Tuesday, March 03, 2015

No Fear In Love

Once upon a time, my Papaw and Mamaw took me to their Assembly of God church’s production of Heaven’s Gates Hell’s Flames©. This is a play that Christian production companies take on tour to churches all over the world, using the members of the local congregations as the actors, which tells the stories of various people in their last moments of life and their subsequent first moments of eternity. Will they end up at Heaven’s Gates or will they succumb to Hell’s Flames?

The good people, and perhaps one bad person who at the end of his life begged for salvation, all met a meek, white-robbed, shaggy- haired Jesus who graciously and lovingly drew them to the shining bright light on Stage Left where they would spend eternity in peace, comfort and eternal bliss. The bad people, however, and maybe one person who “thought” he was good, were dragged kicking and screaming by demons to the red satin streamers flapping onto the stage by the fan of the flickering red lights of Hell’s Flames, Stage Right. The moral of the story: You never know when your last moment will be (car crash, falling to your death from work scaffolding, gunshot, or if you’re simply lucky, old age), so get prepared now. Ask Jesus into your heart now (there will be an altar call at the end of this production to assist you as you make your lifelong commitment now) or risk dying on the way home and being dragged to your eternal doom by the scariest red Spandex-wearing, black goatee-sporting Satan you could ever imagine.

At the end of that production, when the pastor asked the non-believers in the crowd to raise their hands to be saved – and requested the rest of the audience bow their heads so they wouldn’t see whose hands were raised – I nervously lifted my hand. I had already asked Jesus into my heart a couple of times before, but now I had to be sure, doubly sure, triply sure that I was saved, just in case. I did not want to be dragged Stage Right. I was terrified of being dragged Stage Right, for all of forever, never to be released. My Mamaw next to me gently tugged my arm back down. I was so confused. Was she ashamed that I wasn’t already saved? I was afraid of disappointing her so I put my hand down and stayed in my seat. I remembered that I could just as easily get saved from my seat as from the altar, so there in my chair, I begged God to please save me from going to hell, but I was still afraid that by not actually getting out of my seat and going forward, that my pride had kept me from actually being heard by God.

I was eight years old.

Image courtesy of Photorack.net

“There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.” (1 John 4:18, NIV) This is what we are taught. We are told that it is God’s love that draws us to him, not fear. Yet at the very end of it all, the threat of hell dangles ahead of us, always warning us, always keeping us in check. When we doubt our faith, when we doubt God, when we are tempted to do wrong or go our own way, images of hell flicker in our minds. Eternal separation from God, misery, agony, death that never lets you die, the arrogant, maniacal laughter of Satan – though he too is burning – drives us from taking steps too far from God. The closer we tiptoe to the edge, the more real hell becomes. The flames lick our feet, the smoke singes our hair, and we run full force back into the arms of Jesus. Once we are there, we claim it was Jesus’ love that brought us back, but really, it was the proximity to hell that drove us home.

Fear is a motivator. Parents, teachers, police officers, judges and madmen use it all the time.

Do that again and you’ll get a spanking.
Study harder or you will fail.
Break the law and you will go to prison.
Use protection or you will get pregnant or an STD.
If you ever turn gay, boy, I will beat your ass.
Scream, bitch, and I’ll kill you.

Consequences are directly linked to fear, for better or for worse, and we use consequences and fear constantly to assure cooperation. Some consequences are logical, natural consequences: throw that toy out of anger and it will break, rob that liquor store and you will get arrested, cheat on your spouse and you could lose your marriage. Others, however, are illogical and unnatural: hit your sister and you will get spanked (e.g., hit by me), forget your homework once and fail the class, talk back to an officer and get shot. Fear is a factor anytime consequences are considered, and some fear is helpful in making positive decisions. But when fear is taken to an unnatural extreme, it can be abused as manipulation.

I know already what the Christian wants to say: “But hell IS a natural, real consequence, and the worst consequence, and it would be wrong of us not to warn you!” Putting aside, for just a moment, the fact that there is no actual evidence that hell is a real, natural consequence other than an ancient book sort of, kind of, if you read it a certain way, says so, I have to wonder just what kind of all loving, Heavenly Father would actually choose eternal torture as a reasonable punishment.

Parents discipline their kids in various ways. Time-outs, loss of privileges, rectification, smacks. The purpose of discipline is supposed to be character building. We teach children about natural consequences so they will understand how to make better decisions in the future. We explain right from wrong. We try to show them how wrong decisions affect and hurt others, and why right decisions are always right, even when they are hard. We fill our box of parenting tools with the tools we believe will be best suited to these purposes. In general, we all try to do our best to reach the same common goal of bringing up children who are good. This is what God the Father is supposed to be doing too. Teaching us lessons that will make us stronger, better, more righteous people.

When we hear of parents who have beat their children to a pulp or who have kicked their children onto the streets, very few of us agree these parents have done right. A boy who is beaten by his father for being gay or the girl who is kicked out on the streets for getting pregnant are examples to us all of how not to parent our kids. Yet even in the worst possible way, those parents are in some dim, misguided, heartless way trying to teach their kids a lesson. Trying to “improve” them, in most cruel and irrational ways. These are what we call “bad parents”. Yet when we look at hell, we see something crueller than even that.

We see a loving Heavenly Father who gives his children hardships to strengthen them, who allows horrible things to happen to them to bring them even closer to him. Abusive relationship parallels aside, the most innocent and well-intentioned view of this is that God just wants us to be the best we can be, making us more like his Son Jesus, which is the goal. But that is only one side of him. The other side looks at those who are not his children (even though they are his creation) with total disregard, or worse, with vengeance. He gives salvation freely but not to these people. And for his creation that he disregarded, he has a plan for ultimate punishment – eternal torture in a fiery furnace of misery, agony, complete separation from all good things like love and companionship and holiness, forever and ever and ever with no chance for redemption. No chance of redemption. No chance to learn from their mistakes and become better.

Even the worst parent who beats his child does it with some kind of sick belief it will do the child some good.

Unless God the Father is like the father who beats his child for his own sick pleasure and nothing else, God is no Father at all. The God of the Bible that Christians taut as all-loving, who Christians insist to your face loves you has designed a place for you where you will suffer for eternity for absolutely no reason other than not believing in him. He withholds his grace from you (remember, faith is a gift that only God can give) and will punish you for it. Unless you want to spend your eternal afterlife in this miserable place, you better get yourself right with this all-loving, all-compassionate Heavenly Father who has the power to make you burn. Fear of hell is the ultimate motivator.

A few weeks ago I went back to see a production of Heaven’s Gates Hell’s Flames©; I wanted to know if it was really as frightening as I remembered. It was. Everything was exactly as I remembered it, except Satan wasn’t wearing red Spandex as he did in my mind’s eye, but instead a black cloak, a menacing white and black mask with evil facial features and had reverb in his loud, booming voice. Hell was still Stage Right, with smoke and satin flames and flickering red lights. He still dragged both bad and good (though all of course always pre-warned, because that’s how the world really works) people into his lair, begging and screaming their bloodcurdling pleas for forgiveness all too late. Even as a thirty-something year old post-Christian, I watched in horror, as my chest tightened with memories of that childhood terror, the childhood dreams of demons dragging me to hell, the fear I was never really saved and would one day die to hear my supposed Savior shout, “Depart from me, I never knew you!” Unchecked, I myself would’ve been swayed by the naked fear it instilled in me; that primal fear of hell may never go away.

It was a sad realization. The trauma we go through as children will always be with us. It will always be there, hidden in somewhere in our psyches, long after rationalization and logic take over our conscious thoughts.

There were several children in the audience, some who looked too young to even be in school. To their credit, the production staff did warn at the start that the program was not suitable for children under ten and encouraged parents to send their kids to a children’s program located elsewhere in the building. Many kids went to that, but many stayed. I wondered how many parents who kept their kids with them had actually seen the play themselves previously. I wondered if they had, if they would still insist on keeping their children in to watch teen suicides, domestic violence, murders, car and plane crashes, school shootings and of course the Devil Himself unfold right before their baby eyes.

My heart ached when I saw a tiny little girl, no older than six, lift her own skinny arm at the altar call at the end, seeing myself in her tiny blond bob, seeing her future before her, one of fear, even if also mixed with love. Fear will be with her as she grows into a woman.

After the final scene, where a screaming unsaved mother is dragged away from her screaming, begging Christian teenage daughter by the billowy, echoey hooded Satan and his demons at the gates of heaven, and the girl is hugged by Jesus then sent on her own to enter the pearly gates looking forlorn but okay, the production director came on stage and began the obligatory altar call. At first, he asked that all would bow their heads and close their eyes, just as the director did twenty-five years ago. He asked that anyone who wanted to invite Jesus into their lives slip a hand in the air. He then asked them to stand, and anyone else who was too afraid to lift their hands the first time to also stand. Then he requested that all the backslidden Christians also stand. Even with my head bowed, I could sense all the bodies around me standing. He then invited them to come forward to the altar at the front. Bodies filed past me, many crying, many looking guilt-ridden, a few looking relieved. As the director kept insisting there were more backsliders who hadn’t yet come forward, and more “backsliders” filed past me to the front, I felt the same familiar rage build inside of me. These are good people! You are all good people! I wanted to scream. I was burdened and angry at the guilt heaped upon guilt being laid on thick on all the spiritual masochists in the room – and all the normal people too – who were all searching their hearts and determining that he – no, God – was speaking to them. I waited. I wanted to stay to the end if I could.

Then he said, “Christians, I want you to turn to the person next to you, even if you don’t know them. Maybe put your arm around them. I want you to ask them, ‘Do you know Jesus Christ as your personal Lord and Savior?’"

I couldn’t take any more.

Before the sweet looking teenager next to me whose friend had just gone forward could turn to me, I turned to the aisle and marched not forward to the altar but backwards to the back of the room and out the back door. Eyes followed me, but I did not care. I had no intention of making a scene, but I’d seen and heard enough. Frustrated, I knew that many people interpreted that in their own Christianese as me hardening my heart to the Spirit, but it was far from being that. It was like having to leave a scene of abuse that you have no way of stopping. Like having to walk away from something that is so wrong and out of your control that you cannot bear witnessing it any longer. Like turning your head away from a car crash on the freeway instead of rubbernecking. I had seen enough of my past and these strangers’ futures to watch any longer. The anger bubbling up inside me was too explosive. I’m afraid of what I would’ve said to that sweet teen next to me. Afraid of what would have come out of my mouth. My purpose in life is not to insult other people’s sincerely held faiths. But it is also not my purpose to condone psychological abuse.

Luckily no one followed me outside, though I was worried someone might.

Reflecting later that night, one more sad realization struck me. Fear is the overarching theme of this play. The scenes of people going to hell dominate not only my recollections of last night, but my memories of the play from twenty-five years ago. I remembered so distinctly the damned being dragged to hell Stage Right. But how is it that I did not remember that the saved walked up a huge flight of stairs center stage to enter heaven through a shiny curtain at the top where they were greeted by Jesus? I realized, I only concluded that the Christians went to heaven Stage Left because actually, I couldn’t remember at all what happened to the saved. That was never the point of the play. How did I recall every detail of hell in the wings twenty-five years later but forgot that the entire stage was decorated in gold and silver, with sparkling steps running up the center, surrounded by angels who stood on stage the entire time, with a humble Jesus waiting at top, arms outstretched?

Jesus is not the point of this play, that’s why.

Jesus never speaks a word. Not one word throughout the whole production. He never makes a single active motion aside from hugs to the people who climb the steps towards him. In only one scene does he seem to intervene in a situation, the one in which a troubled teen commits (accidental) suicide. Both Jesus and Satan approach her silently, then Satan flees when she calls out to Christ. Even then, Jesus only stands there smiling gently. He does not actually do anything for her until she is in heaven and he silently wipes his hand across her arm, removing the scars from years of cutting, before sending her through the curtain.

Conversely, Satan has lots to say. In his booming, echoing voice, he taunts the sinners, laughs at the arrogant fools who thought being a good person was good enough, and then addresses the audience with one-liners about how he loves to watch anger CONSUME people’s hearts and how pornography is his SPECIALTY. Then he flaps back to hell with guffaws that echo through the room after blackout.

Jesus is entirely forgettable. I do not recall anything that Jesus did twenty-five years ago on that stage. But Satan was everything I remembered. It could have been the same actor, the memories are so exact.

“There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.”

Sunday, March 01, 2015

Challenge Accepted! -February Books

The Reading Challenge continues!!

With 50 books to check off (52 actually, since one category is a trilogy), I need to read approximately four and a half books a month to complete the challenge.  With some books being longer or more difficult than others, I'm doing my best to check off as many books as month as possible.

This month I read seven.

Silence by Shusaku Endo (A book set somewhere you've always wanted to visit)
I've been wanting to re-read this book for a while now. I first read it a few years ago when I was in the throes of spiritual uncertainty, and it literally changed my life. Now that I have moved on from there, I wanted to read it again to see how it would affect me now. Here is the comprehensive review I wrote about the book when I finished it the second time.

I was able to tick off a box in the reading challenge because Japan is a place I have always wanted to visit. From obento to kokeshi, I've had a long-standing fascination with Japanese trends. One day we will visit. Until then, I'll read books.

Love Wins by Rob Bell (A book with bad reviews)
In my Christian days, I loved me some Rob Bell. We watched all the Nooma videos at Bible studies, and some of them blew my mind. His way of explaining the Bible intellectually and putting Biblical stories into their proper historical context were enlightening to me. (And those videos - Can't we all remember that moment when the car pulled out of the airport parking lot? We all do.) He is educated and insightful and - to sheepishly borrow a Christian buzzword - relevant. So I have an immense amount of respect for Rob Bell.

Then suddenly, with the release of Love Wins, everyone's favorite hipster pastor "fell from grace". Suddenly he was the Church's greatest insider enemy. Mainstream evangelicals shunned him. They hated this book. So, of course, I wanted to know what all the fuss was about. I ordered the book.

Love Wins proposes an alternate concept of hell from the usual lake of fire/ separation from God/ eternal punishment and torture bit. Bell goes back to Scriptural mentions of hell - which is pretty sparce; Sheol, Hades and Gehenna are actually not appropriately translated into the Heaven's Gates Hell's Flames version of the everlasting fiery torment we think of today. Bell then proposes a different idea of what might befall the ungodly - but I'll let you read the book to see what that is.

I really liked the book. However, I had two complaints. The first is Bell's assumption that you are either a loving, good, at-peace person with Jesus or you are a discontent, lonely, depressed (and then of course, possibly downright bad) person without Jesus. While he admits there are very good people who do not follow Jesus (and that there are some very bad people who do), he seems to assume those good people are still wandering around aimlessly, looking for that ultimate fulfillment that will give their lives meaning. I beg to differ.

The second complaint, though, is that while he used a lot of Scripture - and the very modern, mainstream concept of a loving God - to back up his points, he seemed to gloss over all the not very loving aspects of God all through Scripture, particularly in the Old Testament. If I were still a mainstream evangelical, I'd have thought of it more as glossing over "the wrath of God", the part of God that wants to punish all the people who didn't follow him. As a Calvinist, I'd have laughed the whole book right off. However, IF God is the God of Love Bell describes in the book, then his book would be pretty close to the mark. IF there is a God and IF he is all-loving, then Bell's assessment that eternal torture is not compatible with His nature would have to be pretty near spot on.

If the subject of hell bothers you, I'd recommend picking up this book. It's an easy read, despite the heavy subject matter, written in a very "bloggy" style. And Bell is just so darn charming. I'm glad he's still out there, despite all the backlash, being relevant in the Christian world.

Spring Awakening by Frank Wedekind(A play)
The day I was finishing Love Wins, my copy of Spring Awakening arrived in the mail. Even though it was about 11:30 at night when I finished Love Wins, I was eager to read this little play, so I dove straight into it and read it in one sitting. It was about 2am before I got to bed that night.

A little personal background. I first heard of Spring Awakening as a rock musical. When I was doing Footloose, my first return to amateur dramatics in Scotland, another local drama group was holding adutions for SA. I didn't audition, because I was already in a musical, but also because I knew nothing about it. Curious, though, I bought the soundtrack and went to see my new friends perform it when the time came. Turns out, the musical (based on this German play from 1891) was shockingly controversial. I actually found myself cringing horribly at some parts. The music is great though and the subject matter important. I found it hard to believe that this was actually based on a play from the 19th century, so for a while I'd been wanting to get my hands on the original.

Surprisingly, shockingly even, the original play is even more gritty.

Basically, the rock musical deals with homosexuality, teen sexuality and pregnancy, suicide, sexual abuse, masturbation and abortion. The play deals with all of those topics PLUS masochism, sadism, and child prostitution, all thrown in with a dash of dark humor. Ouch. Even the modern rock musical doesn't try to be funny about it. Even the modern musical softens Wendla Bergman's taste for masochism and Melchior Gabor's blatant rape scene (which is performed as not rape in the musical). The musical ages the characters too; the original play has the children ranging from eleven to fourteen.

I'll just say this book was disturbing but intriguing. It's almost impossible to imagine a 19th century writer with the cajones to shamelessly write about gay romps in the grass and circle jerking with such bluntness, and particularly for the stage! Not to mention the unsettling mental health issues so many of the child characters display. And then to do it all with a twisted dark humor...

It was a good play.

(And the musical is good too.)

God's Problem by Bart Ehrman (A book you own but have never read)
Originally, I was going to check off "A book a friend recommended" but when I told that friend I'd read it, he said he had actually recommended a different book. Oops.

I own a lot of Bart Ehrman books. Ehrman is a New Testament scholar and professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. I first heard of him on NPR discussing his most recent book How Jesus Became God with Terry Gross on Fresh Air. I subsequently ordered that book and read it, followed by several others of his. Ehrman is an agnostic, who left evangelical Christianity after attending three religious colleges and universities. He alludes to his reasons for leaving Christianity in his other books but said that the full story is fleshed out in God's Problem in which he discusses the problem of suffering. I've had this book on my shelf for about a year now and finally decided to read it.

This book is a very, very thorough review of the Biblical answers to why we suffer. He moves through Old and New Testament authors and demonstrates their understanding of why we suffer. The answers are all very different from one another and actually very comprehensive, even while being contradictory. From believing suffering comes from God as punishment for sin to coming from the forces of Satan to being a matter of free will to being a result of living in a fallen world to being a means of bringing us closer to God to having literally no meaning whatsoever, the Bible seems to have covered basically every reason we can think of for why there is suffering in the world.

The problem Ehrman has, and that I share with him, is that none of these explanations are compatible with an all powerful, all loving God. And none of these explanations - with the exception perhaps of Ecclesiastes which basically says suffering just happens and it totally sucks - are satisfactory. Some are even appalling. It was this problem with suffering that led Ehrman to eventually leave the faith altogether. It also resonates deeply with me, being a problem I wrestled with often: How can an all-powerful, all-loving God allow so many African children to starve daily, allow tsunamis and earthquakes to kill millions of innocent people yearly, allow so much unbearable, senseless pain and suffering without lifting a finger to do anything about it? The "answers" are all there in the Bible, but none of them are good enough. None of them really cut to the chase.

In fact, this book echos back the problem of God's silence in Endo's book too. From Silence to Love Wins to God's Problem, there was a definite trend going on in my February reading - can God truly be a loving God if he remains silent during suffering or punishes millions upon millions of people for eternity just for getting the details wrong?

Fight Club by Chuck Palahniuk (A book that became a movie)
After four rather emotionally exhausting books, I decided it was time for some fluff. My friend Elizabeth loaned me Fight Club. After reading a fan site claiming that Marla is not real, Scott and I went back and watched the movie again. Then I read the book. (For the record, I'm still on the fence about Marla. Mebbe, mebbe not.) It was a good book, but of course, having seen the movie already a dozen times, there were no surprises. I'd have liked to have read this book before ever seeing the movie, then allowing the movie to amaze me even further. Regardless, it's one of those books I'm pleased to say I've now read. Makes me feel more movie-literate, if that's even a thing. I can't really discuss much about the book (or the movie) without spoilers, but then seriously, if you haven't already seen it, I have to wonder if you've been living in a cave.

The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams (A book with nonhuman characters)
Following Book Club, where this book came up, another friend Tosha dropped her copy off in my mailbox for me to read. She was sure I'd love it, having lived Britishly myself for several years. (She too is married to a Scotsman.) This is one of Scott's favorite books, so it was high time I read it anyway. It was, however, one of those books that has been so built up for me that I was afraid reading it would be a disappointment.

After literally LOLing three times in the first chapter, though, I figured that wasn't much of a concern.

This book is funny. It is absurd. It is modern day, sci-fi Candide. I read through it quickly and immediately started in on the second book of the series Restaurant at the End of the Universe. The story of human Arthur Dent saved from the obliteration of Earth in the process of creating a galactic bypass (plans of which had already been scrapped, oops) as he hitchhikes through the galaxy with humanoid alien Ford Prefect, ex-Galactic President Zaphod Beeblebrox and fellow human Trillian is unpredictable, improbable and hilarious. The Britishness of the humor makes me feel warmly back in Scotland in turtleneck jumper drinking a perfect cup of tea. I'm eager to read the rest of the series, which may or may not tick off any more boxes of the Reading Challenge but will certainly be worth my time! So fluffily, funnily delightful!

Four by Veronica Roth (A book with a one-word title)
I'm not one to read two books at once, but I saw Four at the library, and even though I'm currently in the middle of Restaurant at the End of the Universe, I checked it out and read it in two days. Like the rest of the Divergent series, it's an energetic, fast-paced story that keeps you turning pages until you are through. This book gives some prequel story lines about the character Four that we meet in the earlier books. Four is a really interesting character, so I'm sure I speak for all fans when I say I'm glad she wrote this book, telling us more about him.

My only complaint - and it was one of my complaints about Allegian too - is that Four doesn't have his own voice. He speaks and thinks just like Tris, using the same imagery and descriptions. That's not a character fault, though, it's an author's. I can't blame Four for it. (I kind of love him.) Regardless, it was easy to push that little bit of literary snobbery aside and just enjoy the plot line.

(Okay listen. If we were playing Truth or Dare, and you asked me who my fictional crush is, I'd have to say Four. There. The truth is out.)

So the Reading Challenge continues. 13 books down, 39 to go! Anyone else willing to jump in?

Monday, February 23, 2015

Hosting Book Club

This post will never go viral. It will never get 2,025 page views like my Frobscottle recipe (which I didn't even invent). No one cares this much about this book and there has probably ever only been like one party in the past based on it and there will probably be only ever one or two more in the future. But regardless, I'm posting my Book Club themed cocktail, snacks and decorations from our last book, The Chrysalids by John Wyndham for, you know, those one or two future parties looking for ideas.

In this case, it's très important NOT to judge a book by its cover.
It was my first time to host, and while I will never be able to host as magnificently as Kate hosts, I wanted to do something a little more special than just mopping my kitchen floors and wiping down toilets. (You're welcome.) Then I found this inspiring cross-stitch on Etsy and an idea was born.

Which I did not buy. But I did decide it looked easy enough for me to attempt, so I did.

Minus the strand of DNA... #cuttingcorners

In the book, our protagonist, David Strorm, lives in a house decorated adorned with signs everywhere of verses from Nicholson's Repentances, the book the Labrador people used alongside the Bible as Scripture. Verses such as the one above - WATCH THOU FOR THE MUTANT - warned people that all deviations, no matter how small, were still blasphemies against God and were not human. An extra toe or unusual body hair is all it took to prove you were a child of the Devil and nonhuman and were to be thrust out of society and rendered infertile so as not to procreate. If you were a baby, you'd be left near the Fringes and left to your own devices. Maybe a Fringes person would rescue you; maybe not.

It's a really uplifting book.

So the only real way to decorate was with these signs. (I did toy with the idea of sewing brown crosses on fronts of every woman's shirt as she walked through the door, but the logistics....) I printed off eight different signs and framed them with Dollar Tree frames, and hung them around the house, along with my cross-stitching and all my chalkboards with verses scrawled on them.

We also sort of had a theme for foods - foods that were a little "deviant" or a something not quite right. Like Elizabeth's maple bacon cookies....

I wanted to try this blue Muddy Buddies recipe that I found on Pinterest, because blue food just isn't right. I think I can go so far as to say, however, it was a definite Pinterest fail. Or perhaps the whole thing is just a massive Photoshop pantone conspiracy, because there was no way this could have turned out as blue as the recipe made it look. I was going to call this "Deep Blue Sea-landers" after the Sealand people, but since it didn't turn out very deep blue, I just didn't name it at all.



It tasted good though.

Yet my crowning personal achievement of the evening, in my own ever-so-humble opinion, was my very own cocktail created just for the party called The Badlands (somewhat based on this lemon licorice cocktail recipe). And this is the part that will never go viral because no one will ever care about an obscure cocktail inspired by a random reference in a semi-known science fiction novel from the 1950s.

The cocktail was super tasty though, and I'm pretty sure everyone enjoyed them, along with all the other delicious foods and drinks the ladies brought over (jello shots, anyone?), and we also enjoyed a good chinwag about the book itself. Ya'll, this a book club that actually talks about the books. I love it.

So here's how to concoct The Badlands. You could make it for any occasion in which a black drink would be appropriate. (Halloween? Funeral?)

There are three parts to this recipe. Two of which need to be made in advance.

The Badlands
A Black Gin Cocktail

Prep Time - 3-4 hours


Blackberry Ice Cubes
6 oz fresh blackberries
1/2 cup of sugar and 1 cup of water OR
1 cup blackberry juice
black food coloring (optional)

Basil-Lime Syrup
2 limes
2 cups sugar
2 cups water
1 basil leaf

4 oz gin (I recommend Bombay Sapphire but any will do)
2 oz of Basil-Lime Syrup
2 tsp fresh lime juice
2 Blackberry Ice Cubes
Tonic water

Start with the Blackberry Ice Cubes, since obviously these need the longest prep time to freeze. Puree blackberries and sugar/water or blackberry juice in a blender. If you are trying to make it more black than reddish-purple, include black food coloring. After blending, strain out seeds with a strainer. (This took a lot longer than I expected, because there were a LOT of seeds. It's an important step though, because you don't want seeds to ruin your drinking experience.) Spoon strained blackberry juice into ice cube trays and freeze.

(You could avoid this step by using just plain blackberry juice frozen into cubes, and I'm sure it would still be very tasty.)

Next, make your Basil-Lime Syrup. Peel or zest just the green off the skin of the limes, leaving the bitter white pith underneath. (If you don't have a zester, I highly recommend getting one - they make such a difference to so many recipes! And hey, you can even buy one from me!) Set limes aside. Combine zest or peels with sugar, water and basil leaf in a small saucepan and heat until sugar is dissolved. Remove from heat, and once cool, strain the syrup. In a separate bowl or cup, juice your two limes. Chill both the syrup and the lime juice separately in refrigerator for later.

Once ice cubes are frozen, you can make your cocktail!

In cocktail shaker, gently shake gin, syrup, lime juice and 2 berry cubes. Pour into two glasses, giving each glass one of the half-melted cubes left in the cocktail shaker and complete drink with a splash of tonic water. (Tonic water will supposedly glow under a black light because of the quinine, but with all the berry juice in this drink, I'm not sure if this drink will glow or not. But legend does say that sometimes the black coasts of the Badlands glowed dimly in the dark....) Drink and enjoy, while thinking of all the poor Old People who were destroyed in the Tribulation, leaving nothing but large continents of wildly mutated vegetation surrounded by black, glassy, radioactive coasts in their place. Ahh, sucks to be them.

Next month, we're reading The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks.  HeLa Cells on the rocks, anyone?

Thursday, February 19, 2015

The Truth Fairy

We've never really done the Santa thing on the kids; we let them sort of believe in him during the Christmas season, but I've always been clear during the year that he was pretend (much to Scott's chagrin). The same with the Easter Bunny and Banoffee Pie, our Elf on the Shelf.

But the tooth fairy, she was kind of different. She and the pajama fairy and all other fairies seemed to be treated with more respect, more believability.  When the kids asked if fairies were real, instead of giving them the brutally honest "No, but it's fun to pretend!" line I gave when asked about Santa, I tended to give more vague - though not quite dishonest - answers. "What do you think?" or "Hmm, I don't know..."

So the tooth fairy kind of stuck.

Our tooth fairy leaves a little tiny note on special stationery (kept tucked out of sight in my underwear drawer) with every tooth. She tells the child what the fairies plan to do with her tooth; seems Fairy Land is always in the middle of some major renovation project - a new Fairy Town Hall, the fairymentary school, the fairiatrics wing of the hospital, a fairy brick road.

Fifi has lost all the baby teeth she will lose for a while, but Lolly has been not-so-patiently waiting for her first one to come out. Finally, a couple of weeks ago, it got wobbly. We all got very excited for her, and Fifi exclaimed, "You'll get a visit from the tooth fairy! You'll get a dollar!" We all cheered.

"But you know," Lolly began, with a sly grin on her face. "The tooth fairy isn't really real."

I slyly grinned back. "Oh really?"

She shook her head, then considered for a moment.

"Since I know the tooth fairy isn't real, can I get TWO dollars?"

I'm not sure if she's cut out for business or politics. Or both.

Well, since then, she's been wiggling it constantly. Then today, after school, I gave it a little push to see how close to ready it was, and out the little toothie came!

Regardless of whether she believes in the tooth fairy or not, she is still getting a little tiny note on special stationery in place of her little tooth which we've set up in front of her fairy door (because a tooth under a pillow is just asking for a lost tooth and a woken child), but instead of a coin or a dollar bill....

She's getting a check.

"The tooth fairy" doesn't have any cash on her.

Pennies for scale
(Click here to zoom)

I'm pretty sure a withdrawal slip, a simple explanatory note and my bank card tucked into the capsule along with Lolly's check at the drive-through lane of the bank will be sufficient for clearing this check.  She will, of course, still need to endorse the back.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Ashes Of Yesteryear

February 26, 2006
I want to observe these symbolic practices because I need help. I am so fallen and so far from God and the queen of All Things Hypocritical. I want to repent. I want to contemplate my humanity and be humbled – humiliated even! I think so often of how righteous I am, how good my theology is, how wise I am – I am a fool! I am filthy, my theology is nothing, and I don’t love. Yet I am forgiven. I am loved by God. I am counted righteous by Jesus blood. What a reason to celebrate!

February 19, 2007
Looking at my daughter, it's hard to see anything beyond a perfect, innocent being. But the truth is, she isn't perfect and innocent. Though she's done no right or wrong of own, she is still born into sin and with a sinful nature. She is the daughter of Eve. It's hard to look at such a beautiful person and acknowledge that she is impure and deserves no good but by the grace of God. It seems morbid and nasty to imagine that cross of ashes placed on her forehead as well, but the truth still remains: she, like all of us, is dust and to dust will return.

February 24, 2009
Tomorrow is Ash Wednesday. The last year or two I felt too busy to think much on Lent. That hasn't changed this year except I feel a real burden to do so. To repent of my busyness and lack of time spent with the Lord. I don't know how I'll do it. I don't know how a mother stays on top of everything earthly and material as well as things eternal. Is it just a matter of being near God, in His presence, or is there more? Should I wake up even earlier to pray and read Scripture? And if so, how do I do that without waking up the baby and then spending that time feeding her back to sleep?

March 8, 2011
May this season of Lent be not one of mere dieting and exercising self-control, nor one of empty religiosity, but one of heart-felt contrition and repentance. God, please mould me into your image. I don't know if I even resemble you at all anymore.


February 17, 2015
Out of the ashes rises the phoenix. This year, as we enter the season of Lent, I enter it with a light heart, with freedom from guilt (masquerading as conviction) and self-degradation. I enter it like a soft spring breeze pirouetting through the trees and over the tall grass, bending the dandelions with fingertips, splashing in the giggling streams, joyful to have this gift of life returned to me while I'm still so young, young enough to enjoy the splendor of nature, the wonder of the cosmos, and the sweetness of my family and friends. Life is good. My soul is still.

Saturday, February 14, 2015

The Day of Love

I see no reason to hide the truth: I love Valentine's Day. It may be my favorite holiday after Thanksgiving. It probably ties with Christmas. I just think it's fun. Red and pink and hearts and sweets and roses.. swoon.

I usually make a big deal out of it.

So on Wednesday, for Jaguar's little weekly toddler class, I started the week of love by making heart shaped red velvet cupcakes to share with all the kiddos and mommies.

A little foil rolled into a ball and placed inside the Pampered Chef Brownie Pan makes cute little heart shapes!

Off topic for a second: Jaguar loves his Busy Bees class, but it drives me crazy. I mean, it's not the class that drives me crazy; the class is great with great parents and a great instructor with great activities. But Baby Jaguar doesn't follow those great instructions. Instead, he spends the entire hour running around, not doing what the others are doing, destroying the obstacle courses and games the teacher has set up, and trying to escape out the back door into the parking lot. I spend the entire time trying to convince him to join in or at least try not destroy the equipment or run away from my sight. I expend more energy at this class than he does. But he loves it!

Okay, so back on topic. The kids all had fun at their party, trying to understand what the Valentine card exchange was all about (ten toddlers aimlessly wandering around trying to hand cards to equally uncertain toddlers) and getting red cupcake all over the place. I tried to get some photos of Jaguar at the party, but this is the best I could get. The rest were even blurrier. He's fast.

Fifi and Lolly had their Valentine parties at school. Lolly's class made their mailboxes in class, so we only had one to create at home. After last year, when Fi created her very own totally-hers mailbox that didn't win any prizes (and made her sad), I gave her permission to search Pinterest this year for ideas. She wanted to do something Harry Potter for her mailbox and we came across this little gem of an idea.

The Monster Book of Monsters. Easy to make and really cute. She won "Most Creative" in her class. Which feels kind of like a cheat since we found the idea on Pinterest so "creative" might be kind of a misnomer. But she was happy, and it was a pretty cool idea!

So then, Friday morning (our pre-Valentine's Day), the kids woke up to a special surprise.

A special visit from our Elf on the Shelf, Banoffee Pie! Lolly and Fifi gasped with surprise and Jaguar cried out, "Pie!!" when they woke up and found him. Banoffee brought the kids some new Valentine's plates, bowls and cups (that he cleverly purchased last year in the post-Valentine's sale at Kroger for 500% off) and a plate full of pink chocolate chip cookies. He was kind enough to leave the remaining cookie dough in the fridge for Scott and I.

(You know this spatula is about to be discontinued at the end of the month, so if you want one, go get it now... wink!)

This image pleases me.

I intended to make heart-shaped pink pancakes for breakfast like last year, but my pancakes turned out a bit of a disaster. Since Scott was crowned Pancake King in our home, Bisquick just doesn't satisfy anymore. Not even pink Bisquick that ended up not being heart-shaped but had heart-shaped strawberries. I, however, thoroughly enjoyed my pink pancakes with chocolate chips. (You will notice a Valentine's trend growing here that is decidedly not keto-friendly.)

Now, MY plan for Valentine's Day was to start out by going to my favorite gym class, Cardio Dance Party, and dancing my heart out (so many puns! Well, a couple.) in my new black tank top with red lips bought specifically for that class, my red heart socks, all my heart-shaped jewelry and a Valentinesy headband that I'd made the night before with the leftovers from the fabric bookmarks I'd made for the girls' teachers. But at 7:30am, work called and asked if I could come in to cover for someone. Sigh. So I missed my dance class, which makes that the third Cardio Dance Party holiday class I've missed in a row... Halloween... Christmas... now Valentine's. But hey, extra money!

Bookmarks to show my appreciation for wonderful teachers!

Oh and I was wearing my hair in what I hoped would look like hearts but ended up looking more like cinnamon rolls.

(Can you see the headband?)

Lolly's and Fi's hair looked much more convincing and a lot less like breakfast food.

I also planned to do the grocery shopping and errand running on Friday, but after we came home from work, wee Jaguar came down with a high-ish fever, relegating the rest of the day to the couch for cuddling and sleeping and trying to drink water (Jaguar, that is). Which means I didn't have time or energy to get dolled up for my date with Scott that night, but hey ho, I was wearing my lips tank! And I got to snuggle with my hot water bottle baby boy who never wants to snuggle anymore. The only silver lining to having a sick child.

I took the children to my mom's house for a sleepover after they came home from school. My mom and stepdad rock, by the way, for taking Baby Jaguar even with his fever, which, I should add so I don't look like a terrible mother, had no other symptoms at all. David set him up with popsicles, water, blankets and cuddles all night while Mom organized a Valentine's fun night for the girls, so Scott and I could go out and have a super sweet date night!

...at Painting With a Twist!!

Let me tell you, that was SO MUCH FUN. Scott is a self-proclaimed art dunce, but he's wrong, his painting came out looking great. They take you step by step through how to make your painting, making it very difficult to screw up. We had so much fun, and Scott even said he'd go back again. Success!

We then used our Olive Garden gift card from Christmas to gorge ourselves on salad and breadsticks and wine. We even shared a white chocolate raspberry cheesecake at the end. Then rolled ourselves into the car to go home. I could barely move. Carbs. It was a perfect date night.

A quick skip over the next several hours to this morning (wink) and after a leisurely lie-in with no kids rapping at our door (though we did have two cats who weren't happy about waiting for breakfast) Scott and I treated ourselves to a super romantic, child-free breakfast at Waffle House (that's where the magic happens, right?) before arriving for our super romantic appointment with our tax preparer. Nothing says Happy Valentine's Day like a double waffle and a 1040! Throw in some hashbrowns and a Schedule C, and things really start cookin'! Ya'll know what I'm saying.

But seriously. Happy days.

Sigh, Valentine's Day, you blessed day of commercialized, Hallmark-cheapened love, how do I love thee? Let me count the ways.

Monday, February 09, 2015

Silence by Shusaku Endo

In early 2013, in the throes of my faith crisis, I read the book Silence by Shusaku Endo.  Endo was a Catholic Japanese author whose books often centered around characters faced with impossible moral and spiritual dilemmas. I'd learned of the book through Philip Yancey's book Soul Survivor. From Yancey's description, I was certain it was a book I needed to read.

I'm not even slightly exaggerating when I say it was one of the most powerful books I have ever read. And I'm also not exaggerating when I say it was life-changing.

I'll do my best to avoid spoilers - because everyone should read this book - but it is an historical fiction set in the 1600s after Japan made Christianity illegal.  Silence tells the story of Portuguese priest Sebastian Rodrigues who sneaks into Japan as a missionary (based on the real historical person Giuseppe Chiara). Rodrigues has two reasons for coming to Japan: one, to minister to the Christians in hiding who had been without a priest or proper instruction of the Scriptures for years, and two, to find out the truth of his previous seminary teacher who was rumored to have apostatized.

At this time in Japan, Christians faced two options: apostatize by trampling on the fumie, a wood and bronze picture of Christ, or be tortured and executed. The rumor that Father Ferreira (also a real historical figure) had trampled the fumie and was living as a Japanese had reached Europe, but Rodrigues refused to believe it.  He had known Ferreira well, he knew what a solemn, faithful priest and follower of Christ he had been. It was impossible.  He was determined to find the truth.

As the story progresses, Father Rodrigues faces all kinds of trials which lead him to question the existence of God.  At that I will leave you. I don't want to spoil any plot lines for you (because it's so worth reading).

I read this book for the first time while I myself was questioning the existence of God.  I felt utterly ridiculous and humbled comparing myself to anyone in Rodrigues' shoes - or as the case may be, sandals - as I was in no way suffering as one witnessing peasants being brutally martyred or fearing for my own life. But regardless, I felt that I and Rodrigues were facing the same inner conundrum - the silence of God. His prayers echoed my prayers; his pleas were identical to my pleas; his desperation closely resembled my desperation.

God's silence was something I knew all too well. Like Rodrigues, I was accustomed to "hearing" God's voice, to daily communion with him.  But then the veil of silence fell.  I wanted to read this book for encouragement.  Surely a Christian writer would end with an uplifting answer - surely God's silence would break eventually and truth would prevail!

Yet page after page, the text came alive in words that described my every cry.  Why, God, are you so silent?  In the face of so much pain and need, how can you be silent? When I need you so much, when the world needs you so much, you remain silent, arms folded, unconcerned.  The silence of the black sea described in the book as comparison to the silence of God was an image I understood all too well.

I hoped the book would bring me some encouragement.  After all, for Rodrigues, Christ does eventually break his silence.  But even as the character was mildly bolstered by this, I felt it was too little too late - for the character and for me.  Even if such a silence for me could be broken this way, it would never be enough. The silence of God led both me and the characters in the book to question the existence of God, but while Rodrigues, and to a similar extent, the author himself who was no stranger to the subject of God's silence and persecution, found acceptance, I followed Ferreira in concluding that God is silent because God does not care. (It would take another year or so to conclude that God is silent because he does not exist.)

Beyond the way this book spoke to me personally, it was also a simply incredible story.  I have just finished re-reading it, and it stabbed me in my heart in all the same places as before, bringing tears to my eyes at multiple times.  The actual historical foundation for the plot also touched me; these people really existed, these peasants were actually oppressed in these ways, the faithful were actually tortured and killed in these ways. And as for the moral dilemma, I again, just as last time, caught myself asking, "Would I apostatize?" with at times yes, at times no, the answer on my lips. If ever there was a spiritual and moral dilemma to face, it was the dilemma this priest faced between denying his Lord and saving the lives of innocent peasants. (If you think that answer is a no-brainer, you definitely must read this book.)

My only word of caution - if you are already plagued with doubts about your faith, consider carefully if you really want to read this book; it may change your life too. For those of you who are confident already in your faith, then I definitely recommend reading it. Perhaps it will strengthen your faith, as it did Philip Yancey and so many others. We read this book in an online book club after I finished reading it, but unfortunately I never got the chance to really discuss it with the others in the club, as it was too close to my moving date.

(I'd love to hear now what others got out of if - Judith, Cheryl! - who were not going through the same crisis of faith as me!)

Thursday, February 05, 2015

Don't Go There

"I think I've changed," I casually mentioned to Scott as I glided the flat iron through a strand of my light brown shoulder-length hair. "I've never gone this long without coloring or cutting my hair." It's true; I am always changing my hair color - I've been platinum blonde, jet black, all shades in between, every shade of red, and even blue, pink and purple - and usually when I say I'm "growing my hair out", I get to this stage and chop it all off, desperate for a change, for something a little more daring. But for the first time in my life, I am perfectly happy with my natural hair color and its length, and I have been for a while.

Scott responded with something like this:
"Maybe you're just more comfortable with who you are now."

A small, insignificant throw-away comment, but it jarred me. It stirred up a very uncomfortable feeling inside me that I've never even known was there until that second.

"Don't go there," I said smiling a little queerly.

I put the flat iron down and turned to look at him.

It was a disconcerting thought. I've always considered myself an individual, a confident, do-my-own-thing sort of girl. I like to make an impression, I like to be different. But what if, what if some of that was a reaction against the meek prototype people expect of Christian women and girls? What if, what if without me ever even realizing it, I was making a statement about who I was, separating myself from "those" Christians, by my wild hair colors, cheeky hair cuts, piercings and tattoos?

As much as I did not like to think of myself this way, it struck a very dissonant chord somewhere very deep within me. A very unhappy, unpleasant chord.

I was always pleased when people were surprised to find out I was a Christian. I took it as a compliment when people said I didn't seem like one of "those people". While I hoped that my lifestyle and actions portrayed Christ, I in no way wanted to be associated with the Bible-thumpers. Sure, I technically believed the same things as the Bible-thumpers, but I hoped my approach was entirely different. I was happy to be a Christian, don't get me wrong. My faith was my identity, Jesus as my purpose, and I wholeheartedly tried to live as such. But I never ever wanted to be the cardigan-wearing, sensible haircut-sporting, leather Bible cover-carrying type of Christian that comes to mind with the label. I never wanted to be identified as the stuffy, humorless, uninteresting Christian goody-two-shoes. So I chose to be different.

But I was still just being me, right?

I never considered it before, but now I wonder. I am still the same person, but I am so different now. I have nothing to react against anymore. I do not have to separate myself from a stereotype anymore, but surely that has nothing to do with how I look. Am I maybe just getting older, is that all this is? Maybe I'm just calming down a little with age. Or is it something deeper than that, am I actually just more at peace with who I am and not who I'm trying to convince everyone I'm not? With no flavorless stereotype to push away from anymore, have I lost the need to dye my hair pink and insist I'm something more interesting?

As much as I'd like to say absolutely not, that's ridiculous, I'm just not actually all that convinced.

And even after convincing my friends and acquaintances that I was not "one of those", I wonder if I was even reacting against something much deeper inside me. Bending without breaking to the little voice deep inside that I repeatedly hushed as she cried, "But WHY are you expected to be meek and quiet and unadorned? WHY is your attention to your looks considered vain and attention-seeking when God made you to be beautiful? WHY is being outspoken and opinionated considered coarse and ungodly for a woman? For that matter, WHY did God make you the way you are if the way you are isn't the right way for a woman to be? And furthermore, WHY are you not allowed to preach when you are so knowledgeable about the Bible? WHY are you not allowed to lead prayer in front of men when you are an equal child of God? WHY are you required to be obedient to your husband, who should be your equal partner, when you are both equally good and fallible? WHY WHY WHY?" It's as if my compromise between that voice and God's expectations was to just slightly push the boundaries of what was considered modest and appropriate for a Christian woman, without sinning but without fully submitting to the recommended model of a perfect little Proverbs 31 woman, or the recognized stereotype of a boring, squeaky-clean Christian.

But now, today, with no boundaries left to push...

Sunday, February 01, 2015

Challenge Accepted! -January Books

Lindsay from Book Club introduced us all to the 2015 Reading Challenge, and I hungrily accepted. Part of my Adventure theme for this year is to read more books outside my typical genre. I like the old classics, with a few modern classics mixed in. I tend to read and re-read the same books over and over because I love the way the familiarity makes me feel and I love discovering something new each time I read. But with that, I tend to turn my nose up at other genres, as if they aren't nearly as meritorious.

This reading challenge is going to change all of this! I intend to check off every single category on this list - not simply by reading one book and checking off three categories, but one book per category.

I started the first of January. I have checked off four categories (with actually six books, since one category is to read a trilogy). In January, I read:

The Chrysalids by John Wyndham (A book set in the future)
This is one of my favorite books. I don't recall where I first picked it up or how I discovered it. Likely it was in WH Smith as I perused the Penguin Classics section, searching for something new to read but still classical. It instantly became one of my all time favorites, and I've read it about seven times. It's a quick read but so interesting and full of thoughtful ideas. It's the story of a boy living in a post-apocalyptic world where genetic mutations are rife and therefore feared by a fundamentalist society determined to return life back to the norm, what they consider to be the "true image". I managed to convince our book club to choose this book as our next book, and I hope hope hope everyone else appreciates it too (even if they don't love it the way I do). I am hosting the next book club meeting and can't wait to discuss it with everyone else.

41: A Portrait of My Father by George W. Bush (A book at the bottom of your to-read list, sorry, Dad!)
I'm unapologetically NOT Republican, but my dad bought me this book for Christmas. (I in return bought him Dreams From My Father by Barack Obama.) It's most certainly not a book I would have chosen to read myself. And I will admit - I have not entirely finished it yet. I am three-quarters of the way through it. I will also admit I'm finding it interesting from an historical perspective. George H. W. Bush was President in my lifetime and was Vice-President when I was born.It's interesting to read about those things that passed over my head as a small child.  His life has definitely been more interesting than I expected; for instance, I was unaware that he fought in WWII.  My only complaint is that the writing is a little dry at times, and I am constantly having to force my political bias to the side as I read about the FPOTUS's policies and decisions.  (And I *really* have to shove bias out of my mind when George W. inserts his own two cents here and there.)  But over all, it's a book I am glad to have (mostly) read.  I will have it finished soon.  I promise.

I Am Nujood, Age 10 and Divorced by Nujood Ali and Delphine Minoui (A book you can finish in a day)
Scott gave me a gift card to Books A Million for Christmas, and it was pretty near impossible to narrow down my choices to just a few books. Confession: I still ended up spending $15 over the value of the gift card.  One of the check list items I was hoping to check off while book shopping was "a book you can finish in a day".  I browsed the biography section - I like biographies - and found this slim little title. It is the true story of a little girl in Yemen who was married off to a stranger three times her age when she was ten.  I've always had a soft spot for Yemen; my church in college had a specific heart for Yemen, and my study of Arabic all those years ago was for the purpose of one day going to Yemen myself.  So I tucked that book under my arm and it made the final cut.  The book is an easy read literarily, but the content is heartbreaking. The way she bravely tells her story in stark, black and white language, made me simultaneously cringe and cry.  Ultimately, the story is triumphant.  It was well-worth the read. And I did read it all in one sitting, about three hours, I think.

Divergent, Insurgent and Allegiant by Veronica Roth (A trilogy)
Everyone has talked about these Young Adult dystopian novels, so I figured it was time I read them and stopped turning up my nose at the thought of reading "young adult dystopian drivel". I will be totally honest; Divergent and Insurgent had me tightly in its grips. I read both of them over four days, a long weekend. I am not ashamed to say that the constant action and thrill had me turning page after page, excited to know what happens next. I loved the romance between the characters too. These are easy reads and not too complex but nonetheless exciting and entertaining.  There are plot holes everywhere, but the non-stop action allowed me to suspend reality and ignore the obvious problems with the story.  Then I started reading Allegiant. And I have had a hard time finishing it. I still have a few more chapters to go. I just am not any where near as interested in the third book as I was the first two. The narrative keeps changing back and forth between the two main characters, and I can't keep it straight. The story has slowed down, and the plot holes are widening and the suspension of belief harder to accept.  Hopefully the pay off at the end will be worth it. Overall, I'm glad I finally read this series.  If Allegiant has a good ending, I'll possibly pick up the follow-up book, not technically part of the trilogy, Four. The could tick off yet another category, "a book with a one-word title".

UPDATE: A day after writing this, I finished Allegiant. I just thought I should add my final thoughts to be fair.

I had more of the book left to read than I thought; I was only about half way through. After a while, the storyline picked back up and the action took back over. Even though I felt it was nowhere near as good as the first two, I must confess that I thought the ending was very brave and believable, thus making up for the long lag in the early part of the book to just past the middle. While most of the book felt to me unplanned and out of sync with its predecessors, I did end up enjoying the ending more than I expected to. The book at first felt very moralistic, as if the author was trying to make a point but wasn't sure how to make it, but eventually, once she allowed the action to take back over the book, it felt more character-led again, and the moralistic tone dissipated. The forced denouement that I feared ended up never happening, thank goodness. It almost felt like the Allegiants were revolting against more than just the antagonists of the book but also the author's attempt at moralizing their story! Way to go, Tris and Four, for finally nipping that in the bud.

Saturday, January 31, 2015


Party Pictures on Flickr

Back when I had this...

Fifi's 1st Birthday

... I could not imagine ending up with this.

Fi's 8th Birthday

When Fifi was little, she was pink and princessy, girly and giggly, cheeky and chubby. Now, here she is, an eight year old who reads 500 page books, loves science and history, and wants to be an American ambassador to Japan before pursuing the White House as President of the United States. An eight year old who squealed with delight over receiving a book about Martin Luther King, Jr for her birthday. An eight year old who has the confidence to dance her own routines at a Zumba party.

An eight year old whose heart is so selfless that she told people they didn't need to bring a present to her party, she just wanted them to be there. An eight year old who is already smarter than I am. I am so proud of the young woman my daughter is becoming. She is amazing!

Some days, I forget to see who this girl is inside. As she approaches adolescence more quickly than I'd like, I see those sparks of teenage attitude flicker up when she fights with her sister or bosses her around or smarts off to me with hands on hips and eyes rolled. I get weary and fed up with the near-teen behavior and sometimes lose sight of who the real person is inside. The girl who will do anything for anyone. The girl who loves and protects her brother and sister ferociously. The girl who thinks deeper thoughts than any child I've ever met, and who is not afraid to come to different conclusions and hold differing beliefs to both her friends and her parents, as long as she is true to herself. This girl is selfless, intelligent, mature, confident, independent and driven. It's easy to forget all of that when she is acting like, well, a child. Because when a child is as mature of Fi is, we adults sometimes forget at times to remember that she is, actually, still a kid. And kids are allowed to be imperfect sometimes! I'm glad that amongst all the books, diaries, and science kits she received for her birthday she also received a doll. It's good to be a kid while you can, baby. I know the path to the Presidency is hard and requires a lot of serious study, but playing with dolls is a wonderful pastime!

Today at her Zumba Glow Party, as I watched how well she gets along with her peers, how thoughtful she was of every child who walked through the door, making sure they all had glow bracelets and their glow party favor, and how genuinely grateful and gracious she was to each person who brought her a gift, I remembered very well just what an amazing kid my daughter is. What a shining light! (How appropriate that you had a Glow party!)

Happy birthday, Fifi-bear. Each day you grow more and more beautiful, inside and out. You make your mum and dad so incredibly proud. We are stunned by the fact that though we made you, you are your own unique person who impresses and astonishes us constantly with your awesomeness. Though we'd like to take a little bit of credit for how awesome you are, we know that really, it's all you, babe. Your awesomeness is all you.