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List of Candidates 2012

Life is too short to read bad books.

So, I pick and choose literature with the utmost care. This I do largely based on the recommendation of literary friends whose taste has proven impeccable. Sometimes I add books mentioned as favorites by a writer I respect. Or I chase down additional titles from an author whose work has captivated me.

All of these I add to a running “list of candidates”. I learned this practice in Steve Leveen’s tiny treasure of a book,  The Little Guide to Your Well-Read Life. When I finish a book, I peruse the list to find a selection just right for just this moment. It is a marvelous resource.

Here are the books that are currently crowding to the front of my list. Please, PLEASE, let me know which books I MUST add. Last year was one of my favorite reading years ever, largely because of the great books you told me about. I am counting on you.

A Good Man is Hard to Find by Flannery O’Connor *
A History of Byzantine Music and Hymnography by Egon Wellesz
Mother Gavrilia: The Ascetic of Love
by Nun Gavrilia*
Jayber Crow by Wendell Berry
A Moveable Feast by Ernest Hemmingway *
Silence by Shusaku Endo
Mysticism by Evelyn Underhill
The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron*
The Idiot by Fyodor Dostoevsky*
Waiting for God by Simone Weil
The Art of Travel by Alain de Botton
The Narrow Road to the Deep North by Matsuo Basho
Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson*
The Trembling of the Veil by W.B. Yeats
Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh *
Davita’s Harp by Chaim Potok
The Sparrow by Maria Doria Russell
The Poetry of John Keats
Story by Robert McKee
Wild Iris by Louise Gluck *
Dakota: A Spiritual Geography by Kathleen Norris
On Writing Well by William Zinsser

*List items read thus far. For a full listing of all this year’s reads (as well as past years, and favorites), click on the Bookshelf tab above.

Top Posts of 2011

Writing is sometimes just for me. Thoughts I need to work out. The words give place to that. But, mostly, writing is about communing with another. And it is always most satisfying when it resounds in the heart of someone…or many someones. These are the posts that this year connected most deeply, based on number of visits, shares, and comments.

Thank you for reading. I would still write if you didn’t. But it would mean far less.

Godspeed  In January, our dear Father Seraphim was laid to rest. He was an artist and a man of peace. He will be much missed. Herein I write my impressions both of him and of the service which ushered him into the Presence. (This post was transferred from my previous blog without comments. You can read those HERE if you like.)

Delicious Agony  A Lenten post. Of the futility of striving to apprehend God, and the extravagant grace of receiving Him. Incidentally, the song featured in this post has become a lullaby for my granddaughter. Would that she could understand the truth of it without the folly and error I required.

Just Show Up  What if all that is required of us…to care for our friends, to live out our faith, to create…is simply our presence? Our willingness to be…

Soul Stink  A confession.

Daughter of My Daughter  An attempt to capture a crack in time. One of those moments that will live in the memory for always. The day my daughter became a mommy.

Dream Wall  A fanciful construct, inspired by David McCullough’s book, The Greater Journey, which struck an unexpected cord. For the lover of art. Or the would be lover of art. An invitation…

Pray in Me  Of the words which bury themselves inside us, if we will let them. Of the Spirit who prays Himself in us with groanings too deep for words…

Before They Leave  Of the books I would have all our children know before they leave home.

You Don’t Have to Shave Yo’ Legs  A playful look at a volatile subject. Love that loves all the time, no matter what. Love that chooses to see good. Plus, a little ditty from Keb Mo. 🙂

Book List: The Lost Books  My most popular book list EVER. If you were stranded on a deserted island, which books would you want to have with you? Be sure and read the comments. They Are GOLDEN!!

Fringe Benefits  Of perseverance and persistence. Of the unexpected gifts that come with doing the hard things.

A Blessing Unsolicited: Part II  Sometimes the most beautiful gifts come in unlikely packages…

Empty  Of a costly exuberance. Of pouring out too much.

Booklist: On Writing  My favorite authors on the crafting of words. Again, some great info in the comments.

Lord, Make Me Humble, But Not Yet  A raw, honest confession. Lord I believe. Help my unbelief.

Of Being a Grandmother  Being a grandmother is, in fact, the bombdiggity. 🙂 Here’s why.

Postcards From Atlanta  Of a spectacular weekend with Women of Faith.

If I Were Really Brave  On daring and audacity, and risking it all.

11 Films to See More Than Once  The most popular of a series of 11 posts I did in October. Films that are so rich that they bear repeating. Another one where you want to read the comments.

Favorite Literary Encounters of 2011

It always makes me a little nauseous. Sitting down to make a list of favorite reads, I mean. Because there will be books I love that don’t make the cut. And they will sit there on the page imploring and asking me how they failed me. And I will want to cry. Because yes, they were very good. And I will remember some exquisite passage and exactly where I was when I read it and what it awoke in me. And I will feel like a traitor.

But the fact is, I have found my most memorable books from the recommendation of friends. And we have time to read only so many books before we die. Therefore, I feel a moral obligation to tell others about wonderful books I read, even if the process is excruciating.

Here are standouts from this year’s crop:

The Count of Monte Cristo, Alexandre Dumas  This is one of those novels that demand revisiting. The plot is complex, with subtleties and nuances that will require a lifetime to sort out. A disturbing, redemptive, provocative meditation on justice and grace.

Thirst: Poems, Mary Oliver  This book lies on a table in my bedroom. I can not tell you how many times this year I have picked it up, searching for just the right words. And finding them. Mary Oliver has proved a very good friend. Her poems give voice to rumblings in my soul. Yearnings. Delicious joys.

Another morning and I wake with thirst
for the goodness I do not have. I walk
out to the pond and all the way God has
given us such beautiful lessons. Oh Lord,
I was never a quick scholar but sulked
and hunched over my books past the
hour and the bell; grant me, in your
mercy, a little more time. Love for the
earth and love for you are having such a
long conversation in my heart. Who
knows what will finally happen or
where I will be sent, yet already I have
given a great many things away expect-
ing to be told to pack nothing, except the
prayers which, with this thirst, I am
slowly learning.

~Mary Oliver

New Seeds of Contemplation, Thomas Merton  “Contemplation is the highest expression of man’s intellectual and spiritual life. It is that life itself, fully awake, fully active, fully aware that it is alive. It is spiritual wonder. It is spontaneous awe at the sacredness of life, of being…” Is it any wonder that I love Merton so? His exploration of the interior life continues to compel and instruct me.

Peace Like a River Leif Enger  I recall with vivid clarity the moment I knew this story was not going to have a happy ending. Could not have a happy ending and be true. I almost dug my heels in and refused to finish it. But I could not not finish it. I had invested myself too deeply in these characters and I had to follow it through. The best books are very like life. Messy, painful, but relentlessly tinged with hope. Even when all circumstances prescribe against it. This is such.

Jesus, My Father, The CIA, and Me: A Memoir. . . of Sorts, Ian Cron  Too fantastic to be true, yet absolutely true. A story filled with intrigue, heartbreak, and renegade joy from a fabulous storyteller: winsome, funny, poignant. Read my full review HERE.

Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption, Laura Hillenbrand  Hillenbrand weaves an enthralling narrative around the true story of Louis Zamperini whose plane was shot down in the middle of the Pacific during World War II. We follow his terrifying weeks aboard a life-raft, the horrors of life as a prisoner of war, and the surprising challenge of returning home. It is a survivor story to be sure. But it is also a story of going beyond just survival. Highly recommended.

Stained Glass Hearts: Seeing Life from a Broken Perspective, Patsy Clairmont  Patsy Clairmont, humorist extraordinaire who can captivate a whole auditorium with her stories, reveals her softer, poetic underbelly in this lovely ode to the beauty in brokenness. Contemplative. Poet. She who has a deep ache for beauty, transcendence, truth. Weaver of words who can turn a phrase with a delicate, fragile loveliness that pierces the heart. Read the whole of my rave HERE.

The Greater Journey: Americans in Paris, David McCullough  While many Americans were heading west to find their fortunes, another group headed east to Paris to study. Art, science, and industry were still in their infancy in 19th century America. But Paris was a cauldron of idea and audacity. And the people who spent time there would return to shape the America of the future. McCullough carries us there with fascinating stories of people whose names will be familiar, though I’ll wager the many of the stories will surprise you. I did not write a review of the book, but you can read a post inspired by it HERE.

A Poetry Handbook, Mary Oliver  “For poems are not words, after all, but fires for the cold, ropes let down to the lost, something as necessary as bread in the pockets of the hungry. Yes indeed.” Yes indeed. Pulitzer prize winning Oliver has much to say about the craft of writing. I found much inspiration and nourishment here.

Giver of Life: The Holy Spirit in Orthodox Tradition, John Oliver  O Heavenly King, the Comforter, the Spirit of Truth, Who art everywhere present and fillest all things; Treasury of good things and Giver of life; come and abide in us, and cleanse us from every impurity, and save our souls, O Gracious Lord. Father Oliver builds his remarkable illumination of the Holy Spirit around this portion of the Trisagion prayers. It is one of the most stimulating books our Tuesday study group has ever read. You can sample a bit of his teaching in this post, inspired by one of the more difficult chapters for me personally.

Hannah Coulter: A Novel, Wendell Berry It is, perhaps, because she seems so familiar. Very like someone I have known. Or, perhaps it is simply Berry’s winsome telling of her story. But this was a comforting, sustaining read for me. More thoughts HERE.

Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, Annie Dillard  I dragged out the reading of it out over a couple of months. Very unlike me. Because I dreaded being done with it. Not walking with her through the woods, over the pond, across the meadow. I miss her directing my gaze to something I would surely have missed. I miss her quirky observations and her detailed explanations. Mostly, I miss her words.

To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee  I can’t believe I read it for the first time at 45. A rich exploration of life inside the mind of a young girl growing up in the rural south. Some of her experiences very like my own, some completely other. Whimsy, superstition, intrigue, honor, courage, pain. All of these in generous measure. One of the best books I have ever read.

*Honorable Mentions: Brave New World, Aldous Huxley and Fahrenheit 451, Ray Bradbury I found both of these to be terribly troubling. Mostly because the disturbing worlds they predict have so very much in common with the world in which we are living. Worlds where reading is banned and thinking for oneself is a thing of the past. Where we are spoonfed beliefs “for our own good” and for the “benefit of society”. I find it difficult to call them favorites when they made me so uncomfortable. But I haven’t the least difficulty calling them important.

What books did you read this year that rankled, inspired, or captivated?

Cross-training Creativity

Because I am an old lady, I rarely run more than three days a week, even when I am training for an endurance event. I rest one day. And the other three days I cross-train. This consists of varying combinations of Plyometrics, Core work, Yoga, Biking, Swimming, Weights, etc… This lessens the stress on my joints. But, it also has the added bonus of making me more wholly fit. This, in turn, makes me a better runner. Ironic, huh?

I would like to submit that the same is true about creativity. Though it is certain a great part of honing any craft is the frequency with which we practice it, it just might be that we can also breathe life into our work by cheating on our genre, just a bit.

For example:

A writer who studies painting will refine his vision. Subtleties, nuances will reveal themselves. And his settings will become more vivid; more evocative.

A painter who visits the symphony, or another live music venue, may find her work suddenly more fluid, or whimsical, or turbulent.

Encountering expression of an unfamiliar form has a tendency to provoke. To vivify. To inspire.

Here are some suggestions for ways to nourish and invigorate your creative impulse:

Visit an art gallery or museum. Don’t study about the works ahead of time. Just encounter them. Let them speak to you. Be open and receptive.

Learn to play an instrument. It’s never too late. And you may find that when the right words won’t come for your story, picking up the guitar or sitting down at the piano for a bit blows the dust off, loosens whatever is bound.

Read a poem. Aloud. Several times, if you please. Till the rhythm of it…the breath…the silences…work their way into you. If you commit it to memory, all the better. Then you have it at the ready anytime that part of you that creates beauty needs a place to rest and be refreshed. You can always find something lovely in Garrison Keillor’s collection, Good Poems.

Play. Fingerpaint. Buy a can of playdough. Go all Andy Goldsworthy, and create a little environmental art. Compose a poem of nonsense words, a la Jabberwocky (Twas brillig, and the slithy toves…). Cut photos out of magazines and make a collage. This is not for publication. This is for fun. To let your imagination run wild for a bit. To silence the inner critic.

Practice Yoga. I know yoga is a hot button among many people of faith. Approach it like anything else in your life, with discernment and circumspection. Yoga is very helpful for learning to still the mind. And it helps you liberate creativity held hostage by the body. Shiva Rea makes wonderful resources for use at home. Yes, they do include eastern concepts, but she leaves lots of room for you to bring your own faith, or lack thereof, to your practice.

Go out of doors. Take a walk. Occupy a bench. Go for a long, slow drive. Bundle up, and sit on your back porch. It doesn’t really matter what you do, so long as your attention is free to soak in the beauty around you. Breathe deep. Pay attention. Expect to see something beautiful. You will, if you are looking for it. Watch the clouds. Listen to the birds. Pick up a single leaf and gaze long at it…

Read a book. Not a book about creativity. Read a story. A really great story. You will be amazed how it will fire your creativity. Not sure where to find a great story? Check out these resources: The Joy of Reading and Invitation to the Classics. Or, ask a friend. Find books my friends recommend HERE and HERE.

Go to the Theater. There is something intoxicating about live theater. The way the actors spin their art right in front of you, til you feel you are part of it.

See a film. Cinema, well done, is a synergy of storytelling, music, painting and poetry all. To find a truly great film, you might start with the American Film Institute’s 100 Years 100 Movies. Or sample their favorites from the last decade HERE.

Visit a live music venue. You pick the style. The important thing is to sit in the room and let the music wrap itself around you…to seep into your very pores. To watch the players interact with their instruments. To feel the energy as a whole gathering of people you don’t know are woven together in this one experience.

Have a long, deep conversation with another creative. Or, better yet, a whole table full of them. The most remarkable flourishing of art has always happened when artists converge. Think of Renaissance Florence, the salons of 19th century Paris, Harlem in the 1920’s. Be part of a mutual provocation society. Be generous. Receive.

These are just a few ideas. I would love to hear yours.

How do you nourish creativity? When you are weary, what revs your engine?

*Artwork at the top of the post by Glenn Grubbs.

Among Trees…

I go among trees and sit still.
All my stirring becomes quiet
around me like circles on water.
My tasks lie in their places
where I left them, asleep like cattle…

~Wendell Berry

“I built it for everybody. It’s God’s treehouse.” ~Horace Burgess

In 1993 Horace Burgess received a commission from God…of a rather unusual sort. He was to build a tree house. Eighteen years later, it is a project still in the making.

Peter Pan would find himself right at home in this architectural invocation of whimsy. Stairways meander. Decks crawl all around the sides, ducking in and out of the interior. There are cozy nooks and astonishing views; a second story basketball court and a church. And if you are brave enough to climb to the crow’s nest, you can ring the bells. There has never been a blueprint. The design has simply evolved. A bit at a time. Oh yes, and he has constructed the whole of it from recycled materials.

At a height of 97 feet, it is a contender for the tallest tree house in the world. They are in negotiations with the folks at Guinness even now. Burgess has elected to not go higher, because at 100 feet he would have to install a flashing light to warn planes. 🙂

My extended family (grandparents, cousins, etc…) paid a visit on Saturday. It would be hard to say who had more fun, the children or the adults.

The tree house is located near the Genesis Road Exit off Interstate 40 in Crossville, Tennessee, 245 Beehive Lane, Crossville, TN 38555. Hours are approximately 8am-6pm. The attraction is free, though you are welcome to donate to the ongoing construction expenses. If you would like more of the particulars, read this from USA Today. Also, see a couple of gorgeous photos HERE. If you go, wear good shoes as the surfaces are somewhat…well…did I mention whimsical? Also, keep a firm grip on very little ones.

Caretaker's Cottage

Podium inside church

11 Favorite Turns of Phrase

I have an almost idolatrous relationship with words. I admit it. To be able to express a thought, an emotion, with precision…to make it live in the mind and heart of another is deeply satisfying. I admire writers who string words together elegantly, evocatively. I have collected these for years. Here are a few of my favorites.

Our life is a faint tracing on the surface of mystery…  ~Annie Dillard

In our sleep, pain that cannot forget falls drop by drop upon the heart and in our own despair, against our will, comes wisdom through the awful grace of God. ~Aeschylus

All this indescribable thing that we call the Christmas atmosphere only hangs in the air as something like a lingering fragrance or fading vapor from the exhultant explosion of that one hour in the Judean hills nearly two thousand years ago.  But the savor is still unmistakable, and it is something too subtle or too solitary to be covered by our use of the word peace.  ~G.K. Chesterton

For poems are not words, after all, but fires for the cold, ropes let down to the lost, something as necessary as bread in the pockets of the hungry.  ~Mary Oliver

Trample not on any; there may be some work of grace there, that thou knowest not of.  The name of God may be written upon that soul thou treadest on; it may be a soul that Christ thought so much of as to give his precious blood for it; therefore, despise it not.
~Samuel Taylor Coleridge

The world is mud-luscious and puddle-wonderful.  ~e.e.cummings

I would rather that my spark should burn out in a brilliant blaze than it should be stifled by dry-rot.  I would rather be a superb meteor, every atom of me in magnificent glow, than a sleepy and permanent planet.  The function of man is to live, not to exist…  ~Jack London

I am the product of long corridors, empty sunlit rooms, upstairs indoor silences, attics explored in solitude, distant noises of gurgling cisterns and pipes, and the noise of wind under the tiles.  Also, of endless books.  My father bought all the books he read and he never got rid of any of them.  There were books in the study, books in the drawing room, books in the cloakroom, books (two deep) in the great bookcase on the landing, books in a bedroom, books piled as high as my shoulder in the cistern attic, books of all kinds reflecting every transient stage of my parents’ interest, books readable and unreadable, books suitable for a child and books most emphatically not.  Nothing was forbidden me.  In the seemingly endless rainy afternoons I took volume after volume from the shelves.  I had always the same certainty of finding a book that was new to me as a man who walks into a field has of finding a new blade of grass.  ~C.S. Lewis

My worship is a blue sky and ten thousand crickets in the deep, wet hay of the field. My vow is the silence under their song.  ~Thomas Merton

Most children enjoy the sound of language for its own sake. They wallow in repetitions and luscious word-sounds and the crunch and slither of onomatopoeia.  ~Ursula K. LeGuin

In the house of breathings lies that word, all fairness. The walls are rubinen and the glittergates of elfinbone. The roof herof is of massicious jasper and a canopy of Tyrian awning rises and still descends to it. A grape cluster of lights hangs therebeneath and all the house is filled with the breathings of her fairness, the fairness of fondance and the fairness of milk and rhubarb and fairness of roasted meats and uniomargrits and the fairness of promise with consonantia and avowels. There lies her word, you reader! The height herup exalts it and the lowness her down abaseth it. It vibroverberates upon the tegmen and prosplodes from pomoeria.  ~James Joyce

Where have you found words wielded winsomely? A phrase that delights your senses?



11 Things I Might be Doing Instead of Blogging…

I just never got round to it today. I told myself that for 11 days I would blog every day. How hard could it be? Turns out, very. As you might have already concluded based on my usual output of 3-4 posts per week.  .

So, on those days when I do not write, what am I doing? Here are some possibilities. (Not all from today)

1. I might be running. Especially if the day is sunny and cool, and the trees are all aflame with color, and the air has that musky scent of fall, and my legs feel strong, and I finally have to make myself stop because I do, after all, have responsibilities. Hypothetically.

2. I might be at church. I’ll be there in the morning, so tomorrow’s post will be late. But, the fact is, some of my best writing has been born of time spent with the people of God in this most sacred and other-wordly place. And being there is so very good for my soul. So if you are missing me, I just might be there.

3. I might be making sandwiches, and helping with homework, and attending talent shows, and listening to stories of heartaches and triumphs, with my children. No apologies. I know where my priorities lie. They will always, always come first.

4. I might be cleaning my house. But that’s unlikely.

5. I might be in the garden. If so, that’s a good day. The worst day in the garden beats a really good day most other places. It is clean and true. It is life. And death. And seasons. And resting and growing and plenty.

6. There is a fairly good chance I am playing with my granddaughter. Four or five days a week I have the pleasure of spending the whole day with her. Watching the miracle of new. Of discovery and yearning. Study and mastery. Frustration and joy. When given the choice of snuggling up with the wee one or snuggling with my computer, little bit will win every time.

7. I might be doing laundry. But I hope not.

8. I might be cooking for my family or for friends. If I am, I might be having all kinds of fun. Making something beautiful, delicious, and nourishing. Trying a new recipe. Cooking with one or more of my kids. Or friends. Music playing. Candle burning. Glass of wine nearby. OR….. I might be scrounging through the pantry or the fridge trying to figure out how one comes up with a palatable meal with only black beans, chia seeds, and mustard. Those chefs on Chopped have nothing on me. 🙂

9. I might be reading. In fact, I’m probably reading. Unless I am doing one of the other things I already said. Then again…there might be a book on my ipod; Jeremy Irons whisking me away to Spain in the midst of my laundry. And next time I pull a pair of socks out of the drawer I will remember Santiago becoming the wind.

10. I might be sleeping. Which is what I should be doing now. Many blog posts have been written while I should have been sleeping. At least WordPress has the good grace not to tattle on me like Typepad used to. You don’t know if I have posted at 3:47 in the morning. Sleeping is not my strong suit. I’ve never been very good at it. But there’s still just the off chance that I might be sleeping instead of blogging.

11. I might be wasting time. Probably on the internet. Checking email, then facebook, blog stats for the blog I am not writing, looking up recipes, translating random phrases into French. Or I might be writing a blog post about why I am not writing a blog post. Or writing a post about why I’m writing a post about not writing a post. Or diagramming that last sentence.:)

What is it that keeps you from doing what you want to do?


11 Things That Make Me Laugh

A cheerful disposition is good for your health;
gloom and doom leave you bone-tired.

Proverbs 17:22 (Message)

With that in mind, I offer you eleven things that always, always make me laugh. Feel free to borrow one or two if you like. And be sure to leave a couple of your own.

Bill Cosby Himself  Cosby has a remarkable ability to transform the most ordinary things like parenthood or a trip to the dentist into comedic brilliance. Almost thirty years after its release, this is still relevant; still fresh and funny. And it gets even funnier when my usually calm, collected husband is rolling on the floor, gasping for breath because he is hysterical. 🙂

Taylor Mali, Poet  Mali’s work is intelligent and incisive. And his personal delivery is brilliant. Just be careful. Somewhere in the midst of laughing your face off, you will discover that he is making you think. I encourage you to let him deliver his words to you with his own inflection and emphasis. If you’re not sure where to start, I commend a couple of my favorites: The The Impotence of Proofreading and Totally Like Whatever, You Know? Another favorite, less humorous but profoundly good, is What Teachers Make

Winnie the Pooh  A.A Milne infused his stories with a subtle, elegant wit. I read his stories over and over to my children–the original ones, not the language impoverished Disney reductions–and sometimes had to stop and snicker. This is not knee-slapping hysteria, but a soft gladdening of the heart. A couple of examples:

“Well,” said Pooh, “what I like best — ” and then he had to stop and think.  Because although Eating Honey was a very good thing to do, there was a moment just before you began to eat it which was better than when you were, but he didn’t know what it was called.

“Did you make that song up?”
“Well, I sort of made it up, ” said Pooh, “It isn’t Brain…but it comes to me sometimes.”
“Ah,” said Rabbit, who never let things come to him, but always went & fetched them.

The music of Andy Gullahorn  Like Taylor Mali, Gullahorn wraps a whole lot of truth up in his humor. This is an art. And not all his songs are funny. But they are all good. He is one of our family’s road trip favorites. We sing along, and sometimes laugh out loud. Especially to Green Hills Mall.

The poetry of Shel Silverstein  Whimsical. Clever. Unexpected. Fun. And his childlike drawings are perfectly delightful. Where the Sidewalk Ends is my favorite collection, but all are good.

Candide  You probably know Voltaire was a philosopher whose influence on the French Revolution cannot be overstated. But do you know that he was a most clever satirist? This is a fanciful tale of travel and misadventure. Voltaire puts his own words in the mouth of a naive young man who we come to believe may be more intelligent than most of those around him. I do not hold to Voltaire’s view of the world, but I admire the artistry and good humor with which he articulates it.

Homer Price  You might know Robert McCloskey better for his Caldecott award winning picture books Make Way For Ducklings or Blueberries for Sal, which we also love. But it’s this collection of short stories that kept my boys and me in stitches. Both of them would list it among their favorite books ever. Innocent small town fun involving pet skunks, a doughnut machine run amok, and an award winning ball of string, and much more.

Christmas Vacation  We watch it every Christmas….and sometimes when it’s not Christmas. We know everything that’s going to happen before it happens. And sometimes the laughter precipitates the action. Good, clean, dysfunctional family fun. 🙂

Patsy Clairmont  She has the soul of a poet. She writes words of exquisite beauty, and has a keen ability to see beyond. But, put her on a stage in front of a few thousand women, and she will have you in stitches before you know what hit you. Sample her humorous side with Crafty or Emotions for starters.

Nine Months  I do have an inordinate fondness for Hugh Grant. The good-natured, but bumbling character he plays so well is great fun to watch. But this is an ensemble piece. Robin Williams as the Russian veterinarian/obstetrician and Tom Arnold as the enthusiastic (aka obnoxious) father with the video camera are two other stand-outs. Yes, I do usually end up crying at the end. But only after laughing til my sides hurt.

Rat Race  Frantic. Messy. One misadventure after another. The kind of silly humor I don’t usually go for, but I gladly make an exception here.

*Fifth in a series of eleven posts of elevens; one for each of the first eleven days of the eleventh month of 2011.

**Yes, that absolutely gorgeous baby in the photo is in fact my granddaughter. 😉


11 Albums I’ll Listen to Til I Die

Musical tastes are very fluid. Plenty of artists and songs prove to be flirtations. Fun to know for a while, but ultimately unsatisfying. Cloying in large doses. But there are exceptions…

Every now and then, an artist or an album emerges that is of such fine quality, that touches such an important part of who you are, that you know you have made a friend for life. Rather than becoming tiresome, it becomes more dear with each listen. And you revisit it over and over, threading it into the soundtrack of your years. And when it plays, a whole cinema of images rolls across your mind and you are in a thousand place at once. And nothing is quite so affective at setting the world to rights as these familiar friends. Here are a few of mine:

Beautiful Things Gungor  For its artistry. For its whimsy. And for its reminder that God persistently transforms my folly and my filth into something radiant.

Come Away With Me Norah Jones  Her resonant voice and her restrained, elegant piano sing peace into me. When my soul is restless, this album is very good company.

Downtown Church Patty Griffin I grew up singing most of these songs. The inimitable Ms. Griffin renders them with passion and grace. I’ve listened to it dozens and dozens of times, but I still tear up every time she sings Never Grow Old.

Greatest Hits James Taylor  I have fond memories of a soft summer night on the grass as Starwood with Mr. Taylor. I also remember him all dressed up with the Nashville Symphony and a performance of Steamroller that almost lit me on fire. But mostly, I remember him singing into, and around, and over and under all that has been my life thus far. Playing his music is like coffee with a friend. Comfortable and good.

How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb U2  For their superb musicianship. For driving rhythms that have secured them a position on all my running playlists. For lyrics that mean something.

If On a Winter’s Night Sting  I listen to it while washing dishes or folding laundry, and I am transported. I sit before a crackling fire, wrapped in a heavy woolen blanket. Outside the wind howls, swirling the falling snow hither and yon. Inside the tea kettle whistles and someone picks up a guitar. Echoes of Christmas past. Lyrical incense.

O Brother Where Art Thou (Soundtrack) This is the music of my childhood. It is story. It is heartache and hope. As sustaining as biscuits and gravy. And just as satisfying. And I always, always sing along.

The Outsiders NeedToBreathe  A rockabilly good time with wailing vocals and infectious rhythms. Some of the songs are just plain fun. But some of them pierce the heart, helping me find my better self. And I need all the help I can get.

Songs of Joy and Peace Yo Yo Ma and Friends  My favorite cellist teams up with artists like Dave Brubeck, Chris Botti, Diana Krall, and Alison Krauss, among others, for a delicious compilation of carols, meditations, and jigs. Exquisite artistry in an infinitude of incarnations. It makes me happy. Every time.

Unplugged Eric Clapton  Rhythm and Blues by a master of the genre. Clean. Uncluttered. Kinda like having Eric Clapton in your living room. Brilliant!

Why Should the Fire Die Nickel Creek  The harmonies. The flawless instrumental interchanges. The poetry. The consummate storytelling. And a couple of tunes that wreck me. Still. Marvelous.

For the record, this was extremely difficult. My original list, which I already believed to be conservative, had 27 items. Axing the final 4 or 5 made me want to throw up. I’m nothing if not loyal. SO, although I accommodated my 11 item limit, just know my for-real list is much, much longer.

How bout you? Are there albums that you love more and more with each listen? Music that is an integral part of your life?

*Fourth in a series of eleven posts of elevens; one for each of the first eleven days of the eleventh month of 2011.

**Props to Karissa who suggested this topic.

11 Films to See More Than Once

I am not an acquirer of movies. As a general rule. I tend to prefer to see them once…at the theater, or as a rental…and then have done with them. But occasionally I encounter a film that merits revisiting. Chewing. Contemplating. Or perhaps it simply is so nourishing it should be eaten at regular intervals. In any event, here are eleven films I have chosen to buy. And to revisit.  Again and again.

Amelie  On the most ordinary day, this film can sweep me away to some place other. And my heart is filled with a delirious joy that I don’t even know how to explain. It is an artsy, quirky, eccentric sort of picture. Of a woman unusually aware. Who sets out to better the lives of those around her, surreptitiously. And I am overcome by the power of one. One person who sees. Audrey Tautou is lovely, and the film is beautiful in the extreme.

Casablanca  Love is complex. Not always as it seems. And sometimes the most ordinary person is a hero in disguise. Just when you think you have a story figured out, it is likely to take a most unexpected turn. And if you have the great good fortune to watch all this play out in intrigue filled French North Africa, with Humphrey Bogart as your leading man and Ingrid Bergman as the woman who stole his heart, well, you are most fortunate indeed. Every time I hope it will end differently. And every time I know the ending is just right as it is. “Here’s looking at you, kid.”

Chocolat  This one I love, not for the complex story (there is none), but for its remarkable facility for reaching that most sensual place in each of us. For helping us remember the pleasure to be found in the simplest things. For teaching us that a life lived in anger and suspicion shrinks us, while a life lived with arms open makes more of us than we could imagine. This one I take for nourishment. It fans that part of me that drinks in life as sacrament, as gift, as joy.

Crash  The first time I ever watched it, I couldn’t finish it. It almost made me sick. So why come back to it? Why own it? Why? Because it is important. Important does not necessarily mean easy. It still makes me sick. I need to be sick about this. Dostoevsky-like characters who are never entirely good or entirely evil try to find their way in the world….learning who they are by remembering who they are not. Oh God, how despicably we have marred Your plan! How we love to hate! How we define ourselves by our hatred! Lord have mercy. Have mercy on us all. Set the world right. Your Kingdom come.

Hero  Visually ravishing. A story told in different voices. And each voice tells his or her story in a different color. And sometimes the beauty is so exquisite that it is painful. Blessed pain. My heart hurts. But there is something so lovely and so deeply true that I can’t not watch it again. And again…

Magnolia  Only a master storyteller can weave so many stories in and out of one another and manage to keep the viewer engaged…yay, verily, enthralled. And on each subsequent viewing, layers emerge. Subtle nuances that were not visible the first time. Complex characters that only give a bit of themselves at once. And the weather helps tell the story. And the weather is all wrong. And crazy and bizarre. And I don’t even mind. Somehow it fits. And perhaps that is the most startling thing of all.

Memoirs of a Geisha  “The very word “geisha” means artist and to be a geisha is to be judged as a moving work of art.” I am thoroughly captivated by these women who endure unbelievable hardships, and yet manage to transform themselves into moving, breathing works of art. It is a concept that has completely fascinated me since I heard this line for the first time. This is one of the few occasions…perhaps the only…where I saw a movie that compelled me to read a book. Usually it’s the other way round. Difficult. Tragic. But outrageously gorgeous.

Memento  There is too much profanity. And the violence, though judicious, is cruel. But this is one of the most brilliant films I have ever seen. The main character is trying to track down the man who raped and murdered his wife. But he has lost his ability to make short term memories. In a stroke of movie making genius, Christopher Nolan tells us the story in reverse, in ten minute segments, so that we may share the discombobulation of our protagonist. And just when you think you know who the good guys are…look out! Ironic. Troubling. Provocative. Enthralling.

The Notebook  Sentimental, yes. Sappy sweet, perhaps. But this is a story of loving long. Of loving when love costs everything. When everyone else says you have loved enough. And that is a story that means a great deal to me. Perhaps more than most. No apologies here. I have it. I love it. That’s that.

O Brother Where Art Thou  SO many reasons I love this film!! The rural south as portrayed in this film is very like the world I grew up in. (When one lives in a small town, it is almost as if time stands still. Though the film is set 3 full decades before my birth, much of this world is recognizable to me.) The music is my music. I even used to go sing at a little radio station like the one on the side of the road where the “Soggy Bottom Boys” make their debut. The story is The Odyssey, recast. (For about the hundredth time). I am just nerdy enough to LOVE this. I notice new parallels every time I watch it. But mostly, it makes me laugh. It makes our whole family laugh. And we recite lines to one another about being “loved up”, and about how “we thought you wuz a toad.” And I’m still on the lookout for some Dapper Dan hair pomade. Let me know if you find any. 🙂

The Tree of Life  This film is very like a poem. It is pleasing, seductive even, upon the first viewing. Yet it hides a good bit of its truth, hinting enough that you know you will come back to dig deeper. It is a truth that is not flung at you. Predigested. Sorted into compartments. It must be wrung out of you. I will submit to its wringing. I will breathe the words. I will watch the earth writhing and foaming and forming. And I will stand in awe. I will attempt to make sense of the story. And I will give truth a place to grow in me. A bit at a time.

Which are the films you go back to over and over again?

*First in a series of eleven posts of elevens; one for each of the first eleven days of the eleventh month of 2011.

**Special thanks to Karissa for suggesting this first “11” topic.

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