mike and I could have used a book like this a few years ago as we navigated many of the steps that Escobar talks about – breaking away from old ideas and trying to forge a new identity. I found the first part of the book a little bit dry as she talked about the stages of faith but the second half that focused on rebuilding was soothing and encouraging. Our faith should live and grow with us, and when it feels as if it is lost, it would be nice to have a guidebook like what Escobar has written here. Mike and I worked out many of these stages on our own or with the help of our community, but for those who aren’t so lucky, I recommend this book.

I received copies of these books from the publishers but my opinions are my own.

by Kari at November 18, 2014 02:52 AM

November 17, 2014

Karibeth

a poem for sunday.

This poem was read just before we took communion this morning, and this evening I told Atticus that this was my favorite part of the day. I love being able to take communion with him. He gets shy and serious, a little bit determined. This morning he was concerned: every time the pastor mentioned wine, Atticus whispered juice. He wanted us to know that he cannot drink wine and we had to reassure him that there is grape juice as well. (This is not a big theological statement on our part. Our church offers both and he tried the wine once and didn’t like it so we are sticking with juice for now.) He also asked about the people who didn’t come to the front. That made this poem so perfect, as it gave words to the things we want him to know about the Lord’s table and the welcome that we can find there. It is the place where I feel most welcome at church these days, the grace of bread and wine (or juice). I am always happy when we can share that as a family.

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“And the Table Will Be Wide” by Jan Richardson

And the table
will be wide.
And the welcome
will be wide.
And the arms
will open wide
to gather us in.
And our hearts
will open wide
to receive.

And we will come
as children who trust
there is enough.
And we will come
unhindered and free.
And our aching
will be met
with bread.
And our sorrow
will be met
with wine.

And we will open our hands
to the feast
without shame.
And we will turn
toward each other
without fear.
And we will give up
our appetite
for despair.
And we will taste
and know
of delight.

And we will become bread
for a hungering world.
And we will become drink
for those who thirst.
And the blessed
will become the blessing.
And everywhere
will be the feast.

Source for the poem.

by Kari at November 17, 2014 02:39 AM

Daniel - ElsewhereInDreams.com

Buddy Cop Film

There’s this way of saying things
And even a way of titling them
Just so they sound like line breaks
You know what’s going to happen
Like some buddy cop film where
The mismatched partners learn
That they work together because

And that’s not a bad thing really
Everyone likes to know what’s coming
Except sometimes where the surprise
Jumps out from behind the woodshed
So suddenly even the woodshed starts
Not from its swiftness so much
As the form in which it arrived:

I wasn’t expecting that to happen
Or I wasn’t expecting much at all
Instead I can’t stop thinking about
The way it worked and how I just can’t
Replicate it more than maybe once
And if you do it again and again
I’ll pay attention again and again

There aren’t many wonderful things
Left in the world it seems these days
Sighed an old man rocking on a porch
Who is me and who is not an old man
Because all he does is look there
At the same street all day long
You wouldn’t expect him to laugh
At least not much or very often

by ddeboer at November 17, 2014 01:22 AM

actuarial tables

i was born before
ubiquitous rectangular libraries

and after they unplugged the drains of london
so sulfur could drain into the sea

i can’t hoist the fog over my shoulders
like thick pea coat soup

but i know i could onceuponatime
that was then this is now

still
i walked down the coastline

not a beach as such
split the tangerines of my heels

ants with fumbling jaws in lines
came to lug bits away

was there sulfur in the seawater that burned so
perhaps

in any case i took something
left something

and no amount of searching will find it again
and deliver it back to me

and deliver me back to it
and in that sense

i am already a ratio
of life to death

on actuarial tables hidden like sharp bitter seeds
somewhere inside me

by ddeboer at November 17, 2014 01:10 AM

November 16, 2014

Karibeth

on swinging.

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“The Swing” by Robert Louis Stevenson

How do you like to go up in a swing,
Up in the air so blue?
Oh, I do think it the pleasantest thing
Ever a child can do!

Up in the air and over the wall,
Till I can see so wide,
Rivers and trees and cattle and all
Over the countryside—

Till I look down on the garden green,
Down on the roof so brown—
Up in the air I go flying again,
Up in the air and down!

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One of the quirks of my wild boy is that he has always preferred what he calls the “baby swings”. He will run and jump and climb most anywhere, but he has not wanted to get on a big swing. I find it baffling, but I was happy to go along with him until recently when I could not really lift him up into the baby swing anymore. I am too short and he was getting too heavy, plus his shoes were always getting caught and falling off when I tried to get him out.

I told him I thought he was just getting too big to go in the baby swings, and he took it well. My guess is that he knew it was time but just needed a reason to make the switch. He’s asked about it a few times and I reminded him that we are moving on now that he is almost four. He’s been fine but it does feel a little bit like the end of an era. The baby swings at our park are down the hill away from the rest of the playground equipment and it is weird to think that we are done going over there, even if it is time to move on.

Today I pushed him on the big swings and was delighted to swing so high. I recited a few lines from the poem above, just as my mom did for me. Despite the chill in the air, I felt his enjoyment and mine mingle together my and the common grace of the moment warmed me to my toes.

(The picture above was from Tuesday, which was considerably warmer. He took his shirt off and ran around after that picture was taken. He was kind of mad that I made him leave his shirt on today. And his coat. I’m so mean.)

by Kari at November 16, 2014 01:22 AM

November 15, 2014

Karibeth

on the doxology.

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At our church, we sing a non-gender-specific version of the doxology. This is my preference, and it is the one we have been singing with Atticus since he was very small.

However.

We tend to go to the early service at church, the one with less liturgy and more wiggle room for kids. Because of that, he hasn’t gotten a lot of doxology reinforcement there. At Grammy’s church, they sing the doxology the old-fashioned way. Predictably, Atticus has decided he likes Grammy’s version better than Mama and Daddy’s.

This is fine, of course. He has to find his own path to God and his does not have to look as gender non-specific as mine. As a boy, I doubt that he will experience those dynamics in the same ways that I do. I don’t make him sing it my way. Because he is three, though, he gets upset when I don’t sing it the way he does.

I have a deep desire to prove myself right that working with middle school students has helped to break me of. It is pointless to argue with middle school students, and I have learned to say, “Ok,” sometimes rather than disagreeing about something that is less important than my relationship with a kid. I try to save the disagreements for the big stuff.

This is why I stay silent when Atticus sings the doxology these days, or, if he insists, I sing it like they do at Grammy’s church. The language matters to me, but what matters even more is that Atticus takes in the message, that he knows the God we are singing about. I find that I do not wish to argue about the doxology, no matter how dear its non-gender-specific words are to me.

by Kari at November 15, 2014 01:52 AM

November 14, 2014

Karibeth

atticus recommends.

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There is an adorable show called Tumble Leaf on Amazon Prime that Atticus started watching this summer. I don’t know exactly what Atticus likes about it, but to me it is warm and gentle and funny in ways that a lot of kids’ shows aren’t. It features Fig the Fox and his best friend Stick (a caterpillar). Each episode has them discovering something in the Finding Place and then using it throughout the episode. They are science and outdoor oriented and I love their playful sense of adventure and use of language. It captures the way the world is new and exciting for small people.

The small person who lives here thinks Fig the Fox is the greatest and the small person’s parents aren’t tired of the show even though there is only one season, which we have been watching for months. I haven’t heard much chatter about it but Atticus loves it so I want more episodes! Plus it is pretty dang cute. I have been meaning to post about it since this summer and I am glad to finally have a reason to recommend it.

by Kari at November 14, 2014 02:37 AM

November 13, 2014

Karibeth

wordless wednesday.

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Yesterday we took Atticus on a walk and fed the birds. The whole afternoon was golden just like this. Also I am bad at the whole wordless thing.

by Kari at November 13, 2014 02:09 AM

November 12, 2014

Karibeth

on reviewing the day.

When we sit together at dinner, we go around and say our favorite and least favorite parts of the day. I got the idea from someone who was talking about simple ways to do the Examen with children, and Atticus has responded well to talking about good and bad things from the day. I think that it is good for him to hear more specifically about the parts of our lives that he doesn’t see, both highs and lows.

Sometimes Atticus is too tired or hungry to do a very good job of talking about his day, which is ok. Sometimes he uses that time to confess that he got in trouble at school (which we usually already know about). I like it best when we ask what his favorite part of his day is and he says, “Right now.” Me too, buddy. Me too.

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by Kari at November 12, 2014 03:28 AM

November 11, 2014

Karibeth

atticus recommends.

Atticus wants you to know that right now his jam is “Summer of ’69” by Bryan Adams. When we listen to it (which is all the time) he makes a slightly mean/intense face.

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(Mic in one hand, air guitar with the other.)

Presumably this is how rock stars look. Seems legit.

I hope you will permit me a little mushiness: We taught Atticus this song over the summer at the pool, and singing and dancing to it in the pool was a precious and fun time for me. Holding him in the sunshine as he practiced his swimming, I could not help but feel that these are the best days of my life so far. Like all public educators in NC, work is really challenging, but my home life just gets better and better. We sing this song at top volume in the car and we jump around and sing it in the house, and I love it every time.

Sometimes we discover new things with Atticus, but sometimes he helps us look at old favorites with new eyes. Atticus and I think you should turn on “Summer of ’69,” crank the volume up, and play some air guitar. It will do your soul good.

by Kari at November 11, 2014 01:46 AM

November 10, 2014

Karibeth

a poem for sunday.

No family story today, I am afraid. But I have been thinking about this poem lately so this seems like a good time to post it.

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“At the End of Life, a Secret” by Reginald Dwayne Betts

Everything measured. A man twists
a tuft of your hair out for no reason
other than you are naked before him
and he is bored with nakedness. Moments
before he was weighing your gallbladder,
and then he was staring at the empty space
where your lungs were. Even dead, we still
say you are an organ donor, as if something
other than taxes outlasts death. Your feet
are regular feet. Two of them, and there is no
mark to suggest you were an expert mathematician,
nothing that suggests that a woman loved
you until you died. From the time your body
was carted before him to the time your
dead body is being sent to the coffin,
every pound is accounted for, except 21 grams.
The man is a praying man and has figured
what it means. He says this is the soul, finally,
after the breath has gone. The soul: less than
$4,000 worth of crack—21 grams—
all that moves you through this world.

by Kari at November 10, 2014 02:59 AM

November 09, 2014

Karibeth

on keeping a straight face.

This morning I heard that Atticus got in trouble at school for lying. Apparently he took a book to his cot for naptime even though no books are allowed, only lovies. When he was asked about it, he lied and said, no, there was no book in his cot. His teacher knew better and he got in a little bit of trouble for it.

Obviously when he told me this story, I laughed. Because I am terrible at that particular part of parenting (it is so hard not to laugh) and because of all the times I have read books instead of sleeping and also because it is a dumb rule. I fully believe that he should be held accountable, but I can’t help but be a little bit proud. We are doing okay if he is sneaking around reading books, right? I hope so. At the very least he is picking up on our values.

Atticus said, “It’s not funny, Mama.”

“You’re right, buddy. You need to listen to your teacher.”

And then I had to look away so I wouldn’t laugh some more.

by Kari at November 09, 2014 04:22 AM

November 08, 2014

Karibeth

atticus recommends.

Atticus recommends that you read The Book With No Pictures by B.J. Novak. He can now pretty much recite it along with the parents and other various adults who have read it to him over the past few weeks. It makes him laugh every time and jump on the bed with excitement.

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Especially when the adult says, “Boo Boo Butt!” Atticus thinks that part is hilarious.

Atticus was not paid to endorse this story, his endorsement comes from a genuine enjoyment of making the adults in his life say silly words.

by Kari at November 08, 2014 02:32 AM

November 07, 2014

Karibeth

on cosleeping with the baby.

We got a cat for my birthday. His name is Neville, after the real hero of the Harry Potter series. I had told Mike that we could try to have another kid if he would let me use the name Neville for a boy. He got me a cat instead.

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Neville follows us from room to room, is wildly affectionate, and is incredibly patient with Atticus. Somehow Mike picked out a cat who seems more like a dog. Well-played, sir. We are still not getting a dog.

Now that Neville is used to our family, he has free reign of the house at night. This usually means he ends up in our bed. The good part is when he sleeps between us and it reminds me of the sweet parts of cosleeping with Atticus: how I liked having him so close and knowing he was safe. Plus, Neville does not need to breastfeed.

But Neville’s new nighttime trick is to take over my pillow. We are currently in a protracted battle over this. He does not take Mike’s pillow, nor does he try to bathe himself while sitting on Mike’s head. I am well aware that I am going to lose, but I am not sure what that is going to look like. Will I have to permanently sleep on the couch and give Neville my spot? Will I get used to having him sleep on my head? Will we have to move out and just let Neville have the house? Cat owners, please weigh in with your advice/experience/commiseration.

by Kari at November 07, 2014 03:37 AM

November 06, 2014

Karibeth

on the flu shot.

I got my flu shot a couple of weeks ago, and Atticus got his last week. The very nice nurse tried really hard to get him to do the mist, but we had not prepped him for the mist so he said he wanted to do the shot. We all learned a very important lesson about making sure he doesn’t watch the needle going into his own skin because that was the worst part. I guess that is just a difficult thing we all have to learn, because I don’t think I could have gotten him not to look. He was brave even though it hurt and he got ice cream afterwards.

Today Mike got his flu shot (I think this is the first year we have been three for three) and he took Atticus with him. When I talked to them later, Atticus told me that he held Daddy’s hand and watched the needle even though Daddy did not. Apparently both Atticus and the nurse did not feel any pain, though Daddy had a different story. I did not get a report on the ice cream but my hunch is that they had some.

by Kari at November 06, 2014 01:43 AM

November 04, 2014

Karibeth

on voting with a three-year-old.

I took Atticus to vote this morning. On the way into our polling place, I reminded him that he was going to push the buttons for me and I needed him to listen so we could get our voting right. He declared, “I’M VOTING FOR BATMAN!” Perhaps Batman is the hero that North Carolina deserves, but not the one it needs right now, as he is not on the ballot this year.

It is fun to watch Atticus take in new situations. He stuck close until they gave him the sticker, then his excitement won out. But he reigned it in when he realized it was time to push buttons. I was prepared for the possibility that his “help” might mean that everyone in the room was going to know who exactly I was voting for as he repeated it loudly. But he did great – I had him push the screen next to the name that started with whichever letter, and he was careful to do them all right. He even helped compare it to the list that I brought in. After we were done, I thanked him for helping me vote, and he said, “Why do YOU get a sticker?” Fair enough.

Then he said, “Wait, we did not vote B for Batman!”

We might wait to teach him about election results another year. I don’t want him to think that Batman lost.

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by Kari at November 04, 2014 11:58 PM

on seriously miscalculating.

When I was a little girl, we had an Admiral Ackbar action figure at our house. Looking back, this makes no sense. The two Star Wars action figures we had were Luke Skywalker (sure) and Admiral Ackbar (wait, what). Because of that, Admiral Ackbar is my favorite character and I have taught Atticus to love him, too. When he is on screen, Atticus yells, “Mama! Admiral Ackbar!” Attaboy.

After Atticus picked out his Darth Vader costume, he wanted to designate costumes for the rest of us as well. He insisted that I had to be Leia. Because I am a girl. We had some hard conversations about this. I argued that you can pick any kind of costume you want and also that I find Leia to be boring and he was firm in his belief that girls have to dress as girls. Finally, one glorious afternoon, he agreed that I could dress as Admiral Ackbar. Oh, sweet victory!

(You may have noticed that I did not, in fact, dress as Admiral Ackbar.)

After he conceded, I immediately went to my computer to order myself an Admiral Ackbar costume. Here’s the problem: such a thing does not exist.

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I don’t understand it either! Admiral Ackbar is the best.

So if you were wondering how I picked my costume for Halloween it came from pure desperation. Obviously I could not be Leia after all that stuff I said, but I did not really want to be anyone other than Admiral Ackbar. Instead of ordering a costume I had an intense DIY session. It took me almost a whole month to make the Death Star based on these directions. I hadn’t done paper mâché since elementary school, but I was driven by stubbornness and a need to save face in front of my child. (I have found these to be important parenting skills.) Mike was really unsure about this project but I used that opportunity to say things like, “I find your lack of faith … disturbing.” But the truth is that I was unsure about it, too.

In the end it worked out great and was worth all the trouble when Atticus ran up to me and yelled in his Darth Vader voice, “I live on you!” before we gleefully blew up many pretend planets in our neighborhood.

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Were you also wondering about Mike’s outfit? He was torn between his love for Atticus, who wanted him to be a stormtrooper, and his intense hatred of wearing costumes. Last weekend he started to worry that he was going to disappoint Atticus so I told him to go buy a Star Wars t-shirt. When people asked Atticus what his daddy was for Halloween, he said, “Daddy is the title!”

(Nerds.)

by Kari at November 04, 2014 12:36 AM

November 03, 2014

Karibeth

on taking a sad song and making it better.

Today is my mom’s birthday! For her birthday we took her to see Paul McCartney. He was in town, he was her favorite when she was a girl, and the Beatles are the greatest band of all time. You can’t say no to seeing a real live Beatle in your town.

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The show was awesome. I guess it would have been better if he played every single song that I know, but he did play 39 songs so I can’t complain. (Seriously, though, he played for three hours. Made me think maybe I should be a vegetarian.)

Here’s what I have been thinking about the past few days: I grew up with a lot of Beatles/Wings songs so of course I know them deep within my soul. Like most of the people in the audience, I sang along as much as I could, belting out “Hey Jude” and “Carry That Weight” completely unselfconsciously. That might sound like no big deal except that I am a terrible singer. I haven’t felt unselfconscious about singing in church (the place I regularly engage with public singing) since my youth group days, when a boy leaned over and said that if I couldn’t sing on key, I shouldn’t sing at all. But on Thursday, there was some kind of special McCartney magic that made it possible for me to join in without the usual hesitations.

I was swept up by the music in a way I don’t think has ever happened at church, where I have so often felt I had to perform in a certain way or have a certain kind of experience or reaction. It made me grateful for the gift of simply being able to sing along with songs I love.

Thanks, Sir Paul, for all the fun. (And for singing the Happy Birthday song. How did you know it was my mom’s birthday?)

by Kari at November 03, 2014 12:56 AM

November 01, 2014

Karibeth

on being the bad guy.

Over the summer, Atticus watched Star Wars for the first time. We had to do this because our friends were tired of us getting mad at them when they would say things like, “I am your father!” (Also Toy Story 2, I am giving you some side eye.) We had a few Star Wars books and our answers to his questions about the characters were starting to feel inadequate. It was time for him to experience the movies for himself.

(Because I know are going to ask: no, he is not allowed to watch Episodes 1-3. They are terrible and we want nothing to do with them. The end.)

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Watching Star Wars with Atticus was awesome, everything I ever imagined about one day sharing it with a kid. He was excited and scared in all the right places, he fought Darth Vader with his lightsaber, and he was thrilled when he met Yoda for the first time.

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It was no surprise that his choice for Halloween this year was Darth Vader. Darth Vader finds peace and a little bit of redemption at the end of his story, but even if he didn’t it was satisfying to watch Atticus explore that side of himself. He spent the weeks before Halloween menacing us and threatening to blow up various planets (“but just pretend”). I don’t think I ever dressed up as a “bad guy” for Halloween but of course Darth Vader is the most interesting and terrifying character of the story. And of course we all want to be the guy who can blow up planets sometimes.

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This is what I find so wonderful about Halloween, that it makes it possible for a three-year-old to dress as the most terrifying figure he knows, and that he can run around among the Elsas and Annas and superheroes of the world and find the lights on and doors open to welcome him.

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by Kari at November 01, 2014 09:26 PM

October 29, 2014

Jeff H.

The Blur That Has Been Fall

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A week before Adriene and I left for London, my laptop died. The power supply completely failed and I was without a laptop. So, I mailed it off to get fixed and left for London and everything since then on a technology level has been a complete mess. When I returned home, the laptop arrived a couple days later, but apparently it had been used as a basketball on the way home because the screen was cracked. I sent it back to technical support and let them know this was not satisfactory and I wanted the screen repaired for free. After two weeks of doing I don’t know what, they informed me they didn’t have the part and at that point I told them to just send me back the laptop and refund all repairs. So, I got my laptop repaired for free and it only took four weeks and one cracked screen to get that done and in the meantime all of my internet usage was on tablets and tiny computers with tiny keyboards.

I say all that to say that trying to compose anything on touchscreens and tablets is enough to drive a man mad, so while I felt like I built up some nice momentum here on the site this summer it all came to a screeching halt and I haven’t written anything in a couple months. At the same time, I have been so busy trying to catch up at work and keep up with my kids’ activities that it’s not like I had much time to try and peck (and curse) something on a tablet touchscreen anyways.

What to say about London? A month now in the rear-view mirror and it seems like a dream. It was an alternate world that we lived in for a week and now that we are back it seems like it canters along at it’s own pace, totally oblivious that we were ever there. The whole order of our day was totally altered. We never sat in a car and we stood in crowds the entire week. At one point, Adriene saw a fatigued expression on my face and said, “You’re tired of being around people all day, aren’t you?” I did admit that I longed to sit at my desk at home and look out over our (people-less) pond and trees in the back yard. But it was amazing, it really was. Some old friends that live in London swooped down and took us off for unbelievably good Turkish food, Indian food, and so much beer I can’t even begin to say which one I liked best. By the time we got familiar with the city, I had sat in the dark corners of Stamford Bridge and watched a match from one of the biggest soccer tournaments in the world and then later taunted Stoke City fans when Niko Kranjcar hit a free kick for QPR in the dying moments of the game. We listened to Georgia Tech play football in an alternate universe where it was daytime on our phones at night in the pub. Adriene saw the Hogwarts model castle used in the Harry Potter films and we saw the Rosetta Stone, one of the world’s oldest chess sets in existence, thousand-dollar (sorry, pound) shoes at Harrod’s, and just like that we were home again where everyone drives on the right side of the road and we have 700 channels on our TV.

What a return, though! The girls signed up for cheerleading this year and I have to say there is nothing funnier than watching first grade kids play football. They are kinda like weeble-wobbles with their shoulder pads that stick out on both sides and helmets as big as their shoulders. They don’t tackle each so much as they run into each other. Games are almost always decided by a comedy of errors, almost always because there is one kid bigger and faster than the others and no one can tackle, or even catch him. The girls have had mixed opinions about cheering at the games, mostly because of the varying weather conditions, so we’ll see if we do this again next year. However, this fall it has consumed our weeks and our weekends and we’ve had to squeeze normal activities into the hinterlands of our weekly schedule. It has been fun and exciting, but I’m not sure I will be that sorry when it’s over. When it is over, it is time to get ready for Halloween, Thanksgiving and Christmas. The children are happy. There is always something to look forward to.

This post is like the final piece in the puzzle of catching up this fall. I feel like the last couple of months have been a blur, but things seem to finally be returning back to a more normal pace of life just in time to start ramping up for the holiday season and more adventures to come.

(I know some people love vacation photos and for other people it brings back horrible memories of sitting at someone’s house while they show slide after slide on a screen, BUT if you’re the sort that likes vacation photos, here they are.)

by jholland at October 29, 2014 12:04 PM

October 26, 2014

Karibeth

what I have been reading (october edition).

Against Football: One Fan’s Reluctant Manifesto by Steve Almond (via the public library)

I quit watching football a couple of years ago after hearing and reading podcasts and articles that talked about the brain injuries. The NFL was a regular part of our lives for the entire time we have been married, and watching on Sundays together was something we enjoyed. But I started to feel squeamish about it, about people being hurt for my enjoyment, so I stopped. I didn’t make some big pronouncement, just quietly decided I couldn’t do it anymore. The news that has come out of the NFL since has not changed my mind. (I do still watch the Super Bowl. I can’t really justify that either, but I watch it.)

All that to say, I was already on the side of the author when it came to this book, but I still appreciated how he articulated his arguments. My position has been less clearly stated, so it was helpful to read in detail about not just the brain injuries but also the financial problems and the racial problems and the culture of violence problems that I felt I was endorsing when I watched the NFL. Do I think that this book will change anyone’s mind? Not really. Do I think it might help sway someone who is feeling iffy about watching the NFL? Yes. Do I think that stuff like this will make a difference in the long run? I doubt it. The NFL is going to roll on without my support but at least I can better explain why. Recommended for: anyone who has ever had a twinge of concern about watching the NFL.

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Bad Feminist: Essays by Roxane Gay (via the public library)

Roxane Gay is really funny on Twitter and I listened to the Slate Audio Book Club discussion of Bad Feminist and decided I should read it. When I say that it was so good that it made me cry, that is not even an exaggeration. I loved how she examined pop culture ideas about women and race while still acknowledging her own failings in this area (this is the “bad” part of being a bad feminist – enjoying romantic comedies and/or music that is not exactly empowering to women). The part that touched me the most was in the essay in which she talks about how a group of boys assaulted her when she was in middle school. At one point, she rebuts the idea that young adult literature should be free of darkness by pointing out how much darkness teenagers can and do experience. It was a great reminder to me of why I do what I do. Many of the essays were funny, all of them are smart and interesting. Highly recommended.

50 Women Every Christian Should Know: Learning from Heroines of the Faith by Michelle DeRusha (via NetGalley)

These are great profiles of women who made their mark in Christian culture. Of course I felt there were some pretty big holes – the list is very much focused on women of the western world. Not to mention that you could profile 50 women from the Civil Rights movement alone. But I did feel that DeRusha worked hard to make the list diverse. I enjoyed the book and learned details about women I was familiar with well as being introduced to new ones. I did not always agree with the “lesson” we needed to take from their lives, but that didn’t take away from my overall interest in the topic. I am going to give this book to my grandma for Christmas, and I think she will enjoy the short chapters as well as reading about some of her heroes. (She does not have the internet, so it is safe to post this.)

Too Heavy a Yoke: Black Women and the Burden of Strength by Chanequa Walker-Barnes (via Goodreads)

I won this one through Goodreads and I am finally getting around to writing about it. This is a thoughtful discussion of the myth of the StrongBlackWoman and the damage that that idea does to Black women in our culture and in our churches. The book is specifically aimed at pastors to help them examine that stereotype and to give them ways to minister to Black women in the church, providing them with space to be vulnerable. It was interesting to read this one just after the previous book and to see how the women in that book of all races were often held up for denying themselves and not showing emotion. I’m not a pastor myself, but it gave me a lot to think about culturally. On a personal level it paired well with Sister Citizen by Melissa Harris-Perry, which I read earlier this year. Recommended for: pastoral caregivers.

Sherlock Holmes: The Hound of the Baskervilles (graphic novel by Dover Press) (via NetGalley)

My students love graphic novels and I am a big Sherlock Holmes fan, so I was interested to see if this might be a good purchase for them. I think that Sherlock Holmes and especially this particular story deserve more in terms of the art. The Hound of the Baskervilles is so much about atmosphere on the moors, and the drawings in this graphic novel do not really convey that. Not recommended.

I received copies of some of these books from the publishers but my opinions are my own.

by Kari at October 26, 2014 02:32 PM

October 16, 2014

Daniel - ElsewhereInDreams.com

what is she

i roll your words on my tongue
impressively alien

they break my jaw
their many many layers

could i have thought that? i think
you would not have thought that

she does not lie unblinking
ceiling rapt

numbers cycle behind half-
slumbered eyelids

she hasn’t won the lottery
yet

i bend your words to my form
a spoon

stirs as always
what is she

& what is she
thinking

by ddeboer at October 16, 2014 08:46 PM

Karibeth

what I have been reading (less reading than normal edition).

People always ask if I really read all these books. The answer is yes! And also I go through periods where I tool around on the internet just like everyone else. Lately I have been doing a lot of tooling around on the internet and also I am sloooowly working my way through The Wire for the first time. But I do have some books to post about.

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I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou (purchased by me)

Despite the fact that we North Carolinians like to claim Dr. Angelou as our own, I had never read all of this book. I read a few different excerpts at different times during school, but never the whole thing. After she passed away this spring, I put it on my summer reading list. What is there to say except that her extraordinary story lives up to every bit of hype and if you haven’t read it, you really should.

Blankets by Craig Thompson (from the public library)

This is a huge graphic novel – almost 600 pages. It tells the story of Craig’s childhood with his fundamentalist parents and his first love. It’s always on those lists of must-read graphic novels and I can see why – it’s a beautiful story with beautiful drawings.

The Silkworm by Robert Galbraith (from the public library)

Not quite as good as the first one but still a great mystery with fun characters. Hits the spot for me and I just love the J.K. Rowling voice you can hear in there when it comes to the descriptions and the dry humor.

Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead by Brene Brown (from the public library)

I have some friends who swear by Brene Brown, and I didn’t disagree with anything but I am not sure that vulnerability is my issue. Great book to discuss with a friend who knows you well.

Rare Bird: A Memoir of Loss and Love by Anna Whiston-Donaldson (via Blogging for Books)

I was not sure I wanted to read this memoir about Whiston-Donaldson losing her son in a freak tragedy at the age of 12. While it is an incredibly sad story, it was somehow not as bleak as I thought it might be. An honest portrayal of a mother’s grief and her family’s attempt to pick up the pieces of their broken life. I appreciated that it did not reach for easy answers or shy away from the intense pain and questions that Whiston-Donaldson was feeling, to the point that I am still not sure whether her marriage will survive the tragedy. The story is stronger than the writing, but the story is enough to keep you engaged. Unsettling but ultimately hopeful.

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I’ll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson (purchased for me by Mike)

There’s a lot of buzz around this story about twins who were once close and who are now barely speaking to each other. It alternates back and forth between the past and present with the two narrators, Noah and Jude. I really did not like it. Hated the writing style with the quirky asides, hated one of the narrators (Jude), hated the story, kind of hated the magical realism aspect. I wanted to like it! But it was not for me. Recommended for: NO ONE. But if you want to read it I will lend you my copy.

Wildlife by Fiona Wood (via NetGalley)

This is about two girls in Australia who go for a term to an outdoor education camp. One, Lou, has recently lost her boyfriend in an accident and is covered up in grief. The second, Sibylla, was recently featured in a marketing campaign and is seeing new social doors open for her. They are in the same cabin but don’t forge a friendship right away. I liked this book for its depiction of life as a teenager in Australia as well as the focus on female friendship. Recommended for 12-16 year olds.

Blues for Zoey by Robert Paul Weston (via NetGalley)

Kaz works in a laundromat and has a mother with a weird disease. He sees Zoey and falls for her, but their relationship doesn’t make sense. Zoey isn’t developed as a character, and Kaz’s inability to see her as more than a cool hot chick makes it hard to feel sorry for him when it turns out Zoey isn’t who she claimed she was. Basically a mess and it’s a shame because the characters have a lot of potential.

Unstoppable Octobia May by Sharon G. Flake (via NetGalley)

I am a huge fan of The Skin I’m In by Sharon Flake – it comes in and out of my library almost every day and it’s a book that I love and love to read with students. But I could not get into Unstoppable Octobia May. I enjoyed the portrayal of time and place but the story was hard to follow. I couldn’t see myself giving it to a student when I could barely read it myself. Huge bummer for me because I was excited about it and was hoping for more. There’s a good detective story in here and I could see some of the antics playing out so well if they had been described a little bit more clearly.

Currently reading:

We Make the Road by Walking by Brian McLaren (via NetGalley)

I have a rocky relationship with Brian McLaren – I have seen him speak and really enjoyed his words, but I have also read some of his other books and felt like he was condescending and . . . almost unkind. But this book? I am loving it. It’s structured as a year-long study so it’s hard to read straight through but I am working through it a little at a time and the reflections on scripture are wonderful. I could see a Sunday School class getting a lot out of these discussions. Highly highly recommended!

I received copies of some of these books from the publishers but, as always, my opinions are my own (and boy did I seem grumpy with this set).

by Kari at October 16, 2014 01:09 AM

October 15, 2014

Daniel - ElsewhereInDreams.com

Small Animal

That small animal who goes out in front of me
Who precedes me always
Simply asks to have his feathers ruffled
To make a new friend
To tell you about his day
For you to listen for a little while

If you ask me whose small animal that is
I will make unplausible noises
He is not mine I say
He just happens to be here I say
He is an escapee perhaps I say

As I reach down to ruffle your feathers
I notice behind you a him
Who is he? I ask
He is not mine you say
He just follows me around you say
Waiting to be fed you say

by ddeboer at October 15, 2014 02:32 AM

avail

for blessing on this list i pray
for this tree which grows wild mushrooms
        the colour of dust about its base
        the foliage of tomorrow
        i do not recognize it
for the planes that fall out of the sky
        like fruit splitting open
        the seeds of which fall
        into our backyards
for the ever-surfacing munitions that we
        pile at the corners of fields
        for densely coated men
        to lead away
for the volcano who gathers rumblings
        who is not becalmed
        with sertraline or conversation
        who will not say what
for the mongol hordes who melt before
        to form up behind
        even their horses drink blood
        cries the sodden earth
for the child who knows nothing
        but must have her way
        whose father and mother also
        know nothing and do the same
for blessing against this list i pray

though it will not avail at least
not much

by ddeboer at October 15, 2014 02:14 AM

October 14, 2014

Daniel - ElsewhereInDreams.com

The Season

Appropriate, as if the language of leaves could be
mine and wielded,

to the season. Graduating from primary plaid and jeans
to collegiate leggings and fur linings,

an all knowing rectangle in one hand,
a pumpkin in the other.

That is to say, we are all tumble dried and turning
from green to yellow to red to

unironable parchment. Whose words are these,
they demand, what do they mean.

Why should I read them anyways? These letters
stink of quills and ink and

spotted hands,
they say, moving in packs united by irrepressible gluttony.

The gaggle knows what the goose does not:
The lean, sinewy season comes:

We must eat it all before it disappears.
We must trample underfoot the evidence of an

earlier time.
Appropriate, as if the language of death could be cleaved

from its mothballed antecedents,
to the season.

by ddeboer at October 14, 2014 02:10 AM

October 04, 2014

Daniel - ElsewhereInDreams.com

They Will Kill You

These are the lines I speak
that I have been told to speak
to speak else is not to speak

The right combinations of words
to speak over and again until words
no longer resolve as words

No one asks how they were written
They were assembled and not written
from things assembled and not written

Except this one madman whose brayed laugh
from the back row catches and we laugh
though we don’t know why we laugh

The same man says,
You can make something new
that has never been said before now

You can say it
but they will kill you

So these are the lines I speak
that I have been paid to speak
I open my mouth but…

by ddeboer at October 04, 2014 04:45 AM

October 01, 2014

Karibeth

been talking ’bout the way things change.

One night this summer, Atticus stayed at my mom’s house overnight so Mike and I could have a date night, which ended up being an early dinner so we could come home to watch House of Cards. (We are very exciting people.) When Atticus wanted to Facetime with us, we agreed, but it turned out to be a bit of a mistake. Even though he loves loves loves staying at Grammy’s house and being with Grammy, he was tired. Seeing us but not being able to be with us so close to bedtime was confusing and upsetting to him.

It was upsetting to us, too, a little bit. We are used to his clinginess and his tears (and we were in the middle of a big clingy phase at that point) but as he reached for us through the screen he had a look on his face that neither of us had seen before, sadness and confusion and tiredness all mingled into something new. Tears filled my own eyes as I watched him try to make sense of what was happening.

I would have told you that I knew all of his faces, the tired silliness at bedtime and the sly side-eye when he’s doing something he knows is questionable and the quiet nervousness of a new situation. He might be a big three-year-old now, but I grew him as a tiny baby inside of me, so of course I know his faces.

But I didn’t know that one because I was seeing something he had never experienced before.

I have thought about that face a lot over the past couple of months. When Atticus was tiny, I reminded myself often how steep the learning curve must be to a little person. But now he walks (runs) and talks (yells) and I forget that there are still so many things he hasn’t seen, hasn’t felt inside.

As a parent, I think we talk more about the positive feelings that we get to watch our kids experience as they learn: pride at an accomplishment, joy at seeing something new, self-control in a hard situation. It’s more difficult to think about the things that will make him sad and scared and confused in the future and give him all sorts of new feelings he has never felt before. It’s scary for me, too. The baby stage was hard because so many people had opinions about what we were supposed to do, but this part feels hard because Atticus is uncharted as a person and it’s becoming so clear that there is no guidebook to help us discover who he is.

I don’t want to pivot to platitudes or an easy answer here. I work with middle schoolers so I am crushingly aware that these feelings of uncertainty are only going to increase over time. But I do mean it when I say that despite feeling like a terrible responsibility, I am aware that it is such a privilege to watch him work these things out and help him learn what to do with all the things he takes in. It has helped me realize how many new feelings and experiences I have had since becoming a parent, too, and that we are all three in this together.

Two Atticus faces to close us out:

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Hmm, what is in this box?

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Ah, yes, it is chocolate cake.

by Kari at October 01, 2014 01:36 AM

September 21, 2014

Karibeth

let’s go adventuring, darling.

rambling

This summer we finally gave up the stroller for walks, so we amble together down the streets and notice things. It took me a couple of months to realize that I was taking walks my way (to exercise or to take him to the park) when he had his own ideas about what we should be doing (stopping constantly to look at rocks and sticks, picking up rocks and sticks, throwing rocks and sticks into the drain and the lake, saving rocks and sticks to take home).

adventuring

Shifting my perspective on these walks has made them feel so much more like an adventure. We feed the birds and we check the dam and we pet all the dogs. We climb on and jump off everything, and we chat about the things we see and hear, making mental lists of the curiosities we have to describe to Daddy when we get home. We sing a song he made up about hiking. We often get very dirty. And we barely glance at the playground equipment.

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My bag is full of snacks and a handful of rocks. This time I remembered some wipes. Let’s go adventuring, Atticus. It’s one of my favorite things to do with you.

by Kari at September 21, 2014 01:45 PM

September 15, 2014

Karibeth

a poem for sunday.

“Little Girls in Church” by Kathleen Norris

1.

I’ve made friends
with a five-year-old
Presbyterian. She tugs at her lace collar,
I sympathize. We’re both bored.
I give her a pencil:
she draws the moon,
grass, stars
and I name them for her,
printing in large letters.
The church bulletin
begins to fill.
Carefully, she prints her name–KATHY–
and hands it back.

Just last week
in New York City, the Orthodox liturgy
was typically intimate,
casual. An old woman greeted the icons
one by one
and fell asleep
during the Great Litany
People went in and out,
to smoke cigarettes and chat on the steps.

A girl with long brown braids
was lead to the icons
by her mother. They kissed each one,
and the girl made a confession
to the youngest priest. I longed to hear it,
to know her name.

2.

I worry for the girls.
I once had braids
and wore lace that made me suffer.
I had not yet done the things that would need forgiving.
Church was for singing, and so I sang.
I received a Bible, stars
for all the verses;
I turned and ran.

The music brought me back
from time to time,
singing hymns
in the great breathing body
of a congregation.
And once in Paris, as
I stepped into Notre Dame
to get out of the rain,
the organist began to play:
I stood rooted to the spot,
I looked up, and believed.

It didn’t last.
Dear girls, my friends,
may you find great love
within you, starlike
and wild, as wide as grass,
solemn as the moon.
I will pray for you. if I can.

by Kari at September 15, 2014 02:25 AM

September 11, 2014

Daniel - ElsewhereInDreams.com

Rustle

Even the rusted bowl,
yellow, upside down,
twiddling its wheel, hushed
for that perhaps-twice-
yearly moment
when it might shed
its perpetual darkness–

They took even
that.

by ddeboer at September 11, 2014 09:08 PM

what’s what

its avatar
chiselled manslab

slips into suit
points at horizon

knows
knows what to do

when he speaks we listen
but he is dead

we huddle around the radio
remember remember

father/president/
savour

what’s what
now?

by ddeboer at September 11, 2014 08:50 PM

September 08, 2014

Daniel - ElsewhereInDreams.com

Other Houses

I am not sure of me
Who can be found

As bundled wire
A signal carrier

Those layers
Can break your jaw

All at once
Or little by little over time

Who says
I am a mirror

A bit of glass
Who admits nothing

I am house built
Of other houses built

Of other houses
&c.

by ddeboer at September 08, 2014 11:42 PM

September 07, 2014

Daniel - ElsewhereInDreams.com

the wings

the wings who
is broken

torn shroud
tangled in mortal coils

in errant feathers
tumbling contoured

dove down
weak in peace

by ddeboer at September 07, 2014 07:25 PM

September 03, 2014

Karibeth

what I have been reading (back to school tired brain edition).

image

Flight Behavior by Barbara Kingsolver (borrowed from a friend)

When some butterflies that usually winter in Mexico end up in a valley in the Appalachian mountains instead, what happens to the community? What happens in particular to the families closest to this miracle (that could, after all, be a tragedy caused by climate change)? Maybe not my favorite Kingsolver (I have a special place in my heart for Prodigal Summer), but I loved the setting and the ways that Kingsolver cared so deeply and respected the poor people she was writing about. What good is science when your family is just getting by, and how much can farmers care about butterflies when climate change is affecting their own work? I really enjoyed this one. Recommended for: the science-minded among us, those who can see themselves in tales from a small town, anyone who has ever felt their lives were small and they wanted more.

Undistorted God: Reclaiming Faith Despite the Cultural Noise by Ray Waddle (via NetGalley)

Two quotes from this book sum up what I liked about it. “That’s the secret about religion: it better be worldly. Don’t live it all in your head, doing the math of perfectionism. Don’t forget the shaggy, swarming world.” And, “That’s what a church with its beckoning art should inspire when you sit down inside a sanctuary or assembly hall or approach a labyrinth of stone altar–the long view, a consoling sanity, a renewed search for the undistorted God.” This is mostly a story of finding God in unexpected places and learning how to differentiate the things that point you to God from God. Recommended for people who have trouble seeing glimpses of the divine in their daily lives.

Live From New York: An Uncensored History of Saturday Night Live by Tom Shales and James Andrew Miller (via NetGalley)

I have been hearing about this book for years, so when I saw I could request a copy with 100 additional pages, I was thrilled. It’s basically everything I love in an oral history, juicy behind-the-scenes gossip, scandal, and some people who are clearly very pissed about their experiences with the show and/or Lorne Michaels all these years later. SIGN ME UP. I flew through this and loved it (perfect airplane reading, by the way). My only complaint was that some of the new material seemed a little too current for the contributors to have really reflected upon what it meant culturally or even to themselves. I hope in 10-20 years there continue to be discussions with those actors and writers involved about their experiences on the show. My one suggestion for making this book better would be if the digital version had links to all the sketches that they are talking about. How great would that be, to read about a sketch and then just click to watch it yourself? Someone please make this happen. Recommended for: fans of SNL, people who kind of hate SNL, people who love oral histories and gossip.

Dancing on the Head of a Pen: The Practice of a Writing Life by Robert Benson (via Blogging for Books)

On my last day of summer vacation, I took this book with me as I got a pedicure, and I read almost the whole thing. It’s a quick and easy read about writing. Benson talks about what works for him as he writes and edits drafts, what does not work for him, and gives general tips from his years of experience. Rather than being dry or imperious, the tone is warm and friendly, and I took away several ideas for my own writing. Recommended for: writers and friends of writers.

Telling God’s Story: A Parents’ Guide to Teaching the Bible by Peter Enns (purchased myself)

This was recommended in the comments here one day and I finally got around to ordering it. Rather than reading the traditional Old Testament stories with your child, Enns recommends focusing on the parables with small children, then moving to some of the more complex/confusing stories in middle school, and bringing the Bible into more cultural and historical context in high school. I liked this plan because I don’t really want to read Atticus stories about Noah’s Ark or genocide at this point, and without some guidance it is easy to step back from the Bible and be afraid to read it altogether. We obviously are very new to this (and I didn’t buy the curriculum), but if you have a young child and are nervous about reading the bible with him or her, I recommend this book to you.

Gracefully Grayson by Ami Polonski (via NetGalley)

Grayson lives with his aunt and uncle and cousins after his parents died in a car crash, and he hides from them his darkest secret: he is really a girl stuck inside the wrong body. When he tries out for the female lead in the school play, a lot of feelings that have been tucked away in his family and his community come to the forefront. What I liked about this book was that it focused on middle grade concerns. Grayson most clearly articulates the idea that he is a girl by wanting to wear girls’ clothes. Obviously there is a lot more that goes into being a transgendered person than simply switching wardrobes, but Grayson’s expression also seemed appropriate for that age. You will root for Grayson to feel the support and love he needs and admire his(her) inner strength. Recommended for: middle schools.

Disquiet Time: Rants and Reflections on the Good Book by the Skeptical, the Faithful, and a Few Scoundrels edited by Jennifer Grant and Cathleen Falsani (via NetGalley)

If you have ever read a devotional and come away with more questions than answers, this is the book for you. After years of quiet times that left me unsettled, I enjoyed these thoughts on scripture that don’t depend on everything wrapping up neatly at the end. While of course some of the essays are stronger than others and some resonate more than others, they were consistently good and thought-provoking. My favorites were from Karen Walrond, Ian Cron, and Ellen Painter Dollar. Some other authors you might know are Brian McLaren, Eugene Peterson, Caryn Rivadeneira, Karen Swallow Prior, Susan Isaacs, Debbie Blue, Christian Piatt, Katherine Willis Pershey, Amy Julia Becker, Anna Broadway, and Gareth Higgins. This book is packed full! My only regret is that I was reading it during the first week of school, when I really did not have the mental energy for something so smart.

Nest by Esther Ehrlich (via NetGalley)

Nest is set in 1972 and is about Chirp, an eleven-year-old girl who loves dancing and the outdoors and wild birds. When Chirp’s mother gets sick, her world is turned upside down. Where can she find a safe place? As I was reading this, I felt as if it was a not-quite-as good version of Okay for Now by Gary D. Schmidt because of the bird themes and the neighbor Joey who is suffering from abuse. However, I can’t think of a student who would enjoy Okay for Now, but I do think this one would find a place on my shelves. It paints a realistic picture of depression and the stresses that many children face in their home lives. Recommended for middle schoolers.

I received some of these books for free but my opinions are my own.

by Kari at September 03, 2014 12:30 AM

September 02, 2014

Daniel - ElsewhereInDreams.com

righteous

up the foot hewn passage
to a conference room on stilts

wagons circled
lightly dusted ankles

to do the math
would Jesus approve

stops humming rock music
tucks away bra straps

finally to another
conference room on stilts

where we open the book
and find ourselves

righteous
or more likely not

by ddeboer at September 02, 2014 01:36 AM

August 31, 2014

Daniel - OkayWhatever.com

Stockholm syndrome for our own problems

I have a garden that wraps around the perimeter of my backyard. It’s been a bit of a chore to keep going. For most of this spring and summer it was a a patch of waist-high weeds drowning out all the perennials I had planted in years past. There were some fairly hearty ferns in there, and a few hostas as well. But even they were being drowned out by these weeds.

This is a fairly well-solved problem. There are interventions, certain things you do, to take care of gardens.

But I never seemed to do any of those things. Why not?

By the time I decided to do something about the weeds, they had not only taken over the garden but had started migrating into the grass as well. And to be honest I felt pretty bad about this. I would go out into the backyard and feel pretty lousy about all these weeds.

So I pulled them all out. It took a fair amount of time but I felt pretty good about it. Thing is, the weeds were back in a week. So I pulled them out again, and the next week they were back, and the plants weren’t recovering, and the gardens looked pretty terrible. Every time I pulled out a weed I would feel good, and every time it would grow back I would feel bad… and so the cycle goes on.

I like to think of this cycle as a sort of Stockholm Syndrome for problems. I got so hooked into working hard at pulling out weeds that I never had time to really sit back and think about why the weeds were growing in the first place.

Until one day. I got so sick of pulling out weeds, of spinning my wheels with this whole garden thing… I was ready to trash the whole idea and just throw down some grass seed.

Until I sat back and looked at what I was doing. And I felt pretty dumb, because what I was doing was dumb. I was fighting weeds, but I wasn’t fighting why weeds. I wasn’t asking the question that would have cut my workload by 90%.

I’ve seen people get so deep into this cycle they never take that moment to step outside the problem and take a look. They beat themselves and other people up for not working hard enough or being smart enough or whatever. I mean, I could have thought to myself, Dan, you’re so lazy. Look at these weeds! You should work harder to get rid of them. You’re not doing your job, man!

But my job was stupid. And of course eventually I would have stopped doing it altogether. And so the weeds would grow waist-high until next year when I got frustrated about my shitty backyard and started all over again.

Now, this all seems fairly basic stuff. I mean, I laid down some mulch, made a boundary that separates the garden from the grass, 90% of the weeds stopped growing, and when I go into my backyard and weed the garden it’s just a few things here and there.

Gardens are fairly easy that way.

But what about at work where things are more complicated? Sure, you could genuinely work with a bunch of idiots who just can’t do their jobs… but it’s it more likely that you have a problem you just haven’t sat down and taken a look at.

My garden problem was that I had a lot of exposed dirt, and weeds like to grow in exposed dirt. I had a lot of grass in my garden because there was nothing to stop the grass from crossing the grass/garden boundary. Until I fixed those problems I was stuck in that cycle of weeding.

The mulch I laid down and the stones that separate the grass and garden do their jobs wonderfully and have the added benefit of looking good. Now when I sit out in my backyard I don’t think, “Boy that backyard looks terrible, I’m doing such a bad job of keeping that garden clean, I’m lazy and need to work harder!” Instead I think, “Hey, that looks pretty good. Not perfect, but pretty good.” And I don’t feel bad about myself or my backyard. There are improvements to be made, but they’re incremental instead of revolutionary. The hard part is over because I found the root cause… and then fixed it.

I think I’ve belaboured the metaphor a but much. But you see what I’m saying.

At work on Friday we had these tools come back from a customer. When we started fixing the issue with this particular tool, we found another problem. We got everyone together and started to figure out why this tool was this way. And nobody could say because the paperwork wasn’t clear, there was no specification, the drawing and the work instruction were different, the order of operations was wrong, and the operators weren’t communicating with each other and passing each other garbage. They weren’t validating their work (because there was nothing to validate against), and so the customer got garbage that was made wrong in more than one way.

Now we could have spent a lot of time fixing just that problem (and we will, obviously). But we also have to acknowledge that this isn’t the first time this has happened. It’s the fifth… this week. And it’s easy to run around yelling at people and calling them stupid because no-one caught this mistake.

But that won’t fix the problem. It will fix A problem. But it won’t fix THE problem. It’ll just make everyone feel terrible, and some people who get yelled at will start hiding their problems and trying to sneak them out the door hoping that no-one will notice so they don’t get yelled at again. And then someone will yell at them because they’re stupid and sneaky and lazy… and the cycle continues.

In fact fixing A problem is pretty easy compared to fixing THE problem. That’s why THE problem has never been fixed. Because it’s hard and time consuming and everyone’s too busy working on all these problems that result from THE problem.

Someone needs to step back. Someone needs to ask the big questions. Take a good hard look at why we’re doing something, why that something is resulting in a bunch of repeatable quality issues, and then do something about it. Questions like:

Why are we making tools with no specification?
Why does the paperwork have the wrong order of operations?
Why is an operator adding a feature to the tool that isn’t called for?
Why did it leave the plant without anyone validating it?
Why is there no history we can look at to figure out what went wrong?

Which leads to another set of deeper questions:

Why is management sending stuff out to plant floor without proper documentation?
Why are operators accepting garbage paperwork?
Why are operators accepting garbage tools from the last process?
Why are operators not performing in-process checks?

And the answers are not really fun.

Management is more concerned with getting tools out the door quickly than anything else. If a tool is “rush”, a whole bunch of critical steps are often skipped. We end up having a bunch of napkins lying around with arcane notes on them. Maybe the napkin gets lost. Maybe someone drops some coffee on it.

Then when the tool comes around next time the guy making the paperwork doesn’t know enough about the tool to know that he’s producing garbage paperwork and sends out a workorder with incomplete information.

Operators know that it’s more important to ship than to do it right, so they do a bunch of guesswork (“Other tools that look like this tool have this particular feature that isn’t on the drawing!”) and kind of make something. They know this isn’t great so they don’t sign off the processes properly or at all and send it along to the next station.

The next operator also knows it’s more important to ship than to validate so he overlooks the issue (if he sees it all; the paperwork is garbage, remember), does his guesswork, and sends it along.

Eventually it ships and someone shreds the paperwork.

Then the customer sends back the tools, and the cycle starts again. The beatings continue until everyone does everything right 100% of the time.

Doesn’t that sound crazy? Who would voluntarily work like that?

But we do. And this isn’t just my workplace. This is a lot of places. The fixes are usually fairly easy. They just require some attitude adjustment, all the way down the chain, from management to shipping. Two sentences:

Don’t accept garbage. Don’t send out garbage.

Management has to do some work upfront. Operators need to know what they’re doing. They need to have specifications and and paperwork with the proper order of operations and instructions, all crystal clear. The operator needs the proper material, etc. If the inputs aren’t right, if the operator doesn’t have that, they don’t know what they’re doing.

And if the operator doesn’t have what they need, they should fire the whole thing back to wherever it came from. These inputs can be posted on a wall or on a queue or something so everyone knows, If I don’t get what I need, I’m sending this back. And when they’re done with their process, they sign off on that process and send it along.

If they send it along to the next process without something — in process check report, something isn’t done, something doesn’t look right… fire it back. Don’t take on other people’s problems. Send it back and it becomes their problem again.

This happens all the way down the chain. But it’s important that it starts with management. There needs to be a commitment to quality. Not getting stuff out the door for this particular set of customers regardless of paperwork quality and tool or process validation. A commitment to quality, repeatable quality. We have a different set of tools at our disposal to make sure those “special” customers get their tools when they want them. We have escalations for that.

Management’s job is to make sure we have the means and procedures and culture in place to do this. Not running out onto the plant floor all red in the face yelling at people for being stupid and lazy. If someone IS supid and lazy (and trust me, these people exist in spades) we also have the means and procedures to take care of that. This is what progressive discipline is all about, for instance. The end result is either you have a non-stupid, non-lazy person or you don’t have that person at all.

This seems like a lot of work. And it is, at the beginning. But it’s so much less work and stress and yelling and getting stuff back and fixing it and making new tools to replace garbage and running around trying to figure out what to run! In the long run the absolute chaos of everything being murky and unclear is far more counterproductive than the 1-time few hours (max!) of work per workorder it takes to do things right the first time.

It’s way easier to do the heavy lifting (mulch and stones are not light!) once, than pull waist-high weeds every week.

by D.S. Deboer at August 31, 2014 07:44 PM

August 24, 2014

Karibeth

two prayers for the first day of school.

School

Tomorrow is the first day of school here. I am entering this year with a mixture of determination, terror, and hope. Let’s pray together.

O Eternal God, bless all schools, colleges, and universities,
that they may be lively centers for
sound learning, new discovery, and the pursuit of wisdom;
and grant that those who teach and those who learn may find
you to be the source of all truth; through Jesus Christ our
Lord. Amen.
(from the BCP)

And this one is specifically for the public schools of North Carolina, not that I don’t care about other kinds of schools or schools in other places. Just that we are in some serious weeds here and need some special prayers of our own.

Great, loving God, on this day, we pray for the students and educators of every public school. As people of faith and as concerned citizens, we pray for the wisdom and courage to stand up for a just and equitable education for every single child in our state and in the world. May our feet keep marching, O God, until our elected leaders recognize and value our children and teachers. We pray this in the name of our great teacher, Jesus. Amen. (from Reverend Nancy E. Petty)

by Kari at August 24, 2014 11:58 PM

August 19, 2014

Karibeth

what Atticus Finch taught me about watching the news.

Before I read To Kill a Mockingbird, I read a book that has been lost to history that quoted Atticus Finch: “You never really know a man until you stand in his shoes and walk around in them.” I have always thought of that as Atticus Finch’s most famous quote, but it is not my favorite. Good advice, but who wants to stand in Robert E. Lee Ewell’s shoes? Perhaps I am not yet ready for that level of compassion and empathy.

image

As a parent, I see things more clearly from Atticus Finch’s side. The ways he tries to do right and the ways he fails and the messages he wants to teach his children through it all. He is a pragmatist, not a prophet. He sees things the way that they are and he points his family in the direction of change, change that looks like a young girl surprising a crowd on a tense night, change that looks like dignity in the face of defeat, change that looks like respecting the dignity of others no matter their situation. His benign neglect is not going to help win any parenting awards, but his values are helping him raise smart, brave, informed kids who are learning to think of others.

image

I have thought a lot about Atticus Finch this past week. He is with me often enough on a regular week, but the news of the past week has been so terrible. The shock from Ferguson and the death of Robin Williams took over most of my feed last week as we as a country wrestled with injustice and loss in the physical sphere. (And in the case of Ferguson, we continue to do so.)

There were a lot of compassionate responses. But then there were the others, the ones who claim that Mike Brown was a thug who deserved to be shot, or that Robin Williams was a selfish sinner for killing himself. There’s not a lot of nuance in that kind of story. There’s only a list of what you must do to be in, and in both cases, the central figures are most definitely out.

This is human nature, to try to set up systems that help us understand the problems we see before us. This is understandable. And it is wrong. To jump to these conclusions is to deny that the person you are discussing was created in the image of God, carries that life and light inside.

No matter what happened with cigars or pot or jaywalking, there is no reason for Mike Brown to have ended up dead on the street, shot six times (twice in the head). If you think that he was a menace, you should ask yourself why. If you don’t understand why the community is upset, you should ask yourself why. And if you feel okay with trusting the police in this situation, you should ask yourself why. Why do you think the community is having such a different response? Is it possible that they have experienced things you haven’t that make it hard for them to trust the police? Wouldn’t that make their responses just as valid as yours? Try putting yourself in the shoes of a community member. Read some books and listen to some stories about race in that area and what it is like to be young and black in this country. That’s not walking around in someone else’s shoes, but it’s a good start. Maybe you should find out a little bit more before you speak about such a large and complicated problem.

As for Robin Williams, he was never my favorite comedian, despite the places I hold in my heart for Dead Poets’ Society and Good Will Hunting. But he taught me Whitman and he taught me not to be so afraid and I love him for it, even if he didn’t make me laugh as much as he did other people. All I can think about is how terrible he must have felt, the despair that must have been surrounding him as he chose to end his life. Anyone who would reduce such an experience to a judgment call about sin and selfishness, I have some questions for you. Have you ever suffered from depression that made it hard to get out of bed? Depression that made you feel so wholly unconnected to your body that you weren’t sure how to move or speak at a normal pace? Depression that stretched into nothingness? It’s not the same as being sad when your dog dies. Maybe you should find out a little bit more before you speak about such a large and complicated problem.

Listening to Atticus Finch is teaching me what I learned as a small child, the importance of a faith that prioritizes imagination. Holy imagination draws us closer to God by allowing ourselves to see God at work in places we might not expect. We see God’s presence around us, God’s image in the people we meet.

I think we could all use a little bit more Atticus Finch in our lives this week, a little more of taking off our own shoes and trying on someone else’s. As you watch the news, especially the news from Ferguson, give that holy imagination a try. Embrace compassion. Consider what you might not know. And listen to those who can offer you a different perspective.

Some resources:

-12 Things White People Can Do Now Because of Ferguson

-Black Bodies White Souls by Austin Channing Brown

-Robin Williams’s death: a reminder that suicide and depression are not selfish

by Kari at August 19, 2014 12:15 PM

August 11, 2014

Daniel - ElsewhereInDreams.com

7

she who
to say something is
to have said something

no stone unturned
burnished & arranged in
strange patterns

she who
who knows what to do
exact change

who has no
no she doesn’t
except for

me who
wouldn’t
if i could

by ddeboer at August 11, 2014 03:44 AM

Karibeth

what I have been reading (end of summer womp womp).

I have to go back for training in the morning so my summer is pretty much over. I would ask you to feel sorry for me but I don’t really even feel sorry for myself. This summer was just the break I needed. More about going back to school later. But first, here are some books I read this summer that I haven’t told you about yet.

Tomboy: A Graphic Memoir by Liz Prince (via NetGalley)

I have been trying to read more graphic novels, not just for my students but also for myself. This one is Liz Prince’s story of growing up and being a tomboy, never knowing exactly where she fit in. I am not sure I am qualified to judge artwork in graphic novels, but I liked the drawings and I really enjoyed this story. I particularly liked how she is a tomboy who is straight because often this type of character would be gay and I like to see a diversity of experiences represented (I boycotted the color pink for about a decade, so I feel some camaraderie with Liz myself). In the end, Liz comes to see how she is also contributing to the marginalization of girls/women by refusing to be “girly” and I loved how that discovery brought her some peace in the end. Recommended for: fans of graphic memoirs, girls who are tomboys, people who struggle with gender conformity. Oh, and it would be great in high schools, I think.

The Sculptor by Scott McCloud (via NetGalley)

Here’s another graphic novel, but this one is a novel and not a memoir. It’s about David, a man who makes a deal with death to be able to sculpt anything he wants. He uses that power to make incredible street art, but when he falls in love with the woman of his dreams just before his time is up, everything changes for him. This is the kind of graphic novel that is not totally my jam – kind of like a superhero story (special powers) and kind of like magical realism, neither of which are my favorites. And yet! Despite all that, it was un-put-down-able. I raced through it because I had to know what was going to happen. I especially loved the art he would create throughout New York City in the middle of the night. I’m not totally sure who to recommend it to, but it was a really engaging story.

image

Landline by Rainbow Rowell (via my husband, for my birthday because he is awesome)

I am on record as being a Rainbow Rowell stan so take all my opinions with a grain of salt. On one hand, there is a certain amount of ridiculousness to this story – Georgie can’t go on her family’s Christmas trip which seems to be the thing that has finally ruined her relationship with her husband Neal forever . . . until she finds a landline in her parents’ house that somehow allows her to call Neal in the past and help her work things out with him. That sounds kind of clunky, right? Plus there’s the fact that we don’t get quite enough of how and why Georgie and Neal like each other to begin with. And yet! I still really liked it. Rainbow Rowell writes characters who are so appealing and so real despite phones that can communicate with the past. Four out of five stars with the caveat that you are going to have to just accept some ridiculousness (but hopefully you won’t mind too much).

A Farewell to Mars: An Evangelical Pastor’s Journey Toward the Biblical Gospel of Peace by Brian Zahnd (Amazon was giving this one away for free a while back)

This is a book about pacifism. I basically agreed with everything Zahnd said but man was it boring. (Insert joke here about how books about peace can’t be very exciting.)

The Spectacular Now by Tim Tharp (via the used bookstore)

This book is narrated by Sutter Keely, a senior in high school who is a drunk. Not just a guy who drinks too much at parties, but a guy who needs a drink first thing in the morning, who drinks all day, who is the life of the party and has beer in the trunk of his car and who can convince you to go along with his crazy plans. He’s incredibly charismatic, which makes for a great narration as you see the truth despite what he is telling you (and himself). It was a tough read because Sutter is so deluded and it doesn’t wrap up neatly at all. But definitely enjoyable. Great high school book, and I can’t wait to see the movie.

If I Stay by Gayle Forman (via the public library)

I decided to go ahead and read this one because I know the movie is coming out. It’s about a girl, Mia, who is in a coma following a car accident that killed the rest of her family. Essentially she has to decide if she is going to stay on earth or pass on to the afterlife. Several of my friends have reviewed this one and none of them gave it more than three stars but it was an enjoyable page turner and I cried twice so I give it four stars. Recommended if you are prepared for the melodrama.

In Darkness by Nick Lake (lent to me by a fellow librarian)

This is a difficult book to explain – it’s about a young black man in Haiti who is trapped in the rubble of a hospital after the earthquake in 2010. As he drifts in and out of consciousness, we also hear the story of Toussaint L’Ouverture, who helped liberate Haiti from France in the late 1700s. I’m not going to lie – it was difficult to understand and get through at points. But I learned a lot about Haiti and it was masterfully told. I could see some bright high schoolers latching on to this book (and obviously the Printz committee could, too, because it won in 2013). I know that I will not be forgetting it any time soon.

Where She Went by Gayle Forman (via the public library)

When I finished If I Stay, I said that I wasn’t going to read the sequel. But I went to the library with Atticus and the sequel was right there on the shelf! So I checked it out. This one is narrated by the (ex) boyfriend of Mia and tells his story of what happened after the accident. It was okay but I liked the first one better.

The Book of Mormon Girl: Stories from an American Faith by Joanna Brooks (via the public library)

I have been on a little bit of a Mormon kick this summer. There are a lot of blogs written by Mormon women, did you know that? I didn’t really until recently. So I am kind of fascinated by the whole thing, especially how similar evangelical Christianity can be to Mormonism and yet there are some big differences, too. Several people recommended this book, which, oh my gosh. This book is amazing. It just shines, a beautiful jewel of a story. I sat next to the pool and read it and kept wiping away tears (of course I had forgotten my sunglasses, so I had nothing to hide behind). This is the book I wish I could write, where she has such affection and understanding for the way she used to be. I give it all the stars!

When “Spiritual but Not Religious” Is Not Enough: Seeing God in Surprising Places, Even the Church by Lillian Daniel (via the used bookstore)

From what I can tell, Lillian Daniel wrote an essay on Huffington Post about the perils of being “spiritual but not religious” and decided to write a book on the topic but didn’t really have a book’s worth of stuff to say so she just told stories instead. I liked the stories in this book but there didn’t seem to be any structure to it. Also, a few (not many) of the stories were anecdotes I have heard from other speakers/preachers. I feel like that can work in a sermon but it doesn’t work for me in a book. In the end, I didn’t feel like she made a convincing case that being in a church is important (which I think is what she was trying to do). With a different title, this book might have worked better for me. As it is, it felt like it needed more focus.

We Should All Be Feminists by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (via NetGalley)

This is essentially a transcription of her TEDx talk so if you can’t sit and watch the video, perhaps try this instead. If you have only heard the clips that Beyonce used in her song “Flawless,” you should definitely read or listen to the whole thing. A quick read, but a powerful one. These are the things we should all be teaching our children, boys and girls alike.

I received some of these books through NetGalley but my opinions are my own.

by Kari at August 11, 2014 02:37 AM

August 09, 2014

Brandy

Take a step

It was the winter that I was 3 years old. Maybe 4. My mom had recently married Dennis, and we had moved into his little trailer, situated among soybean fields and curving country roads. That winter was one of wool mittens drying on the wood stove, their scent spicy and musty. The chill from outside seemed to leak into our house, and the floors and walls always felt chilly. I sat close to the stove, and my hair always smelled smoky.

A winter storm blew in, dumping snow, then ice. It hid everything that was familiar, the grass and mud, and drifted up to the bottom of the tall window in our living room. One morning mom put on my favorite blue coat, my brown hat with the pom pom on top, my fuzzy snow boots and my mittens. Dennis opened the window, removed the screen, and lowered me the few inches to the snow.

I held my breath. Everything was beautiful and glittering and terrifying. I could feel the thin sheet of ice settle under my feet. And the deep snow underneath was waiting. I couldn’t move.

I am a fearful person. The things that keep me up at night burrow deep in my mind. These are not unique things that I am afraid of. I am afraid that I will get sick. I am afraid that I will be hurt. I am afraid that I will lose loved ones. I am afraid of being alone. Some nights, in those dark seasons, the fears take my breath away.

It’s not always at night. I can be sitting across from a friend, laughing and talking, when I feel the icy cold fear. What if I mess up? What if they leave? What if I break things beyond repair? And just like the little girl in the bright blue coat, I am paralyzed by that fear. I can almost feel the ice shift under my feet, afraid that one wrong move will ruin everything. But then I remember.

I craned my neck and looked back towards the window where Mom and Dennis stood, smiling and waving.

“It’s fine,” Mom called. “You won’t fall.”

I took one small step forward, my boot sinking just an inch in the snow. The thick crust of ice held me up.

I took another step.

Slowly, slowly, I made my way. My steps were the first on the fresh snow, and everything, from our old shed to our skinny crab apple tree, was draped in shimmering frost. I explored the yard until my cheeks burned and my nose began to run, until the chill reached through my mittens and to my fingertips.

And then I came home.

At the window, Dennis leaned down and lifted me up. My mother peeled off the layers of bulky winter clothes and I listened to my mittens sizzle on the wood stove.

I don’t think I knew what the word brave meant as I sat on the couch, an afghan spread over my lap, and drank hot cocoa. But I do remember smiling so broadly that my chapped cheeks burned. I knew what it meant to be paralyzed by fear that day. To lose my breath and stand frozen.

But I also knew what it felt like to take the first step.



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Copyright © brandy campbell [Take a step], All Right Reserved. 2014.

by Brandy at August 09, 2014 08:49 PM

Go To the Mountains

“Who has better mountains, Colorado or Washington?”

It was a throw-away question on a random couch in a stuffy room. Creative small-talk, a few steps above talking about the weather. But the dialogue was lively. We argued about vistas (grudging point to Washington), accessibility (point to Colorado) and aesthetics (a draw).

But days later, the idea of mountains has lingered, tickling on the edges of my mind. What makes me love the mountains of my youth in Virginia? What makes me miss the Colorado mountains when I travel? I crave the ocean, love visiting the shore and walking on the cool sand, satiny and slurping under my feet. But it is the mountains where I live.

I saw the Blue Ridge Mountains from a distance as a child. There were whispery gray, the color of blue afternoon mixed with purple twilight. The color of a bruise. In the summer, we drove the parkway, a cooler in the back loaded with deli meat, white bread and American cheese, grocery bags filled with apples and Utz potato chips. We put the window down and traveled the winding roads, the station wagon groaning in protest as it pulled us up the switchbacks. Finally we pulled over and set up at a picnic table, its wood soft from the fog and the rain and time. I can feel the weeds scratching my legs, smell the loamy leaves. The breeze was cooler here, the grass greener, the mountains bluer. I knew they were the color of the ocean before I had even seen the ocean.

I left Virginia when I was 22. And for four years there were no mountains to give me a sense of place or direction. Everything was flat and I got lost in the sameness. Some days, at sunset, if I squinted just right, I could pretend a bank of clouds were mountains. But in my heart I knew they weren’t.

I arrived in Colorado seven years ago. I flew in on a May afternoon, tired and overwhelmed. The mountains here were close, and shockingly brown. Pike’s Peak still had a thin cap of snow, but it was fading. I longed for the blue-gray mountains of my youth, the distance that allowed me to see them layered among one another, nestled and rolling and soft.

But these Rocky Mountains have grown on me. I have hiked to crystal lakes where veins of snow blend with wild flowers in ways that seem impossible. I still gasp on wintery mornings when Pike’s Peak is covered in snow–dressed for a party, it seems. I have camped by icy streams, stumbling out of my damp tent, rumpled and wrinkled, to watch the sunrise.

There is a favorite park in Colorado that I go to sometimes to walk. The views there are lovely, stretches of icy blue mountains–more the color of a thunderstorm over the ocean than a bruise. But what I love is the orange dirt I walk on. It reminds me of the mountains of my youth as I stand at the foothills of my present.

So, I will concede that the Washington mountains are lovely–spectacular even. They are craggy where the Blue Ridge are soft. They are lush where the Rockies are stark.

Let’s just call it a tie.

“Chasing angels or fleeing demons, go to the mountains.” ― Jeffrey Rasley

 



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by Brandy at August 09, 2014 08:33 PM

I Ache for a God My Size

I felt bruised when I walked into the sanctuary. I could feel it in my posture, arms wrapped tight across my chest. It had been a difficult week, and I longed for the things of home. Simple things like my coffee mug and the window in my bedroom that faced the mountains and let in the rustling sound of leaves. More complex things like the kind words of friends who knew me and believed the best of me and could tell by my crossed arms that I was frayed.

I slipped into a chair in the front row. I smiled shyly at the woman next to me. She was a well-known poet whose words I had read and loved. But as I sat beside her, her sleeve brushing my arm, I felt detached and unmoored. Even as a line from one of her poems came loose from a corner of my mind, I stared hard at the floor.

But I ache for a God my size to bring me hot chocolate, brush my hair, slip between my sheets, read to me in bed.”*

The service swirled around me, over me, near me, never through me. The poet stood at the front of the room and held a simple white bowl with a puddle of oil. I found myself standing in front of her. She placed her hand, cool and soft, on my head. She murmured words that I don’t remember, but can still feel the weight of. She dipped a finger in the oil, slid it over my forehead. Down. Across.

I walked back to my seat, and touched the spot where her smooth fingers crossed. The oil shone on my fingertips. I was surprised that it was a simple olive oil. It was neither cloying nor exotic. It was pure and rustic.

It brought me home. Standing in my bare feet in front of my stove, splashing oil into a pan from a slender glass bottle. Stirring in onions and garlic and pulling my hair back. The oil coating my fingers was what I mixed with spicy red pepper flakes and dried oregano on little white plates, served to friends with chunks of fresh bread. It was light and easy, friendships and grace.

The oil dipped with nimble fingers from an unassuming bowl was salve.

The poet came back to her seat. We all stood and sang together, the air thick with the fruity smell of olives. The song was familiar, one I had sung as a child standing between my mother and stepfather at church. But there were more verses, ones I had never sung as a little girl.

This glorious hope revives
Our courage by the way;
While each in expectation lives,
And longs to see the day.

I felt a hand slip into my mine, the same smooth fingers that had anointed my forehead moments ago.

“It’s a beautiful song, isn’t it,” she whispered, her own golden cross glowing from her forehead. I nodded. She gently squeezed my hand and then slipped out of the room.

I felt my body loosen. Arms hung , shining fingertips brushing against my side. I was ready for home–no longer as one damaged, but as one renewed.

*Omnipotence, by Luci Shaw



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by Brandy at August 09, 2014 08:32 PM

Brown Butter Soft Ginger Cookies

I don’t really have time to blog, what with all of the holiday craziness. But you guys. I can’t keep these from you. They are delicious. Two people said they taste like Christmas. And I can’t disagree with that. They are gingersnaps without the snap (I like my cookies like I like my pillows…soft…and I apologize, for that was very cheesy). They have brown butter, which is my new favorite thing, all nutty and caramelly and so so good. And they have coconut oil, which I’m beginning to fall in love with (I mean, I put it on my face, I put it in my cookies, it’s basically a Christmas miracle).

I will stop talking and give you the recipe so you can go bake right now.

Get the full recipe at my cooking blog!



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by Brandy at August 09, 2014 08:30 PM

2013 in Lists and Gifs

2014 is going to be a brand new year on this blog! But I’ll tell you all about that later. Because first, I must give you the obligatory list of my favorite things of 2013 (along with some gifs for your amusement and joy).

Top 5 Books I Read (note, not the top 5 books of the year, because I like to read things way after they’re popular)

5. The Fault in Our Stars I stayed up way too late to finish this book and then ugly cried. So yeah, loved it!

4. A Girl Named Zippy Even though someone told me “You should read this book, she’s doing in her memoir what you’re trying to do” I didn’t hold it against the author. Really enjoyed this one :)

3. Gone Girl I waited a while to read this one, but really ended up enjoying it!

2. Miriam’s Kitchen It’s about food and religion and family and culture and so beautifully written.

1. To Kill a Mockingbird How in the world had I not already read this? I loved it so much and am wondering what other classics I’ve missed out on!

Top 5 TV Shows I Obsessively Watched on Netflix

5. The Walking Dead Yes, I hate scary movies. Yes I’ve made it through a season of this show. I’m a walking conundrum. But it says so much about human nature and protecting self and loved ones. But I can’t binge watch it. I learned that quickly!

4. Orange is the New Black Okay. So I wondered about putting this show on my list. It’s pretty risque. But I found it completely fascinating, and I think I watched the entire season in a two-week span while I was sick. I’m curious to see where they’ll go in season 2.

3. Parenthood I’m not really sure why I never watched this show, but I’m really enjoying the first season. Great characters, and an honest portrayal of family, in my opinion :)

2. 30 Rock I only watched this show sporadically the first few seasons, so it’s been fun binge watching it on Netflix :)

1. Scandal Oh this show slays me! So so good! And it was perfect to work out to because it gets my heart rate up. Literally.

Top 5 3 Movies I Watched (um, apparently I don’t watch many movies)

3. Iron Man 3 What can I say, I’m a sucker for Robert Downey, Jr.!

2. Captain Phillips I went into this movie with no expectations, and walked out loving it! Such a fascinating movie, and the final scene had me in tears (and renewed my love for Tom Hanks!)

1. Saving Mr. Banks I really loved this movie! I just saw it this week, but it has so stuck with me. Loved the characters. Resonated with the idea of writing something and then being scared to let it go.

Top 5 Things I Cooked

5. Strawberry Rhubarb Crisp Strawberry + Rhubarb + Orange = I can eat the whole pan

4. Turkey Pumpkin Chili I never actually posted a recipe for this (except maybe on Facebook?), but trust me, it was tasty :)

3. Roasted Strawberry Cake See #5

2. Triple Berry Lemon Cake This cake is summer, pure and simple. Sometimes I make it with frozen berries when it’s cold out just to pretend like it’s summer. It’s that good.

1. Brown Butter Soft Ginger Cookies Two people told me “These taste like Christmas!” That was enough to put them in the #1 position :)

Top 5 CDs I Listened To

5.  What We Saw from the Cheap Seats, by Regina Spektor Regina Spektor is deliciously weird. Her CDs are always a mix of “Wow!” and “Huh?” for me, but even the off moments are so delightful. I especially liked Small Town Moon on this album.

4. Five Good Reasons to Meet Me, by Over The Rhine I was just introduced to this duo over the summer and really love their songwriting. Wonderful lyrics with lots of intensity. Good stuff :)

3. CMYK Project, by Justin McRoberts I was a fan of Justin McRoberts for a long time, and then he sort of slipped off my radar. But when he came and performed at my work a few weeks ago, I immediately purchased his latest project. Incredible stuff!

2. American Kid, by Patty Griffin I am never more happy than when a new Patty Griffin CD comes out :) That Kind of Lonely was one of my favorite tracks on this one.

1. The Civil Wars, by The Civil Wars I really really love this album. I know there was lots of drama, but man, some really good music. So glad I got to see them before they broke up. Favorite track is a tie between From This Valley and The One That Got Away.

Top 5 Places I Visited This Year

5. Virginia In January, had a sweet visit with my family that included road trips and laughter and my sweet niece’s face.

4. Emily Dickinson’s  House While at a conference this summer, I was able to visit Emily Dickinson’s house on a free day. I stood in her bedroom and even sloshed through a cemetery to pay my respects at her grave-site. Highlight: Sneaking a picture of myself in her “no photos allowed” bedroom :)

3. Baltimore While Baltimore is a lovely city, it was more the occasion of my visit that made this one so special. Highlight: Graduating from Goucher College with my MFA! Oh, and head-banging in a bar with my lovely friend Beth to Bohemian Rhapsody.

2. Boston Traveled here for a conference, and as always had an amazing time. Boston is one of my favorite US cities–not least of all because of the food :) Highlight: Finding Dr. Quinn’s house (or her street at least :) )

1. Bolivia Was able to get my international travel fix for the year by traveling to Bolivia for the first time. Cochabamba was my favorite stop, such an amazing place! Highlight: The kids, of course. I love traveling for work and loving on adorable kiddos!

So what are your “top 5″ lists for the year?



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by Brandy at August 09, 2014 08:29 PM

August 04, 2014

Karibeth

3.5 and 35

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When Atticus was turning three, several people sidled up to me and said, “I don’t know whether to tell you this, but the terrible twos are nothing compared to the threes.” Wait, what?! I went out of my way to insist that the twos weren’t as bad as advertised and this is how the universe repays me? Also, why is this not public information?! I needed more time to prepare.

I’m not going to lie, turning three was hard on Atticus (and therefore on the rest of us). He was more volatile and he couldn’t deal with difficulties like sharing, transitions, or anyone looking at him. You know, the usual stuff. Getting out the door in the morning was pretty frustrating, and his hair often went uncombed. A few times I had to strap his underwear-clothed body into his carseat and get him dressed at school because he would calm down there. Clothes, mama, why are you making me wear these terrible clothes? And stop looking at me!

So just imagine how I felt when I read this blog post about 3.5 year olds and how they are even more fearsome than three year olds just a few weeks after Atticus’s third birthday. He has a few friends who are about six months older, and their parents all confirmed for me that 3.5 was basically the worst thing that ever happened to their otherwise sweet and adorable children. Meanwhile, I was shaking in my boots since we were already having a hard time. All spring I pictured the summer as alternating between a screaming match and a grudge match. I knew everything would be terrible and I was kind of bummed that it was the part we would be home for.

But you know what? It’s been mostly great. A few bumps but not the horror show I was expecting. Maybe he worked that nonsense out of his system back in the winter/spring, or maybe we’re wearing him out at the pool, or maybe he decided to go through it when his friends did (syncing their cycles). Whatever it was, it’s been a summer of happy memories at the pool, time with friends and family, and ice cream sandwiches.

3.5 is full of contradictions, the things he says he can do on his own and the ways he suddenly cannot operate any of his limbs when we ask him to pick up his toys. He has trouble trying things that seem hard but there is wonder and discovery. He is desperate to see his friends but after a few hours he can’t really share with them anymore. He can’t stand for his shirt to get the tiniest bit wet but he spends hours playing at the pool. He is as stubborn and sweet as he has ever been. I’m sure that the transition back to school will be challenging but I feel so much more confident about who he is and what we can weather.

Atticus turned 3.5 just a few days before I turned 35, and besides enjoying the symmetry of the numbers, I have decided that we aren’t so different. I have been known to house some contradictions myself, to be a little stubborn and to need some alone time. Here’s to my bright and beautiful boy for defying the conventional wisdom and being not quite as cranky as everyone expects. Most of the time, anyway.

by Kari at August 04, 2014 11:03 AM

July 31, 2014

Karibeth

set me as a seal upon your arm.

No sense in burying the lede: Mike and I went on our anniversary to get tattoos. Neither modern nor traditional lists name ink as a fourteenth anniversary gift, but maybe they should. Maybe it’s even a little bit Song of Solomon: Set me as a seal upon your heart, as a seal upon your arm, for love is as strong as death.

It was an act of love, both with the man I love and as a mark of love upon myself. I have long been an expert at hating my body, but after it started suffering signs of aging and post-pregnancy, I reached a new level of loathing. I could allow, yes, that carrying and nursing a baby made me see a new strength inside myself, that I shouldn’t look now like I did twenty years ago, but the outside doesn’t offer a view that I am happy about. Even things I did that were ostensibly for my health like taking medicine and training for a half marathon left me changed in ways that made me uncomfortable.

It has been hard to accept that the changes my life has made to my body will be carried with me, are part of me going forward. There is no going back to who I was. My mind knows that and sees it as a beautiful picture of growth, but my body looks in the mirror and does not find it good. I realized a couple of years ago that making a change of my own choosing might help.

image

I started walking a local prayer labyrinth after Atticus was born, and it has become a powerful symbol in my life. As I walk those twists and turns, I breathe more deeply. The path is not straightforward, but neither is any step wasted. You must stay in the present, one step at a time, without looking too far ahead. Walking the labyrinth has given me a way to accept those aspects of life by helping me unwind the knot around my heart. I never thought I was a tattoo person until I considered getting a labyrinth tattoo, and then I knew immediately it was the right choice.

I doubt that tattoos are on any list that talks about aging gracefully, but for me, the ability to accept, even in a small way, that my body has been shaped by what has come before is a gift. It was empowering to mark myself with a symbol that is important to me as a wife and a mother, one that helps me pray and breathe and think. I will carry it with me just as I carry other scars and stretch marks and sags. Just as I carry all those younger versions of who I used to be, none of them wasted, each building on the ones who came before.

Mike and I went on our anniversary to get tattoos. I have to say that I love mine. It makes me feel strong and I think it is beautiful.

(Mike loves his, too. He got a sea turtle because of the time he spent working with sea turtles in Costa Rica.)

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by Kari at July 31, 2014 06:52 PM

Jeff H.

Anberlin – Lowborn review

“We’re heading nowhere/It’s not close to them/Even horizons can fade
Hope says she’s never a saint/they’re all waiting on a prayer/If we’re heading nowhere”

Anberlin released their final album, Lowborn this week and it is an album that definitely has a feel of finality about it. It is easy to view the album through the colored lens of knowing this is the last album to pull out the parts that spell a closing, but I wonder had we not known would we read the clues in between the lyrics and figure it out? I suspect so.


I’ve seen faces I may never see again
I’ve been places I never could have dreamt

The album is a bit of a change for a band known for fist-pumping anthems. I’ve always wondered if they were a band simply born 20 years too late. Lowborn is a much more ponderous, somber album. The instrumentation is simpler and guitar fireworks are limited to a few songs. Some of the songs, like “Stranger Ways” and “Hearing Voices” feel more rooted in the 80’s alterna-pop of New Order and Depeche Mode. “Dissenter” is the odd track out. With the screaming and industrial drumming, it feels like a relic from the early days when the pre-Anberlin band was ending the band Anberlin was beginning. The lyrics on the album, often cryptic in past albums seem more razor sharp here, as if Stephen Christian is running out of time to say what he has to say.


I’ve loved where I’ve been
Yes I love where I’ve been
But my heart’s where I’m going

The song order is different than the typical Anberlin formula. There is no climatic end to the album. The album was constructed in three different studios and fortunately it has meshed well together, it doesn’t feel very disjointed. However, it is telling that album was put together in so many locations. This is a band that didn’t spend a whole lot of time in the same room to work this out.

Memories circle like birds of prey
Waiting for the right mind to drive insane
Don’t look back there’s nothing to see
Regret is nothing more than a lovers disease

Vocalist Stephen Christian says he has been looking for a way out of the band for over a year now. When he approached the rest of the band about leaving, everyone else confessed that they were ready for a break as well. It’s not the stereotypical fight and bust up and that ends the band, but more five people slowly drifting each in different directions.

Not sure what tomorrow brings
Not sure why a caged bird sings
Don’t ask cause I don’t know
No idea just where to go
High hopes and higher dreams
May not have everything

So, with no future planned, it’s impossible to escape the finality of the album. Over and over again, the songs reference not looking back, not having regrets, and soberly accepting the present. It’s possible there might be solo works or a new different band formed out of the remnants of Anberlin, but if so, no one is talking about it. Instead, what we the listener are left with is the end of an era.

Everyone wants to know God
But they’re afraid of what they’ll find
Everyone wants to know God
But they want to live like he died.

I can identify with the end of an era. It feels like I’ve been mourning one for a while now. There are people and places in my life that I will probably never see again. One lesson that I have been painfully learning this summer is that God will forgive sin, but most times He will not remove the consequences or events from the sin. There are wounds that will not heal and relationships will sever forever. I’ve witnessed a lot of this during the past few months. I am thankful that I am not the one wounded, but I also left wondering who I have wounded and scarred with my words and actions.

I feel as if I am in a transitional period of my life. When I was younger I was always eager for the next stage of life. I wish I was as optimistic as I used to be. I don’t really know what is coming next, my children are slowly starting to write their own stories and I feel like I am slowly having to loosen the rope, let them go a little more. We’re still a long ways from cars, boys, and even (gulp) college, but it’s approaching. I feel like much of my story has been wrapped up in raising them and now as I’m releasing them I have to find my own story again. I’m comforted, however, that I have strong support from home. If we are to enter another new unknown, I’m glad to face it with my family.


It’s not losing it all, if we have each other
In the end it’s all, in the end it’s all that matters
If we take this chance, and it falls to pieces
In the end you’re all, in the end you’re all that matters

How could I say goodbye?
We’ve come too far to turn back now
Who are we without each other?
Too entwined to untangle now

by jholland at July 31, 2014 03:11 PM

July 29, 2014

Jeff H.

The Choir in Music City

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When The Choir released their newest CD Shadow Weaver they also promised to record “the definitive live album” in front of a small audience. The tickets were affordable and when I found out some other friends were going to the show, I decided I should do a weekend in Nashville. It was a whirlwind trip but I circled all around the city, visiting famous landmarks and eating some pretty good food.

I arrived in town early on Saturday morning, so I decided to walk around Bicentennial Mall near the Capitol for a while before the day got too warm. As luck turned out, there was a car show in the park so I got to see some Ferraris, Lambourghinis, Porsches, and even a Tesla up close. After a little while, I drove down to Franklin to meet up with Jerry Ray and Julie for lunch. We ate a Music City Dog House which co-owned by Choir bass player, Tim Chandler (though according to Steve Hindalong, maybe not anymore.) I had a giant Italian Beef sandwich which was pretty tasty. We walked off our big lunch at the battleground near Franklin and then drove up to Opryland Hotel. I’ve always been to Opryland during Christmas time when it is decorated up and very, very crowded. Things were a little low key this time around (so much so that I drove in a broken parking gate and pleaded my case to a security guy so that we didn’t get charged parking), but it was nice to walk around in the air conditioning and walk through the gardens.

For dinner, I finally ate at the much-recommended Baja Burrito. While we were there we watched the live stream of the early concert. We were definitely living in future by eating dinner and watching the show we were going to. We had some extra time afterwards so we walked around the Parthenon at Centennial Park for a bit before driving over to the show.

As for the show itself, the show was located at Studio Instrument Rentals, a warehouse surrounded by razor wire which was filled with instruments to the ceiling, but it also had a couple of studio rooms with room for about 100 people. The sound was as high quality as I’ve ever heard at any concert I’ve been to, thanks to some seriously high-end equipment and some very talented engineers behind the boards. The sound was loud, but not painful and every instrument could clearly be heard in the mix. The band was the four essential members, though Tim Chandler was under the weather and sat in a chair for much of the concert, though he did stand up to rock out some of the extended outros. They were joined by Marc and Christy Byrd as Marc provided his Hammock sounding noise layered on top of the songs and Christy provided beautiful harmony vocals and some additional percusion. The set list had some pleasant surprises with some of their recent songs and since they had been well rehearsed from their recent tour, a block of Chase The Kangaroo songs. Then they settled into some of the classics ending with a fantastic drawn out “Circle Slide” a punchy version of “About Love” and then “Beautiful Scandalous Night” to wrap things up.

The band had a table of memorabilia laid out on the table from all eras of the band, including awards, original master tapes, Dan’s version 2 lyricon, and even some hand-written original lyrics. The crowd was also a who’s who of Nashville residents and visitors. We enjoyed talking to Bruce Brown and members of the band milled about. (Steve approved of our dinner choice at Baja Burrito.)

The next morning, Jerry, Julie, and I met up with the LaFianza’s for a mini-Cornerstone reunion at Copper Kettle. I also had a quick opportunity to take a stroll down memory lane on the David Lipscomb University campus before brunch which was right across the street. We had some great food and great conversation and then it was time to drive home.

I’m very much looking forward to the live album. The songs sounded great and the house sound was so great that I think the album will sound incredible. The whole weekend was kind of a quick blur, but I’m so glad I went and hopefully soon we’ll have an album to remember the trip by.

by jholland at July 29, 2014 12:49 AM

July 21, 2014

Brandy

Hands Off My Red Handle

I was 12, maybe 13 years old. It was winter, and my cousins and I had spent the morning sledding. We sat in the living room, cheeks burning, clad only in our long johns and T-shirts, our jeans thumping gently in the dryer.

“Here are your clothes,” Grandma said. One cousin grabbed my pants from the top of the still-warm pile. He held them up.

“Oh my gosh, these are huge!” he said, laughing. I snatched them away and quickly pulled them on, the metal button burning hot into my soft stomach. I pawed through the pile, looking for my sweatshirt, when I felt a poke to my upper arm.

“Geez, you have hamhock arms,” he said. And in that moment, I wanted nothing more than to hit him. Make him cry. Make him feel some fragment of the pain I was feeling. But I did nothing. Simply pulled on my sweatshirt and tried to tuck myself into the corner of the rough tweed couch. Tried to be small.

I thought of that girl, that shame, recently when I read an article on National Public Radio about what writer Linda Holmes calls “red handles.”

Read the rest at the Soulation blog.



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by Brandy at July 21, 2014 08:33 PM

Virginia Street

When I moved to Missouri in 2003, I was shaken and disoriented. It felt like I had been in a prolonged period of free fall, and Missouri is where I finally hit the ground. It knocked the breath out of me.

In that sleepy town on the muddy banks of the Mississippi, I felt loneliness and sadness and confusion with blinding clarity. It was as though every  nerve had migrated to the surface of my skin, and even the pressure of the humid air was painful.

Of course, I didn’t really let any of that on to the people I met. At work I was bright and cheerful, bringing in bundt cakes and pies to share–to win everyone ever. At church I smiled and was interesting, jumping immediately into serving in the children’s ministry.

But at home, in that quiet little townhome on Stardust Drive that I shared with two new roommates, I couldn’t always keep my mask from slipping. It was a season of crisis, of deathss and car accidents and sickness, all happening to family and friends in Virginia. The 900 miles between my family and me might as well have been a million. More than once the roommate whose room was next to mine slipped into my dark room and held my hand while I sobbed.

“I’m sorry,” I choked through the tears. She just nodded.

One day that roommate came home and told me she had a surprise for me. She was always up for an adventure, a trip to a darkened, supposedly haunted theatre, a late-night drive looking for the northern lights. Even her car was exciting, a low-slung yellow sporty thing that made me smile in spite of myself.

She grinned as she drove, and I fiddled with the air conditioning vent, hoping I could pull some excitement up past the sadness. She drove through a drive-thru and got us both ice cream. I licked a sticky blot of vanilla off of my wrist as she drove down St. Mary’s Avenue. Where was she taking us? We turned onto Bird street and passed blocks of worn, dingy houses. Mark Twain Elementary was quiet, the lawn patchy and dry. And then she pulled over, rolled down the windows and turned off the car. I looked around.

There was nothing here.

At first I was annoyed. I could still be sitting in my room feeling sorry for myself. But her wide smile told me I was missing something. Finally she pointed out of the window to the green street sign directly in front of the car.

Virginia Street.

“This is as close as I could get to taking you to Virginia,” she said. Her smile softened. Hopeful.

I dipped my face down, could smell the sweet vanilla from the half-melted ice cream in my hands.

This was the nicest thing anybody had ever done for me.

“Thank you,” I said quietly. She smiled, turned on the radio, and we sat in silence and ate our ice cream, a whispery breeze carrying the scene of fresh cut grass through the car.

I left Missouri seven years ago, but I still remember the kindness of that roommate. She saw my brokenness and pain, and instead of shielding herself from it, she walked into it. She took me home the only way she knew how.

I am reminded of her when I see people in my life who are sad and lonely and hiding. I think of her when I must make the choice. Do I turn my back?

Or do I go to Virginia Street with them?



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by Brandy at July 21, 2014 08:18 PM

To Whom It May Concern–Now With Gifs!

Dear Movie Makers,
Look. You can make scary movies all you want. I have no doubt there’s a market for that. But give a girl a break! I go to great lengths to avoid things that scare me, and when I’m sitting on my couch watching “The Voice” or some equally mindless television show, the last thing I want is for a scary preview to come on. Because then I get all paranoid. And I have to go check and make sure that there some children of the corn haven’t moved into my basement. And then I can’t sleep because I’m pretty sure that some being is walking up my stairs. See. I just made myself scared. Sheesh.

Sincerely,
WHAT WAS THAT NOISE?

—–

Dear Spring in Colorado,
You know, for a while I didn’t think you were coming. I thought maybe you had decided to take the year off. I believed that Winter had possibly funded a long vacation in Paris for you. But I’m so glad you’re here, and that you brought your blue skies and blossoms and sunshine with you. Don’t tell the others, but you’re my favorite.

Your Friend,
The Girl in the Flip Flops

P.S. Could you maybe tell summer to hold off just a little while? I’m in no rush for bathing suit season.

—–

Dear Person in the Red Honda,
I would like to sincerely apologize for the “incident” last weekend. You see. It was a lovely, Spring day. The windows were down. I had my new Patty Griffin CD. And I may have forgotten that the windows were down in my car. And I was possibly singing at the top of my lungs. Top. Of. My. Lungs. I didn’t mean to frighten you, or your small children. I just got a bit caught up in the moment. I will try to remember to put the windows up next time.

Sincerely,
Loud, Off-Key Girl in the Green Saturn

—–

Dear Self,
It seems that you are a bit out of practice in the kitchen. That, combined with your love for cooking shows, has perhaps created a perfect storm of disaster. This week alone you have burned, cut and spilled with abandon. But tonight, when you tried to flip a pancake without a spatula, because it looked “so easy” on TV, you perhaps paid the highest price. Pancake splattered on the floor, and cold cereal for dinner. I hope you’ve learned your lesson.

Sincerely,
Crying Over Spilled Pancakes



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Copyright © brandy campbell [To Whom It May Concern--Now With Gifs!], All Right Reserved. 2014.

by Brandy at July 21, 2014 08:17 PM

The Seven Stages of Workshopping (in gifs)

It’s pretty much a rite of passage for a writer. You write something–even if it’s a story about a unicorn who belches rainbows it’s personal, for the simple fact that YOU wrote it. And then, one day you send it to a group of strangers. It feels like sending your first-born child to summer camp. But somehow, it feels more fragile than that even. Your child is sturdy and strong and can make friends. Your writing feels more delicate than that, somehow.

And then, one fateful day, you sit around a table with those strangers. In their hands they hold your words, your story, your creation. And they workshop it. They hug it. They squeeze it. They slap it around a bit. And you sit there, a fake smile plastered on your face so long that your cheeks ache. And you go through…

The Seven Stages of Workshopping

1. Detachment–”I am a professional. I am distant and have no personal attachment to this writing. Nothing said can hurt me.”


2. Hope–”But I hope they like it. I think they’ll like it. Do you like it?”


3. Anger–”You don’t like it? HOW DARE YOU NOT LIKE IT! You have no idea what you’re even talking about.”


4. Ambivalence–”Whatever.”

5. Confusion–”Wait. That’s what you thought that meant? You thought the belching unicorn was a symbol of war? I…I don’t even know what to say.”


6. Shock–”Whaaaaa?” (While this stage is similar to confusion, it is more cold and sweaty.)


7. Exhaustion–”My brain is broken. I need a nap.”

 

And there you have it. The seven stages of being workshopped. (I mean, sometimes there are additional stages of growth and understanding and improvement. But there aren’t any fun gifs for those.)

 



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Copyright © brandy campbell [The Seven Stages of Workshopping (in gifs)], All Right Reserved. 2014.

by Brandy at July 21, 2014 08:17 PM

Story Time With Brandy–The Almost House

As a child, I found that there was a slim sliver of magic just below the trailer we lived in. As an adult I tried to rediscover that magic, armed with a handful of markers and a dry-erase board :) Hope you enjoy!

 



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Copyright © brandy campbell [Story Time With Brandy--The Almost House], All Right Reserved. 2014.

by Brandy at July 21, 2014 08:17 PM