Blog

A Few Things in May

Every now and then, with absolutely no rhyme or reason to it, I like to make a list of a few things I'm enjoying. Like these:

Things I'm Reading

Not That Kind of Girl: A Memoir

After seeing her speak on a panel at the Festival of Faith and Writing, I was curious about Carlene Bauer, so I checked out her memoir about growing up evangelical and moving to New York City to work in publishing, about virginity and faith and maturity.  I loved the first 2/3 or so - lovely sentences, apt images, strong level of self-awareness and humor.  The final section was much weaker, with too many characters to keep straight (including one never named, but called "my Friend") and a less-interrogated sense of her own self.

Frances and Bernard

I'm happy to say that Carlene Bauer's first novel shone with gorgeous prose and strong characters from beginning to end. An epistolary novel, it tells the story of the relationship between two young writers in the nineteen fifties in New York (inspired, I've read, by the relationship between Flannery O'Connor and Robert Lowell). This book isn't for everyone, but for people who love books, sort-of-pretentious language, faith, doubt, genius, Catholicism -- highly recommended.

The Goldfinch: A Novel (Pulitzer Prize for Fiction)

Donna Tartt's The Goldfinch won the Pulitzer Prize for literature last year, and for good reason. Dickensian in scope and character, it's still very much a twenty-first century novel, telling a story about a boy whose mother dies in a terrorist attack on a museum in New York City.  If I say much more about the book's themes of beauty, restoration, fatalism vs. free will, etc., I'll end up with an essay here.  Loved it.

Still Life (Chief Inspector Armand Gamache Mysteries, No. 1)

The Chief Inspector Gamache mystery series by Louise Penny has been my bread and butter this month, though, and they are perfect.  With the caveat that it took me two tries to get into the first one (too many characters introduced all at once in the first chapter, in my opinion), these are readable, addictive, lovely, and willing to engage with the big ideas that the best murder mysteries (like Dorothy Sayer's or P.D. James's for example) deal with.

My To-Read List for Summer

Americanah

The Empathy Exams: Essays

Consider the Birds: A Provocative Guide to Birds of the Bible

The Well-Trained Mind: A Guide to Classical Education at Home (Third Edition)

The Supper of the Lamb: A Culinary Reflection (Modern Library Paperbacks)

I'll also finish up the Louise Penny books, hopefully complete some of the nonfiction books that I love (but never seem to choose when I have a fiction alternative), and be reading and re-reading a select list of memoirs and biographies (because...)

Things I'm Writing

- My name, on the third page of a contract agreeing to be represented by

Heidi Mitchell at D.C. Jacobson & Associates

- A book (apparently), especially the first twenty pages or so, which I have to submit to the writer's

workshop I'm attending this July, which is going to be amazing for many reasons, not least among them, 

a room of one's own. No responsibilities but writing and workshopping, for a whole week.

-1500 words on Buzzfeed quizzes.  You'll have to read all 1500 of them to figure out

Which Kind of Buzzfeed Quiz Taker Are You?

-And my name, again, on (talk about burying the lede, here!) a contract for a new position at Taylor, as the Assistant Director of the Honors Program.  I'll be working twenty hours a week beginning August 1, helping to plan the events and programming the Honors program.  And probably going to China with the Honors freshman for two weeks in January (!!!).

Things I'm Watching

Not very much, because the internet out in the country has been almost non-existent, so there's no streaming of anything.  But we're excited every week for new episodes of Mad Men and Orphan Black.

And we watched the movie Philomena last weekend, and really liked it.

Oh, and watching Rosie at ballet, and Owen with his swords.

Michael Rachap of Readeez sent me and the kids a couple of his dvds, too, and they're quite nice.  Simple, whimsical illustrations (sort of in the style of Calvin and Hobbes) accompany fun, catchy tunes, and reinforce word recognition by showing the words on screen, syllable by syllable, as the music plays.  The kids liked them, and the music didn't drive me crazy (big, rare bonus for kids' music). There are also some Bible memory CDs available. You can try some for free just by joining the email list.

 

Things in my Garden

So many things!  Snap peas, carrots, lettuce, kale, chard, arugula, asparagus, potatoes, rosemary, thyme, cilantro, tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, cucumbers, melons, corn, strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, blackberries.  

And bees in the hive, and chickens in the coop. 

What are you enjoying these days?

my favorite tv shows of 2013

Confession: television is my opiate of choice. So I had five favorite albums, five favorite movies, and... ten favorite shows, plus three more.

But television is really coming into its own as an art form, it's practically the new Charles Dickens serial novel, and netflix and hulu making their own shows, and blah blah blah 

:

It's just that after a day of teaching and grading and writing and talking to little people and potty training little people and cooking and cleaning, I have very little energy, mental or otherwise, to do more after 7:30 pm. (Or that's what I tell myself.)

So, yeah, tv.

Seriously, there is no better show on television right now, and Sidse Babet Knudsen has overtaken Connie Britton as my main girl crush. Let one of my favorite critics, Willa Paskin, convince you:

“Borgen” stars the amazing Sidse Babett Knudsen as Birgitte Nyborg, who begins the series as the head of the lefty Moderate party, a mother of two, and one half of the sexiest, most functional TV marriages this side of Eric and Tami Taylor. (This is not an exaggeration. If I had led with that, you’d probably already be watching.) In the Danish parliamentary system, eight political parties align in various ways to form coalition governments. In the first episode of the series, through various political missteps, the largest liberal and conservative parties rough each other up, giving Nyborg’s Moderates a huge boost and herself the unexpected opportunity to head up a liberal coalition as prime minister.

Though “Borgen” was influenced by “The West Wing” (Nyborg, like Josiah Bartlet, has a knack for giving the honest speech),  it makes “The West Wing” look sentimental, and not because “Borgen” has some ultra-dark view of politics. (In a great New Yorker piece about DR, the broadcaster who makes all these Danish masterpieces, Lauren Collins quoted DR as saying it wanted its series to have messages. “Borgen’s” is, “Can you be in power and remain yourself?” and for the answer, they “want to say yes.”) Rather, compared to American political dramas — “West Wing,” “Scandal,” “Homeland,” “House of Cards” — “Borgen” feels grounded. It is not puffed up with an American sense of grandiosity and world historical import. Each episode contains intricate twists and turns, but is focused on the human-size, psychological aspects of politics, of how Nyborg learns to be effective and at what cost.

The cost ends up being high. Nyborg is decent, well-meaning, sexy, funny, steely. (I dare you to watch her and not develop a crush.) She belongs on any political fantasy team alongside Shepherd, Bartlet and “Battlestar Galactica’s” Laura Roslin. But over the course of “Borgen’s” first two seasons —  the third and final season has aired in Denmark, but won’t air in America until October — Nyborg learns how to navigate and wield her power, an experience that is taxing, isolating and difficult. As time passes, she becomes savvier and more decisive, increasingly comfortable making decisions, an authoritarian knack she starts to take home with her. Knudsen has an infectious, crinkly-nosed smile, but Nyborg has less and less occasion to use it. As she becomes better at her job, her personal life falls apart. (“Borgen” does some heartbreaking things to her adorable marriage it’s hard to imagine any American show daring.) (Read the rest at Salon.)

2. Top of the Lake
A beautiful, haunting story that shows how sexual abuse harms generations of women. Elizabeth Moss - just nominated for a golden globe for her performance - is fantastic.

3. House of Cards
An addictive parable about power and the ubermensch.  (Full review here.)

4. Bunheads
The quirky, fast-talking ballerinas of Amy Sherman Palladino deserved more than just one season. (Full review here.) 

5. Parks and Rec
Yes, this is the third show about government to make my list, and I don't even like politics. It had some ups and downs this season, but I always looked forward to it.
6. The Mindy Project.
Danny Castellano is the new Luke Danes.  Usually funny, sweet, and satisfying, The Mindy Project is like When Harry Met Sally as a sitcom.

7. Switched at Birth
Emily Nussbaum, another of my favorite tv critics, kept singing this show's praises on twitter, and that's how I ended up watching my first ABCFamily show.  Hokey premise, great execution.  I love the way this show deals with class, ethnicity, and deafness (or, as I should probably say, being hard of hearing). Really well-executed and fun to watch.


source
8. Orphan Black
Tatiana Maslany.  That is all.  That is enough.

9. Orange is the New Black...or maybe Nashville

10. Mad Men... or maybe Parenthood

Non-current shows I loved this year:

Foyle’s War S1-7 (full review here)
Detective Chief Superintendent (or DCS) Christopher Foyle (Michael Kitchen), a policeman in the quaint village of Hastings, England during World War 2, solves the cases, small and large, in his coastal town.
The show explores the question of why petty crimes are worth investigating during a time of great crisis. Who cares that your sheep were stolen when the Nazis are dropping bombs on all of us? Foyle shows us that if justice and the rule of law are meaningful in peaceful times, they are equally meaningful in times of war. 

Veronica Mars S1-3 
We re-watched this in preparation for the movie (!) and enjoyed them just as much as the first time around, which is to say, immensely. 

Mary Tyler Moore S1-2 
Just classic. The pilot episode is perfect in every way. I re-watched this around the same time as I read  Mary and Lou and Rhoda and Ted: And all the Brilliant Minds Who Made The Mary Tyler Moore Show a Classic by Jennifer Armstrong.  Lots of fun.

Previously: my favorite movies of 2013 
and my favorite albums of 2013
 

a few (more) things in January

I have the February cranks. The winter grumpies. The pre-spring meanies.


What I am really into right now is sun.  Sun on my skin.  

Instead, the world is grey and white, and I'm trying my best to stay happy. Staying happy includes sneaking bites of frozen chocolate cake and having an afternoon french press of coffee; but also starting a pilates class with friends this week. 

(I'm getting dangerously close, still, to putting blond highlights in my hair and getting a tanning bed membership.  Sun. Warmth. Skin.)

I'm only teaching one class this semester, and it started last week.  I've got double the enrollment I had last semester, which will make for some long nights of grading, but I'm glad to be teaching.

Here are a few other things I've been enjoying lately:





Books:

Still by Lauren Winner. I read Winner's other books 6-8 years ago, when they came out, and loved them.  One of my happiest memories is sitting in a gazebo in Thailand at sunset, reading parts of Mudhouse Sabbath out loud with my girlfriends.  But I have mixed feelings about Still. It just didn't sit quite right with me.

The Fault in Our Stars by John Green. This is a YA novel about teens with cancer.  Still with me?  Good.  This made me laugh, cry, and stop and think.  It's lovely. (And the author lives in Indianapolis! Go Indiana.)

Currently Reading: The Blind Contessa's New Machine by Carey Wallace; The Writer's Notebook: Craft Essays from Tin House; Everyday Justice by Julie Clawson


Movies

Pitch Perfect - I watched this fun teenybopper comedy about a college show choir one blue afternoon after seeing some twitter friends chirp about it.  
To Rome With Love - this newest Woody Allen movie wasn't worth finishing, for us :-(
The Dark Knight Rises - enjoyable, if not as good as Nolan's first two Batman movies.

TV

I have to admit that I love Nashville.  I just do.  I love the music, and I want Connie Britton's hair. Other than that, we are staying current on: Downton Abbey, Suburgatory (really the funniest sitcom that no one is watching), Parks and Rec, The Mindy Project, New Girl, Bunheads, and sometimes The Colbert Report. We're on season four of Foyle's War (on Amazon Prime), which I love, and I also love falling asleep to.  Is that a lot?  Yeah, that's a lot.  

Music

Since Iron and Wine announced  their new album coming this April, we've been obsessively listening to old Iron and Wine stuff. I also find Bon Iver pretty perfect for dark winter days.  For the kids, I love turning on the Elizabeth Mitchell Pandora Station (stream it through the tv via Roku), and Rosie has been falling asleep every night listening to Lullabies by Page CXVI.

Internets

I've started writing a few times a week for Christ and Pop Culture.  So far I've written about reviving the tradition of the boarding house and about abortion, feminism, and feelings.  I won't link to all my pieces here, so if you're interested in keeping up with them, you can follow me on twitter, or subscribe to their blog.

I'm also going to contribute occasionally to a lovely new website called Renew and Sustain.  Today I'm sharing my homemade deodorant recipe over there!

I've read some truly wonderful things online recently.  Check these out:

  • Prizes and Consumables: The Superbowl as a Theology of Women by Matthew Voss
    " The way we consume iconic national events like the Super Bowl better depicts what we really believe about women and their so-called roles than do our formal theological statements, denominational position papers, teachings about the spiritual disciplines, and admonitions toward modesty and fidelity. For in the invisibility of normality, there we find our idolatry."
  • Educated Beyond My Level of Obedience by Danielle Vermeer
    "The speaker started confidently, explaining how “females are always a sellable commodity because…,” before pausing to think how to word his response, “because of the depravity of man.” From a Christian perspective, yes, sinfulness is the root of this evil. But saying that human trafficking exists because of our sinful nature is not the most precise answer, nor it is the most actionable."
  • War Photographer: How Free Do I Have the Right To Be? by JR Goudeau
    "Any act of simplification is also an act of violence.  The expectations of the audience who is reading these representations, whether it be Hill Tribers’ customers or mission-board members or Facebook friends, affect the way we portray people. It is something I constantly resist—the desire to play up my friends’ poverty and their gratefulness and downplay the difficulties we have in relating to each other. I have to recognize the conversation I’m entering and my own position of power within it...It’s hard. And yet, translation is important. The representation of poverty is important. The telling of these stories is important. This struggle to be an effective, ethical, aesthetically-pleasing, economically-helpful translator war photographer is important.

In My Kitchen

Successfully made yogurt for the first time, thanks to a hand-me-down yogurt maker.  It's delicious.  Jack's on a gluten-free kick, which I did for two weeks and then quit.  But I'm still cooking gluten-free dinners.

In My Life...

We've been renting our current home for two and a half years, and we just found out that we will have to move out by May 31.  So we will be jumping back into the (sort of deplorable) house hunt quite quickly here.  Prayers gratefully accepted.

(I'm linking this up with What I'm Into at Hopeful Leigh... I've been doing these posts for a while and never been on the right schedule to join the link up, but here goes!)

What I'm Into at HopefulLeigh

a few things in January

Late December to early January is one of my best chances in the year to read.  (I love working on an academic calendar!) Here are a few things I’ve been enjoying:

The Stages by Thom Satterlee - Thom is a friend, poet and writer in residence at Taylor, and fellow member of Gethsemane Episcopal. It's always nerve-wracking to begin a book written by someone you know, because what if it's awful. This book, though, was truly excellent. Here's the review I left at goodreads: "An intelligently written literary mystery, The Stages tells the story of Dan Peters, an American translator (and Aspie) living in Copenhagen. When his colleague and best friend dies mysteriously and a Kierkegaard manuscript goes missing, Peters seeks to clear his own name in the murder investigation.
With a strong setting, well-developed characters, surprising plot twists, and a solid grounding in philosophy, theology, and language, this book is heads and shoulders above most murder mysteries. Highly recommended. (Currently only available on kindle- and a steal at 2.99!)"


Torn by Justin Lee I basically want to recommend this to every Christian I know. Whether or not I agree with every conclusion Lee comes to, his poignant, vulnerable story is one that Christians - especially those who have never had a gay friend - need to hear. This book is not primarily an argument for gay rights or gay marriage, although Lee does take a little time to explain how his mind changed on those topics. It is primarily a story, one that you need to read with an open heart, ready to learn from it without simply jumping to find things you agree or disagree with.
Not Your Mother’s Morals by Jonathan Fitzgerald ebook available here - full review coming soon.

A Girl of the Limberlost by Gene Stratton Porter I read this because it's free on Kindle, and because I rememberd my mom recommending it to me like 10 years ago.  I absolutely loved it.  Set in Indiana (!) in the early 1900s, it's a beautiful coming of age story that demonstrates so many American cultural values - self-reliance, pulling yourself up by your own bootstraps, the value of hard work and education. It also has a unique naturalist perspective, and it made me think a lot about humanity, the natural world, and technology. 





As for movies, we really liked Safety Not Guaranteed. Josh Radnor's newest offering, Liberal Arts, was ok, a bit predictable, and really! he's playing the same Ted Mosby role again and again! Jack and I both sobbed through Les Miserables in the theater (and it totally changed his mind about Anne Hathaway - from contempt to admiration), and on Amazon Prime we're watching Foyle's War, which his parents recommended. It's a classic British detective show set in the south coast of England during World War II.

a few things in September

Ballet. This picture is so cute it is driving me crazy. Maybe I didn't actually ask the other moms if I could put their children's picture on the internets. My apologies (tell me if you want it removed). It's just too much.

Damages. On the other extreme, I've been enjoying the disturbing show Damages. For most of the show's run, I've had a personal policy of no-damages-before-bedtime, because believe me, you do not want damages-dreams. In this, it's fifth and final season, though, it's got less violence but just as much drama. The performances by Glenn Close and Rose Byrne, as two damaged and power-hungry attorneys, are extraordinary. Are they the only women on tv who are allowed to be as complex and ambitious, as intriguing and abhorrent, as men? (Well, besides the female Prime Minister on Borgen-- yes.) The series finale airs Wednesday on Direct TV.

The Year Six Playlist. I wrote a couple of weeks ago about why we make anniversary mix CDs. Here's a link to listen to Year Six on spotify. My current favorite song is track 2, by The Walkmen. I need what it says about not striving for perfection, but being open to mistakes and failure and correction, a life of wholeness.

Lit. Currently loving this memoir by poet Mary Karr.

Certified Copy. We actually watched this film a few months ago, but somebody reminded me of it this week. It's a French film by an Iranian director and set in Italy. (Actually, parts were filmed in Cortona, just a few miles from where I spent a semester (Mollie, Anna, watch it!)). It's a beautiful and thought-provoking look at relationships, gender, and how we create our stories.

Walks. I usually walk Rosie to preschool, a little over a mile each way, and right now the weather is just achingly perfect, the kind that fills you with nostalgia. Go for a walk.

Google hang outs! Yesterday I used google plus for the first time, to have a video chat with my brothers (in Denver and Tulsa) and our parents (in Arkansas). It was super fun and would have been perfect if Sister Kate could have been there too.

a few things in June

Here are some TV shows, albums, books, and blogs I've been enjoying this month.

Borgen.  Look.  There's no Josh Lyman (yeah, I loved Josh - who didn't?), and the dialogue isn't quite as fast and funny as Aaron Sorkin-style writing, but if you liked The West Wing, you will have to like Borgen, a Danish drama about the first female Prime Minister in Denmark - her cabinet, her family, and the government's relationship to the media. I don't want to give anything away, but if you were interested in Anne-Marie Slaughter's article at Atlantic Monthly this week questioning what it means for women to "have it all," you will love watching Borgen's answer as Prime Minister Birgitte Nyborg wrestles with her work/family balance.  And, as a student of intercultural studies, I also have to say that it's fascinating to observe this small, wealthy, post-Christian European country through its own eyes.

Rain for Roots. We've been listening to these folk songs for little ones quite a bit over the last month.  With lyrics by Sally Lloyd Jones and music by Sandra McCracken, Ellie Holcomb, Flo Paris, and Katy Bowser, they satisfy me both in terms of musical quality and content -- and Rosie LOVES them.  My favorite thing about them is that each song points to God.  A lot of Christian resources for kids tend to be moralistic, focusing on encouraging good behaviors - be patient, share, don't complain, obey. 

And, sure, kids need to be taught these things.  But in training our children, it's all too easy to subtly teach them to rely on her own ability to be good and acceptable to God, rather than to rely on God himself.

 Sometimes kids just need to be pointed to God. So instead of hearing, "Daniel was brave and obeyed God - you should be brave and obey, too!"  I like that Rosie gets to hear

Who heard Daniel when he prayed?
Who helped him not be afraid?
Who stayed beside him in that den?
Who brought him safely out again?

It’s God who kept him in his care.
He’ll keep you, too--no matter where!

Precious Remedies Against Satan's Devices
This latest album from The Welcome Wagon is beautiful.  My sister sent it to me for my birthday, and she reviewed it here.


A Good and Perfect Gift: Faith, Expectations, and a Little Girl Named Penny
Amy Julia Becker, a graduate of Princeton and Princeton Seminary, writes in this book about becoming a mother to her first child, Penny, who has Down Syndrome.  I am almost finished with the book, and I appreciate her candor and care in sharing her story.  (The kindle version of the book is only $2.99 for the month of June!)


Overdressed: The Shockingly High Cost of Cheap Fashion
I'm about a third of the way through this book, which details the history of the garment-making industry in America and shows how "cheap fashion" has changed the way Americans dress and turned clothing into a disposable good.  So far it's dry at some points and fascinating at others, and I've got a lot of thoughts developing about how to think Christianly - redemptively - about the fashion industry. I'm sure I'll write more about this soon.  (For now, how about this example of redeeming disposable clothing?) (Full disclosure: I received this book free from the publisher.)

On the blog front, this month I've become a huge fan of D.L. Mayfield's writing, and I love the stories Jessica Goudeau shares at Love Is What You Do. Both of these women work with refugees, and some (though not all) of their writing relates to that.  Incidentally, this month I've been volunteer-teaching a group of Burmese refugees at a sewing factory in Gas City.  It's worlds different than what I usually do, teaching wealthy Korean college students, and it's a challenge.  I am stunned by the histories of these Burmese people, and by their resilience and work ethic and hope.

And, frankly, I can't wait to see Brave.



on her.meneutics

In case you missed it, last week I had two pieces on the Christianity Today women's blog, Her.meneutics.

(You probably didn't miss it since I tweeted incessantly about it.)




I wrote about Lena Dunham's new show on HBO, "Girls," and its painfully honest depiction of privileged twentysomethings trying to navigate adulthood.

I also interviewed Amy Spiegel about her new book Letting Go of Perfect. She is funny and sincere, and I've thought of her book several times since talking with her, as I am continually figuring out how this "Taylor bubble" community works.