Going on an Adventure: Scotland, Pt. 2

You may remember that last summer my family and I took a trip to Scotland. We enjoyed it so much that we decided to return there this summer as our last European hurrah before moving back to the States. Our first visit to Scotland, we hiked around bonnie Loch Lomond for a few days but spent most of the time jumping from city to city: Edinburgh, Glasgow, Aberdeen, Saint Andrews. I’m so thankful I got to walk the streets of each of those, but it made for a pretty hectic vacation. This time, we spent eight days in one place. And oh, was that a good idea. Our days were calm and peaceful, and by the end we felt almost like natives of the region. (I’m sure the actual natives would have a fit of disgust at the idea, but shh, don’t tell.) I love the relaxed schedule and being able to explore in depth the land immediately around us.

We stayed in a little cottage in the hamlet of Glencoe. It sits on the western coast of Scotland on the bank of Loch Leven, twenty minutes south of Fort William. Even though it is a loch—a lake—because it’s so close to the coast, its water is salty and moves in and out with the tides. I couldn’t quite believe it when we walked on the rocks and grass lining the lake and found crab shells and seaweed tangled in amongst the moss and little pink wildflowers.

The beauty of the Scottish Highlands is indescribable. There’s this unique quality to it that I don’t think you can find anywhere else on earth. I’ve been to the Alps, and they are breathtaking, stunning, but it’s a different kind of beauty. The Alps feels timeless, whereas the Scottish mountains feel ancient. The Alps feels almost ostentatious, like they want you to gasp and applaud, while the Scottish mountains seem to take no notice of you, existing for something greater than we humans can see.

On all of our hikes, I struggled to find the right words to describe what I was seeing. I jotted on my phone:

the Highlands have this quiet understated grandeur that does not demand awe for rob of breath like the Alps but sits in sure / elegant / contented repose, unmindful of human opinion, laying itself before a higher King like gems before his throne, his emerald carpet

We spent most days hiking and made a few treks to Fort William, purported to be the outdoor capital of the UK. One day we climbed to the top of a hill—an almost-mountain hill—that faces Ben Nevis, the tallest mountain in the UK. Another day we tackled the Lost Valley hike, climbing along a waterfall up the side of another almost-mountain hill and arriving at the top to stand at the lip of a wide valley nestled high where several mountains together. It was utterly magical. Looking back, I wonder if I was transported to another world or if it happened at all, in any universe.

We also drove to the Island of Iona one day—or rather, we drove to a ferry that took us and our car to the Isle of Mull, which we drove across (shout out to my dad for handling with skill the one lane road with its endless twist and turns through the hills) to another ferry that took just us to Iona. Iona is famous for its ancient abbey where monks created the beautiful Book of Kells, an ornately illustrated collection of the four Gospels. I loved the history and how the island still maintains a calm, set apart atmosphere. Plus, it was stunningly gorgeous. The water around it was literally teal, and the grass blanketing the gentle hills was fresh, bright green and studded with yellow and white flowers. White curves of sandy beach ended in dark rock jutting into the sea. It was almost too much beauty. You can’t take it all in.

I thought a lot about beauty on this trip. I thought a lot about how desperately I want to capture the beauty I see in words and how impossible that is sometimes and how horribly frustrated that makes you feel. Maybe all those musings will come out in a later post. For now, one thing I do know about beauty is that it is meant to be shared. I hope you all can visit the Scotland someday and experience its beauty for yourself, but until then, I hope you enjoy these photographs. ❤

Some notes about the photos:

As always, click on one of the photos to bring up the slideshow where you can see the pictures bigger and read the captions. I didn’t edit any of them, which may be hard to believe when you see some of the colors.

At the bottom of the posts are included Mark Shultz’s instrumental song, “Highlands.” It’s absolutely beautiful, and I think it would be lovely experience to listen to that while you go through the photos. =)

 


Do you want to visit the Highlands now? Which of your favorite photos? What is your favorite type of vacation? And how has your summer been going?

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3 Ways My Reading Life Has Changed in 2018

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First off, can you believe we’re already over halfway through 2018?? I don’t even know what to do with that information. So far, it’s been a good year for me. I’m looking forward to the next half, both to the exciting plans and the big unknowns. Thank you as always for journeying with me and being such fun, supportive readers. ❤

One of the things I’ve done in 2018 is read.

No, really. I have. Try to believe it.

It’s been a bit of a different reading year for me. I haven’t read as much as I normally do. I don’t mean that I haven’t spent as much time reading, but I guess I’m just not reading as quickly. My goodreads goal is lower than usual, and I’m still a little behind, which isn’t like me. I know reading isn’t about numbers, and if lower numbers mean more comprehension and appreciation of the books I do read, then I’m glad. But I don’t know, I feel a little sluggish this year book-wise. Maybe everybody has slower years. Maybe I just need to give myself grace and let myself go at the pace that I need.

Well, there’s no maybe about that. I know I need to do that. We all do. Give yourselves some grace and go at your own pace, my peeps. (Heyyy that rhymes. I should put it on an inspirational poster. *hands several out*)

ANYWAY. Enough chitchat. On to the main post. (I think I say some version of that every single time. My introductions always end up becoming mini posts themselves. Good grief.) 


three ways my reading life has changed this year


1 } Audiobooks 

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One reason I’m reading less this year might be that I I am listening to more audiobooks, which take longer. My family has been listening to audiobooks together at night for a year or so, which is a tradition I love, but I don’t think I would have delved into them on my own if I hadn’t been forced to. This January I developed some headaches and eye pain while reading. To my great relief and gratitude, the combination of reading glasses and regular neck stretches to relieve tension have made that pain manageable, but until I figured that out, I really couldn’t do much actual reading. Not a good state of affairs for a bibliophile like me. That’s when audiobooks came to my rescue.

I’ll say this about audiobooks: they can be tough. I’m much more of a visual learner than auditory, and I have trouble finding things to do while listening to them. I found that I dislike just sitting there listening—I need to feel like I’m doing something productive with my body. When you’re reading a book, you’re at least holding it and flipping through the pages (or swiping if it’s an e-book). Plus, I love how when I’m reading I can hear what’s going on around me and feel included in it even if I’m not directly interacting with it. With audiobooks, I feel much more isolated from my surroundings.

All that to say, I totally understand why they are not some people’s cup of tea. However, after being conscripted into their service, I have found several benefits. For one thing, they force me to slow down, pay attention to each word, and savor the book. There’s no skimming or skipping here (unless you fall asleep for parts. Which, ahem, may have happened to me on occasion.). I often struggle pay attention to the language and word choice in books, which is detrimental to me as a writer. Audiobooks help fix that.

Even better, audiobooks can bring stories alive in a way paper books simply can’t. The different voices and accents, the sound effects and music some productions put in, the sound of another human who is partaking of the same story—it’s a special experience. Some books benefit more from audio transformation than others. My absolute favorite audiobook is Echo by Pam Muñoz Ryan. It’s a middle grade novel set in World War II about three children living in different parts of the world whose stories are connected by a magic harmonica and a love for music. Because music plays such a large role in the story, the fact that an audiobook can incorporate all the songs and instruments mentioned is perfect. Plus, since the kids live in different places, the accents of the narrators make those characters feel more real.

As with anything, practice makes perfect. I’ve found that if I haven’t listened to an audiobook in a while, it’s harder for me to get into one. But if I use them regularly, it’s easier for me to be still and absorb the story through my ears.

2 } Diverse books

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I honestly hate using the word diverse because it’s so politicized and overused these days, but it really does describe a big change in my reading life recently: as I named a shelf on goodreads, I’ve been reading more books with characters that are “not just white people.” I didn’t do this intentionally; somehow I just picked up more books about cultures that I am unfamiliar with. And I’m so happy about it.

I love learning about different parts of the world, and I love seeing how other cultures are unique and yet how people are fundamentally the same. Stories do a wonderful job of that—they give us a peek into another world, telling us what it looks like, what food there is, what customs exist. But they also provide a window into another human’s heart, and even though the surroundings may be foreign and that human may look or even think nothing like us, there is always at least one part of their heart that we can relate to.

Here are a few books that have been especially eye-opening to me:

You Bring the Distant Near by Mitali Perkins / multi-generational saga of an Indian family that moves to America—HIGHLY recommended (+ the audiobook is phenomenal)

Inside Out & Back Again by Thanhha Lai / a novel in verse of the journey of a young girl fleeing to America from Saigon due to the Vietnam War

Every Falling Star: The True Story of How I Survived and Escaped North Korea by Sungju Lee / the subtitle says it all but honestly guys, I can’t believe this actually happened. It’s just—super eye-opening, tough and dark but also inspiring

Stella by Starlight by Sharon M. Draper / middle grade novel about a young African American girl growing up in the early 1900s under the shadow of the Ku Klux Klan (also she wants to be a writer & I love watching that journey)

They Say We Are Infidels: On the Run from ISIS with Persecuted Christians in the Middle East by Mindy Belz / this’ll be one of the best books I read in 2018; fascinating & moving account of the Iraqi Christian communities & what ISIS has done to them—super relevant (see my goodreads review of it for more thoughts)

3 } Reviewing books

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I noticed recently that if I finish a book and don’t review it, I carry around a sense of incompletion, a niggling feeling that there’s something I need to do. I want books to change me; I want to learn from them and both remember and apply that knowledge. I hate reading something and thinking, “Oh, that’s good, I want to remember that,” and then, well, not. I still remember in the back of my mind that I wanted to remember something but I don’t know what it is. So I subconsciously fret about it and try to remember whatever it was that struck a chord in me. If I let too many of those instances build up, it’s honestly not good for my mental health.

The solution? Review each book when I finish it. And I don’t mean review as in some lengthy essay or detailed list of pros and cons. I just need to record something, a few impressions, a favorite quote or character or scene, or whatever random things stand out to me when I think back on it. Somewhere, whether in my journal or on goodreads, I need to string together a few words that describe a portion of what I feel or think about the book. I think I just need to be able to articulate some of my thoughts about it to prove to myself that I actually read and absorbed it. Most people probably don’t have this compulsion, and I know there are plenty of other reasons to review books. Do whatever works for you.

I do have to be careful that I don’t put too many requirements on myself about what I write. Sometimes I get too wrapped up in perfectly capturing my thoughts about a book—I want to perfectly articulate every fleeting opinion and idea the book conjures up in me. Which, of course, is impossible. The reason why I started making myself review books in the first place was to remove stress, so if I find find that reviewing causes more stress than it alleviates, I should give it a break. And honestly, some books don’t deserve a review. Not all books have to be something I learn from, and not all books are going to change my life.

(Take a chill pill, girl.)

And I feel like that was basically a therapy session for myself. xD It is really nice, though, to be able to scroll through goodreads and see what I thought about each book I read. I think I’ll really appreciate that in the future.

Now I really want to hear from you—how has 2018 been treating you? What’s your reading life been like? Are you an audiobook lover or ardent hater or somewhere in between? What are some of your favorite books about other cultures?  And do you find it helpful to review books?

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What It’s Like To Be an Enneagram Type One {Part One}

For the past several months I’ve been exploring the Enneagram, a personality typing system that’s become super popular online recently. It actually has a complex history, parts of which stretch back to ancient times, but the modern version of it has been around for about forty years.

“A personality typing system” is barely a flake of snow on top of the tip of the iceberg and I’m sure Enneagram experts would cringe to read that way of putting it, but the point of this post isn’t to explain what the Enneagram is. I’ll list a bunch of resources at the end that give a far better introduction to it than I but basically: it’s one of many tools to help understand yourself better, and it’s been an immense blessing to me recently.

I am a type one in the system, and I wanted to record some thoughts about what it’s like to be that type. I’m hoping to make it a series, with my Enneagram thoughts sprinkled in among my other more normal posts. Some may be factual, others more like creative writing. We’ll see what it ends up looking like. Maybe it will help people who are trying to figure out what type they are, or maybe it will help people understand the type ones around them better.

Big DISCLAIMER: you absolutely don’t have to know anything about the Enneagram or what a type one is to appreciate these posts. They’re basically just journal entries, snippets from my many musings.

Okay, enough intro. Lez do this.


 { what it’s like to be an Enneagram type one, part one }

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A little girl in a wispy dress stands in front of a broken-down hotel.

A tall hotel. Stories upon stories, looming over her. Whole sections of walls torn away, as if gouged out by some monster’s hand. Wires and pipes spilling out like disemboweled guts, mangled and tangled. Windows with jagged teeth of shattered glass or completely empty, like the eyes of the dead.

The whole structure leans precariously. Maybe it will simply crumble and crush her.

But that’s not all. Inside? Inside, it’s worse. Dust clogging drains, mattresses torn apart, stuffing littering the floor, splintered chairs blocking doors, sinks so covered in rust you can’t turn the handles, curtains and sheets tangled together, heaps of broken wood and foul laundry and little bolts and screws hopelessly lost.

The floors sag in some spots. In others, actual holes yawn above piles of debris after one room’s content fell into another’s.

Maybe it was an earthquake. Maybe it’s a recently deserted war zone. That will have to be sorted out later. For now, the little girl stands before it.

In one hand, she holds a hammer. It is heavy for her, and her arm droops.

In the other, she holds a pile of nails. Maybe ten. Some are bent. Some are straight. It doesn’t really matter. Ten nails and two small hands are not nearly enough to make even one small dent in fixing this brokenness.

But she has to try.

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{ my favorite Enneagram resources }

Websites:

The Enneagram Institute (history, detailed type descriptions, overview of how the whole thing works)

If You’re Confused About Your Enneagram Type, Read This (HIGHLY RECOMMENDED—a great introduction and what helped me first realize I was a one)

Books:

The Road Back to You by Ian Cron and Suzanne Stabile (super funny and readable with tons of info on each type)

The Sacred Enneagram by Chris Heuertz (looking at the Enneagram specifically through the lens of prayer & the best way for each type to connect with God; some really great in-depth stuff but probably better after you have some familiarity with the system)

Podcasts:

Typology with Ian Cron; The Enneagram Journey with Suzanne Stabile; The Road Back to You with Ian Cron and Suzanne Stabile (all of these feature interviews with people of each type)

The Sleeping At Last Podcast with Ryan O’Neal (Ryan is writing a song for each type and his podcasts explain both about that type and how he wrote that type’s song)

Other:

Beth McCord (@yourenneagramcoach) on Instagram (specifically Christian approach to the Enneagram; she picks one topic, like how to love well or what happens when you’re stressed, and does a separate post for each type)

I’m always up for a chat about the Enneagram, whether you know a lot or nothing about it, whether you love it or you hate it. =D 


make my messes matter

make this chaos count 

~ “Jupiter”, Sleeping At Last


 

reaching out (to bridge an ocean)

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When I reach out for you

The first fumbling stretch,

The tiniest twitch of a finger

As if to bridge a vast ocean

Or pierce the atmosphere and extend into the cosmos,

Like it would take light years just to reach your outer rim—

What a surprise to make that miniscule move

And brush against you,

My trembling fingertips against your scarred palm,

You, right here,

Your hand stretched out to me since the day it formed me,

Your arm, the bridge over the endless void between us,

Shrinking space like an inverse red shift

To carry me home to your heart 

Less than one breath away—

You, always the first to reach out for me

Paris: Poems & Pictures

(Can we all just pause for a moment and bask in the alliterative glory of that title? Okay, thanks.) 

So two weeks ago we visited Paris. It was entirely spontaneous, and I’m still kind of reeling from the fact that it actually happened. I was going to do a big picture & general itinerary post for it like I did with London and Scotland, but while there, my thoughts kept running off to deep pools of metaphysical musings. Maybe the spontaneity shook up my linear thinking or it’s just the effect of Paris. For whatever reason, I’m glad, and I figured I’d share some of those thoughts with you. Whether they all constitute poetry or not you can decide. And never fear, I included plenty of photos as well. I couldn’t resist. =D As always, click on one photo in the slideshow to see them all bigger. 


The Trip Itself

We were planning on visiting Paris

 

But then we found out that train tickets for seven people 

__Were way too expensive

____And we figured that London was more than enough

 

But then my mom was reading a book about the Impressionists

__And she mentioned to my dad how sad she was

____That she wouldn’t get to see their paintings in person

 

So then my dad started thinking that trains aren’t the only way to go places

__And how maybe driving for six hours would be worth it

____And we could stay at a cheap military hotel

 

And then my dad remembered that he had a long weekend

__And our plan-a-year-in-advance mom suggested

____Why don’t we go this weekend?

 

And just like that

All of a sudden

We’re going to Paris!

 

There is so much about my life right now that hurts,

So many dreams in little piles of ash around the perimeter of these past two years,

But don’t let me forget this,

That we can just drive—

To Paris!

* * * 

Giverny

Before heading into the city itself, we stop at Giverny, the home of the famous Impressionist painter Claude Monet. We’ve been here before, nine or ten years ago when we were living in Germany for the first time. We took photos of my mom on the green bridge in his Japanese garden––you know, the bridge that’s the subject of his most famous painting. The bridge over the water lily pond. My mom loves that painting so much she has a tapestry of it. So anyway, we uploaded those precious photos onto the computer and then–– you guessed it––the computer crashed. We couldn’t salvage anything, and all the Paris and Giverny photos disappeared into the void of irretrievable computer data.

But now we’re back, this unexpected gift, and the sun is shining on this late April day. Tulip season is almost over, but there are many, many more flowers in Monet’s gardens than tulips. I’m snapping pictures madly, feeling that familiar frustration of not being able to capture what my eyes see. I want to remember—but if that whole losing-the-photos fiasco from last time taught me anything, it’s that you can remember without any pictures. Still, I rush around to record what I can. Photos may not be necessary for memory, but they sure do enhance it. And this time, we’ll back them up in iCloud. 

In Monet’s house, we step into the room where he painted many of his works. I get a little chill, inhabiting the same space he did as he brushed into being such masterpieces. Maybe some spark of his genius and creativity still resides in these walls. Maybe some of it will rub off on me.

Back in the gardens, the sun is bright and the colors brighter, and I grab my phone to record the words spinning around in my head. A riot. A riot of—of color, of beauty. A riot of life. A celebration of life. I’ve been to many gardens in Europe but I’ve never seen any like Monet’s. There is something special here, in the long rows laden with flowers upon flowers of all different kinds. It was like he couldn’t get enough, like he just kept tossing seeds, wanting more. More color, more variety, more beauty, more life. I keep coming back to that word riot. And the word celebration. Something not quite tame and certainly not prim and proper.

I tap onto my phone: exuberant, not taming nature but doing just enough to bring out its fullest potential. If I ever have a garden, I wanted to be like this: Nothing manicured or pruned to perfection. I want my hand be barely visible. I want the plants to dance together in this wild way. Exuberant. Joyous.

* * * 

Musée du Louvre

At the Louvre I walk around and look at all the paintings. Duh. Of course. What else do you look at in an art gallery?

Ah, well, there’s the question. I find myself looking at far more than paintings. My attention keeps getting drawn away from the people in the portraits to the people in this present moment, pressing around me. Sometimes, I’m aware of them because of how they annoy me. I mean, you are at least six feet tall, what on earth would possess you to stand in front of the pygmies like me?? If you stood behind me, you’d be able to see the painting just fine. And so would I.

But other times, when I’m tucked away in a corner and safely out of reach of bumping bodies, I feel kinder. I notice their faces, I notice who is in a group and who is alone. I try to notice, at least. It’s hard to truly notice anything.

Forget the mysteries behind Mona’s smile and the backstory to that crumbling statue over there. What I want to know is:

Which paintings catch your eye?

Why do you stop at the pieces you do and what do you see there? 

How will what you see here change you, inspire you? 

What other pieces of art will be birthed from this experience? 

How will you remember this place? 

What kind of mark will it leave on you? Will it leave a mark at all?

I want to know the story behind every closer look, behind every brisk gait, behind all the glazed tourist eyes, the rapt expressions, the bored-to-tears slouches. I want to know what you will do when you leave this place, out to a nearby café, back to your hotel room or house, into the coming years.

I want to know if any of this matters. I want to know how these smears of oil and chunks of rock touch living beings and invisible souls. I want to know what it means to leave a legacy, to change the world, to live abundantly.

I keep looking.

* * *  

Dôme des Invalides 

It is starting to drizzle when we enter the lofty church that houses Napoleon’s tomb. Inside, it is like most cathedrals—a soaring dome, grand pillars, smooth marble floors, a gold-encrusted alter at the back. But right beneath the highest point of the dome in the very center, where ordinarily rows of pews would sit, the floor gapes open.

We lean against the railing and peer down into a large circular pit, a well from which you can draw not water but history and legend. In the center of the crypt is a huge wooden coffin on a granite dias, all of it probably more than twice my height. The tiles around it are painted to look like a laurel wreath, and twelve tall statues of Grecian-looking figures face the coffin with somber, reverent faces.

I’m not prepared for how massive the coffin is, for how massive all of it is. Four huge, winding pillars of blue and white marble that looks like foam tossed on a windy sea surround the altar in the back, gold gleaming from their tops and bases. It’s just so…much. I hadn’t realized how highly the French people still hold him.

My shoes make small noises on the marble floor that get lost quickly in the vast dome above me. The weight of history hangs majestic here in the spaciousness. There is a reason why the Latin word for serious—gravis—also means heavy. We mortals rush about in jeans and sneakers clutching our Nikons and Canons, wondering what makes a human worthy of these tall temples, worthy of remembering in this way, worthy of remembering at all.

Napoleon is still very much remembered. Will he still be in 500 years? Does he deserve to be? Do I want to be remembered like this? Will there even be 500 more years?

We long for splendor, for legends, for heroes. I do not think those are wrong desires. But we also long to be gods. To be God. Do we know when we have crossed the line?

We exit the hushed solemnity, crawling like ants under the looming doors. No one pressed about the wall staring into the crypt notices us leave. Outside, rain stains the streets, and we hurry to catch the metro to have dinner with some friends who happen to be staying here for a while. They are studying the language to be missionaries here. We talk about what it’s like to live overseas and how God has a habit of disrupting our plans, to our discomfort—and to his glory.

Maybe Napoleon was glorious, but even he could not weave the fate of the world into a banner that displays his glory forever.

The Bibliophile Sweater Tag

It’s been literal years since I’ve done a tag, but when I saw this one on Abi’s blog, I knew it was time to remedy that. And yes, I know that it’s not exactly sweater season anymore unless you live wayyyy up north (or wayyyy down south where they crank up the air conditioning to Antarctic temperatures) but this tag is just irresistible.

By the way, Abi didn’t tag anyone specifically but I still want to give her a shoutout for introducing me to this tag and for having such an awesome blog (seriously, her posts always make me want to cheer. Go check her out.). And of course a huge shoutout to Mary at sunshine and scribblings who created this tag. I love it so much, Mary! It’s brilliant. (Like, polka dot sweater and well-rounded characters? So good.)

I decided to only feature books that I own, which then inspired me to take pictures of all of them, so enjoy these little scenes. Also, taking a brilliant cue from Katie Grace, the titles are linked to goodreads see you can easily add them to your TBR if you so desire. =D

Okay! Don your (real or imaginary) sweaters and let’s start talking about books.

Fuzzy sweater

a book that is the epitome of comfort

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The Penderwicks by Jeanne Birdsall 

I first read this book over ten years ago while on vacation at the beach. I remember being sprawled on this huge bed with sunlight streaming around me and the sound of seagulls in the distance. *wistful sigh* The beach …

Anyway. Books. Right. This book captured my heart, and I have come back to it many, many times. There’s something so pure and beautiful about it—while having great, realistic characters with hilarious, snort-inducing moments. Whenever I want that warm, happy glow that well-loved books and fond memories give, I turn to this one.

(Also apparently the fifth and last book of the series is coming out next month?? I just found this out recently, and it’s basically made my spring.)

Striped sweater

book which you devoured every line of

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Mistborn by Brandon Sanderson

This one was tough. I mean, most of the books on my bookshelf are ones I devoured every line of. I almost chose The King of Attolia by Megan Whalen Turner but I figured you guys are probably sick of hearing about that series so I abstained. (Kind of. I am mentioning it now. ANYWAY.)

But then I saw my Mistborn set sitting there, and there really was no other option. I remember getting a Kindle sample of it to start reading while I waited for the physical copy to come in at the library. I remember getting totally absorbed in it only to be cruelly jerked out of the story when the sample came to an end. It was quite a tragic experience. Fortunately, the book arrived soon after. Whenever I had to stop reading this series because of this annoying thing called life (like, who cares about dinner when Allomancy exists?), it felt like coming up for air after diving deep in the ocean for hours. There are very few, if any, other books that have so engrossed me like these ones. If you can read Brandon Sanderson without becoming obsessed, that’s quite a feat.

Ugly Christmas sweater

book with a weird cover

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Notes From the Tilt-a-Whirl by N. D. Wilson

Don’t get me wrong: this is an amazing book. I’m slowly making my way through it, trying to savor every word, and N. D. Wilson is just as poetic and insightful as ever. But this cover is just not my favorite. Bright pink is never my thing, and combine that with funky cowboy-ish tight lettering in a weird mauve shade with a strip of a picture showing half of a random person’s head at the bottom … yeah. I’m honestly not super into carnivals and the like, so that may explain it. Plus I feel like it looks gaudy and juvenile while the actual content is profound and beautiful—although that may actually be the point. But still. I think maybe he could have made the point in a more aesthetically pleasing way.

Cashmere sweater

most expensive book you’ve bought

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A Poem for Every Day of the Year compiled by Allie Esiri 

I’m not 100% sure that this is the most expensive book I’ve bought, but because I got it in England, I figured that the pounds-to-dollars conversion puts it pretty high on the list. This is technically a kid’s book (I got in the kid’s section, at least, which does NOT mean you have to be a kid to enjoy it but that’s a post for another time) but there are some pretty sophisticated poems in it and who says adults can’t enjoy a fun cover and big font? Allie Esiri, the compiler, writes a little introduction to each poem, either explaining why she picked the poem for that day or giving some background on it. There’s a great range of poetry in it, from short limericks to epic classics. I’ve been wanting to read more poetry, and this is a really easy way to do it.

Hoodie

favorite classic book

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Middlemarch by George Eliot

AHHHHHHH. This was the hardest question for me. I’m not going to tell you how long I stood in front of the huge bookshelf in our basement that’s dedicated just to classics and agonized over which to pick. I have to throw out the caveat that this is not my absolute favorite classic; such a thing does not exist. It is but one of several favorites.

And oh, it is so good. If you haven’t read it yet, take the plunge. I know it’s big and wordy and kind of has that negative association with school, but it’s beautiful. The way she portrays people and community, her insights into human nature and relationships and art and work … agh. ❤ It’s hard to describe or summarize it, but if you give it a chance, it will move and change you. And also, I mean, it’s a good story. There is excitement and suspense and tragedy and all that. *vigorous nodding*

Cardigan

book that you bought on impulse

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Falling Leaves by Adeline Yen Mah

I have to say, I don’t buy many things on impulse (I’m a Judger in the Myers Briggs system, yo). I rarely buy books I haven’t read yet, much less books I haven’t heard of at all. I saw this one on a rack outside a used book store in London (Charing Cross Road, anyone?). It was only one pound (the monetary unit, not weight XD) and it looked intriguing, so I grabbed it. And it was intriguing, although rather depressing too. It’s the memoir of a woman who grew up in an emotionally abusive home in China during the tumult of Mao’s Revolution. I’m ashamed to say I know so little about China, both its history and its culture. One book won’t change that, but it was a good peek into world I want to learn more about. At the same time, Adeline is a person just like any of us, and I ached for the pain she went through (although it’s always hard to tell exactly how fair or honest someone is being when looking back on their life and telling their own side of the story).

Turtleneck sweater

book from your childhood

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Carry On, Mr. Bowditch by Jean Lee Latham

Allllll the nostalgia and memories that come with this question. *dances happily down Memory Lane* Whenever people talk about books from my childhood, I immediately think of my dad reading Narnia to me. But I wanted to do something different this time, so I chose Carry On, Mr. Bowditch. My mom read this one to me when I was probably eight. It’s one of the first books that I really loved. I was so inspired by Nate, all the obstacles he overcame, his natural intelligence, how he saved the lives of so many people through his books on navigation. I think it’s also one of the first books I read with real tragedy in it. But there was real joy and hope too, and that’s an important combination for a kid’s book (or any book, for that matter).

Homemade knitted sweater

book that is Indie-published

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Pendragon’s Heir by Suzannah Rowntree

So I googled the difference between being self-published and indie-published, and it left me still a little confused and still unsure whether I actually own a book that is indie-published. Can anyone help me here? In the absence of a concrete definition, I went with this one. If it is in fact self-published I deeply apologize. No offense was intended.

In all seriousness, though, I love this book. It has a legend/lore/timeless feel to it, if you know what I mean. The prose is lovely, the themes are powerful, and the plot was complex and intriguing. It’s an original retelling of the story of King Arthur, and I think anyone who enjoys high fantasy would love it.

V-neck sweater

book that did not meet your expectations

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The Vanderbeekers of 141st Street by Karina Yan Glaser

I went into this book with expectations that might dwarf a skyscraper. It came highly praised by both The Read Aloud Revival and WORLD magazine, two of my most trusted resources for book recommendations (among other things). And it was good. I didn’t hate it. Not by a long shot. I love stories of families and multiple siblings, and the theme of having to move is one near to my heart (although I have to admit, at times I thought they were rather wimpy—they weren’t even going to leave the state! Good grief, they have nothing to complain about!). Plus, it’s set in New York City. That automatically grants it big points in my book (no pun intended).

But I don’t know, guys, it just didn’t have that indescribable element that really moved and changed me. It was a sweet, interesting story, but that was it. It’s missing something that I can’t put my finger on. I heard some people comparing to The Penderwicks or All-of-a-Kind Family, but for me, it didn’t have the same magic or charm or long-lasting impact. It might just be me, and it’s most likely a result of my exorbitant expectations, but there you have it.

Argyle sweater

book with a unique format

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Out of Africa by Isak Dinesen 

I’m going with the interpretation of format that Mary used: story format versus layout/visual format. Out of Africa isn’t even really a story in the fictional sense––it’s the nonfiction memoir of an European woman who owned a coffee plantation in Africa in the 1900s. But it’s not just your typical memoir, going chapter by chapter through her life or centered around one theme. Instead, she breaks it into five parts that have no related chronology. One part centers around a specific event that took place over a couple of weeks, while another describes various people she met over the course of her whole time in Africa. One section is a collection of notes on African wildlife and short, random anecdotes about life on her farm. It’s like reading five mini books in one. It’s quite fascinating, and her prose is lovely, but it’s an unusual layout. Hence its inclusion here.

Polka dot sweater

a book with well-rounded characters

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Every Soul a Star by Wendy Mass

Surprisingly, I had trouble thinking of books for this one. I think it’s because I overanalyzed what “well-rounded” means. (Episode #1,986 in Abby’s Overly Analytic Adventures). Anywho, once I spotted this book on the shelf, I knew it was perfect. I first read it probably ten years ago, and every so often I come back to it. It’s one of those books that I can’t forget, primarily because of the characters. Ally, Jack, and Bree are so different but Mass manages to make each compelling and sympathetic. I love watching how they each change and mature and the unlikely friendships that form between them. They’re just, ugh, so relatable and realistic and special and beautiful and I wish they were my friends. I know this is a contemporary children’s/ya book written by a popular author, and I don’t tend to read a lot of those. But I’m so glad I picked up this one. You all should too. *pokes* (Plus, who doesn’t love eclipses??)

So there you go! I’m not going to tag anyone, but if you want to do it please feel free (and link back to me because I want to see your answers =D)! If you don’t do the whole tag, let me know in the comments what some of your answers would be and if you’ve read any of the ones I’ve picked. *hands out tea because tea and sweaters go well together*

Current Velocity : Zero

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i.

You are a leaf caught in an eddy

All motion and no progression

Spun around in a sickening swirl that leads to

Nowhere

 

You are a boot lodged in quicksand

Your owner and twin have escaped

The vicious vacuum, running away while you remain

Stuck

 

You are an astronaut lost in space

Cut loose from any anchor,

Adrift in a cold that doesn’t care and leaves you

Numb

 

ii.

Have you ever stood still on a street in November

While the leaves rush past you,

Smacking against your legs as they dance 

In the wind that is never strong enough to pick you up?

 

Have you ever stood still as a wave crests,

The carpet of sand yanked out from beneath your feet,

Letting the wall of water smash around you

Before it scurries up the shore without a backward glance?

 

Have you ever stood still in a crowd in some big city,

All these voices of all these people with all these plans,

A hurricane of progress and passion perfecting all of the world’s problems,

And here you are, in the eye, passive and purposeless?

 

Have you ever stood still?

 

iii.

Have you ever felt like the whole world is moving but you?

Like you could invent your own laws of motion—

As everyone else speeds up, I slow down.

 

Have you ever felt like a character in a bad dream?

The one where your sneakers are glued to the street

And the bad guy is coming and you want to run

And everyone else is running

And you

Just

Can’t

Move

 

iv.

If an external force

Is what it takes

To make mass move

Then please—

Save me from

This massive mess

And set me speeding

Because I have not

Stayed in rest,

I have been stuck there

And, oh God,

I want my velocity

To be greater than zero

Going on an Adventure: London

Last week my family and I went to London, and I had so much fun compiling pictures of our trips to Keukenhof and Scotland that I thought I’d do the same thing this time.

But wait. Let me backtrack and repeat that first statement: I got to visit London. I don’t know, that just feels really crazy and exciting?? I’ve never been a Great Britain fangirl, but London is one of the most famous cities in the world and it’s got so much amazing history.

We were only there for three full days, and we packed in a lot. Shoutout to my little sisters for keeping up with us and never complaining as we dragged them all over the city. Another one to the London Underground which was a whole lot of fun (except for that one time) and cemented my love for big cities and public transportation.

Although I was dealing with a nasty bout of food poisoning at the beginning of the trip, I healed in time to enjoy afternoon tea at a fancy restaurant. Honestly, guys, the scones were my favorite part of the entire trip. People always gripe about the food in the UK, but both times I’ve been there, I actually really enjoyed the food. For one thing, there are warm scones with lemon curd and clotted cream melting inside (okay, I know lemon curd and clotted cream don’t have the most appetizing names, but they really are SO. GOOD.). Then there are meat pies, shortbread, homemade stovies, and all things toffee. And I personally like fish and chips, as long as it’s not too greasy. All that to say: give the food in the UK a chance, folks. And if you can, do an afternoon tea somewhere. I recommend mint tea; it was delicious (and quite kind to my recently healed stomach). Also, life hack: Starbucks, bless them, sells amazing gingerbread biscuits which are a lifesaver if you ever get a stomach bug while traveling.

Besides the scones, another highlight was Westminster Abbey. It feels annoyingly cliché to say that, but I truly loved it. We went to Evensong there one night, and we got to sit in the elevated pews right next to the choir. The next day, we took the tour. It was a zoo, and the bathrooms are right next to the exit, so I had to walk through the maze twice. However, it’s quite pretty and it gave me a chance to read as many grave markers is possible. (Maybe that’s why I liked it so much––all the morbidity. Mwahaha.) My heart literally skipped a beat when I saw the William Wilberforce statue, and I read his entire epigraph even though I got some glares from more pragmatic and less sentimental tourists. WILLIAM WILBERFORCE, guys. If you were to ask me who one of my heroes is, I would immediately say him. I freaked out (internally, don’t worry) again when I got to Poet’s Corner and saw names like Dickens, Austin, Handel, Gerard Manley Hopkins, Robert Louis Stevenson, T. S. Eliot, Kipling, and more. I felt proper American pride that there was even a bust of Longfellow, put there apparently by “the English admirers of an American poet.” Plus, I got to see the tombs of Isaac Newton and Lord Kelvin and Ernest Rutherford and all these amazing scientists!? Also David Livingstone, who has a cool last name. Westminster Abbey made my simultaneously nerdy and artsy heart happy.

Other highlights: the statue of John Donne in St. Paul’s Cathedral; spending one evening eating in a bookstore café and then browsing the store (we ended up adding at least 50 pounds to our suitcases); van Gogh paintings in the National Gallery; wandering around little side streets, the best part of every big city, honestly; shopping with my mom in Greenwich Market; and straddling the line of the prime meridian. The one big downside: they were renovating Big Ben, so the whole thing was covered in scaffolding. Oh well. It gives me an excuse to go back someday.

But enough chitchat. Here are the photos. *insert plug for iPhones and their awesome cameras* Click on them to see them bigger and read the captions. =D

Have you ever been to London? If you have, what was your favorite thing about it? If not, what do you dream of seeing or doing there (if you dream about London at all, I don’t want to assume)?

Words for the Holy Week

I wanted to write something for Easter, but it just wasn’t working. The well of words ran dry. And you know what? That’s okay. I don’t always have to say something great to commemorate a special time or interact with issues I care about or––well, basically, I don’t always have to say something, period. That’s something I’ve been learning recently. And I guess I did just say something by saying that. Oh well.

The point is: for this Easter, I’m showing up not as a creator but as a connoisseur. I selected some of my favorite songs and quotes for each day of the Holy Weekend. (Is that a thing? I know Holy Week is, but I’m not sure about the weekend. It should be anyhow.) Most of the songs and quotes relate directly to the events of each day, but some are a little more, idk, less obviously about Easter, especially for Saturday. But the cool thing about Easter story is how deeply it has permeated all of art, not just explicitly Easter stuff.

I hope these words can make Easter little more real and meaningful to you this year. ❤

i. friday | weep

For all the pain you suffered, my mama. For all the torment of your past and future years, my mama. For all the anguish this picture of pain will cause you. For the unspeakable mystery that brings good fathers and sons into the world and lets a mother watch them tear at each other’s throats. For the Master of the Universe, whose suffering world I do not comprehend. For dreams of horror, for nights of waiting, for memories of death, for the love I have for you, for all the things I remember, and for all the things I should remember but have forgotten, for all these I created this painting—an observant Jew working on a crucifixion because there was no aesthetic mold in his own religious tradition into which he could pour a painting of ultimate anguish and torment.

~ Chaim Potok, My Name Is Asher Lev


More I recall not, yet the vision spread
Into a world remote, an age to come­
And still the illumined name of Jesus shed
A light, a clearness, through the enfolding gloom­
And still I saw that sign, which now I see,
That cross on yonder brow of Calvary.

What is this Hebrew Christ ? To me unknown,
His lineage—­doctrine—­mission—­yet how clear,
Is God-like goodness, in his actions shewn!
How straight and stainless is his life’s career!
The ray of Deity that rests on him,
In my eyes makes Olympian glory dim.

~ Charlotte Bronte, “Pilate’s Wife’s Dream”


He was pierced and scourged and mocked. He was cursed and raised up on a tree, but He was in that ancient pose of victory.

An old man on a hill, a blind man between two pillars, the God Man on a cross.

Glory is sacrifice, glory is exhaustion, glory is having nothing left to give.

Almost.

It is death by living.

The earth shook. The roof came down. The world changed. The armies fled.

That Moses kept his hands up.

~ N. D. Wilson, Death By Living

Last Words (Tenebrae) | Andrew Peterson

Today you will be with me in Paradise
You will be with me today

How Love Wins | Steven Curtis Chapman

This is how love wins
Every single time
Climbing high upon a tree
Where someone else should die

Mercy’s War | Jon Foreman

Oh, the wonderful blood of Jesus
Maker is unmade
Love succums to hate
Life himself is slain

ii. saturday | wait

“Belief isn’t simply a thing for times and bright days, I think. What is belief—what is faith––if you don’t continue it after failure? … Anyone can believe in someone, or something, that always succeeds, Mistress. But failure…ah, now, that is hard enough to believe in, certainly and truly. Difficult enough to have value, I think.”

~ Brandon Sanderson, Mistborn: The Final Empire


“All that is made seems planless to the darkened mind, because there are more plans than it looked for.”

~ C. S. Lewis, Perelandra


You never know how much you really believe anything until its truth of falsehood becomes a matter of life and death to you. It is easy to say you believe a rope to be strong and sound as long as you are merely using it to cord a box. But suppose you had to hang by that rope over a precipice. Wouldn’t you then first discover how much you really trusted it?

~ C. S. Lewis, A Grief Observed

God Rested | Andrew Peterson

So they took His body down
The man who said He was the resurrection and the life
Was lifeless on the ground
The sky was red as blood along the blade of night

Remember When It Rained | Josh Groban

Oh, remember when it rained.
Felt the ground and looked up high
And called your name.
Oh, remember when it rained.
In the darkness I remain.

There Is a Plan | Twila Paris

It was a very dark time
It was a very dark place
There was a visible force
And an invisible grace

iii. sunday | wonder

“Oh, you’re real, you’re real! Oh, Aslan!” cried Lucy, and both girls flung themselves upon him and covered him with kisses.

“But what does it all mean?” asked Susan when they were somewhat calmer.

“It means,” said Aslan, “that though the Witch knew the Deep Magic, there is a magic deeper still which she did not know. Her knowledge goes back only to the dawn of time. But if she could have looked a little further back, into the stillness and the darkness before Time dawned, she would have read there a different incantation. She would have known that when a willing victim who had committed no treachery was killed in a traitor’s stead, the Table would crack and Death itself would start working backward.”

~ C. S. Lewis, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe


For like a shaft, clear and cold, the thought pierced him that in the end the Shadow was only a small and passing thing: there was light and high beauty for ever beyond its reach.

~ J. R. R. Tolkein, The Return of the King


What seemed to the disciples the final acme of disappointment and grief, the vanishing of his body itself, was in reality the first sign of the dawn of an illimitable joy. He was not there because he had risen.

~ George MacDonald, Miracles of Our Lord

Alive | Natalie Grant

Alive! Alive!
Look what Mercy’s overcome
Death has lost and Love has won

Christ is Risen, He Is Risen Indeed | Keith and Kristyn Getty

For joy awakes as dawning light
When Christ’s disciples lift their eyes.
Alive He stands, their Friend and King;
Christ, Christ He is risen.

Hosanna | Andrew Peterson

You have crushed beneath your heel the vile serpent
You have carried to the grave the black stain
You have torn apart the temple’s holy curtain
You have beaten Death at Death’s own game

PSA: Andrew Peterson (who, you may have noticed, got a lot of showtime in this post) came out with a new album today, called Resurrection Letters, Vol. I. It’s all about the resurrection (no kidding) and I am insanely excited for it. He also released a five song prologue to it all about the crucifixion––I used two of those songs for Friday and Saturday here––and you can listen to them at this YouTube playlist.

Have you listened to/read any of these before? What are some of your favorite songs and quotes about Easter? How are you celebrating this year?

a thousand little things

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Photo by Roberto Nickson (@g) on Unsplash

Sometimes if I look at my life objectively I feel overwhelmed. Sometimes in those empty spaces in the day when I realize that this is my life and it is not what I had expected, I want to despair. Sometimes I wake up and swing my feet onto the floor and wonder how on earth I find the strength to get out of bed.

Sometimes I interrogate myself as if I am a stranger looking from the outside in, and I ask:

What is it that keeps you going?

It’s friends answering your pain with song recommendations, sometimes more meaningful than encouraging words. It’s those lists of songs that feel like a long-distance hug.

It’s exploring a new personality typing system and the excitement of diving into something new. But more than that, it’s the tears that come because you finally, finally understand what you are struggling with and why and how to fight it. It’s knowing that you are not alone and you are not crazy and you are not broken beyond repair.

It’s wrapping a blanket around your shoulders and it feels both like a hug and like armor.

It’s salads for lunch—healthy but yummy, something you can look forward to and not feel the least bit guilty about.

It’s little sisters asking you to say goodnight to them every night. It’s their cards hanging on your wall and their stuffed animals decorating the house and their voices filling the air. It’s what they never say but you always hear: We like you, just as you are.

It’s your room with everything put away, all the surfaces clear, everything clean and neat and the way you want to be. It’s a glimpse of perfection in this messy world.

It’s worn stone and moss beneath your bare feet, cold and smooth and somehow soft.

It’s the necklace that is exactly your style and makes you feel happy and pretty whenever you wear it. It’s the kind of thing you always wanted without knowing you did.

It’s biking into the driveway after a long day of work and seeing lights on inside. It’s opening the door to warmth and welcomes and the wonder of having a safe place to come home to.

It’s the sight of your bookshelf gleaming in the late afternoon sun.

It’s the little mementos around your room that remind you of loved ones and beautiful places and experiences you can’t believe you got to have.

It’s connecting with a friend you haven’t heard from in a while. It’s a friend writing you just when you realized it’s been a while and felt that old familiar guilt over not being a good enough friend.

It’s the excitement of checking football scores, the gift of something just plain fun on cold, mundane January days.

It’s having to stay at work for a little longer than planned and realizing that you don’t mind, that you like being here, that this has become a safe place.

It’s someone who stops in their busy day to ask you how you’re doing. It’s someone who called you by your name and looks you in the eyes. It’s someone who smiles and waves.

It’s songs of lament that make you cry and then fade to silence and realize that there is a glimmer of hope that hadn’t been there before.

It’s washing the dishes after dinner, standing there with the warm water and sparkling soapsuds and your favorite band playing in the background. It’s the knowledge that being able to do this is a blessing, being able to stand here and work and make this corner of the world the little cleaner, a little better.

It’s inside jokes and shared memories and spontaneously breaking out into the same chorus at the same time.

It’s hearing someone on a podcast mention one of your favorite book series and you grinning like crazy, ridiculously excited that someone else loves it too.

What is it that keeps you going?

It’s a thousand little things seeping through the jagged edges of my life, finding their way through the cracks, forging a path in the dark—

It’s a thousand little things, and it’s one thing.

It’s grace.

For from His fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. | John 1:16