What are we talking about today?

I used to have theme days. I've stopped doing that for now. My husband died in February and I'm trying to find a new normal. You'll probably read some sad stuff here for a while, mixed in with my usual ranting about bicycles and buses and books. I like 'B' words.

01 September 2015

More About Summer Reading

If you read yesterday's post about the summer reading program I participated in at church, you may have noticed that I didn't technically answer the question "How does reading aid your spiritual growth?". While answering, I didn't address the fact that I wasn't answering the question (except to take the long way round and come in by the back door, sorta), but I do want to talk about that a bit, because there were Reasons.

1) I don't actually know the answer. I usually don't figure out until much later that something has aided my growth in any area, and my spiritual growth is no exception. I should probably work harder to be more aware of what's going on in my own brain, but geez, that's kind of a scary place. There be dragons, y'all.

2) I don't read a lot of Christian literature, either non-fiction or fiction. That's mainly because after many years of trying to find Christian fiction that I like, I just gave up. Most of it is bad or bland or both. Francine Rivers is writing some great stuff, but most everything else I've read (or tried to read)... I just can't do it. Recommending A Million Miles in a Thousand Years is as close as I get to Christian non-fiction most days. But that's really not a spiel I want to deliver at church, not even by way of explanation that my reading doesn't directly address my spiritual life. I save that speech for when people ask me privately what books I recommend.

Did I ever share this photo after I came home from NYC? It's
an exhibit at The Guggenheim. I don't remember the title,
but the idea is that it's a shelf of books that were never
3) I told Denise when I was preparing to speak, "Reading is like breathing for me. How am I supposed to talk about it? What do I even say?" After I thought over that metaphor a bit, I realised it's a bit overblown--reading is more like eating than breathing. I might get busy for a while and not have the time to read, or even forget that I've missed out on reading much like I might miss a meal when I'm busy. But after a while, something in me will start to ache to be fed. And if I were to go too long without reading, key parts of who I am would start to wither and die. For my mind and personality to continue to thrive, I need a regular diet of books. But how do you explain something that fundamental to a group of people who don't necessarily have that same need? I can't do it. So I dive in with my current read and see where it goes from there.

What fills a deep need in your life? Could you explain it to someone who doesn't share the need?

31 August 2015

What I Read On My Summer Vacation

This summer, the church I attend ran a reading initiative to encourage everyone to use the new online resources that the church library has, especially the review feature. Those of us who reviewed books received gift cards to Half Price Books and were asked to answer the question, "How does reading aid your spiritual growth?" This was my answer (kinda... this was what I meant to say, anyway. Not sure how many of these words actually came out in church on Sunday morning). (Also, I understand and respect that not everyone has the same belief in God that I do, and if that is the case for you I encourage you to likewise live a great story with your life in accordance with your own beliefs.)

God, the creator, the master storyteller, has invited us to collaborate with him in writing a great story with the lives that we live. Right now, I'm rereading Les Misérables, a story I'm sure most of you are familiar with. The book doesn't start on a barricade, it doesn't start with a sad little girl sweeping a floor, and it doesn't even start with Jean Valjean in prison. It starts with the bishop in a little town called Digne, and while the bishop may not have thought of his life in these terms, he absolutely embraced God's invitation to live out a great story with his life. And when he encountered Valjean, he invited Valjean to also enter into God's story. The bishop only gets 120 pages of the book (I had the book with me & held it up at this point to demonstrate what a small slice of the book that is), but his invitation to Valjean resonates throughout the rest of the book.

The story of Les Mis is one of forgiveness, of redemption, of second and third and fourth chances. Lots of characters in this book make poor decisions and squander their second chances, but Valjean doesn't, and that's why he's the main character of the 1400+ pages.

I don't necessarily recommend that you read Les Misérables, because it's a long and hard read and you have to really want it. Here's what I do recommend that you read: A Million Miles in a Thousand Years, by Donald Miller. It's all about living a great story with your life. If you're not a Donald Miller fan, well, neither am I, but you should read it anyway.

I wore this shirt today (pictured) on purpose. Greenfield is my hometown, and it reads, "It's where my story begins." I bought it to remind myself that my story began there but it hasn't yet ended, and neither has yours. We all have great stories yet to live. Please, please, please, let God use to you write an amazing story.

And that, my friends, is why I read.

25 August 2015

In My Mailbox

Tentatively trying theme days again, so I may as well start with an easy one: on Tuesdays we talk books. So! Only one of these actually arrived in my mailbox, but whatever. All from this weekend:

P.J. Hoover had a book signing! She's my favourite local author, and her book Solstice is somewhere in my top 10 favourite books of all time. I went to get a copy of her newest book, Tut. If you're not reading P.J.'s books, it's time to start.

So while I wandered around Barnes & Noble after chatting with P.J., I found this. I love C.S. Lewis, but am nowhere close to having read all his stuff, and this one seemed apt:
Couldn't get this one signed by the author, though.
So, this book. I've seen this cover all over the internet (well, all over Pinterest and Tumblr) with Eddie Redmayne's face on it as a Les Mis joke. I had no idea it was a book (usually the authors' names are cropped out). So when I saw it on the shelf while wandering around, I did a happy dance & bought it. It's hilarious.

And, finally, the one that actually came via the mail. I have this version of Les Misérables on my Kindle, but I decided it was finally time to own a hard copy. So now I can fight off attackers while reading, if necessary. Seriously, there's a reason fans call this thing "The Brick."

 What are you reading this week?

20 August 2015

What Not to Say

I promise I was already planning this post before I read Rachel Ward's excellent piece, "I’m Sorry I Didn’t Respond to Your Email, My Husband Coughed to Death Two Years Ago," (don't click if you don't like to read sweary things!!), but this isn't going to be a lot like that anyway. She's in a space that I'm not up to yet, although reading that gave me a lot of hope for the next 18 months.

If I lit a candle for every weirdo thing
someone's said to me... well, I'd have
to call the fire department.
Instead! I have a collection of weird things people say in times of grief. Humans have a hard time with loss, even though we know it's an inevitable part of being alive. And despite there being hundreds of books and websites and blog posts telling us what not to say, dumb things will tumble out of anyone's mouth in times of stress.

So! I'm here to add to the cacophony with my own Cheeky twist on what not to say. Obviously, as with so many things, grief is idiosyncratic, so your mileage may vary. (And yes, these are all things I've really heard, some of them multiple times. I'm not making this nonsense up.)

1. "He's in a better place."

I don't care. Hawaii is also a better place, but I wouldn't want him going there and leaving me behind, either.

And the second is like unto it:

2. "It's comforting to know that he's with Jesus."

Well, he was with Jesus here, too. And it's not that comforting when I'd much rather he be alive and in my house instead of playing laser tag with the angels or whatever he's getting up to these days.

3. "He's still with you."

This one is kind of tricky, because he believed very strongly that our loved ones who have departed are still hovering round. I've never been able to embrace this belief as much as he did. What's more, I'm not sure that I like the idea that he's standing around watching me feel sorry for myself, or even worse, having fun without him. I'm sure this is idea is helpful to some, though, so that's why I call it tricky.

4. "You're so lucky you don't have children."

Let me say first: Yes, part of me is glad I don't have to get kids through the loss of their father. But really, why would you say such a thing? I lived with the grief of infertility for ten years, followed by the sudden loss of my husband before either of us reached 40. Yeah, I FEEL SO LUCKY RIGHT NOW. Let's go to Vegas and see how my luck holds out!

Just, no. Don't say anything if you can't do better than that.

5. "You're free now."

Get. Out. And turn in your humanity card before you go.

6. "Did you guys know he was sick?" or "Was this a surprise?"

If you don't know the answer to this question before you ask, it's probably none of your business. I honestly got asked this so many times that I started telling people that a pulmonary embolism is an acute condition that can happen to anyone at any time, which is not 100% true, but usually gave the questioner reason to ponder his or her own mortality, preferably somewhere I wasn't.

(By the way: yes, being ungracious is part of the grieving process. Also a key part of my personality.)

7. "How are you?" or "How are you, really?"

Okay, y'all. This is so well-intentioned, so it's hard to fuss, but I will anyway. There are a limited amount of people in anyone's circle who can ask this question and expect it to be answered with grace. (And I can tell you that most of mine have already gone there. If you haven't asked this one yet--don't.) Err on the side of caution. If it's not one of your best friends, skip it. They're not going to tell you, or at least won't want to tell you.

Don't worry, I'm not going to leave you hanging. Instead, here's what to say:

1. "Please feel free to text/call/Facebook me."

Now, I don't recommend this willy-nilly. Obviously, there needs to be some sort of consideration of how good of friends you already were--this is not a helpful thing coming from casual acquaintances.

2. "What can I bring you?" 

For about five days, my answer was "Peanut M&Ms," but that's partly because my sneaky father kept eating the peanut M&Ms that people brought me.

3. "Can I go to the bank/supermarket/library/etc. for you?"

Yes. Yes, you can.

4. "Do you want to go to (fun thing you guys usually do together)?"

Please, please don't stop asking. One day, the answer will be 'yes' again. Don't give up or be offended if the answer is 'no' for a while. Please.

5. Sharing a favourite memory or something you liked or appreciated about the departed person is always welcome.

Note: this means stories like "most embarrassing moment" or "something horrible he did to me when we are kids" are probably not welcome. I'm pretty easygoing and have a good sense of humour, but if you start to tell me a story like that about Chadwick it will probably end badly. Keep those for your own chuckles. Maybe someday I'll be ready to hear them, but not yet.

6. "I care about you."

Good for all seasons.

I know there are horror stories out there. Let's hear it--what's a really stupid thing (or really smart thing) someone has said to you in a time of crisis?

19 August 2015

The Darkest Skies Will Someday See the Sun

Well, yesterday was nice & depressing, wasn't it? Thanks for coming back today for something (slightly) less sad.

After melting.
 Another day, another non-Les-Mis crayon art, this time from my new obsession, Next to Normal. This didn't turn out quite like I had it pictured in my head. Maybe the dark colours were a mistake. But, as with everything else I've done so far, I'm probably better off embracing the mess than being fussy about it. This musical is all about life (and death) being messy, and the best thing you can do is keep going on. And so I'm trying.

And despite all my best efforts (and pointing the hairdryer the opposite direction, for goodness' sakes), I still got splatters in what was supposed to be the non-splatter section. Ugh!

I mentioned before that the Next to Normal soundtrack has kept me upright and buoyed for the last couple of weeks, and this crayon art (as well as today's post title) is from "Light," the final song of the show. I'm not kidding about this being a super-sweary show, so if you go digging any deeper, please beware, but this song is safe for all ages:

Before melting.
And should you decide that you can live with the swearing but can't live without this soundtrack for one day more, the Broadway cast album (with Aaron Tveit! and Alice Ripley!) is on Amazon, where incidentally you can order it through Amazon Smile and support the charity of your choice (looking for ideas? Try Texas Bicycle Coalition & help pay my salary!).

I still have one more canvas and a few more crayons... suggestions? I can do non-musical things, if absolutely necessary.

18 August 2015

I'm Holding On, and I Won't Let Go

Six months ago today, I woke up a widow. (Be warned that this post is not going to get any happier from here.)

Things since then that should have been major life changes--moving, graduating, complete change of job responsibilities at work, an ER visit--they feel pretty superficial by comparison. (Just for fun, I took a look at the stress scale thing. You don't want to know what my score is.)

I've stopped dreaming about Chadwick for now, and getting out of bed in the morning has gotten easier than it was. I still have an irrational fear of losing someone else at any moment. I don't know what to do when one of his favourite songs pops up on the radio. I've found out just how many times a day I think about something I'd like to tell him when I realise halfway through reaching for my phone that there's no one there. There's still a chance every minute that I'll suddenly need to stop what I'm doing and lay on the floor and cry.

I can't stop staring at his last tweet. And when I close my eyes at night, I still see him laying on the floor where I found him that morning.

On the other hand, I've gotten very good at controlling my emotions, and mostly don't cry in public. Apparently I've been fooling even my good friends into thinking that I'm happier/stronger/more resilient/insert adjective here than I really am. I have a squadron of said good friends who are on call for bizarre tweets or ranty texts or incoherent Facebook messages at all reasonable hours, and even some unreasonable ones. (Thanks, y'all!) I try to vary which friend I'm emptying my brain onto from one day to the next so no one has to hear all of it.

Theatrical therapy (mostly) helps. Friends help. Throwing myself into goofy musical-based craft projects and stalking Broadway & West End actors on Twitter sort of helps. (You know, until they start tweeting about how awesome all their significant others are.) Listening to the Next to Normal soundtrack on endless repeat helps way more than it should, but I'm not about to walk away from something that works this well just because it's not quite an apples-to-apples metaphor for my own life. (Incidentally, that's where today's post title comes from. It's a pretty sweary musical, so don't click if you're easily offended.)

One of Chad's favourite songs was "Empty Chairs at Empty Tables." (This is one of those facts I have to be careful of mentioning to people, because it's an intensely sad-making thought if you dwell on it for a second.) I think he would have loved seeing the version currently on Broadway. I saw it for both of us, but sometime in the next weeks and months and years I'll stop doing things for both of us. One day I'll wake up and realise I'm doing things for just me. I don't know if I'm dreading or welcoming that day. I probably won't know until I'm on the other side of it.

I'm still standing. I'm holding on. I won't let go.

16 August 2015

Into The Dark

This weekend, I decided to give the crayons a rest (okay, not really-- I'm starting my next crayon art thing as soon as I get done blogging) and try a different crafty thing.

So, if you spend a lot of time pinning Les Misérables things like I do-- you know what, I'm just gonna assume that you don't. There are quite a lot of t-shirts, mugs, and other things with the Barricade Boys listed & lined up so their names spell out "Revolution" in a contrasting colour. I like these things, although many of the examples I've seen leave out at least one of the less-well-known Barricade Boys, or have Jehan Prouvaire twice (apparently the memo hasn't gotten out that "Jehan" and "Prouvaire" are the same character).

So! I rounded up some supplies, looked at some online examples, and opened my copy of Les Misérables to the chapter called "A Group Which Barely Missed Becoming Historic," where Victor Hugo kindly lists out all the Barricade Boys' names and spells them correctly to boot. Result.

Here's the front:
Enjolras, Combeferre, Prouvaire,
Bahorel, Joly, Courfeyrac,
Bossuet, Feuilly, Gavroche, & Grantaire 

Obviously, I'm not thrilled that the 'N' in "Grantaire" didn't stay red when I baked the paint on, but it's growing on me a bit the more I look at it. Like the revolution gets darker as you go along, which happens to be true, not to mention that Grantaire, as the cynic of the group, would probably appreciate that his letter didn't come out red. Still deciding on whether to leave it or try it again.

In case you're wondering: yes, I left out Marius on purpose. It's more a book thing than musical thing, but he's not listed with the other Barricade Boys since he wasn't really a part of them for most of the story, and since he outlived all of them.

Strictly speaking, Gavroche is also not listed in the Barricade Boys group, but "Revolution" is a ten-letter word and there are only nine Barricade Boys. Plus, he died on the Barricade, too. He deserves a spot with the rest of them.

And yes, I bookended the list with Enjolras and Grantaire on purpose. (Not just because that's how Victor Hugo lists them; unfortunately, I wasn't able to stick exactly to his list order due to alphabet challenges.)

I was going to be done once I had all their names listed out, but on a whim, I flipped it over and wrote "I will follow you into the dark" on the other side. The red paint really is dark and hard to read (which is why the mug looks greenish in this pic; I had to amp up the fill light to make it even readable, so the darkness of the mug was lost a bit), which is kind of the point, I think. Anyway, I know that it's there, even if no one else does, and I know what it means.

Speaking of what it means, it's a nod to this-- George Blagden, who played Grantaire in the 2012 movie version of Les Misérables, is really into the Enjolras/Grantaire relationship, to the delight of many fans, and he covered "I Will Follow You Into the Dark" with a small lyric change to fit Les Mis. I've seen it mentioned in a few fanfictions now, so I'm guessing a whole bunch of Les Mis fans (and especially the E/R shippers) are similarly enamoured:

If you decide that you need to race out and personalize yourself a set of mugs, I recommend the directions here, up to and including the brand of paint pens.

What would you put on a mug?



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