#48. Christy

[For the Rules, click here.]

"You a feminist already, Miss Huddleston?"

"I don't think so. Because there's always the danger that the extreme feminist will end up quite unfulfilled as a girl."

Author: Catherine Marshall

Synopsis: A young city girl goes as a missionary to a small community in Appalachia. It takes all of her courage and faith to deal with wretched poverty among the families, stubborn parents, cruel children and vulnerable ones, and the two very different men who compete for her.

* * *

My copy of this book is rather battered. I found parts of the story quite powerful, and the ending almost never fails to bring tears to my eyes--in a good way, of course.

The TV series never did the novel justice, though Kellie Martin did a good job in her role as the title character. Tyne Daly turned Miss Alice from queenly and gentle to stern and bossy, which didn't sit well with me at all. There were also some nonsensical storylines in some of the episodes--Fairlight's son falling for Christy, etc. All that, and the series ended on a cliffhanger. Which, as shown, was also not in the book.

Most "Christian fiction" bothers me a bit. It usually follows a set pattern: Take a basically secular paperback storyline, and either a) make the main character have a conversion experience, or b) make the main character a Christian and have him/her convert someone else. It gets annoying after awhile.

Christy is a story of deepening faith and living for others, and is told without didactic writing or cliche. It's also just well-written and moving.

Recommended Related Reading (RRR): Julie, Catherine Marshall's other novel. I liked that too.


#49. The Little House Books

Suddenly, deep down in the water, something grabbed her foot.

The thing jerked, and down she went into the deep water. She couldn't breathe, she couldn't see. She grabbed and could not get hold of anything. Water filled her ears and her eyes and her mouth.

Then her head came out of the water close to Pa's head. Pa was holding her.

"Well, young lady," Pa said, "you went out too far, and how did you like it?"

Laura could not speak; she had to breathe.

"You heard Ma tell you to stay close to the bank," said Pa. "Why didn't you obey her? You deserved a ducking, and I ducked you. Next time, you'll do as you're told."

"Y-yes, Pa!" Laura spluttered. "Oh, Pa, p-please do it again!"

Author: Laura Ingalls Wilder

Synopsis: The series begins with "Little House in the Big Woods" and ends with "The First Four Years", taking the reader from Laura's early childhood in a pioneer family through the first years of her marriage to farmer Almanzo Wilder. "Farmer Boy" tells stories from Almanzo's youth.

* * *

I started reading these when I was very young and went through two sets of them. My second set is currently falling apart and I'm not sure where "The First Four Years" went, but I can get lost in the story now as much as ever. When I went looking for a quote, I wound up reading half of On the Banks of Plum Creek.

The father-daughter friendship is probably the main reason I love these books so much. Laura always seemed to feel about her "Pa" much like I feel about my dad. There's no substitute in the world for having a good man for a father.

These probably deserve to be a little higher up the list, but if I keep rearranging the numbers I'll never get the whole fifty posted.

Random Associated Memory: I used to watch the television show faithfully, though it diverged wildly from the books. At the end of one episode--I think it might have been Mary's wedding (see, I told you it wasn't like the books)--a little boy kisses Carrie and the words "To Be Continued in Fifteen Years" show up on the screen. I waited fifteen years for the continuation. It never came.


#50. Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm

"Would you go back?" asked Mr. Cobb curiously.

She flashed him an intrepid look and then said proudly, "I'd never go back--I might be frightened, but I'd be ashamed to run. Going to Aunt Mirandy's is like going down the cellar in the dark. There might be ogres and giants under the stairs, but as I tell Hannah, there might be elves and fairies and enchanted frogs!"

Author: Kate Douglas Wiggin

Synopsis: Rebecca Rowena Randall, second daughter of a struggling family, goes to live with her two aunts in a small town, where even her humble history and her grim Aunt Miranda cannot keep her from the spotlight.

* * *

Rebecca gave me a complex if ever a fictional character did; what child can live up to her infinite magnetism? In spite of that, I loved her story. She made me laugh, and I sympathized with her a lot despite her superior powers of fascination.

The characters are well-drawn and interesting, which is the first thing I ask from a novel, though I sometimes find myself frustrated by the repeated characterization of the less charismatic as dull, narrow and unenlightened. The primary purpose of almost every person in Riverboro appears to be the setting off of Rebecca's starry personality. "Mr. Aladdin", though, as well as Aunt Jane and "Uncle" Jerry and Miss Maxwell, etc., are enjoyable characters in their own right, and antagonists such as Aunt Miranda and Huldah Meserve are believable and assist both plot and character development well.

Rebecca's many escapades--the Simpson lamp, the inviting home of a missionary family without her aunts' permission, the pink umbrella down the well, and so on--are more interesting to me, I confess, than a lot of wild exploits. I'm very fond of getting to know a character's mind and heart, and without that, action doesn't interest me at all.

Now I want to read it again. That's the problem with listing my favorite books; my re-read list is sure to get much longer very quickly.

By the bye, I'm pretty sure the Shirley Temple movie had absolutely nothing to do with the book.


Fifty Favorite Books

The idea came to me the other day that there might be fun in listing my top 50 favorite books. Of course, the list immediately began to compile in my head. A list of fifty anything makes for sketchy reading, though, so I thought there might be even more fun in posting the book titles one at a time with quotes, synopses, and information on why I like each book.

The fun begins tomorrow, then, unless something random happens to prevent me accessing my computer. I will likely blog about other things between these posts, but plan to have the list complete by the end of summer. To make the posts easily accessible, I'll give them their own label: "Fifty Favorite Books".

Here are my Rules for the List:

  1. This list is "not counting sacred texts" so I don't have to go all Sunday-school and put the Bible, catechism, breviary, etc. at the top. Those may be assumed; believe me, if I got stuck on a desert island, I'd want them along.
  2. This is a list of my favorite books, not "The Best Books I've Ever Read". I didn't want to feel pressured to leave out any of the most fun books just because Dostoyevsky can write better.
  3. Stories in series form are included as a group and placed according to the installment I liked best. This keeps the several great multi-volume sagas I've loved from taking up almost the entire top 50 by themselves.
  4. Books may be fiction or non-fiction, but they must be free-standing, single-unit books (or series). This excludes:

Take the order of this list as rather general. Books with close numbers ... say, within ten or fifteen of each other ... might well be equal in my mind. Or they might not. I've changed the list around every day I've looked at it; something so subjective can hardly be expected to be absolutely accurate.

It should, at least, be fun. Happy reading!


The Purpose of English Class

The Book Examiner has a sensible take on the Campbell High School (Litchfield, NH) removal of certain books from the English curriculum. An excerpt:

"The only portion of this story that will be bandied about the newspapers (the few remaining ones, that is), the talk shows, and the literary blogs and websites will be whether or not parents should have the right to have literature that does not line up with their personal belief systems banned from high school classes.

However, it seems to me that wasting time arguing this point (which should be fairly obvious -- of course: parents, on either side of the policial spectrum, should have that right. Huzzah to these ones for paying attention: most wouldn't know if their child was reading The Joy of Sex in class. And some wouldn't care) diverts the spotlight away from the real issue -- what is the purpose of high school English classes? And are the works chosen for those classes even remotely accomplishing that "stated" purpose? Or are they actually pursuing some other purpose?"
She goes on to talk about the fact that an English class pushing a social science agenda is failing its purpose, which is to teach kids to read and write correctly. The piece is well worth reading. It's nice to see someone take a reasonable position on a story like this instead of just having a panic attack about book banning.


Twilight Fans

Check out John Granger's new site diving into the deep literary meanings of the Twilight saga: the Forks High School Professor blog.

Enjoy. I know I do.


A Reason to Read Fiction

One of my book clubs is reading Ender's Game, so I picked my copy off the shelf last night. Orson Scott Card wrote the following in his introduction to the book, and I loved it:

"Why else do we read fiction, anyway? Not to be impressed by somebody's dazzling language--or at least I hope that's not our reason. I think that most of us, anyway, read these stories that we know are not "true" because we're hungry for another kind of truth: The mythic truth about human nature in general, the particular truth about those life-communities that define our own identity, and the most specific truth of all: our own self-story. Fiction, because it is not about somebody who actually lived in the real world, always has the possibility of being about ourself."


Dolma Recipe

Months have passed since the last time I saw my friend from Hungary, so my visit with her this morning was long overdue. She served me homemade tiramisu and we walked around her gardens and greenhouse, picked cherries and grape leaves and a cucumber, and talked over all manner of things.

She taught me how to get my tomato and pepper plants to produce more and gave me bamboo dowels to stake the tomatoes. I came home and applied all her suggestions, and my plants look much better now. That made me happy.

She also explained to me the making of dolma, stuffed grape leaves. I couldn't remember everything she said, but I remembered enough and mixed in a little help from various online recipes and some personal creativity. Here's what I did, in case anyone wants to try (I have no idea where to get grape leaves, but they've got to be available someplace ... the Greek restaurants get them):
  • Brown a pound of ground beef with garlic salt, pepper, and savory. I forgot to put the dill in ...
  • Make rice with about half the usual amount of water so it's soft but not fully cooked (I used 1 1/2 cups rice and 2 cups water)
  • When the rice is boiled dry, throw about a cup of diced onion, a half-stick of butter, and a dash of soy sauce in with it and simmer until the onions are transparent
  • Mix the rice and burger together
  • Bring salted water to a boil and throw the grape leaves (pick large, young, unsprayed ones; you'll need about 4-6 per person plus some for the bottom of the pan) in for about ten seconds
  • Lay a few of the wet grape leaves on the bottom of a 9x13 pan
  • Roll spoonfuls of rice-and-burger mixture into the grape leaves like egg rolls or burritos
  • Lay the rolled-up leaves into the 9x13 pan
  • Pour about two cups of the hot water left from boiling the grape leaves over the rolls
  • Bake for an hour at 350°
  • Serve with sour cream (I put deviled eggs and fresh cherries on the table as side dishes)
Whether the dill would have helped or not, I cannot say ... as it was, I thought it wonderful. Thanks, Elizabeth!

Update: I just added a step that I'd forgotten ... if you don't pour some hot water over the stuffed leaves before baking, the rice will be awfully hard when you take it out of the oven. :P


Funny Line of the Week

"Oh yeah, and if I wind up going to hell, it will look like Branson, Missouri. That city doesn't know the meaning of the word 'tacky.'"

Matt of 'The Church of No People'

Disclaimer: I've never been to Branson (so I can't concur or dissent) and I usually don't appreciate mockery of the South ... but hey, that was funny.

I found that quote by linking off Jon Acuff's blog (always worthy of mention in humor recommendations), where a guest post by Matt provided another one of the funniest things I've seen all week:

"Contrary to popular belief, Christians aren’t always perfect people. Maybe you have a bumper sticker or a bracelet that says, “W.W.J.D.,” but my bracelet says “W.W.J.L.M.G.A.W.J.T.O.I.I.S.I.W.R.S.A” (What would Jesus let me get away with just this once if I said I was really sorry afterward?) Yes, I have really big wrists."

That last post is hysterically funny and well worth the read. I found it difficult to pick which part to quote. Enjoy.


A Time to Keep Silent and a Time to Speak

I found myself a prayer in Sirach today, chapter 22:

O that a guard were set over my mouth,
and a seal of prudence upon my lips,
that it may keep me from falling,
so that my tongue may not destroy me!

Hear, hear!

As a writer, the risk of giving offense is always present. It seems to count for little, sometimes, when words are cast out into the anonymity of the internet (at least, judging by the anonymous comments I find on some sites). But my blog is not anonymous, nor will my novels be, nor is my music. I run the risk of offending people I know and love, every time I make available anything I've created. I can never be exactly sure what will bother whom.

I have an overdeveloped postmodern fear of giving offense. The result is that sometimes I find myself simply saying nothing.

Not that I feel the need to speak my opinion into the lives of everyone on the planet. It's just that the restraint is a burden so heavy as to leave me understanding why the societal battle cry "Just be who you are, and screw anyone who disagrees with you" appeals to so many. Of course, that rally comes with a disclaimer: if you agree with the zeitgeist. That's a big if.

I wasn't raised to say "Screw anyone who disagrees with me". My parents taught me to be respectful of other people and their opinions and beliefs. But respectful disagreement can still offend, and in some cases nowadays, it doesn't even seem to matter if you disagree respectfully. You disagree, and that makes you either stupid or a bad person.

These thoughts aren't directed at any person or any idea. I just thought I'd pose the question: Where do you draw the line?

Irony: Lou and I just spent ten minutes debating whether "screw" was an inoffensive enough word to use in this post. I left it in. Hopefully it doesn't offend anyone. :D



I don't know if this played as one of the American Idol finale commercials, but this video is just beautiful. I'm pretty sure it made me cry the first couple of times I watched it.

Hat tip to CMR. I meant to link to this when I first saw it on their site, and forgot. Better late than never.


New Silhouette Post

After a busy weekend, I'm back online. I made it through both songs on Saturday without crying, hitting any wildly off notes, or fainting, so all is well here.

Though I don't normally write poetry without music, I scratched a poem out a couple months ago after hearing that terza rima (Dante's rhyming scheme used in the Divine Comedy) is supposed to be really difficult to do in English (if you're writing a hundred cantos, it probably is.) The result went up on Silhouette the other day. It's not brilliant, but it was fun to write.


I Think I Can, I Think I Can

I have to sing in front of people tomorrow.

It's nothing new to me--I've sung in public a lot of times, alone and with my sisters, accompanied by a band or just my guitar. Sometimes the function has been sacred, sometimes it has been secular. I've sung as background music in cafes and in front of packed church services.

I get nervous every time.

Regarding tomorrow, for instance, I'm worried that my eyebrows will crease when I'm supposed to look happy, that I'll be stiff and awkward instead of pulling off that Depression-era piece with all the lilt and life it deserves, and that I'll get out of sync with my voice teacher's piano accompaniment. I'm also worried that I won't be able to get enough volume to be heard on the lower notes of the song with the guitar. That last might be especially difficult, as I wrote that song for Lou and I've been known to start crying when singing it, even in practice. It might just be my favorite song I've ever written. It's tough to say.

But in all likelihood things will go fine. It might not be great, but it should be fine. I've practiced (wonder of wonders, miracle of miracles); all I can do now is my best.


Of Making Many Books

Not much time for blogging tonight: Chapter 9 has me absorbed. It's taking longer than the other chapters--or maybe it's just that I keep going back and messing with chapters 2 and 8.

It's been a long time since I sat down seriously to attempt a novel. Over ten years ago I wrote my one-hundred-and-some-page draft of a middle reader story about a figure skating girl, her brother, and her arch-enemy. I can actually watch my writing skills progress as I read that piece. It's amusing.

Now I edit myself ferociously, writing my new story, and wrestle with preserving its inner logic. Just yesterday I realized that the way I had the relationships set up, the last names didn't work. Bah.

It's incredibly hard work, novel-writing. But I'm loving it.


Childish Things

I shall never be too old to read C.S. Lewis.

"When I became a man I put away childish things, including the fear of childishness and the desire to be very grown up."

On Three Ways of Writing for Children


Things That Come in Eights

Why eight? Why these questions? We may never know. But who said the fun had to be in knowing Why?

I have been tagged by Lindsey, so here are my eights.

8 Things I'm Looking Forward To

  1. Seeing my hubby when he gets off work tonight
  2. Working up Chapter 9 of my novel and getting more plot wrinkles ironed out
  3. John Granger speaking at Village Books at the end of June
  4. My godson's baptism
  5. Mass on Sunday
  6. Calling my best friend again
  7. Getting through singing in front of people this Saturday, hopefully having sung audibly and well
  8. Seeing Jesus and never being afraid any more
8 Things I Did Yesterday

  1. Slept most of the morning
  2. Took rubbing alcohol to all three of my fake tattoos (that's how you get them off)
  3. Took a walk with Lou and stopped by my parents'
  4. Got mostly caught up on my Google Reader after the weekend (I'm still not all the way caught up)
  5. Did some reading for my writing group
  6. Said my prayers and read a chapter in the Bible
  7. Made dinner for my husband
  8. Stayed up too late owing to having slept most of the morning
8 Things I Wish I Could Do

  1. Make everybody happy
  2. Be a mommy
  3. Know what to say when I need to say it and not weeks or months or years later
  4. Write books that people love and want to read over and over (I'm trying)
  5. Not get so upset when people disagree with me or dislike me
  6. Practice music without being afraid that I'll annoy the neighbors or that someone will hear me hit a bad note
  7. Not feel like if I move about too much, my extraordinarily long limbs will hurt people
  8. Bring about peace in the Middle East
8 Shows I Watch

I don't watch any! In lieu of a current list, then, here are 8 shows I used to watch:

  1. American Idol. I voted for Anthony Fedorov!
  2. What Not to Wear. I'm still not good at matching clothes though.
  3. Lois and Clark. Dean Cain and Teri Hatcher will always be my ideal of Superman and his leading lady.
  4. Full House. Whatever happened to predictability?
  5. Home Improvement. "You know what Freud says: There are no accidents." "Well, obviously Freud never saw Tool Time."
  6. The Dick Van Dyke Show (reruns on Nick at Nite or TVLand.) Funniest show ever.
  7. The Cosby Show. Impossible not to love.
  8. Jeopardy. I could always out-answer the contestants on Bible questions; unfortunately, not often on anything else.

The game is not complete until I've tagged someone. I'll tag any and all of the bloggers in my writing group that want to play (Brittany? Jana? Sarah? Miles? Did I miss anyone?), and Briana on Facebook.


Girls Having Fun

Four of us packed into Donna's CRV and drove over the mountains Friday afternoon in pursuit of fun and good girl time. We made it back Sunday evening, having accomplished the following:

  • Long walk up a hill on blacktop in the sun (it felt great to me ... I got so tired of being cold this year)
  • Application of multiple fake tattoos--I got a fairy, a star, and a flower
  • A long time spent bobbing about on noodles in the pool
  • The viewing of three movies (New in Town, The Mighty, and He's Just Not That Into You)
  • Dessert after every meal (no joke)
  • Long conversations catching up on each girl's life and loves, and solving the world's problems
  • Talking late into the night
  • Reading for fun
  • Walking through the Leavenworth Bavarian village

I got up this morning at 7:30, breakfasted with Lou and saw him off to work, and promptly thereafter fell asleep on the couch. I didn't get up again until after noon.


Music of the Spheres

I'm going over the mountains for the weekend, so no new posts until Monday unless I'm overburdened with inspiration late Sunday night.

The return of spring has brought an old hymn back to mind, and I've been singing it around the house. I love the vibrant melody and lyric.

This is my Father's world, and to my listening ears
All nature sings and round me rings the music of the spheres.
This is my Father's world! I rest me in the thought
Of rocks and trees, of skies and seas; His hand the wonders wrought.

This is my Father's world! The birds their carols raise
The morning light, the lily white declare their Maker's praise.
This is my Father's world! He shines in all that's fair
In the rustling grass I hear Him pass; He speaks to me everywhere.

This is my Father's world! O let me never forget
That though the wrong seems oft so strong God is the ruler yet.
This is my Father's world! The battle is not done
Jesus who died shall be satisfied and earth and heaven be won.

Happy weekend, everyone.


Love in Fiction

I'm not much of a genre reader. Any sort of plot works for me, as long as it's interesting, not too disgusting or tragic, and the character development is good. I do stay away from the romance genre most of the time unless I know the book is clean, because if these characters with whom I've begun to bond turn out to be immoral, I'll be disappointed in them.

Good stories of any genre may have romances that are compelling and beautiful and sweet. The Book Examiner posted, some time back, on "The 5 Most Annoying Literary Romances ... and the 5 Most Romantic Ones." With judgment reserved on Sayers' pair, whose stories I haven't read but will happily search the library for, her picks for both seem just about right to me. Does anyone really like Tess of the d'Urbervilles? I hated that book.

I still haven't brought myself to read Wuthering Heights either, though in the name of being well-read it may need to be gritted through eventually. Maybe someday I'll put myself in a padded cell for a couple of weeks and read that book and select works of Kafka, Steinbeck and Hemingway. Then I'll have paid my debt to tragic literature, though it might take electro-shock therapy to cleanse my mind enough to live a normal life thereafter.

I have a couple nominations of my own for the next two Most Romantic Couples:

Ender Wiggin and Novinha from Orson Scott Card's Speaker for the Dead. "For he loved her, as you can only love someone who is an echo of yourself at your time of deepest sorrow." That pretty much says it all. That book is so beautiful it makes me cry.

Miri Larendaughter and Peder Doterson from Shannon Hale's Princess Academy. I read the spring holiday scene a couple of nights ago and it made me feel absolutely gooey. Princess Academy is a middle-reader book and the young couple don't even kiss on the lips, but it is ever so sweet.

Whom would you nominate?



The sunburn I contracted Sunday is fading now, but it still makes me happy. It means that we've had sun. Stinging skin, red arms, farmer's tan--I'll take it all. For two whole weeks we've had beautiful weather. That's a third to half as long as our entire summer-weather stint last year, and it's only the third of June.

Around here, the weather isn't just something people talk about when they can't think of anything else to say. If the sun comes out, we have glory.


Top of the Mountain

"I've been stuck in Purgatory for a long time" is a joke that never seems to get old.

With four cantos to go of the middle installment of The Divine Comedy, I have at last made it through the final fire, out of Purgatory proper, into Paradise. The griffin-drawn chariot has just stopped before Dante, and the last few cantos have been absolutely lovely.

Once I figured out that reading the lines as if they were prose--losing the strict rhythm and line breaks--made it easier, I've been able to understand and remember more. And Anthony Esolen's translation (2003, Random House Inc.) gives as close a sense and feel of the original as can be absorbed, I think, by anyone who (like me) cannot read Italian.

From Canto 28:

"My feet stopped, but my eyes went wandering over
the far side of the river, marveling
at all the fresh and various blooms of May.
When there appeared, as now and then some thing
will suddenly appear and lead astray
anything else you might be thinking of,
A lady all alone who went her way,
singing and culling flowers in the grove,
for at her feet the dappled blossoms lay."

I thought Dr. Esolen's first notes on this simply beautiful:

"A flower's use exceeds the reproduction of the plant, as the use of the gaudy chest of the male bunting exceeds the reproduction of buntings. Or perhaps it does not: it depends upon what we mean by "use." If usefulness forgoes the parading of beauty for its own sake, or play that is other than preparatory for wars foreign and domestic, or praise poured out from a grateful heart, then a beautiful woman singing while she picks flowers in a meadow is as useless a creature as can be conceived. Interesting that she should be the first being we meet in Earthly Paradise."

Most women need such a reminder now and then--that loveliness of whatever sort they have is of value for its own sake, and that rest is a worthwhile part of life, not merely a concession to bodily necessity.

Suzy Q Homemaker here felt a bit useless herself this morning, having fallen asleep on the couch with a ponytail in her hair. But the laundry is getting washed and dried, albeit somewhat later than usual, and a hairbrush is accessible, and the rest was oh, so good.


Post #200: Blog Improvement

For my two hundredth post, I decided to do a major blog overhaul. As much as I loved the look of the old template, it felt too dark ... especially considering the blog title ... and the font size had to be unreasonably large to be readable. My parents' computer still didn't like it, even with the big font.

After several hours of searching today, I found this template, complete with all manner of beautiful things. I really hope it works on everybody's computer, because I love it.

New features include the "Go" search bar and the labels section, allowing for easier finding of old posts (it took me forever to track down the posts I linked last week). No, I did not add labels to all 200 posts, just the most recent and a few special ones. I will probably add them to more of the older posts eventually.

My testing of those functions went splendidly. Let me know if anything behaves with persistent stupidity and I'll have Lou give it an attitude adjustment.

It might be immortal optimism rising, but I'd like to post more often and more cheerfully. An evening last week spent stripping added color from some of my oldest posts reminded me of the original joy of blogging. Politics, thou shalt not wreck my blog! I have created a label for political essays, for the times when I cannot stop myself, but I started this little page to talk over life and love and beautiful things, not that which is wicked and awful.

Here's to happy thoughts and many of them. :)