Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Book Review: The Girl Who Drank the Moon by Kelly Barnhill

This book is such a fun, wild ride. It starts off with a dystopia narrative: evil leaders of a small secluded town keep control over their people by inventing an evil witch who demands their youngest baby to be left for her on the same day every year... but the twist! There actually IS a witch. And every year she comes and rescues the poor babe who is left on the edge of the wood to die. She takes the babies on the harrowing journey across the woods and to the "free towns" where they are adopted and loved. 

Throughout, there is magic spun through the story in beautiful, fantastic ways. It causes a contrast between the dark and gloomy town and the other side of the story--certainly not a utopia by any means, but it is bright and loving and exotic and full of joy and adventure. This perhaps wasn't always the case, but one year the witch (Xan) is distracted by the baby she is rescuing and feeds her moonlight instead of starlight--a dangerous thing to do, since moonlight is highly magical, and for a baby to eat SO much of it... well, Luna became a truly magical child. 

Surprisingly, this was also Xan's experience, being enmagicked as a child. So we see that it is not only a joyful, powerful life that Luna is given, but also a heavy burden of hundreds of years to try to live well. Xan and Luna are opposites in many ways. Luna wants to know everything, while Xan has a passion for forgetting things. Luna is young, Xan is impossibly old. Kelly Barnhill weaves her story around this pair and surrounds them with a superb cast of side characters (some of my personal favorites of the book) that make the book well worth reading. 

My one disappointment of the book is the ending. It wasn't a bad ending by any means. It merely could have been much better and more meaningful. The last several scenes are all about love--love expands your heart and your mind and forgiveness and makes things expand to infinity. It heals! It creates! etc. . . But there were so many other things that I wanted to see in the conclusion of the story. The love theme is great, but it needed more, considering the complexity of the story and the characters.

There were SO MANY opportunities for Barnhill to connect pieces of magic and story hundreds of years apart, and it seems like she missed them, or at least didn't exploit them in the meaningful way that I hoped for. The importance of forgetting and remembering should certainly have returned in the end. The mantra "Don't forget. I mean it," is repeated many times. (This being a message from Xan's mentor to her.) It seemed obvious that the purpose of this message would be explained in the conclusion. And I expected Luna to take up Xan's mantle and remember (or learn for the first time) the things that Xan insisted on forgetting. But no, there's no ultimate explanation of what that message meant. Luna doesn't go off to search for the missing stone doors to the hidden castle that Xan's mentor protected in his dying hours. The door and the castle seemed to play an important role in the story, but we never find out exactly what it's all about.

Why not? Because in the end, love is enough? Because Luna found her crazed mother and is trying to heal her? Because they rescued the town from its evil rulers and Truth is becoming known?  

Maybe. All those things are good, and I enjoyed reading about them. Nevertheless, it makes a mediocre end to an otherwise fabulous book. The first 43 of the 48 chapters made me think this was going to be a read-every-year, favorite book of 2016. And then the last 5 chapters were so full of love and so lacking in explanation, it left something of a disappointed, flat taste in my mouth. As it is, I will probably read it again sometime, but not every year. And though I like it very much, it's not my favorite book of 2016. But I will certainly recommend it to many people. I might even put it under the tree this Christmas! It is after all, a fun, wild ride. 

Monday, December 5, 2016

Book Review: The Inquisitor's Tale by Adam Gidwitz

It should not be surprising that The Inquisitor's Tale is about the Dark Ages, when the Inquisition rooted out and punished anything that the Pope determined was heresy. It is also not surprising that Gidwitz would employ a style of storytelling reminiscent of Chaucer's Canterbury Tales. Each chapter is a tale told by one or other patron of a local inn in rural France. 

What is surprising is that Gidwitz, with six years of research under his belt, does not try to write a history book for children. Instead, he paints a deeply informed picture of the Dark Ages that is also interesting and accessible. He taps in to the corner of the imagination that transcends time and allows someone in the modern information age to truly understand a few of the difficulties and delights of a life 800 years ago. You can trust the background details to be true and accurate of the time period. Yes, the Kings and Queens had a corner of the banquet hall designated for their bladder relief during mealtimes. Yes, peasants slept with their cow at night for warmth. Yes, people from all stations of life gathered at inns to drink ale, warm themselves by a fire, and swap stories till past their bedtime. (Some things never change!) 

The thing I loved most about this book is that I knew I was learning so much about the Dark Ages without even trying. I didn't have to memorize dates or names, but I now know who the king of France was during that time period (and his mother and wife too!) After reading this book, I have a much better sense of what life was like back then. We've gained almost everything. (It was the Dark Ages, after all.) But we've lost things too. Who knows herb lore and which plants can have which effect on the body? (I know some do, but not many!) Who has seen or used a handmade, illuminated book? Who has seen a book that took 40 years to make and was a work of art worthy of sitting next to the Mona Lisa? 

The three children of this story could not have been more unlikely friends. William is a giant of an oblate (basically a monk's understudy) who loved books and learning. Jacob is a Jew which was almost equal to the Devil in that culture. And Jeanne is a peasant girl who has fits in which she sees visions that often show her something of the future. Even so, they are thrown together and they do miracles. ("Really?", you say. Well, it all depends on your perspective, just as it did in the Dark Ages. Maybe they were just normal people. Maybe they were heathen witches. Maybe they were saints doing the work of the Almighty.)

Gidwitz cleverly weaves together truth and tale and produces a legend. A wonderful beautiful legend, illustrating perfectly the Biblical principle: God uses the weak things of the earth to shame the strong; He uses the humble things of the earth to shame the proud. Through the story, he weaves in elements of more Biblical principles: Forgive, love, and care for your enemies. Trust that God sees more than you see, and that there is a reason and maybe even beauty in the pain we experience on earth. (The Troubadour's Tale got it right when he said that God was singing the song of the world. The pain of life and loss of loved ones is never beautiful, but the song that is telling the story might still be....will we trust that it is?) Truly, these are the hard questions of life--not just life in the Dark Ages. They are questions of life now, where terrorists murder, and political battles are full of hatred and blindness, and people are afraid of showing too much of themselves to others. 

William, Jeanne, and Jacob experienced these things in their world. People murdered without reason. (Jacob's parents died this way.) Political battles were blinded by hatred. (William saw the horror of thousands of books being burned and knowledge lost just because the Christians hated the Jews.) And Jeanne. She was afraid of her shadow--the shadow of her fits and dreams and of the people that would burn her as a witch because of what they did not understand.  At any rate, these unlikely friends protect each other and comfort each other through loss and loneliness. And together, they make the hardest choice of all: to do what they believe is right no matter the consequences. This is still a decision children (and adults too) have to make. But back then no one had any "human rights". There was no "social justice." There was no "due process" of law and order. In the culture of the Dark Ages, "Might made right"...with a bit of superstition thrown in. So the rule of the land was more like: "Might makes right and saves your soul from eternal fire and torture where bloodthirsty demons will shred the flesh off your living bones." 

There's something admirable and stunning about someone following truth when "Might" is on the side of the lie. The way these children do. The way we could. Admirable. Or crazy. Either way, it makes a good story. 

Friday, October 2, 2015

Sylvia's First Birthday

Sylvia, Extreme.

     Sylvia's birthday was relatively uneventful. Kate was grateful for that. For one day to outshine a year of change, growth and transition would be overwhelming to the extreme. But Sylvia's birthday was uneventful also because of the down to earth reality of the day. 
     It was Sunday and hot. The day before, they discovered that their car, the mostly indomitable White Rabbit refused to start. Something was up with the igniter. And the hood didn't close all the way. As unlikely as it seemed, the first thing Kate thought of was that someone had tampered with the car. At any rate, they weren't going to walk a mile to church in 90 degrees. And poor Sylvia had a nasty cold, anyway. To inaugurate the beginning of her second year of life, she contracted her first bad cold and also her first case of nasty diaper rash. She was a sloppy, goopy mess, oozing out of both ends. 
     And yet, with some tylenol, baby powder, and Gouda (which makes everyone happier), Sylvia was her usual cheerful and slightly demanding self. She wanted to walk so badly, and only the day before had taken her first steps all on her own. Kate and Mister sat on the floor and let her walk back and forth between them. Step, step, step, poof. A small cloud of baby powder rose in the air every time she sat down. 
     When she wasn't walking, she wanted to be held and read to. Her particular favorites at the moment were all the "color" books. Sylvia requested Brown Bear, Brown Bear so often that Kate made various adaptations to keep her brain from disintegrating.
     "Brown bear, brown bear, what do you see?"
     "Raaaaaaawwwwr."
     "Uh-oh. Brown bear wants to eat the red bird!"
     "Red bird, red bird, where will you go?"
     "Tweet tweet....(red bird has a friend, the yellow duck. He's got connections. Quack.)"

    Teddy enjoyed the books (and variations) as well. Sometimes they disagreed over which book to read, and the ensuing brawl of book whacking often sent Kate hiding behind a barrier of pillows. But on the whole, Kate was pleased to see that both her kids had an approximately equal interest and attention span for books. And even when it wasn't books, they often played well together--though Teddy had the predictable problem of possessiveness. 
    Kate thought back and realized that he had come a long way in the last year. When Sylvia was only days old, and Teddy began to investigate the new creature that had invaded his territory, he quickly lost interest when he discovered that he couldn't chew on her, or sit on her, or whack her with his characteristic enthusiastic arm swings. Gradually, as Sylvia started interacting more--smiling, vocalizing, and grabbing things--Teddy wanted to interact with her too. Kate had been surprised at how easily he learned to be gentle, and she was completely charmed every time he would run up to her after getting up from his nap and put his forehead against hers, or lean over and softly pat her downy head. 
    Now, they tried to chase each other, shared food and water bottles, try to wear each other's clothes (usually around their neck), and of course, fight over toys and books. The non-sharing season would be tough, Kate knew. But every once in a while she saw beautiful glimpses of the fun in store. Sometimes she heard raucous laughter when they woke up from their naps and were entertaining each other. Sometimes they sat close to each other, ignoring the pile of toys around them, babbling back and forth and chuckling. Sometimes they even took themselves away to the play room upstairs, where they would play happily (but not quietly) for 20 or 30 minutes at a time. Then Sylvia would get bored and scream to be carried down the stairs. She could go down the stairs on her own. But there were many of them, and Sylvia was timid about falling or bonking into things.    
     Oh, Sylvia was fearless when it came to climbing. But going down was a different matter. Once, when she realized she wanted to get off the couch, Kate watched her creep to the edge, then gradually maneuver around on her stomach so she could swing her legs down first. In the process, Sylvia slipped and then caught herself. She didn't fall, and she didn't bonk into anything. She was on the couch where she had started. But Kate watched her think and when Sylvia realized how close she had been to falling, her face melted and the tears flowed. 
    In spite of this, Sylvia loved to walk (with help) since she was about 9 months old. Only extreme tiredness would keep her from accepting a proffered hand for a jaunt around the living room. She was even fairly good at cruising along the coffee table, bookcases, or couches, walking along with one hand stabilizing on the furniture.
    The coffee table was invaluable. It was a great height for both kids, perfect for snacks, toys and games, lessons in coloring, and (if you were a Teddy) standing on to look out the window or running along to jump onto a couch. One day, Kate gave them a usual snack of cheerios scatter along the outside of the coffee table. And Teddy, who wanted to play with them by making piles, didn't want to share. He sat in the middle of the table, while Sylvia cruised along the outside. Just as fast as he could gather up the cheerios and move them to another side of the table, Sylvia marched around and snatched a couple. Teddy gave dismayed squeals as she appropriated "his" cheerios, and with a dramatic flare, would follow her hand with his own all the way to her mouth, in the hopes of retrieving his stolen property. When the cheerio disappeared between those impenetrable doors, he hung his head and whimpered as if to say, "lost, lost, all is lost." It's hard to say if Sylvia noticed any of Teddy's drama. If so, they didn't phase her a whit. But that wouldn't have been surprising either, since stubbornness and single-minded purpose were already obvious facets of her character. 
    There was no doubt she was her mother's daughter, Kate and Mister agreed. Even from a few weeks old, they could tell she was a baby of extremes. When she was happy, she was very happy. When sad, very sad. When impatient...so impatient that she hardly realized when her request had been granted. Even her face was extreme. It was cute, certainly, but so are most babies. Sylvia's was a special cuteness--she was a beautiful baby, like a doll, with deep, shiny, jewel-like blue eyes. (Such phrases characterized the compliments of everyone who saw her.) And then she would open her mouth and say, "Ma-ma-ma-ma-ma" in a deep, throaty gremlin growl. Even after almost a year, Kate was still surprised by the contrast of such a growl coming out of such a face. 
    And Kate had no doubts. There were many more surprises ahead.


Wednesday, September 30, 2015

The Beach

The Beach (Aug, 2015)

    Even before moving, Kate and Mister had agreed that one good way to try to learn about New Jersey and New York City would be to have weekly outings--either into the city or some other notable excursion. Before they left on their travels, they had time for two such outings, which were to Central Park (a visually overwhelming experience) and the Staten Island Ferry (busy, but fun--especially chancing upon a jazz band in a park on the way home.) The entire first week they were home after their trip soared into the upper 90s, and both Kate and Mister agreed that it would be a good opportunity to investigate the beaches nearby. 
    There were a number of beaches, but there was one about an hour away that sounded nice, and Kate and Mister made plans to go in a couple days, on Thursday. First thing in the morning, they gathered everything they could think of--umbrella stroller, parasol, towels and blanket, camp chairs, food and milk, sunglasses, and of course sunblock. Even so, before they reached the end of the first block, they thought of something else they had forgotten. Mister drove around the block (they lived on a one way street), and Kate ran inside to get a book to read aloud on the drive. 
    In spite of some audible discontent in the backseat, the drive south was smooth. Instead of going to the state park, they decided to park off a side street for free and walk up to the beach. Sylvia was in the stroller with an absurd number of bags hanging from the handles and swinging around on either side of her. Kate and Mister each carried more bags, and Kate chased after Teddy, who was eager to run into the middle of the road. It wasn't until they made it to the boardwalk that Kate realized it must have been too easy...free parking place, easy beach access...must be too good to be true. They approached a ramp over to the beach, but at the entrance sat a bored teenager with a flawless tan. There was an entrance fee--$10 each. What! Kate scoffed in her mind. But then she looked down. Teddy was wriggling. Her bags were sliding down her arms to her wrists, Sylvia's stroller was so laden down, they could barely steer. She sighed. Expediency was definitely becoming more valuable--yet another evidence of her old age......err....maturity. 
    The beach was lovely and clean. And in spite of the heat, the water still felt quite cool. There was also a terrific breeze, which kept you cool and gave the ultimate sandy experience. Kate and Mister spread out a blanket and dropped a bag on each corner. In five minutes (or less) there was sand in their hair and diapers, at the bottom of bags, covering snacks and bottles, and also the proper place--between their toes. 
    For the next 2 hours, the kids played in the sand and the water, running back and forth and digging and getting their feet wet. (Sylvia would walk as far as anyone would help her!) Then they took turns returning to home base for a sandy snack, a sandy bottle of milk, and a quiet rest time buckled into the stroller. Kate fashioned an ingenious (and invaluable!) little shelter from the wind by hooking her little parasol around the back of the stroller. They didn't actually take naps, but were certainly better for having a short rest and were ready to go again for another hour after they were done. In spite of the obvious lack of naps, the sand, and the wind, Teddy and Sylvia clearly had a fabulous time. There was no crying or complaining. Even the seagulls were entertaining when they crept up within kicking distance in order to steal some abandoned crackers. 
    Finally, Kate and Mister decided it was time to head home. They packed everything up, dragged everything through the sand back to the boardwalk, changed babies, got fresh bottles, and loaded up the car. All in all, Kate felt like it had been a very successful trip--though it still rankled her that they had paid $20 to go to a beach which had half a zillion lifeguards and no bathroom! 
    In the coming days and weeks, Mister was less enthusiastic about their "successful" trip to the beach. He had put sunscreen on his shoulders, but in the flurry of taking care of the kids, he had forgotten to ask Kate to cover the middle of his back. Twenty minutes after they got home, he approached Kate with a sheepish grin, "Do you know if we have any aloe vera gel?" Kate looked at his back and was horrified--truly, a lobster red; the worst burn that she had ever seen made an interesting map-like design across the middle of his back. A week later, when the worst of the itchiness was finally subsiding, Kate tried to remind Mister that it actually had been a good and fun trip to the beach. 
    "Remember how the kids didn't complain at all? And they slept so hard and so long that night?" 
    With a noncommittal grunt, Mister assented that the kids had a good time, but there was a meaningful silence afterward. 



Monday, August 31, 2015

Kate and Crew 37: Early Arrival

37. Early Arrival (Aug 29-30, 2014) 

    Kate drained the water from a huge pot of boiled potatoes. It was 9:30 at night. The kids were in bed, Mister was at the men's retreat, and Kate's mother had just gone into the basement to get ready for bed. Surely, Kate was tired. But she vigorously chopped a red onion and put it in salt water. Perfect time to get something done! she thought. This is one church potluck that I WILL contribute to! Somehow she always managed to forget when they were. Or she and Mister didn't plan on staying for the potluck after the service...and then changed their minds. She thought about the other ingredients: olives in the pantry, capers in the fridge, olive oil-pantry... she looked at the clock. 10 PM. All of a sudden, she felt a strange wet trickle down her legs. 
    Ugh. What IS that? she thought to herself. I wonder if my water is breaking. Does that happen before labor? With Teddy, her water hadn't broken until long after she was at the hospital and had been in labor for hours. For Kate now, labor still appeared to be days away. 
    She grabbed some rags and went to ask Laurie's opinion. They weren't completely positive, but water-breaking seemed the only reasonable explanation. 
    "I guess I should call the doctor?" Kate mused. 
    "Well, do you have any contractions?" 
    "No. That's just it though. I'm definitely not in labor, but the pamphlet said that if I tested positive for Strep B (which I did), that I needed to call in if my water broke." 
    "I guess you'd better call then." 
    "Fine." 
    The doctor on call managed to convey that Kate and her baby could be in a life-threatening situation if she didn't make it to the hospital in the next ten minutes. The hospital was fifteen minutes away. 
    Kate hung up and sat for five minutes in a daze, wondering what she should do. She called the number that Mister had given her, and left a message. Then she called a friend to see about a ride to the hospital. No response. Who can I call? Who can I call? she mused. She absolutely refused to wake Teddy up to go to the hospital, and obviously it was impractical to drive herself. Though I probably could, Kate grumbled to herself, 'Come in right away' my foot. This baby's not coming anytime soon.
    Her phone rang and startled her. It was from her pastor. Wait. He's at the men's retreat too...what goes on, anyway? 
    A happy, energetic voice called out on the other side of the line, "Kate? How are you? Everything ok? Look, can we do anything for you?" 
    Kate shrugged. The men's retreat was two hours away. What could they do? "Well," she said, "I need a ride to the hospital." 
    "DONE! My wife will call you in two minutes." 
    Kate couldn't help but laugh. "Ok. Thank you." 
    Less than two minutes later, Kate got the call. A large group of ladies was having a pow-wow at the pastor's house, and after a query, one lady jumped in her car and started West. The pastor's wife got Kate's address and texted it to the friend on the road. 
    About half an hour later, Kate let Dee in the door. She was quivering with excitement. 
    "Oh my goodness!" she exclaimed. "You're standing. Are you okay? Do I need to get a wheelchair? I've never done anything like this!!!" She sounded terrified and thrilled and a little crazy all at the same time. "I thought maybe I should call the police...do you need a police escort?" 
    Kate chuckled. Dee was more excited than she was! "No. I'm quite alright." Then she thought about the last hour. The half dozen or more phone calls just to get her to the hospital. This delivery was turning into a church production. (Their friend, John, later said, "It's a surprisingly freeing feeling...tossing one's keys to a man whose wife is about to have a baby. Not something you get to do every day.")
    Kate laughed again. "This is quite a circus," she said. 
    Dee's eyes widened. "Oh my goodness! A circus! Is the baby coming?!"
    "Um, no." 
    "Oh. Well, goodness sakes, girl, let's get this circus to the hospital before she comes!" 

    It had taken so long to find a ride and actually get to the hospital that Mister joined her only five minutes later, a little after midnight, as she was giving her information to the nurse. This was so much easier than with Teddy, when the contractions were rolling close together and the nurse was asking her social security number. Kate still had enough mental capacity to be irked though. "Honestly," she complained to Mister when the nurse left, "they already have all of this information. What's the point of filling out the pre-admission form if you just have to answer all the questions again when you get here?" 
    "I don't know, dear." 
    "Can't they keep anything straight?" 
    "I don't know..." 
    Kate looked at Mister and smiled. "Sorry. You must be tired." 
    Actually, Mister was beyond exhausted. It had been a full day of basketball and swimming, and food, and worship, and then a two hour drive in a friend's car while wondering if his daughter was being born. Even so, Mister agreed to walk the halls with Kate in an attempt to start labor naturally. They talked about their days--what a long day it had been since their breakfast date that morning! They talked about family and travel and traditions. It was 2AM. 
    Finally, they agreed to start some pitosin. Kate had heard that the contraction-inducing drug could make for a horrible labor. But no labor meant no baby and probably no sleep. The next three hours were horrible. Contractions and the pain with them increased, but Kate still had a long way to go before being ready to deliver. And she and Mister were both so tired. Kate requested an epidural--she wanted to hold off "as long as she could", since she didn't like being immobile, but it ended up being a little too close to "longer than she could." 
     But rest settled in around 5AM. She was relaxed on her back, reading Julia Child's My Life in France. Mister slept next to her on the pull-out chair. The rest of the night was peaceful. At 7AM she was around 7cm. At 10AM, the nurse called the doctor and told Kate that the baby's head was showing and it was time to push. Kate got into position and starting pushing. 
     "Stop pushing!" The nurse yelled. "Stop pushing. She's going to come out. Wait until the doctor comes."
     A few moments later, the doctor came, Kate pushed, and the baby came. She was a beautiful baby girl with eyes open and almost perfect coloring. 
    "Sylvia." Kate whispered in wonder. Here was a new person. Living and breathing on her own. Kate had nourished her and sustained her for nine months, but there was no effort, no planning behind it. Kate had never said, "Now, little baby inside me, let's make your bones" or, "Time to make your eyes" or "Keep beating, little heart. Remember, twice as fast as mine. Keep beating." Who knew how to do those things? Who could make a baby come from cells and be born a living, breathing being? This was a miracle of God. 
    "That's a little miracle baby, right there" said the doctor as he handed her to Kate. 
    Kate instantly agreed. But later, weeks later, she wondered. And she asked him why he had said it just that way. The doctor explained. "The placenta had already partially detached before she was born. That's where all the blood came from. If you had had to push longer, or she had taken longer to come out, or...well, if anything had been different, you would have had an emergency C-section, and your baby might have had serious complications." 
    And Kate sat still, in awe before the Lord. The Lord God, who knew to a moment when and how things should happen; this was a God to whom she could entrust her children. In the coming weeks and months, Kate would watch her daughter grow and change. Sylvia would learn things, things that Kate had no power to teach. And sometimes she felt breathless with gratitude, knowing that God was teaching her baby how to grasp and chew and swallow and making her grow and keeping her heart beating on time.
     Sometimes she felt that it was unfair. How a parent has all the responsibility to raise a child, but no capability to make a child grow and learn. But at the same time she felt humbled. No other place in life, she felt, was it so obvious how God was daily involved in their lives. She had a front row seat to view God's incredible power to sustain her family...and the rest of the world. 

Friday, August 28, 2015

Kate and Crew 36: Waiting

36. Waiting (Aug 2014)
    The first couple weeks of August, Kate frantically tried to finish everything on her many lists. One day, after spending Teddy's entire nap time cropping pictures and slapping them in a scrapbook, she declared to Mister, "I've got to get this done now! After this baby comes, I'm not going to be able to do anything. ever. again!
    Mister just laughed, "That's what you said last year, remember?" 
    "Yes, I know. But this time it's true!" 
    But soon, Kate was running out of projects. She had finished her wedding scrapbook. She finished Teddy's first year scrapbook--as far as she could, at any rate. She had organized the baby clothes and resorted them multiple times. She rearranged the babies' room. And her own room. And probably would have done the living room and basement as well if Mister hadn't had that skeptical you're-just-going-to-make-me-move-it-back-again look. She had been working on learning to make Indian food and pizza. There were 25 freezer meals in the chest freezer. And one day, three weeks before her due date, she found herself wondering what she should do. 
    All this free time--Kate just had to come up with a way to use it before the baby came and she wouldn't ever have another chance! She thought about a new list of projects to work on. Cleaning and organizing...they always went on the list first, and never seemed to come off. Her regular scrapbook of their life together was woefully behind. She could work on that. And she could work on her writing and journaling. She looked lovingly at the baby quilts she had made and considered. 
    "Mister," she asked when he walked by, "What do you think about me making a big one of these for our bed?" 
    He gave her a blank stare. Was it a trick question? "Uhm," he said, with the sort of caution that instantly told Kate what he thought. "wouldn't that be kind of a big undertaking?" 
    "Yes, I suppose it would." Kate felt deflated, their bed suddenly denuded of its pending glory. 
    "And you were trying to cut back or finish up big projects, right?" 
    "Yes, I suppose so."
    "And you were trying to clean things up and not make more scraps and messes?" 
    "Welllll," she said, sensing some logical flaw in what she was about to say, "it could be a kind of roundabout way of picking up. If I make something with the fabric, I don't have to put it away or store it!" 
    "Hmmmm." Mister wasn't buying it. "And how long would this project take?" 
    Kate was stuck there. "Probably a few years? It could be for our tenth anniversary!" (They were coming up on their fifth.) 
    Mister just laughed. "How about," he said, offering his own suggestion, "you go for a walk, and then read or lie down for a little while before making dinner?" 
    Kate sighed. "Yes, I suppose that would be better..." She just felt so antsy, wanting to start and finish things. To make lists and more lists and accomplish them. Not a day too soon, Kate's mother, Laurie, arrived on the 19th, just in time to provide some extra company and balance and save the Miller household from a major overhaul. 
    Laurie helped keep Teddy in line, helped Kate at the grocery store, helped with the dishes, and generally...helped. She distracted Kate by reading Peter Wimsey novels aloud, and dreaming up extravagant plans for future girl-dates. 
    "Just think!" She would say, "Little Susie will stay home with us and drink cocoa and knit while Teddy goes hunting with Papa!" (She never seemed to run out of "S" names to guess, ever since Kate and Mister had revealed that the initials they had chosen were S.A.M.--in part an homage to their Best Man and Maid of Honor, who were both named Sam.) 
    Kate would ignore the stream of names unless her mother pointedly asked (as she often did), "Is it Susie?" 
    "No," Kate would reply almost instantly. 
    "How about Stephanie?" 
    "No." 
    "Sarah?"
    "No."
    "Sadie?"
    "No."
    "Sylvia?"
    Kate paused. "Yes, that's it." 
    Laurie looked up, but saw only Kate knitting away on her latest project. "Really? You're just teasing me!" She accused. 
    Kate laughed, "No, you actually guessed it. I admit, I didn't think you would..."
    "I guessed it! I guessed it!" Laurie crowed. She was supremely pleased with herself. "And Sylvia! What a beautiful name! Oh, I'm so excited. I can't believe I guessed it!" 

    Friday morning, the weekend before the due date, Mister took Kate out for brunch at a stellar new breakfast place they had discovered. It was perfect, and delightful, and they couldn't help but talk about children the whole time! They even talked about talking about children. It was especially nice to get a date in, since Mister had once again planned to be gone the weekend before the due date. Last year, he went to Atlanta to be in a wedding. This year was not so extreme--he was driving an hour away for the church's men's retreat. Kate didn't expect any problems. After all, last year, she delivered Teddy a week after the due date. 
     That afternoon, Kate got a call from a strange number. It was Mister. 
    "My phone doesn't have service out here," he said. "I just wanted to give you this number, in case you need to call. Are you feeling okay?" 
    "Just fine. I'll let you know if anything happens, but otherwise I'll just see you tomorrow evening. I hope you have a good time!" 

Saturday, April 4, 2015

Trinkets

Almost daily, I look around our house and think to myself, "Is that a trinket of frivolous utility?" 

Being married to an economist (and an Adam Smith scholar to boot) does come with some advantages, one of which is a fountain of fantastic and useful phrases from Smith's incredibly eloquent writings. It interested me that Smith's category of "trinkets of frivolous utility" includes many things that people spend their whole lives pursuing--large houses that they then have to maintain, expensive or gas guzzling cars that are more trouble than they're worth, he even goes so far as to say that "wealth and greatness are mere trinkets of frivolous utility." The lifestyles of the rich and famous...they ever fail to give fulfillment. 

So I have found myself, as we prepare to move this summer, gradually packing up boxes and wondering how many things in my house are trinkets of frivolous utility. 

Trinkets, I've decided, are things of small ultimate value. So something might be expensive in dollars that is not truly and ultimately valuable. Likewise, something might cost very little, but be immeasurably valuable to me. In fact, some things, the most valuable things cannot even be considered in terms of money--money then, is surely not the best gauge of value. ('Utility', by the way, is the economist's word for an individual's reckoning of 'value'.)  I am reminded of the passage in Isaiah 55: "Come, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and he who has no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money, and without price." How valuable is this water? Or this wine and milk? There is no price, and there is no money... how then do we decide? 

I have come up with a list of questions based off of what we value as a family in order to help me determine what is not a trinket...and the rest are generally assumed to be frivolous. Here are a few of the questions: What does it remind me of? Is there a special memory in this thing--one that is worth remembering? Does this thing make me thing about God, and his glory, and does it engender gratitude and thankfulness in my heart? Is the thing useful for our family, helping us maintain order and peace at home and to be hospitable? Is it a thing of beauty that never fails to delight me? Is there a high cost to storing or keeping such a thing? 

There is an astonishing, appalling number of things in our house that are both cheap and frivolous and have storage costs! (By which I mean that they take up valuable space and crowd my brainwaves with their clutter.) I've found (and since disposed of) heavy paperweights that I've never used and never thought particularly beautiful or meaningful! I've found books that I've half read and didn't like, but kept because I categorically like books. I've found clothes that I got for free in college and never fit me very well, and I've worn once in the past eight years. But not everything has such an obvious answer. There are things I'm still undecided about--what about the basket of seashells we got from Paul's grandparents in Florida? They remind me of them and their house. They are beautiful in and of themselves. And yet they take up space and get dusty, while there are other things that remind me of our grandparents. I have a small trophy from winning an honorable mention in a piano competition in high school--only a couple years after I starting taking piano lessons. Is it worth keeping? 

For these last examples, there are both pros and cons to keeping them. For both, I can think of what God has done or given me, and his steadfast love and faithfulness, and be grateful. And yet I might say that they don't cause that train of thought instantly, when I look at them. (Do I look at them? Good question to ask...) I am still unsure of how valuable certain memories are...they are certainly not all equal in value!

But it is a helpful question to keep asking: "Is it a trinket?" Because even if I am not sure of the answer now, if I keep asking, then either I will someday see the thing as very valuable and rejoice over it; or I will finally acknowledge that it has served a purpose and now is not worth keeping. I hope (and expect) that I will continue asking this question as we move into a new place, as our family grows and changes, as our eyes become more and more fixed on our Heavenly home. This is the goal. That which draws my eyes toward Heaven, and firms my resolve in trusting the One that will bring me there safely, will also show me more and more clearly the trinkets of this world for what they are. Such are the things worth keeping.