March gifts and graces

Ann Voskamp A Holy Experience

green grass candle ♥ bulbs-a-poppin’ ♥ afghan, warm and cozy ♥ Mom’s pearl ♥ tinkling charms ♥ glammy makeup ♥ learning to forgive ♥ lakeshore stones and pebbles ♥ trust to bank on ♥ a broken heart ♥ baby love ♥ homemade milkshake ♥ crispy bacon ♥ time, carved out for me ♥ sun on the snow ♥ morning reading ♥ the courage to change ♥ perfectly pretty planner ♥ love song ♥ sunny breeze ♥ melting rivulets ♥ shrinking snow piles ♥ steaming coffee ♥ blessed, blessed cough drops ♥ prayer ♥ birdsong ♥ my heart, given away ♥ crisp, clean sheets ♥ shiny, pretty, sparkly ♥ stand up ♥ donuts!♥ fatoush ♥ my bagel buddy ♥ “I can’t wait to hear about it.” ♥ blog away ♥ oil pastel farm road ♥ bath bombs ♥ time is a wastin’ ♥ crown of thorns ♥ braided bun ♥ ring of fire ♥ rock-a-bye baby ♥ neither leave nor forsake ♥ only believe

Must-read Monday

A couple of recent weekends saw me flat out on the sofa, trying to rid myself of some horrible late-winter, early-spring virus. Ugh. Since I couldn’t do much except cough and grab for yet another tissue, my reading attention span was pretty short-lived. (Add the effects of cold medicine and you’ve got the picture!) Check these good reads if you’re out and about on the internet.

The Last Trial: Writer Elizabeth Kolbert  seeks to understand the prosecution of Nazi war criminals, from Nurenburg to the more recent trials of Oskar Groning and John Demjanjuk in the February 16 edition of The New Yorker. (The article was especially powerful considering recent anti-Sematic attacks in Denmark and France.) Most poignant was Kolbert’s discovery of Gunter Demnig’s Stolpersteine (stumbling block) project in which the artist embeds small brass plaques flush on sidewalks, memorializing the last known place a Holocaust victim lived before being taken away. Now thought to be the “largest decentralized memorial in the world” Elizabeth Kolbert commissions one for her great-grandmother and attends the installation. Over 48,000 Stolpersteine have been laid throughout Europe.

Your Son Is Deceased: Stephen and Renetta Torres received a phone call that would turn their world upside down. A neighbor’s call interupts a meeting to let Stephen know that cops have their house surrounded and a bomb-sniffing robot is working its way up the driveway. Knowing the only family member home was their mentally ill son Christopher, they rushed home only to be kept out of the “kill zone”, as one officer called it. As the story unravels, we meet the confused and agitated young man who couldn’t follow police commands and lost his life; the grieving parents whose faith in the system they served was broken; the witness whose testimony was ignored.

A Prosecutor Repents: Another great post by writer Rod Dreher whose blog is a treasure trove for those seeking to put news stories in some sort of cultural and spiritual context. Here a Louisiana prosecutor writes a letter of apology to an innocent man he prosecuted years before. Glen Ford was represented by inexperienced lawyers, a witness gave false testimony, and he was sentenced to death by an all-white jury. Former prosecutor Marty Stroud speaks eloquently about his decision that the death penalty is wrong. (Warning: the video embedded in the post is on autoplay and so will begin when you open the post.) NPR interviewed Mr. Stroud on All Things Considered today.

Wait, Wait … I’m not done yet! (review)

I drink my morning coffee with Steve Innskeep, my drive home is accompanied by Here and Now’s Robin Young, and I fix dinner or grade papers to the sound of Robert Siegal and Melissa Block. It’s not that I have a seriously packed social calendar, though. Rather, those are the NPR program hosts that make up  the soundtrack of my life.

Wait wait I'm not done yetAnd how can I forget the years I spent with Noah Adams or Linda Wertheimer or Susan Stamberg? Or the dulcet tones of Carl Kasell, who anchored the news on Morning Edition for nearly thirty years.

Carl Kasell has written a memoir titled Wait, Wait … I’m Not Done Yet, a reference to his second NPR career as Peter Sagal’s sidekick on Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me, the news quiz show. (Would it surprise you if I told you the book was a membership drive giveaway?)

Kasell’s book went down as smoothly as his reading of the news, but was decidedly more homespun in nature. The memoir covers his childhood, college days, early career, and, of course, his time at NPR—Kasell’s own memories are alternated with reflections of his co-workers, friends, and family members. The tone is warm and conversational. In fact, the almost folksy nature of the memoir was at first a little off-putting (I guess I was expecting something a little more weighty and NPR-ish), but I quickly settled into a long chat with good friends.

So many good stories and tidbits here. Kasell’s high school drama teacher? Andy Griffith (Who knew?!) Kasell’s lovely Italian bride Clara and their young family. His desolation after her death.  One of his college interns? Katie Couric. Kasell’s serendipitous seating at a wedding  reception with a lovely woman, now his wife Mary Ann. The tenor of the NPR newsroom on 9-11. And his (again!) meteoric rise to fame (at least in NPR land) as Peter Sagal’s co-host on Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me.

I’m thinking this book might be a little too much of an inside story for anyone who isn’t an NPR listener. But for those of you who are, it’s like a pleasant visit with dear friends, catching up on old times and I was sorry to see it end.

As in, “Wait, wait, don’t go yet!”

Erin Condren Planner ♥

Several years ago, my husband converted me to Google calendar (which I still love, by the way, for our shared family planner), and when that happened, I gave up my circa 1998 black leather Day Runner  without looking back. All that time spent transferring phone numbers and birthdays every January—who needed it? Not me! I was a citizen of the Digital Age.

Erin Condren planner
Isn’t she pretty?

But this January I got a hankering again for one of those little bundles of organization. You know, the tabs for notes, the address book, the nifty little slots for business cards, and the cute zip lock pouch. I couldn’t put my finger on why, exactly, I wanted to go retro, but there it was. Unfortunately, the pickins’ were slim Office Max in that beloved 5X7” size I loved so well. In fact, I don’t even think they had a Day Runner. I contemplated a Filofax from Amazon. I even looked at printables on Etsy. Bah.

About the same time, a couple of the vloggers I follow unboxed their Erin Condren planners and I think I can safely “blame” Michele1218’s video for pushing me over the edge. (I knew a teacher who used one of EC’s teacher planners, but I didn’t know about her Life Planners.) So I stalked the site online for a few days and joined a couple Facebook groups just to see what the fuss was about.

What I liked about this new wave of paper planner addicts was their penchant for embellishing their weeks, very much like the scrapbooking I do. Now, some of it is a little overboard for my taste, but it looked fun, all the same. I also liked their DIY spirit–all these women laminating scrapbook paper to make something called a dashboard; cutting the Life Planner apart and re-punching it to fit a Filofax; making their own customized stickers, for goshsakes (and buying $150 Silhouettes to do so!); runs to Target to see if the Dollar Spot had added Easter post-it flags; back and forth flurries of RAKs (Random Acts of Kindness) in which planner junkies send a small package of planner goodies to surprise another junkie.

I was in.

Ten days later I had my very own Ready to Ship Life Planner, complete with a some extra doo-dads: a few cards and stickers, a couple of paper clips. And that much talked about coupon code I needed to customize a cover of my very own.

I love it. Like I said, my tastes run to the understated. I had a couple early mis-buys:  shiny vinyl stickers in bright primary colors, some pastel Sharpies that just aren’t me. But a couple hours of browse time later (and a quick run to Hobby Lobby) and I found my look in the sticker line Sn@p by Simple Stories—they’re  happy, but not cutesy, in muted colors that are a perfect complement to the Erin Condren palette.

What’s this craze all about? Let’s face it, life is hectic. I’ve got appointments and shopping lists and work outs and school deadlines and birthday parties and church … you get the idea. All that hectivity can sometimes whorl around me, kind of like the cloud that surrounds Charley Brown’s Pig-Pen character. Putting it down on paper gets it out of my head–it’s a physical way I can control the, well, uncontrollable.

So that’s the fancy pants reason for you–but it’s also plain old fun!

The Love Song of Miss Queenie Hennessey (review)

The Love Song of Miss Queenie Hennessey (Edelweiss DRC)
Rachel Joyce
Random House

We expect our happiness to come with a sign and bells but it doesn’t.

When The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce was published in 2012, the novel was short listed for the Booker Prize and won UK National Book Award for New Writer of the Year. And it was that good. Harold Frye, a kind of work-a-day Everyman, goes out one day to post a letter to an old friend who has written to say she’s dying and finds himself walking from one mail box to another until he’s out of the city and into the countryside. A couple miles out, Harold decides he’ll just keep on keepin’ on and deliver the letter himself. He calls the hospice where friend Queenie now lives and asks the nurse to give her a message: “Wait for me.”

Along his nearly 700 mile pilgrimage, Harold reflects on his marriage, his failure as a father, his lonely childhood, and his pedestrian work life (pun intended). Harold dutifully calls his wife Maureen each day and buys souvenir trinkets along the way for both her and Queenie. Writer Joyce also gives the reader Maureen’s point of view and we can begin to unravel the pain and hurt that has scarred this couple for the past two decades. After some little publicity, Harold is joined along the way by a rag tag bunch of followers who co-opt his mission, but he ends his journey as he began: alone. His goodbye to Queenie isn’t what he (or, probably most readers) quite expected.

In her second novel, The Love Song of Miss Queenie Hennesey, Joyce tells the story from Queenie’s end. And I must say, I think it’s the better novel.

Love Song of Miss Queenie HennessyQueenie Hennessey, thirty-something and pregnant, moves to Kingsbridge to start anew after a love affair gone wrong. Oxford educated, she’s floated through life, rudderless. Moored by the pregnancy she applies for a job as an accountant and refuses to budge from the office of the misogynistic factory boss who won’t interview a woman for the position. Her tenacity pays off and Queenie begins work, almost just as her pregnancy ends in miscarriage. But in the pain of losing her baby, she’s touched by a stranger–one Harold Fry, a diffident man, rather timid, and very tall. Because she needs to visit the brewery’s accounts scattered around the county and because she is a woman, the brewery boss Mr. Napier delegates Harold to drive Miss Hennesey to her appointments.

And so begins their ten year friendship. Queenie sees it at her job to make the uncomfortable Mr. Frye relax a bit, and he, in turn, treats her with gentlemanly respect and kindness. Queenie finds herself in love, but never speaks of her feelings. After several years, Queenie meets a belligerent (and probably drunk) young man on the street, immediately recognizing him as Harold’s son David. The two begin a secret friendship of sorts, neither mentioning Harold.

As often happens when secrets are involved, tragedy strikes. Queenie sets out again to begin anew, settling far away in a beach cottage in Northumberland where she creates fantastical natural sculptures in her beach garden—figures of driftwood, draped with seaweed and strung with shells. Queenie finds whatever peace she can until cancer strikes, disfiguring her and robbing her of speech.

In hospice, Queenie is cared for by tender and rather eccentric nuns: Sister  Lucy, Sister Philimena, and Sister Mary Inconnu. When news of Harold’s pilgrimage reaches the residents, they follow his trek via the post cards he sends Queenie and whatever news they can find in the newpaper or on television. To help Queenie come to terms with her life and loss, a Sister Mary Inconnu helps her write another letter to Harold Fry, but not “the sort of message he might expect from a gift card. Tell him the truth, the whole truth. Tell him how it really was.”

And so she does. Queenie’s story is, I think, more honest than Harold’s in Pilgrimage. Her voice is tender and raw and so much poetry: “Now that I have shaped the songs in my head and placed them on the page, now that my pencil has turned them into lines and tails and curls, I can let them go. My head is silent. The sorrow has not gone but it no longer hurts.”

Oddly (or maybe not) I read the two novels out of sequence. I got Love Song as an advance reader’s copy and liked it so much I wanted to hear Harold’s story, too. Both books would make a lovely gift pair and both stories are a testament to the extraordinary grace of ordinary lives–but it is Queenie’s words that are  with me still.