Monday, September 15, 2014

Things to Put on the Fridge Door of Life

Dear Friend,

How are you today?

I'm feeling grateful. My husband has been out of town working on a project for the last two weeks. Yesterday he returned home to five jumping kids, a beaming wife, a tail-wagging dog, a clean house, his favorite dinner, and an apple pie.

Life is good.

The kids and I watched a balloon launch at the park on Saturday.

Lately I've been thinking about a few special links I'd like to share with you. This isn't just random good stuff that I've stumbled upon around the web. These are links to content I'm proud of, content which belongs to friends who have come alongside me in my life journey and blessed me with kindness. These are things to place on life's fridge door, so to speak.

A few weeks ago I met a precious kindred spirit, Emma Teller, for coffee. We talked for four hours. I never do that! But it was amazing. The time went by in a blink, We haven't seen each other in a very long time.Thirteen years ago Emma was my piano student. Now she is an exquisite artist. (I smiled over the smudge of red paint under her forearm.) We talked about faith, the creative life, and the mercy of God. I was blown away by her humility and wisdom.
No matter what you do or who you are there are so many ways we can do this - leave the world more beautiful than we found it - and that is what I hope and try to do with my paintings and with my art.  

Emma has a blog. Though she's not there often, it's a good place to view some of her work. Go here for still lifes and here for portraits. You can also follow Emma on Facebook.

Tim Fall has been called the "Barnabas of the Blogosphere" because he's relentless with encouragement. My whole family has been blessed by his friendship. While fishing in the Rockies recently, my husband used Tim's method for making pan fried trout. My kids have enjoyed listening to some of his cowboy stories that I've read aloud during our evening bonfires. Over the past few years, Tim has taught me to be liberal with encouragement and to pray for opportunities to build others up.

We have a God who is the Comforter -- who comes alongside us with the comfort, so that we can then be the ones to come alongside others with the comfort God has given us.

Tim blogs at Just One Train Wreck After Another. Two of my recent favorite posts are Problems with Unbalanced Grace and I've Never Been on a Road I Haven't Taken. And while you're there I'd be delighted if you'd read my recent guest post, People's Looks and Covers of Books.

Tim was recently interviewed by talk radio host Doug Bursch on "Live From Seattle." You can listen to that interview here. (Tim's segment starts at the 12 minute mark.)

Next, I must give a shout out to my faithful friend Christine. Last week she and I had a rare opportunity to have a day out together without kids. She knew I had been wanting to visit the Harriet Beecher Stowe house with her forever. There are nine kids and two husbands between us, so the stars have to be aligned just so in order for the two of us to be able to take a day trip alone. We realized our special day was set to happen only one day previous. The problem was, our free day (a Thursday) was a day the museum was closed. Christine got on the phone and coordinated a private tour. (They typically only do tours for groups and rarely on short notice!) I can't wait to finish my research so I can tell you all about our experience. Christine no longer blogs, so I don't have a link to give you for her, but I can't talk about things to put on the fridge door of life without mentioning the remarkable gift Christine pursued for me.

And last but certainly not least, I would love to introduce you to my virtual fairy blog mother, Jeannie Prinsen. Jeannie is a deep well of wisdom and intellect, yet she is delightfully approachable. Each Monday she shares a "Monday Morsel" -- a quote which she has come upon in her reading. I always try to square away some quiet time to sip my coffee when I visit Jeannie's Little House on the Circle. It would be wonderful to live near her and savor morsels with her in person.

 Life is not about being fast.  It's about doing what we're called to do and not stressing about the outcome.
I nominated Jeannie for a "Liebster Award" on my birthday this past year. She joined in the fun with this post in response.

Love her tributes to her son: You've Got a Friend in Me and Never Mean.

And this one: Slow: Tortoise Crossing

Recently Jeannie participated Anne Bogel's "literary matchmaking" blog event at the Modern Mrs. Darcy. Jeannie told Anne the types of books she likes/dislikes and Anne made selections for her based on this profile. Readers are invited to join in with the matchmaking and the result is lots of TBR list enrichment!

What are some things you'd like to put on the fridge door of your life today?

Peace & Joy,


Sunday, September 14, 2014

When Mr. Collins Wooed Me

Dear Friend,

Today I'm sharing part of a letter I sent to my friend Jennifer in Hungary when I was 20 years old. The original letter is ten pages long. I have substituted names of real people for names of characters from Jane Austen novels. The cassette tape referred to at the start is not the same one I wrote about in my last post. This means there was a second tape, but sadly, it's missing.

View from my old bedroom window at my parents' farm.

July 8, 1996
Dear Jeni,

A couple weeks ago I started to make a cassette tape for you in return for the one you sent me, but I couldn't get past the intro. I kept rewinding and started over.

Thank you so much for that tape. It completely kept my attention from beginning to end.

 Actually, the moment I discovered the tape in our mailbox is a good place to start my story: I was pulling out our driveway, on my way to meet up with our [college age] church group for a whitewater rafting trip to Gatlinburg. We rented a van so we could all stick together.

Everyone chatted and played games on the way down, except Mr. Collins. He brought his CD player with headphones and a stack of books -- topics ranging from Claude Monet to the Roman Empire. 

We stayed at a very nice hotel. Upon arrival, we checked in and everyone met downstairs in the lobby. There were lots of round tables, couches, a fireplace and a glass wall with a view of a pool. The atmosphere was light and jovial except, in one corner, Mr. Collins had begun a very solemn Bible study.

Please don't misinterpret me: You know I love the Bible. It's just that for the rest of the trip, if Mr. Collins wasn't preaching to us, he was having a Bible study. I sensed it was a bit showy.

It rained most of the time we were there, but that didn't spoil our fun. We all bought plastic rain ponchos with little bears on them and splashed about like a flock of ducks. Not Mr. Collins. He wore a parka and carried a large umbrella. He walked with slow deliberate steps and perfect posture.

I tried to be nice, but I felt annoyed.

The rapids were not at all wild, though still a lot of fun. (Mr. Collins was NOT on my raft!) They went something like this: bumpy, bumpy, bumpy, smooooth (paddle-paddle), bumpy, bumpy, bumpy, smooooth (paddle-paddle), etc. That was the pattern with a few minor variations. We got to know our rafting instructor pretty well. His name was Robert Martin, he grew up on Abbey-Mill Road, not far from where Harriet Smith lives. Harriet was melancholy for the rest of the evening after rafting. It was as if she had found the love of her life and lost him all in the same day . . .

 . . . On the way home, Mr. Collins turned around and handed me a paper entitled "What Does It Mean to Be a Writer?" I sensed it was meant to impress me, but it did just the opposite. For him, the writing process begins as he "takes up his quill." I can't quote the rest exactly, but part of it went something like, "In the middle of the night I am awakened by a longing to pour out my soul to another who can speak my own sweet language." By the time I reached the conclusion, I felt certain he is in love with himself and the way he writes. He had been very eager for me to read his composition. I got the feeling he had jumped to the assumption that I love to write for the same reason as he. This could not be any further from the truth. I am not a good writer yet. Though, with maturity and much practice, I hope to become one someday. I believe writing is good only when it communicates real meaning in a clear way -- just as a Christian should be a person you can look at and see Christ. With good writing, the reader is not  distracted by fancy words, I don't want to write in such a way that my meaning can only be discerned by a select few.

So next, he started saying something about "kindred spirits." Then  he paused and looked straight at me.

"Do you know where I got that from?" he asked.

I nodded.

"I watched the entire thing over Easter vacation," he said.

"Do you know what my favorite part was?"

I was afraid to ask.

"It was the very end where Anne and Gilbert came together on the bridge."

"Oh yes, " I said dryly, "the resolution."

"She finally came to her senses!" he said, then swiftly turned his back to me and began talking to someone else.

So that was my trip to Gatlinburg. My tummy is rumbling now. I believe I'll stop and make some lunch. When I return, I'll have a new subject for you!

* * * * *

Also, you might enjoy How NOT to Propose, which is another Mr. Collins-themed post.

I will say -- it's been interesting for me to re-read my old letters and consider how some of my perceptions have changed in the last 20 years. I was a bit more haughty and self-assured then, I believe. 

Now that I am a wife and mother, I kind of feel sorry for Mr. Collins. He probably had a back story, though I'll never know it since I wouldn't let him near me. You can't always judge a man's character by the way he wooes a woman. We all take our turn being ridiculous. That's part of being human.

"There's nowt so queer as folk." :-)

Thanks for reading! 

Peace & Joy,


Friday, September 12, 2014

A Recording My Friend Made For Me Twenty Years Ago Today

Dear Friend,

I was lying awake in bed at 4 o'clock this morning when I heard my phone buzz. It was a Facebook notification. My close friend Jennifer had just updated her status from Europe.
I am thankful for being able to communicate with my family easily. When we were in the Philippines, we mailed letters or made cassette tapes for the family. That was how Grandma and the others could hear what we sounded like. These were filled with one-sided conversations, songs, funny stories, or even awkward pauses when we ran out of things to say before we hit the stop button. I remember Mom and Dad trying to hurry to do anything to fill the tape since we did not want to waste the precious minutes on the tape. I always felt sorry for the people who actually listened to the WHOLE tape, front and back. I feel spoiled by how easy communication is now.
Jennifer is the daughter of missionaries who lived in the Philippines during her childhood. We met in middle school when her family was on furlough in the States. In high school they moved to Hungary, where she still lives today. Now she is a teacher in Budapest. She normally posts updates during her lunch break. I left a comment under her status.
Me:  I'm thankful to be the owner of a Jennifer tape from when you lived in Hungary in the early nineties. 

Me: Listening now.
Jennifer: Poor you. :-)
Me: It's wonderful. I keep tearing up over it! I just paused it about half way through side B. You said, "Good morning, Adriana. It's Sept. 12!" You were making this tape 20 yrs ago today!
Me: You just talked about your mom's birthday. And your [little sister] is brilliant. You describe her playing with her Hungarian friends in spite of the language barrier. Sulysap doesn't have phone service, but your dad has agreed to take you to a phone so you can call me. That would be my Christmas present. Your mom has made you some nice dresses by hand. There's a scene where you rescue Esther's shoe from the other side of a muddy lake. You're talking about what you and I will do next summer when I come to visit. I can visualize most of the places you're describing. You're going to miss your beautiful room with the "pure white walls" when you go to the Bible Institute. The curtains in the girls' room there are so drab . . . This is priceless.
Jennifer: Maybe I don't feel sorry for you. We'll see how you hold up at the end.
Me: I feel richly blessed this morning.
Jennifer: Funny, I completely forgot that I even made a tape for you.
Me: I knew it was in my letter box, but I haven't listened to it since you sent it to me. It's value has increased with time.

Jennifer in Toalmas at the Word of Life Bible College in 1994.

I visited Jennifer in the summer of 1995, a year after her recording was made. On the tape she talks about our plans for my visit.  We will work at a Bible camp, we'll travel throughout the countryside, and take day trips into the city. Her voice is the same --mellow and precise -- though of course she sounds younger. In part of the tape I can hear her alarm clock ticking as she recorded herself while still in bed one morning when she had a cold. There is a dog barking in the distance. A quiet day in a small village without telephones. 

I guess I'll go now. I love you very much. I think about you all the time. I can't wait until next summer. We're going to have so much fun. Even if you can only stay for a month, we'll still have a lot of fun. I know Budapest pretty well now. I don't get lost when I go there. I can even find places I've never been to before without too much of a problem. I think one of the best places you'll like is Buda. It's not polluted like Pest is. There's beautiful hills all over. That's also where the Castle District is. And you can walk for days in the Castle District just looking at stuff. So gorgeous.
Together at last in 1995.

So Jennifer, if you're reading this I want you to know that I listened to the WHOLE tape, front and back and there is no need to feel sorry for me. You apologized more than once on the tape because you were concerned I would find it boring. Well, it wasn't boring. Not one bit. It was a beautiful gift which I savored (and cried over) two times, twenty years apart. Thank you so much for your faithful friendship. I am richly blessed.

With Love,

P.S. I can't wait to visit Hungary again!

Other posts in this series: Invisible Friendship, Air mail: Letters I Wrote at Age 17

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Walking the Underground Railroad with a Friend

Dear Friend,

Here's a picture of my friend Jai'yah. She and her family spent a weekend with us last summer.

One night I was up late washing dishes after everyone else went to bed. I turned to see Jai'yah standing in my kitchen doorway.

"Can't sleep?" I asked her.


"Do you want to talk for a while?"

Her face lit up.

We went to the living room and sat on the couch. We talked about school.

"I love history, " she said.

"Me too! Do you know we live near the Ohio River? This area was once part of the Underground Railroad."

"Are you serious?" Her eyes widened.

"Oh yes. The farmhouse behind our property was built in the 1800s. I've been told it has a secret room. It's not listed on a historic registry, but I sometimes wonder if runaways once hid there."

She was entranced. I told her about my road trip to Ripley, Ohio. I pulled out my laptop and showed her pictures from my blog posts. She wasn't familiar with the story of Reverend and Mrs. Rankin who conducted thousands of passengers on the Underground Railroad to freedom.

She turned, knelt on the couch, and pulled apart the curtians to peer outside.

"It's so dark in the country," she said. "And quiet . . . creepy!"

"Sometimes I imagine people rushing, barefoot through the night, " I said. Because I knew she was thinking of this too.

"Do you want to walk down to the road with me?" I asked.

"Oh yes! I'm kind of scared to. But, yes!"

I gently shut the front door behind us as we stole into the darkness. Once at the road she said, "It's like we're on the Underground Railroad!"

I felt chills on the back of my neck. "I'll be your mother," I said.

She grabbed my hand and pulled my arm hard. "Come on, Mama!" she whispered. "We've got to run!"

We bolted down the road hand in hand. When we reached a clearing I pointed to the starry sky. "There's the Drinking Gourd," I told her. "That will lead us north."

We traveled on a little way and suddenly we saw headlights coming toward us from far in the distance.

"Hide!" She yanked my arm. We dove under some shrubery on the side of the road and lay on our stomachs until the car drove past.

"They didn't see us," she said with a sigh.

We continued on, backtracking this time along the same direction we had come. When my house came into view she said, "Look, Mama! It's the Rankin House!"

And this made me cry.

To think she equated my home to such a place -- a  place of safety and freedom and love.

We ran up the driveway to the back of the house and quickly pushed the back door open. Then, smiling, we jumped up and down and hugged each other tightly.

"We made it!"

"We're safe!"

"Yes! Safe!"

"I hope Mrs. Rankin will give us sometime to eat," I said. "I'm starving!"

She giggled.

"I wonder if the kids ate all the pie? If not we'll have some cookies and milk," I said.

"Adriana, Thank you."

"Thank you, Jai'yah. I love you, dear."

* * * * *

I realize our adventure was in no way harrowing like the real experience of those who once traveled from the slave-holding states in the south to freedom in north. Still, the imagination of my young friend stretched my mind and my heart. It made me think, really think, about what such a journey would have entailed and how desperate a mother would have been to protect her loved ones.

Hope this post finds all my blog-friends well.

Peace & Joy,


P.S. Jai'yah, if you're reading this -- I know you will make a splendid history teacher or even a professor someday, if that is what you want to be. :-)

Friday, August 22, 2014

What Do You Do When You Feel So Mad You Could Bite?

Dear Friend,

This morning I read Montaigne's essay "How the soul discharges its emotions against false objects when lacking real ones."
A local gentleman of ours who is marvelously subject to gout would answer his doctors quite amusingly when asked to give up salted meats entirely. He would say that he liked to have something to blame when tortured by the onslaughts of that illness: the more he yelled out curses against the saveloy or the tongue or the ham, the more relief he felt. Seriously though, when our arm is raised to strike it pains us if the blow lands nowhere and merely beats the air . . .
 . . . it seems that the soul . . . loses itself when shaken and disturbed unless it is given something to grasp on to; and so we must always provide it with an object to butt up against and to act upon.
This passage made me think of Mr. Rogers. I remember watching him as a child and feeling relieved because, in his gentle way, he explained to me that I wasn't bad for feeling angry sometimes. He also gave me some great suggestions for how to handle those angry feelings. (For one thing, I could hit a pillow! Hitting a pillow is totally OK!) I believe this song was part of the episode where he gave the anger talk. It seems like the whole world could use this now --

So, what do you do when you feel so mad you could bite?


Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Montaigne on How to Toughen Your Skin

Dear Friend,

It's 2:20AM. There's a splendid thunderstorm going on. Inside, my house is deliciously silent. We're tucked into the side of a hill, like a ship run ashore. I'm enjoying the view from my husband's office. His large bay window is the prow.

School starts tomorrow for my oldest three kids. The last several days have been noisy and exciting -- Go! Go! Go! -- back to school preparations and a birthday party to boot. The wonderful pulse of life that comes with a large family has lately felt like a marathon for my nerves.

Waking during the night can be blissful, though I'll likely suffer for it tomorrow, especially if the baby won't take a nap. For now though I feel too refreshed and focused to sleep. Maybe insomnia is not something I should battle. Maybe -- like my unusual heart beat -- it's just me.

If your night's sleep is often broken into segments with a mid-night interval, you will appreciate this article. Some of us heed the sound of an ancient ancestral chime. Or something.

Anyway, when I woke up tonight I decided not to be frustrated with myself.

Carpe noctem!

I recently picked up Montaigne's Essays again. Click here to read a short post I wrote two years ago in which I compare reading Essays to paying a visit to my rich, quirky uncle (who happens to live in a chateau).

File:St Michel de Montaigne Château01.jpg
Château de Montaigne via Wikipedia 
Montaigne is considered the Father of the Essay, so I suppose this also makes him Patron Saint of Bloggers. He's quite an engaging person to know. No topic is off limits.
Our life is part folly, part wisdom. Whoever writes about it only reverently and according to the rules leaves out more than half of it. 
But fair warning: rarely does Montaigne stick to his point. He's all over the place! Reading him feels like partaking in a conversation full of delightful rabbit trails. I love him for this. He likes to go deep, but we can also talk candidly about stuff like bodily functions. We can ramble a bit, then go on with what we were first discussing. Or not.

I'm sure I'd grow weary of other writers for using his method, but it works for him. I expect this randomness out of him, I suppose. And because he's the first true essayist, I feel like this gives me permission to loosen up a little and just blog what's on my mind. As I've mentioned before, I've found if I wait until I have time to make my posts tidy I end up going long stretches without blogging anything.

I also believe reading Essays is good for my depression. Montaigne is so much more rational than me! I tend to experience an exhausting array of peaks and valleys of emotion. In "On Sadness,"  he gives examples of people who are seized by a sadness in a "deaf, speechless stupor." Others "languish for love" or even "die of happiness." As for Montaigne --
Violent emotions . . . have little hold on me. By nature my sense of feeling has a hard skin, which I daily toughen and thicken by arguments. 
In one segment of "On Sadness" I wrote a question mark in the margin:
We cannot display our grief or our convictions during the living searing heat of the attack; the soul is then burdened by deep thought and the body is cast down, languishing for love. That is the source of the occasional impotence which sometimes comes so unseasonably upon men when making love, and of that chill produced, in the very lap of delight by excessive ardour. 
Just a question mark. Because this was new information for me. (No one need comment with personal examples of experiencing untimely impotence due to excessive ardor! But see what I mean?This is one example of territory that is fair game for our host to discuss.) He wraps up his comment on impotence with some level-headed advice for life in general:
For pleasures to be tasted and then digested they must remain moderate: Curae leves lonquuntur, ingentes stupent. [Light cares can talk: huge ones are struck dumb.]

I depart from this visit to the chateau , feeling a little calmer, more steady, and rational. I'm smiling, actually. When calling on Montaigne, I must leave my hysterics at the door.

Moderately yours,

Adriana :-)

Friday, August 8, 2014

When Flowers Fail: Moving Forward When It's Time to Embrace Something New

Dear Friend,

My neighbor owns most of the meadows near my home.  This past spring he leased his property to a local farmer. I was told ahead of time that the land would be turned over for soybeans, but I wasn't prepared for the acrid scent of chemicals in our gentle valley. The day after the fields were sprayed, I viewed the land from my car. No sign of life to be found. All was burnt. Yellow. Destroyed. 

It was weeks before the deer crept back into the fields.  Now they come in droves to nibble at the scrawny crop of beans. Tall black stalks poke up through the rows, unsightly as unwanted hair.

I haven't taken many walks down the old paths this summer. I feel something akin to homesickness for the butterflies, bees, and red winged blackbirds that used to flutter, dive, and hum.

The pictures in my post today are from last year. I took them on one of my long rambles when I thought my lovely meadows (which were, of course, not really mine) would last forever.

How many Flowers fail in Wood—
Or perish from the Hill—
Without the privilege to know
That they are Beautiful—

How many cast a nameless Pod
Upon the nearest Breeze—
Unconscious of the Scarlet Freight—
It bear to Other Eyes— 

Emily Dickinson

I'm glad I have pictures. 

The images I've captured of my long county walks are closely tied in my mind to the great classic books I've read in the last few years.

Sometimes, as I journey through books, I capture them well; I take lots of great notes, ponder insights, and do research.  More often though, life happens. I become absorbed in my primary job of nurturing my lovely family! (And sometimes, to be fully honest, I become absorbed with less noble things like what my friend Anne Bogel calls the "Facebook Rabbit Hole.") Before I know it, I've read another tome without documenting the experience. The moments -- the flashes of insight and awe -- they slip away like a "nameless pod upon the nearest breeze" and I'm left with a sense of loss. 

I have more unfinished drafts of posts in my blog archives than I have published posts. 

Here are some classic books I've read while on my quest that I've written little-to-nothing about:

Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes
The Pilgrim's Progress by John Bunyan
Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte
Gulliver's Travels by Jonathan Swift
Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
Emma by Jane Austen
Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens
Moby-Dick by Herman Melville 
The Return of the Native by Thomas Hardy
Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert
The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain
Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad
The Red Badge of Courage by Stephen Crane
The House of Mirth by Edith Wharton
The Portrait of a Lady by Henry James
Practice of the Presence of God by Brother Lawrence
Streams of Living Water by Richard Foster

And here's some modern stuff I've read lately:

David and Goliath by Malcolm Gladwell
The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg
Book of Ages: The Life and Opinions of Jane Franklin by Jill Lepore
Cut Me Loose by Leah Vincent
Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott
The Art of Loving by Erich Fromm
I Am Malala by Malala Yousafzai
What Makes Olga Run By Bruce Grierson
The Fault in Our Stars by John Green
The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood
The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver
Homeschool Sex Machine: Babes, Bible Quiz, and the Clinton Years by Matthew Pierce
Walking on Water: Reflections on Faith and Art by Madeleine L'Engle
The Intellectual Devotional by David S. Kidder and Noah D. Oppenheim
How to Read Like a Professor by Thomas C. Foster
A Jane Austen Education by William Deresiewicz

So here's to moving forward! To seeking new places to ramble! To reading more and writing more as time, self-discipline, and energy allows!

Peace & Joy.


P.S. I wonder -- is it time for you to let go of something? Perhaps you need to release something that has more gravitas than a burned up meadow and some forgotten quotes. Is it time to move on? Is it time to make room in your life for a new residence or friendship or job or project or pet or ______________?