Counting Seconds and other stories

As per the timer on the front page at NaNoWriMo.org:

I plan on putting up a massive NaNoWriMo survival post on Monday, so today's post will be short. Especially since I still have one and a half chapters to revise... in a little over two and a half days.

* * *

The story of this week: Revise novel, work on laundry, try to keep Maia distracted with socks while I fold the rest of the clothes, revise novel, think about blogging, forget something I was supposed to do, revise novel, get distracted by YouTube and Twitter, revise novel, chase Maia off the kitchen counter, revise novel, catch Maia and take away the teabag that she got from the kitchen sink, revise novel, play in the NaNo forums, revise novel... Not necessarily interesting. I'll spare you further details.

* * *

Music of the week:  This might be the single most beautiful piece of music ever written. It's one of the things I miss most about the schola I sang with last year. (And I recommend watching the video on full screen, just because the pictures—while not super high-quality—are beautiful.)

We sang it at St. Andrew's Cathedral in Victoria last May, along with some Gregorian chant and several other polyphony pieces. Being part of that music, in a place like that... I'll never forget that night.

* * *

Writer's link of the week, because it's true: It's okay to write slow, says Natalie Whipple. That might be the wrong message to give myself going into NaNoWriMo. But if I know one thing about NaNoWriMo, it's that the fast and glorious first draft is something I don't even dare show my family. It just gives me something to put hours and days and months and possibly years into revising. And I do... oh, I do. I write so slow it's painful. I just like it to be right.

* * *

Funny of the week: xkcd's Map of Online Communities. Brilliant.

* * *

I've got a NaNoWriMo survival post to write up, 1 2/3 chapters to revise, and I'd really like to take Sunday off and just read something (so I can start Currently Readings again) before trying to write 1667 words per day for a month. 'Bye. Happy weekend!

NaNoWriMo countdown: 2:14:35:10


Thursday Book Questions: Part 7

Five questions a week. Eleven weeks. Post your answers in the comments (or on your own blog if you prefer, just link back in the comments) and I'll do the same thing.

Last week, we all solidly agreed that we pay much more attention to Amazon reviews than those by professional critics. I think we can all agree, of course, that we pay attention primarily to the Amazon reviews that appear to have been written by literate, thinking people. Still, it's interesting that the internet has made us more likely to listen to the common man than the expert. Or can the internet be blamed? If experts didn't have a vested interest in being grumpy about most of the books we like, maybe that would change. Haha.

Also from last week's answers, my best friend (that's MissPhotographerB) introduced me to a new concept. Pretzel M&Ms? I never heard of such a thing. Now I'm curious.

This week's questions:

31. How do you feel about giving bad/negative reviews?
(answer here)
32. If you could read in a foreign language, which language would you choose?
(answer here)
33. Most intimidating book you’ve ever read?
(answer here)
34. Most intimidating book you’re too nervous to begin?
(answer here)
35. Favorite Poet?
(answer here)

Can't wait to hear from you!

Update: I have corrected the typo. Golly, you just can't trust these online surveys... ;)


Tasty Tuesday: Chocolate Hazelnut Gelato

Tasty TuesdayOne year ago today, I was on a plane to Rome. A whole year...

Everybody fusses about the food in Italy, but mostly, we ate a lot of pizza. Italian fast food for American tourists, you know. I like pizza just fine, but it's not what I went to Italy for.* But the nation has one food item that is both awesome and hard to come by in America. (Well. You can get it, but it's not guaranteed to taste the same.)


I don't have an ice cream maker, but if I did, I would make that recipe. I would buy the Nutella for it and everything. One of these days I'll have to borrow my sister's or something.

Out of fear of cease and desist orders from whoever owns the Food Network, I'm only posting a link, not the recipe itself. My apologies.

*I didn't go to Italy for the gelato, either, but I did enjoy that aspect of it. And they admittedly do have some great pizza.



I wanted to write a nice blog about writing today. I really did. Unfortunately, I have an cold, for which the primary symptom thus far is a thorough sapping of energy. Instead of getting things done, then, I've mostly been doing the modern equivalent of laying around watching numerous episodes of The Wedding Story followed by Brady Bunch re-runs: killing time on the internet.

Among other things, I read this entire blog. Not kidding. Yes, it's aimed at men, but can you girls help being curious at what this potential traitor might be saying about us? As it turns out, what she has to say made me laugh. Also, it's all in lowercase. I have no idea what to do with that.

If you want to read about writing, Rachelle Gardner had a great post last week about the rules of writing, which I meant to link anyway because it tied in so well with other things I've written here. Enjoy.


Horses Who Loved to Run and other stories

When I was a little girl, I read horse books. Billy and Blaze, The Saddle Club, The Red Pony (on account of which I swore off Steinbeck long before I got into serious literature), Black Beauty, Pippi Longstocking (hey, she had a horse—she was just strong enough to carry him around), all the Misty books, and biographies of great horses like The Godolphin Arabian, Seabiscuit, and Secretariat.

So when my visiting sister-in-law, Christina, wanted to go see the new movie made about Secretariat, I said Yes please. She and her mother and Mom St. Hilaire and I had a girls' afternoon yesterday and went to watch it.

A note to my parents here: You have to see this movie.

It's not brilliant acting. It's not brilliant screenwriting. It's not even great shooting—it would have been nice to have some scenes of the horse running around his paddock or something. But goodness, I was on the edge of my seat, and I already knew how it would end. Although I'd forgotten... well, I won't give out spoilers. I'll just say that I left the theater delighted.

* * *

Another reason for me to love Secretariat: He was distantly related to my own horse. As the story goes, when I was fifteen, my parents gave my sisters and I the biggest and best Christmas present we ever had. Her name was Lovely.

Appropriate, no? If you can tell from the snapshot of a dusty snapshot. (That's her in the foreground; Missy, in the background, was pretty too.) Sixteen hands and one inch of Anglo-Arab fire and beauty, out of a dam descended from a well-known Arabian stallion named Bask, by a sire descended from none other than Bold Ruler. No, I'm not making that up. She was my pet for a couple of years in Montana—until we moved out here, at which point we sold her to a former USET member who couldn't find a good dressage horse in Texas.

We got her when she was just a yearling and I never got to break her to ride, but I loved her. After watching the movie, I missed her again. I missed the way she ran: a long Thoroughbred stride with the dancing grace of an Arabian, her tail all plumed out in the Arab way. I missed her playfulness, too. She'd do things like steal her grooming cloths to chew on, or come flying across the corral to stop right up against me.

She was a great horse, and a real gift to us. I'm sure her new owner loved her very much.

* * *

Abrupt change of subject: Ah, writing. This revision seems harder than the last one, or maybe I'm just more tired. Either way, I'll know Halloween night whether I'll finish by the start of NaNoWriMo. And possibly not before.

...but I still love it. And my heart is still in the story.

* * *

My brain is so full of that story that it's kicking other things out to make room. The most egregious slip came a few days ago, when at 10 AM I sent instant messages to writers' group members reminding them that meeting had moved to 12:30, and by 11:30 had completely forgotten it myself. I got a wondering call at 12:45. Oops.

* * *

Lovely sacred thought of the week: "[M]y conviction now is that if it’s God’s will for me to play a redemptive role in all of this, I want to start trying out for the most beautiful part available to me."—Jason Gray, from The Rabbit Room

* * *

Well-placed dig of the week: "St. Aelred, in his dialogue Spiritual Friendship, said that friends were called to sacrifice for one another even unto crucifixion. To a culture in which "friend" is a verb meaning, "annoy with Farmville," this is almost incomprehensible."—Eve Tushnet at The Washington Post

I've long since blocked all Farmville posts on Facebook. But don't worry: If you play Farmville, I still consider you a friend and I still get everything else you post—well, except for Bejeweled Blitz stuff and that zoo app and the restaurant thing and and and...

* * *

Funny of the week: Okay, this is not clean. There is a lot of language. But I cried laughing over this on Thursday, and one line keeps popping into my head and making me snicker at random inappropriate moments. Thanks to George for posting the link on Facebook: Cracked.com's 6 Books Everyone (Including Your English Teacher) Got Wrong.

* * *

Weekend. I'm ready for it. NOW. And I'm not even a nine-to-fiver.

Have a good one, everybody.


Thursday Book Questions: Part 6

Five questions a week. Eleven weeks. Post your answers in the comments (or on your own blog if you prefer, just link back in the comments) and I'll do the same thing.

Last week, we discovered that we'll recommend books that are memorable, thought-provoking, uplifting, beautiful, or otherwise clearly worthwhile. A bunch of us of fantasy buffs (with a variety of subgenres, e.g. YA, dystopian, fairy tale), several of whom don't read enough science fiction. A surprising number of us confessed to not reading a lot of biography, but not all, and most but not all of us have read some self-help. As Farmer's City Wife put it, "they're helpful." At least some of the time.

This week's questions:

26. Favorite cookbook?
(answer here)
27. Most inspirational book you’ve read this year (fiction or non-fiction)?
(answer here)
28. Favorite reading snack?
(answer here)
29. Name a case in which hype ruined your reading experience.
(answer here)
30. How often do you agree with critics about a book?
(answer here)

Wait... favorite cookbook? What has that got to do with reading? Ah well. As a proud participant in Tasty Tuesdays, I hope you'll answer. :)


Variety Post: Art and the Church

My friend and fellow writer Jana sent me, via Twitter, a link to artist Makoto Fujimura's recent letter to North American churches. And honestly, as weary as I am of seeing Christianity chastised (even, as in this case, from the inside) there's some important truth in this piece.

In Rome and Assisi and Siena I saw the way art and the Church are made to work together. The subject matters a lot to me...

Here are a couple of tastes of what Fujimura has to say. To the Church:
"Instead of having quality artists at the core of your worship, we were forced to operate as extras; as in "if-we-can-afford-it-good-but-otherwise-please-volunteer", Extras.  Meanwhile, in the institutions called museums, concert halls and academia, we are asked to be gods.... Artists still have an instinct for worship, but they must do so now in sterile, minimalist boxes called galleries to the "unknown gods" of our time."
To Christian artists:
"There will be more "Ground Zeros" created by destructive minds, twisting creative impulses into diabolical powers.  Undo what they have done.  Stand upon those ashes all around us, and open your hearts: look up, to Create in Love."

And to "the artists of the far country (Luke 15:13)":
"[Y]ou are starving though you have much.  The corrupt world has given you celebrity, and the ephemeral treasures of the earth.  Return to your first love. Come home. Creativity is a gift; art is a gift. Do not make it to be other than that, or you will be crushed by your own gifts..."
Read the whole thing here: Makoto Fujimura, A Letter to North American Churches



After weeks of fascinating debate, Mr. Pond has called Pax in an extraordinarily kind post. It turns out that he and I agree thoroughly on the philosophy of art. The blogalectic is closed for now, though hopefully it will not be the last; it made me think a lot about this craft of storytelling, and it was really rather fun.

So I salute Mr. Pond, who is more than my equal as a wordsmith and jouster. (I was going to say fencer, since he referred to foils, but fencer sounds like someone who digs post holes and strings barbed wire.) And now I have to come up with something else to write about.

That is complicated by the fact that I have five long chapters to revise and twelve days in which to revise them. "I think you can do it," Mom said to me today. She's probably right—but the best way to guarantee that would be to closet myself away from the world and burn that proverbial candle at both ends. Which I'd probably do if we didn't have family in town. The next best thing I can do is limit the amount of time I spend on Blogger and Tweetdeck, so: Apologies in advance for odd silences, missing features, and the like. Barring disaster, we'll at least have Thursday Book Questions.

I'll be back soon.


Pokémon Love Songs and other stories

Sixteen days to NaNoWriMo! (Fellow writers' groupers: Have you signed up yet? hint, hint...) With sixteen days to finish revising my novel and about six chapters to revise, I'm feeling a bit crunched. Last spring I revised ninety pages in ten days, but it's hard to polish prose at that rate.

Finish or not, I do plan on writing another novel next month. But I would like to be able to send this to gamma readers November first. I think I can. I think I can. I think I can...

All this revising leaves me next to no time for plotting this year's NaNo novel. November might get interesting.

* * *

New ALL CAPS videos always make me happy. Every time I watch this one, I love it more—even though I was discouraged from getting into Pokémon when it was popular and have therefore neither seen the movie nor played the games. (For that matter, I've played very few video games, not because they're not fascinating, but because—as with television—it just doesn't often occur to me and I would have to actually make the time. Out of all the clips shown in this video, I only recognized Mario.)

But one bit of scenery makes me incredibly curious. Right at about 1:56, Luke is standing in front of what looks almost exactly like the current header to my blog. Whaaat??? I can claim with perfect confidence that he did not get it from my blog. I'm just using Ray Creations' free Dark Forest Theme template, so... did Ray Creations get the image from a video game? If so, which one? I have no idea, and Google searches don't tell me. But now I feel cool by association.

* * *

Lou and I watched the Mike Judge film Idiocracy the day after I'd finished reading Ender's Shadow. I cannot begin to express how opposite those two stories are.

* * *

"Maia, stop batting the basil around."

"Stay out of the palm tree, kitty."

"Little monster! You just ripped two leaves off my African violet."

I have catnip and cat grass seeds. I just need to plant them.

* * *

Writers' link of the week: Dan Simmons' Writing Well, Installment One. I haven't read the rest of the installments, out of fear that they'll all be as long as the first one, but I plan to. I liked what he had to say.

* * *

Funny of the week: On changes in English. Hear, hear!

* * *

I have a book to revise. Happy weekend, everybody.


Thursday Book Questions: Part 5

Five questions a week. Eleven weeks. Post your answers in the comments (or on your own blog if you prefer, just link back in the comments) and I'll do the same thing.

Last week we had strong opinions on marginalia and dog-earing, a general comfort with English (though most of us non-multilinguals wished we could read in other languages), and a variety of answers to the question of what made us love a book. That, I thought, was a great question with great answers, which covered everything from the weight and feel and smell of a book to humor and lovable characters to having ourselves affected, even changed, by the content.

This week's questions:

21. What will inspire you to recommend a book?
(answer here)
22. Favorite genre?
(answer here)
23. Genre you rarely read (but wish you did?)
(answer here)
24. Favorite biography?
(answer here)
25. Have you ever read a self-help book?
(answer here)

I can't wait to read the answers.


Currently Reading: Ender's Shadow

I would carry some of it if I could, Bean said silently. Like I did today, you can turn it over to me and I'll do it, if I can. You don't have to do this alone.

Only even as he thought this, Bean knew it wasn't true. If it could be done, Ender was the one who would have to do it. All those months when Bean refused to see Ender, hid from him, it was because he couldn't bear to face the fact that Ender was what Bean only wished to be
the kind of person on whom you could put all your hopes, who could carry all your fears, and he would not let you down, would not betray you.

I want to be the kind of boy you are, thought Bean. But I don't want to go through what you've been through to get there.

Author: Orson Scott Card

Synopsis: Set during the same time period as Ender's Game, Ender's Shadow tracks the perspective of the smallest, smartest child in Battle School. Known only as Bean, he goes from starving on the streets of Rotterdam to fighting alongside the greatest legend and hero of his time.

Notes: If anyone outdoes Orson Scott Card in nuanced fictional portraits of human nature, relationships, and character development, I've never read them. I would rank him with Jane Austen on this, and she's the best I could think of off the top of my head.

Foremost among his creations is Andrew "Ender" Wiggin, protagonist of Ender's Game and Speaker for the Dead. Ender may be the single most sympathetic character I've ever come across in fiction. From the first pages of the first book, he evokes a combined desire to step forward and protect him and to stand back and watch him succeed. From there on out, readers learn to love him as his soldiers do.

Looking at him through Bean's eyes was, therefore, part of the power of the book. Much of the rest of that power, for me at least, was in the character development of Bean himself. Bean spends a fair portion of the book putting The Hunger Games protagonist Katniss Everdeen to shame in the cold-and-calculating-survivor department, and—well, it's very hard to explain without giving out spoilers, but watching him grow in humanity is a beautiful thing indeed.

And without going into those spoilers, I'm struggling to express why I loved this book so much, why it brought me to tears several times. I can praise it for being exceptionally intelligent, for hooking me in immediately and making me want to tell everyone and everything to scram until I'd finished, for keeping me fascinated even though I normally couldn't care less about technological marvels and war strategy. But the book mattered to me for different reasons. The lengths and widths and depths and heights of love that Bean discovers. The way Scripture is used, and the situations behind those references. What it's like to self-effacingly serve someone you love with all your heart.

There aren't words.

Recommendation: This book gets an unreserved yes from me.


Tasty Tuesday: Crock-Pot Corned Beef and Cabbage

Tasty Tuesday
I am in the middle of rewriting a novel, and am trying to put as much time as I can into it. On account of which, I needed both an easy recipe to make today and an easy one to post about. As it turns out, both of those are the same recipe.

Crock-pot Corned Beef and Cabbage

It's simple, really:

Turn the crock-pot on low.

Peel and chunk several carrots and throw them in.

Put the corned beef brisket in, spices and all.

Chunk an onion and put it in.

Add a cup or so of water.

Let it cook for several hours. When there are about two hours to go, chop a head of cabbage. Push the pieces down into the liquid.

Turn the crock-pot to high and let cook till dinner-time.

It would probably be good with Irish soda bread, but I never seem to have buttermilk around, and bread of any sort just isn't that quick or easy. Maybe someday. At least we had beer with it...


What's in Your Heart

In response to Mr. Pond, Healing the World

I took art lessons from my mom when I was younger. And by 'when I was younger' I mean that I pretty much did that, sporadically, all throughout growing up, and almost certainly still could. It would be as simple as taking a sketchbook with me one of these days and explaining that I've lost some of my knack of drawing horses and it would be helpful to have that back next time I want to sketch a unicorn.

Mom, a master artist and veteran teacher, once let me and some of my fellow homeschool students (friends whose parents traded off with mine to teach us different subjects) trace out our names in fancy fonts from a book. We could pick any font we wanted. I think mine involved tree roots and birds. A young man in the group picked a ghoulish font with spiders, and Mom suggested he pick something more cheerful. That's the first time I recall her saying the very catchy catch-phrase that even now, nearly twenty years later, still gets fished up by my mind when necessary.
"What's in your heart will come out in your art."
It rhymes, yes. It's the sort of thing a teacher might say to a pre-teen student, yes. It's also true.

Mr. Pond's latest installment in the blogalectic makes a further defense of the solitude necessary for writing:
"The question is not token philanthropy, but genuine, radical commitment to healing the world—to which we each have something unique and irreplaceable to give. The ethic of exclusion does not, however, rule this out. In fact, I would argue that for exclusion to be ethical, it must be a conscious part an individual’s role in healing the world.

Because I believe my role to be—at least in part—that of a Teller of Tales, then I must seek solitude and exclusion to fulfil that role well. Solitude strengthens the heart and feeds the imagination, so that when a writer comes down from the mountaintop, they can give hugs as well as receive them. And they can write, giving utterance to the heavenly vision seen in solitude through a break in the clouds."
I need this defense to be true. I need it because today, much as I wanted to drive out to see Mom and my sister and my niece, I stayed home to put several hours of dedicated time into novel, to finish a short story, to post a blog, and to start catching up on email. I need all that work to mean something, because otherwise I gave up precious time with some of the people I love most on earth.

So what does it mean—all this pouring of time into the creation of worlds from words? What exactly do I have to offer this world by writing a novel against ridiculous odds, keeping up a tiny aspiring-writer blog, making amateur music, and all this other writers' art?

We all have one thing to offer: what's in our hearts.

Which, perhaps, translates into some of the same needs that drive us both to enjoy art and to create it: order from chaos, hope from despair, light amid darkness, healing from destruction. Something to believe in when the world is incomprehensible.

That's my philosophy of art, right there. I got it first from my mom, from her words and her own work, and all the great art I've loved—Michelangelo's Pietà, Raphael's Holy Family, everything about the duomo in Siena, the Chronicles of Narnia, Chesterton's Orthodoxy, Dante's Paradise, the Butchart gardens, the psalms—reinforces it.

I don't have a way to make sense of all human suffering, but I know the power of beauty, created beauty, to offer healing. To heal the world, we must heal human beings. That Hideous Strength helped me work through some of my struggles. Harry Potter brought order out of chaos for me. The view out my window when I first moved to Bellingham brought me hope from despair.

I'm not sure what I'd have to offer the world anymore if not for these things. It's only right that I give something back.


The Taste of Evil and other stories

The funeral for the little girl who died last Thursday is today, and Dwight Clark's body has been found. It has been quite the couple of weeks for my town and my church. I am ready to not think about death for awhile. But I liked this honest look at death, accidents, sovereignty, humility, and certainty, over at The Rabbit Room.

* * *

Speaking of The Rabbit Room (why have I never subscribed to that site? It needs to be on my blogroll and my Google Reader), here's the best post on book banning that I've ever read. It completely lacks the hysteria that usually dominates the book banning conversation. I am against book banning, but haven't much patience with the paranoid accusations that tend to pass for arguments in either direction, so a well-reasoned piece with decent testimonials was a relief.

* * *

I am starting to get hours when full writing mode hits. The mode where I don't want to go out—don't want to read—don't want to cook or eat—definitely don't want to go to bed. I just want to write my book.

It's about time.

* * *

Maia has learned to play fetch this week. Yes, like a dog. Her favorite toy is the little basket that sits at the bottom of the drain in the bathroom sink to keep hair from going down. When that gets lost under the couch or the bookcases, she will fetch socks.

* * *

Happy thought of the week: Good news stories about the Pope. After months and months of libelous slander against the (earthly) head of our church, who—if everything I can find out about him is accurate—is a truly good and Godly man, it thrilled me to read this piece about the press' response to Benedict XVI's UK visit.

* * *

Writers' link of the week: From Guide to Literary Agents for the second week in a row: Matt Myklusch's 7 Things I've Learned So Far. I'm linking it in part just so I can go back sometimes and read his reminder to stay off the internet when I'm supposed to be writing.

* * *

Funny of the week: Remember Phoebe Buffay's response to Mockolate? "This must be what evil tastes like!" Joe Carter over at the First Thoughts Blog has a similar suggestion.

* * *

I'm off for a weekend with some of my girlfriends on the east side of the mountains. I've really missed Donna M., and every time she invites me I'm glad to say yes. This'll be fun. A lot of fun.

Of course, it only seems to get harder to be away from Lou for whole days at a time. Last time he was gone for a weekend, I went and stayed with my parents, because the time before that I'd stayed awake all night with the light on and things creaking and going bump all over the house. I keep telling myself that I'm a big girl. But that's never really worked; I guess I just know better.

Anyway, apart from missing my husband, the weekend holds every promise of being awesome. I am bringing Ender's Shadow to read in the quiet moments and my computer for the sake of having access to my novel manuscript. I might very well have some time to write. But girl time comes first.

Happy weekend, everybody.


Thursday Book Questions: Part 4

Five questions a week. Eleven weeks. Post your answers in the comments (or on your own blog if you prefer, just link back in the comments) and I'll do the same thing.

Last week we had mixed feelings on comfort zones with reading, a general sense that book lending easily becomes book losing (but Donna had ways around this), a common attraction to reading at home in the most comfy place available (usually bed), and strong preferences for uplifting tales.

Also, it turns out that some of us can read on a bus and some of us can't. All right, I admit it was not the most interesting question, but these surveys always have a few like that.

This week's questions:

16. Do you ever dog-ear books?
(answer here)
17. Do you ever write in the margins of your books?
(answer here)
18.  Not even with text books? [Hey, wait a minute... that seems to presume a negative answer to the previous question! Stand fast against such nonsense and answer #17 any way you want.]
(answer here)
19. What is your favorite language to read in?
(answer here)
20. What makes you love a book?
(answer here)


Currently Reading: Psmith in the City

Mr Rossiter refused to pass on.

'What are you doing here? What have you come for?'

'Work,' said Psmith, with simple dignity. 'I am now a member of the staff of this bank. Its interests are my interests. Psmith, the individual, ceases to exist, and there springs into being Psmith, the cog in the wheel of the New Asiatic Bank; Psmith, the link in the bank's chain; Psmith, the Worker. I shall not spare myself,' he proceeded earnestly. 'I shall toil with all the accumulated energy of one who, up till now, has only known what work is like from hearsay. Whose is that form sitting on the steps of the bank in the morning, waiting eagerly for the place to open? It is the form of Psmith, the Worker. Whose is that haggard, drawn face which bends over a ledger long after the other toilers have sped blithely westwards to dine at Lyons' Popular Cafe? It is the face of Psmith, the Worker.'

Author: P.G. Wodehouse

Synopsis: When Mike Jackson's father runs into financial difficulty, Mike is taken from his school and his cricket games and sent to London to work in the New Asiatic Bank. Fortunately, his school friend Psmith, newly employed in the same bank, has decided to look out for him.

Notes: I remember my family joking at some point, in some unremembered context, about the possibility of putting a silent Q before the name Sam. Qsam, pronounced just as Sam always is. Apparently we were not the first to think of such a thing, because Wodehouse's Psmith has been around for a hundred years.

My brain always tries to pronounce the P. And for that matter, I have a hard time remembering that Wodehouse should sound like Woodhouse instead of rhyming with roadhouse. That being the case, it's probably good that my first encounter with both Psmith and his creator came in audiobook form. Granted, Psmith was a little annoying at first and I couldn't speed up the iPod to skim past his determined foppery, but by the end of the story I was completely hooked.

At the moment I can't believe it took me 32 years to get around to reading something by Wodehouse. This was a hilarious piece of good old-fashioned clean British comedy: exaggerated characters, over-the-top dialogue, and goofball adventures wrapped in very proper mannerly packaging. It's the same sort of humor (I feel guilty not including a second u there, but I live in America) that I love in Dickens and Austen and Rowling.

I don't expect this book to be the last I ever read of his work.

Recommendation: Of course! Perhaps with some tea and muffin, or brandy and a cigar, depending on your tastes.


Tasty Tuesday: Erwtensoep

Tasty Tuesday
Apparently this soup is also known as snert. Which I thought about using in the title, just because snert is such a funny-sounding word, but it sounds too much like snot for me. So I stuck with the original, which I am not Dutch enough to be able to pronounce.

I am actually not Dutch at all. Back when I worked the nine-to-five, I'd listen to podcasts during my less mentally demanding tasks, and Dutch podcasting priest Father Roderick—whose happy-go-lucky Daily Breakfast (now called The Break, I think) always made my day—once described this. At which point I decided I was definitely making it.

After summer busyness, Lou and I always seem to need a weekend of shutting out the world and staying home and quiet. A weekend at home plus cool October weather says erwtensoep to me, which means that I made it this past weekend.

This recipe comes from user Pets 'R' Us on Food.com [with my interjections in brackets]. It makes loads. I cut it in half and we still eat it for a couple of days.

Erwtensoep (Dutch Pea Soup)

3 1/2 cups dried split green peas
3 liters water
1 lb spareribs
1/2 lb bacon, one thick slice, cubed [Good luck finding that. I just get the regular stuff.]
2 leeks, washed and chopped, also use the green part
1 medium celeriac, diced (celery root or bulb) or 3 cups of chopped celery (but the flavor will be weaker) [Not knowing the first thing about celeriac, I've always just used the celery]
1 smoked dutch sausage or 3-4 thick frankfurters, left whole or cut up in slices [I usually just get a kielbasa... yeah, I know, wrong country, but it's easier to find where I live]
salt and pepper
bouillon cube (optional)
chopped celery
fresh parsley leaves

Wash the peas and soak them overnight in the amount of water given. Next day bring them to the boil together with the spareribs and the bacon; simmer on very low heat for approx 1 1/2 hours, stirring occasionally. Add the leeks and the celeriac; cook for another hour or until the soup becomes thick. Lift out the spareribs, remove the meat from the bones, and return the meat to the pan.

Add the sausage, let it warm through and season the soup to taste and maybe add bouillion cube(s) , add the chopped celery leaves and parsley just before serving.

[I consider it amazing. Enjoy.]


Artist's Guilt

In response to Mr. Pond, The Ethic of Exclusion

"The ethic of exclusion is the primacy of solitude in the life of an artist," Mr. Pond says. "Because we are continually defined through others and shaped through conversation, we need the harrowing of solitude to allow us to create."

The question of the ethical rightness of creative solitude is something I struggle with on a regular basis. This is a big world with a lot of problems, a lot of needs. A lot of needs, more than any one person can ever fulfill. So what on earth am I doing at my computer, spending hours and days agonizing over commas?

[Note: I am not questioning a balance of time between different activities. I'm questioning the worth of doing this at all.]

I don't have a good answer for this. Oh, I have answers. Mostly in the forms of limits—I know from experience that too much time spent volunteering, being outside of the house, being social, and so on and so forth, will set me up for a run-in with the biggest, meanest monster I've ever fought. But limits sometimes feel too arbitrary to make good answers.

Mr. Pond offers this defense of exclusion:
"The subtle truth of solitude is that it unites us with everyone else. The reality of creativity is that when we are most alone, we are most together."
 That's an interesting thought. I'm not sure I'd accept it as always true (we can be alone for purely selfish reasons, using creativity as an excuse—though selfish motive can also drive us to be with people) but I think it can be true.

Perhaps guilt over time spent polishing a blog post or novel is overly pragmatic, too much in the spirit of the times. We have the resources and the excuses nowadays to be just philanthropic enough to assuage our consciences and make ourselves look good, and to then spend the rest of our energy fulfilling ourselves. But however imperfectly I may live it, my faith demands of me something very different from self-fulfilling philanthropy. And the Church, which does more feeding and clothing than any other organization worldwide, yet has value for solitude.

"Whatever you do," says Scripture, "work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord..."

The balance of any one person's time is beyond my judgment. The balance of my own is something to keep searching for. But writing, that deeply solitary pursuit, is work that I would probably be doing in some form even if I were constantly busy, even without access to laptops or desktops or notebooks or pens. I've got some experience with some of that. And I'm a lot less crazy if I actually take some time to sit down, be quiet, and write.

It feels weird to talk about working for God for two reasons: one, that makes it sound like I write Christian fiction, and in the common understanding of that term I do not; and two, it might sound like I'm claiming inspiration, and far too many things are blamed on God already. But in the sense of believing in God, loving him, and wanting to please him, then yes—I try to write for God as I try to live for him.

When it comes to writing, it's not often hard to do it with all my heart.


The Shadow of Death and other stories

In the tender compassion of our God,
the dawn from on high shall break upon us
to shine on those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death
and to guide our feet into the way of peace. —Luke 1:78-79

I have never gotten tired of those verses. They are part of Lauds (morning prayer), and every day they offer peace to me.

* * *

Downtown Bellingham has a slightly creepy feel. I felt it this morning, wandering around in the early hours, looking (apparently I can't follow directions) for the café where I'd promised to meet Jana and Annie for a write-in. Two older men approached me, separately, both strangers. One wanted cash for bus fare. The other just wanted to talk, and started in on yesterday's news. I could hear the accusation in his voice. "Terrible thing to do, hitting and killing a little kid—"

"It was an accident," I said, and walked away.

* * *

Not that I was a firsthand observer; all I know is that a seventeen-year-old Bellingham High student is living my worst nightmare. She didn't see the car stopping ahead of her, letting the family cross, and her car knocked the other into the mother and child. The police, having first arrested her, released her by the end of the day. Getting distracted while driving is bad, but what driver hasn't done it? She's not a monster. She's human, and sometimes human mistakes and failures and wrongs cost far too much. The thought haunts me like almost nothing else in life.

And the young woman driving the other car—she did nothing wrong, but I'm sure her thoughts consist of an if only mantra. If only I hadn't stopped. If only I had stopped a little further back. If only I had been anywhere else.

My dad, for many years a volunteer fire fighter and EMT, has had the experience of going on calls where children have died. I know what the emergency responders and police are dealing with.

Our pastor came back from out of town to be here for the toddler's family; they're part of our church. I don't know the family, but I know who they are, and theirs is a nightmare I can't even imagine. There can be healing after such a loss, but no getting over it. Lord, have mercy.

If you pray, will you offer one up for those living in the shadow of death?

* * *

My town is having a lousy week. WWU freshman Dwight Clark disappeared last Sunday, last seen at a party on Indian Street. He's a straight-A honors student from Auburn with no history of either depression or disappearing, as I understand it. Just—gone. Another family in the shadow of death.

* * *

All this makes the few privations of my week seem awfully small. I'm forgetful and overtired due to much busyness, but that's perfectly bearable. Apart from that, I've actually had a great week: Maia is better, and Lou and I spent a hilarious and happy last weekend with his parents, his sisters Jen and Marie, and Andy and Lindsey and John. We had dinner together every night and twice played a game that had us laughing till it hurt.

* * *

Congratulations are in order for Marie, who ran the Bellingham Bay marathon—her first—in just under 5 1/2 hours! We all got to meet her at the finish line, waving signs and cheering. We had a blast, and running 26.2 miles is an amazing achievement. Way to go, sister! :)

* * *

Jana, Annie, Jessi and I—my writers' group—have decided to get together for regular early mornings of writing. (Don't worry, Mom. I know where the café is now, and shouldn't need to wander downtown again.) It felt great to spend an hour with them today: a cappucino, a little ambience, beautiful music playing in the background, three good friends with me. I got several pages of revision done in just over an hour.

We've also basically promised each other to take part in NaNoWriMo this year, so I'll be updating my account when the site resets today or tomorrow. Are you taking part? Come be my writing buddy. :)

* * *

Helpful link of the week: Jennifer Fulwiler with a post about organization, time management, guilt, and finding energy. I found it completely applicable even though I don't have children.

* * *

Writer's link of the week: Jacqueline West in the "Seven Things I've Learned So Far" feature of Guide to Literary Agents. Number 4 really got to me. I already know that feeling of having a lot of imaginary (or potentially real) people hanging over my shoulder as I write. The idea that no one will ever read the book if I don't want them to is awfully freeing.

...but don't worry—I want people to read it. Eventually. :)

* * *

Funny of the week: I don't remember how I came across The Nerd in the Corner, but every now and then I have to visit her blog. She doesn't post very often, but nearly everything she writes makes me laugh. This piece... well, guilty as I feel linking to someone's embarrassing moment story, she's the one who put it online. :P As with The Princess Bride, I won't say how funny I found it... aw, heck, maybe I will. I'm pretty sure it had me in tears of laughter. It sounds like something I could have done, if I had ever watched the Dukes.

* * *

Deep waters cannot quench love,
nor floods sweep it away.
Were one to offer all he owns to purchase love,
he would be roundly mocked. —Song of Songs 8:7

Happy feast day, Little Flower! Pray for us.

* * *

Lou and I are going to try and have a quiet weekend (of course, I've got Monday's post to write, an overview of Deathly Hallows chapter 34 (for The Hog's Head's read-through) to work up, a novel to revise... I won't be bored.) In other points of interest, I made dinner for three former monastic novices tonight; also, the inevitable has happened: Maia has learned that she can jump up on the kitchen counter and climb bookshelves.

Happy weekend, everybody.