Thursday, July 31, 2008

Jambo the Giraffe

We just got back from a concert by our 2nd favorite band. What's our favorite band? You wouldn't know them. They're so Indy. In fact, they're so Indy that their jeans are so tight that the whole band collapsed, black graphic Ts with bird silhouettes and all, into a black hole.

Rough Draft is my second favorite band they're so deep. Just take Jambo the Giraffe. Many people don't know the story of Jambo the Giraffe and why he graces the front of Rough Draft's Indy graphic T. Let me tell you.

Jambo the Giraffe grew up a happy giraffe, that is, happy for a giraffe growing up far away from Africa on the Colorado plains. No one knew just how he had gotten there, but there he was. He played with all the horses of the field, but he couldn't help noticing that he was different.

His neck was longer than the other horses. He didn't have a long swishing tail for all those pesky horseflies. And he had the copper patches any non-reticulated giraffe would be proud of in Zambia.

But Jambo wasn't in Zambia; he was in Colorado. The other little horses called him names like "Long-Necked Bottle" (this was in the time that settlers in Colorado were still listening to Garth Brooks) and "Jambo-No-Tail" and "Non-Reticulated Camelopardalis." It made Jambo very sad.

He got dreadful neckaches from bending his slender neck to chomp on the prairie grasses (which were honestly never very satisfying), and when the others had horse races, they'd laugh at the way his neck bobbed when he ran.

Jambo though to himself, "I must be a mistake. I'm just all wrong."

But one day, the horses and Jambo wandered to the little village of Fort Collins. They saw tall leafy trees standing over the river. Trees taller than any of the sad plains trees they'd ever seen. He didn't know why, but Jambo found himself running toward the trees and gobbling up all their fresh tasty leaves. The other horses just looked on. They couldn't reach the leaves to taste how delicious they were.

The horses and Jambo continued on, down to Old Town Square. As they clipped and clopped through the Square, they they saw a big copper still outside of Coopersmith's. They all wondered what it was. Jambo was just tall enough and his tongue was just long enough to lap up the delicious root beer inside.

As the horses clip-clopped back home under the stars that night, Jambo realized, "My spots aren't so bad. And my long neck helps me eat leaves!" And he was right. Jambo was never a mistake. Sure, he had his bad points, like chewing with his mouth open, but he was still a masterpiece, maybe just a rough draft of a masterpiece.

And you know what? Jambo the Giraffe is just like you. Your ears might seem larger than absolutely necessary or your voice squeakier than you would prefer. But God made you right just the way you are. We, none of us, are perfect. We're being crafted each day to be more and more like the masterpieces we were created to be, long necks and all. We're more like rough drafts.

And that's why there are Giraffes on Rough Draft's Ts.

Or maybe one night they had drank a few too many Mountain Dews and started saying their name over and over, like one sometimes does with silly words.

Roughdraftroughdraftroughdraftroughdraftroughdraftroughdraftroughdraft. Until finally it sounded more like roughdraftroughdraftroughdraftgiraffegiraffegiraffe.

You decide.

If all this touching talk of being different has touched your soul, watch this video for an inspirational song.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

He's Got a Lot of Pluck

I just finished Three Cups of Tea. Not actual cups of tea, the book about a man who builds schools for children, including girls, in Pakistan and Afgahistan.

This guy has got a lot of pluck, and I can't help but love it. Here's the scene: He's just failed an attempt at climbing K2, one of the jewels of a mountain climber's crown, and has stumbled, lost and starving, into a northern Pakistan town. After being nursed to health by the impoverished village's hospitality, he puts his hands on the leader's shoulders, and promises to build them a school. (Image courtesy Greg Mortenson, Central Asia Institute)

Did I mention this guy is a virtually unemployed climbing bum and lives out of his car in San Francisco?

We all dream of doing great things. Once I get a degree and some cash in the bank, I'm really gonna make a difference. Once I've put in a couple years at this company, I'm gonna pursue that dream. Once I've, once I've, once I've.

Not this crazy guy. He doesn't know anything about building schools. He doesn't know much about the culture, other than what a climber picks up. Sleeping in his car, he seems like a good beneficiary for charity, rather than the benefactor. But he just seems to have seen the situation differently from how one of us "normal" people would have. He didn't see any of these obstacles, but only the need to do something. He naively wrote 580 letters to people like Oprah and Tom Brokaw and Susan Sarandon, asking for help. He actually believed that a guy without any background, credentials, or money could do something.

And it worked.

Now the Central Asian Institute, which he started, has begun dozens of schools in a part of the world where education was not an option for many children and most girls.

Of course, there's a lot to be said for careful planning and study. He did end up getting kidnapped once and had his school supplies hijacked another time for lack of foresight. And it does help to have an understanding of development before rushing out to "develop" other communities. (Sometimes our well-intentioned hurried aid can have unintentional negative impacts.)

But I still have to love a guy who has a crazy idea...and just does it. And he hasn't quit. If he is impulsive, he's also resilient. Now 15 years later, he's still committed every single day to that promise he impulsively made many years ago, upon seeing a need.

I hope to be like this guy. Not the kidnapping thing. But the ability to look beyond limitations, to not be blinded by obstacles. To have vision and dreams bigger than any of my fears.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

The Season of My Indifference

First impressions are funny. It's quite comical to hear the misconceptions people gather of me on a first meeting. When I first started at my current job, I heard myself referred to as "the skinny one."

For the record, I have never been "the skinny one." (If you want to make me mad, suggest that I'm at a healthy weight because I'm "naturally skinny," "still young," or "have good genes." I've eaten too many carrots and too few donuts to stomach that nonsense.) Growing up, Tara was the skinny one. In high school, we'd come home after school and watch Days while having our after-school snack. For Tara this would often consist of an entire loaf of bread, toasted and slathered with butter. Yet her gazelle-like legs would stay taut and firm. Innocently following my older sister's lead, my legs became...sturdy. Like a rugby player.

The rest of my adult life has been a see-saw up and down, up and down. I've had to move up a size. And up. And up. And down. And up. It's like an aerobic routine. Fun trivia: I was in Self magazine, featured as someone who lost weight following their fantabulous advice. (I decided to lose weight when my favoritest of friends, upon hearing me whine about my bulging belly, had the audacity to say, completely innocently and sweetly, "Just eat less and work out more." The nerve!)

Then other times in life, I've been the paragon of fitness. Her freshman year of college, Tara would parade me around the UNC campus, her own personal freak show, to show off her sister's legendary calf muscles. (I bulk up easy. I think God designed my body to pull carts or something.)

Other times, I've recorded every last bite down in a little black notebook I still carry in my purse. Counting each calorie and each carrot. Carrots, people, carrots! How sad is it when a girl's gotta count carrots? (Quite symbolically, I burned every last page of recorded food torture last week while camping, as we could find no good kindling at the campsite.)

Other times, I've relaxed happily back into the lap of Kraft Mac and Cheese, and Frosties, and, yes, even the lap of a Dutch Boy.

Other times, I've been lauded for my "self discipline," working out two hours a day. I could almost actually see my abs. Really! Tiny little lines of valleys on my white belly. (Though here's a little secret. "Self discipline" is a sweet label for "neurotic perfectionist control freak.")

So where am I right now? Indifference. Ah, sweet, delicious indifference. I'm licking it off my fingers as I type.

Despite all my talk that my past working out was "to be healthy," now that I'm at a "healthy weight," I really feel no great motivation to work out. Apparently being skinny was my real motivation.

I mean, what's the use of all those big muscles? Just what exactly do I need to bench in life? I can already pick Mike up. Sure, my legs are a bit floppily woppily, but who really cares? So I've spent an indifferent season. Ahem. Seasons. Three to be exact. (Mind you, I'm still an active, healthy person, I hike and walk. I just ate a dinner of zucchini and carrots. I'm just not purposely lifting heavy objects and having wheat germ for breakfast, which healthy-schmeltzy Tara apparently now does.)

I read a blog post today that made me almost want to feel the thrill of hard thighs again. It reminded me of the beauty of cold showers after a hot run. The pride of achievement. The absence of ripples in a smacked thigh.

(Side note: I have not, up to this point, revealed this blog to you. Because she's like the smarter, funnier me. If I get you to start reading her blog, you'll have no use for me anymore. Years from now, you'll be at the annual "Brandy's Bodacious Fan Club Dinner" (to which I was not invited). Over the aperitiff, Jon Hart will say to my mother, "My, my, do you remember how this all got started? We used to read that one girl's blog. What was her name?" My mother replies, "Oh yes, Amber. She was nice. I wonder what she's up to these days. Have you talked to her lately?" "Oh no," replies Jon with a barely noticable look of distaste. "I haven't talked to her in years.")

So is my season of indifference coming to a close? Do I care about jiggly thights? Will Brandy's bodacious post be enough to motivate my indifferent and tired soul? Will I, in fact, get off my tuckus, stop writing blogs all night and firm up that flab?

I guess you'll just have to wait and see.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Meet Jon

Awhile ago, Jon the Hart won my Fingernails that Shine Like Justice contest, which came with the illustrious prize of a poem written just about him.

I've been trying to contain Jon in a poem, but it's just not working. So instead of a poem, I'm simply going to say what we all love about Jon. (That's us 3 years ago. Aren't we fresh faced?)

  • He's smart. But he's not obnoxious about it. (Mike claims that he's smart and he's obnoxious about it, which is why Mike likes him. So, perhaps this just means he's wily.)
  • He's witty.
  • He's funny.
  • He likes food (an important trait in a friend of mine). One of my favorite memories is a dinner we had at his parents' awesome pad in Berthoud. We had fresh vegetables from his mom's garden and pasta and drank port on the patio overlooking Longs.
  • He can fall asleep anywhere. (If you watch a movie with Jon, you just know he'll be gone aobut 5 minutes in.)
  • He reminds me of my husband.
  • He talks on the phone. (I don't know if he talks a lot on the phone, but he calls Mike up to talk. I find that endearing.)
  • He has a great last name. So great, in fact, that his sister's man took her last name, which kind of ticked him off.
  • He goes to musicals. One of the first times I hung out with him was at Aida, to which he had extra tickets for "the ladies."
  • Jon loves the ladies and makes no bones about it and creates reasons to be with the ladies.
  • He posts lots of comments.
  • He has interesting things to say about stuff. (Even though all his opinions are wrong, at least they're interesting.)
  • He can take (and give) good-natured insults.
  • He's good at video games and will talk about movies and video games. (I don't actually personally like this about him, but Mike likes it. It means that some of the conversations that would otherwise be directed at me are intercepted by Jon.)
  • He's an idea person. He comes up with many, umm..."schemes." One of these days, he's probably going to take over the world with my husband, if they ever actually enact one of their schemes. (The good news for the rest of the world, as Mike just informed me, is that one or the other of them will probably stab the other in the back fairly soon after they take power, and their empire will crumble and the rest of us can go back to normal life.)

If you'd like to comment about why you like Jon, please do. (But, Jon, you know how it goes when I ask for comments.) If you won't comment for my sake, comment for Jon's.

Sunday, July 27, 2008


We're back from vacation, and had a very full and fun time. (Here's the post from our Redstone campsite--the Van Schooneville's. Love it. Makes us sound very Vaudeville.)

As is my family's tradition, here's the slideshow of our trip. In the old days, we'd be on my parent's flowered couch and once the lights were down low and we were a couple photos in, I'd see your head start to slump down to your chest and hear your rattling snores.

Luckily for you, from your comfy desk chair, you can doze away and I'll never know.

Which reminds me, I asked for comments on my last post so that I'd know I was loved upon my return. I couldn't help but notice that there were no comments. Not a one. I've therefore come to the only logical conclusion: I'm thoroughly unloved. Sniff. Sniff.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Gone Camping

Mike and I are on vacation. Hooray! It feels like a really long time since I took a real, long vacation. We're going to camp two nights at Difficult Campground near Independence Pass and Aspen. Then we're staying at a B&B near Carbondale one night, then on to camp near Redstone two nights, then to Crested Butte one night to see the wildflowers.

Here's an on the road song for you to listen to as you read, one of my all-time faves for travelling:

My family used to drive through Amarillo every summer, on our way to my daddy's hometown, Pampa, Texas. Each summer, we'd drive the hot, sticky eight hours through the dry open plains and antelopes. I love driving down the road and seeing nothing, just nothing except maybe a grain elevator, for miles and miles and miles, knowing that I could just keep driving and melt into the plains. This is why I love road trips.

In Pampa, we'd visit the old Coney Island, where the two brothers who were flipping burgers when my dad was in high school were still there, slowly flipping and considerably stooped. We'd eat greasy hot dogs and burgers sitting on barstools, watching the old brothers shuffle.

On the hot nights, we'd walk down to the river and poke at the crawdads, my dad telling us how he used to catch them. Then we'd play on the old swingsets until the Texas skeeters got the best of us.

  • What is your favorite summer vacation memory? Please leave a comment, and when I come home, I'll feel so loved.
Speaking of love, Mike started the anniversary early, bringing me stroopwafeln and Dutch cookies from the local Dutch bakery. The way to show me love is anything labelled "Echte Boter." Then last night we went to Caspian Cafe, great food, good belly dancer. And I've decided to take up belly dancing. Anyone in the Springs want to take a class with me?

Friday, July 18, 2008

I Heart Stacy and Clinton

I have two dreams. You can make one come true.

I run my fingers down the row, feeling silk and cotton and linen slip past my fingers. Stop. A flash of red catches me. How could I have forgotten? I pull out the red silk dress with a black ribbon waist, the memory of buying it at that cute little boutique pouring back into my mind. How could I have forgotten? Yet it's hidden, a forgotten lily, in the folds of my closet. My fingers slip on. Purple. Blue. Green. My fingers grasp at more and more skirts and corsets and sundresses I'd forgotten.

My heart pulses as I pull each out, holding it up, trying it on, plotting what soiree I'll trot it out on the town for. I thrill at how cute each is and how cute I'll be.

Then I wake up. My mind runs through my closet, realizing it was just a dream. I have this dream over and over and over. For all my talk of postmodernism and justice and literary criticism, I really just want to be a pretty, pretty princess at heart.

My Second Dream
I spend my Friday nights with two of my bestest friends, Stacy and Clinton. I love them. Clinton could make a clown suit look good and Stacy is my style guru. (When shopping, I ask myself: Would Stacy do this?)

My dream: Nominate me to be on their show! I know that I don't exactly have the worst fashion style, but I don't necessarily have the best either. (For those of you who, sadly, don't know what I'm talking about What Not to Wear is a show you can nominate your fashion-challenged friends to get a style makeover on.)
Why should the schlumps have all the fun? Shouldn't I get on for good behavior?

Youth is wasted on the young, and Stacy and Clinton's fashion is wasted on the ungrateful schlumps.
So here's the plan: You nominate me, and I'll do my part to look as tragic as possible for the secret cameras. Better yet, nominate Mike and me. Sell us as tragically "outdoorsy" nature lovin' types who are trying to crack into the hard, slick, and fast world of publishing. You know we'll never make it without you and Stacy and Clinton. The future of our careers (and my dreams) rests in your hands. You know what to do.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Postmodernism and Storytelling: Who Believes in the Big Bad Wolf?

Things far out of my brain's reach, yet that I will presume to speak of.

I am disturbed by an accelerating trend in storytelling of the storyteller and the listener not believing in the story. I was reminded of this because of the (spoiler alert) dream sequence ending of The Shack, though dream sequences are a less offensive version of what I mean. The perfect example is the movie Big Fish. This movie tells of a man whose father, on his deathbed, tells him fantastical tales of his life. Stories of Siamese twins and killer catfish. The son hates that his father will only tell lies--he knows the stories aren't true. But by the end of the movie, the son realizes that what is true and what isn't true is hard to know, and, perhaps, doesn't matter. He joins into the storytelling himself, joining his father in half belief and storytelling.

A sweet tale, but noxious if you ask me.

Francis Schaeffer had it that trends start in philosophy, then move down to art, then down to literature, then down to the masses. This seems to be disturbingly true. Postmodernist philosophers (or whatever you want to call this--everyone seems to mean something different by postmodern) broke with the knowable, rational universe of the moderns. Many decided that in this world of chaos, that you can't know or find meaning.

This disillusionment trickled down to literature, as could be seen in many post World War writings like this, one of my favorites, from T.S. Eliot's The Wasteland:

What are the roots that clutch, what branches grow
Out of this stony rubbish? Son of man,
You cannot say, or guess, for you know only
A heap of broken images, where the sun beats,
And the dead tree gives no shelter, the cricket no relief,
And the dry stone no sound of water.

In our broken, post-war world, after all the writers crawled out of the trenches, all we had left of our pretty ideas of the universe was a heap of broken images, where no roots of belief could anymore clutch. Nothing had meaning, and we had seen too much to cling to our fairy-tale beliefs from before. No more God, no more meaning, no more happy ending. Bertrand Russell said that the fundamental principle of the universe is despair, a principle everyone has to face in a world that is fundamentally meaningless. Postmodern novels like Pynchon's Crying of Lot 49 showed the futile and endless search for clues in this mystery of life, for meaning in an utterly chaotic, meaningless, unknowable world.

But one can't stay on this parched ground where the dead tree gives no shelter and the dry stone no water for long. To survive, we had to find new ground. The philosophers themselves knew this. Some proposed pretending. "We know true meaning can't be found in this world, but we also know that we have to have it to survive. So let's pretend we believe. Let's pretend there's a reason for justice and love and mercy, because, although there isn't, we must have them to live." Though without God or any knowable absolute, they had no platform for belief in love, mercy, justice, or fairies, they presumed belief in order to regain a livable life. Camus saw that life was absurd. Instead of committing suicide (to him, the essential question that must be answered when faced with this meaningless world), he decided to make up a world out of the rubble. He believed that we were each free to make up what world and meaning suited us best. Meaninglessness "frees" us to invent our own meaning (though it's not objectively real, real in the old sense that everyone used previous to this last century).

And now we see the play pretending of the philosophers trickling down into our literature and our movies. At first, there were glimmers of hope. Writers like Toni Morrison (this is why I like her) wrote unabashedly of ghosts and flying, giving no excuses or explanations. The fancies that had been banished from literature were ushered back in by the curve of her welcoming arm.

But more and more, instead of believing in our ghosts, we're winking the eye at our stories. Like Big Fish. We know that the father isn't actually a catfish, but we really want him to be, so we'll pretend we believe, just like the son pretends to believe the stories.

What does all this prattle matter? What's the difference? Before we cracked and threw our fairy tales out the window, we didn't actually believe there was a Big Bad Wolf. But in our stories, a place existed, a world existed, where the Big Bad Wolf could have lived. Now, although we'll let him into our bed in theory, we won't even believe in him in our stories. In our stories, we give the pretext, "I don't actually believe in you Mr. Wolf, but I love to reminisce about when I could." We are half-hearted, fake mystics.

I can't put it any better than G.K. Chesterton in Orthodoxy (here, he's speaking of materialists, those who don't believe in anything other than the material):
"You may explain the order in the universe by saying that all things, even the souls of men, are leaves inevitably unfolding on an utterly unconscious tree--the blind destiny of matter. The explanation does explain...But the point here is that the normal human mind not only objects to both, but feels to both the same objection. If the cosmos of the materialist is the real cosmos, it is not much of a cosmos. The thing has shrunk. The whole of life is something much more gray, narrow, and trivial than many separate aspects of it. The parts seem greater than the whole.

...The materialist is not allowed to admit into his spotless machine the slightest speck of spiritualism or miracle. Poor Mr. McCabe is not allowed to retain even the tiniest imp, though it might be hiding in a pimpernel.

...Mysticism keeps men sane. As long as you have mystery you have health; when you destroy mystery you create morbidity. The ordinary man has always been sane because the ordinary man has always been a mystic. He has permitted the twilight. He has always had one foot in earth and the other in fairy land."

What Chesterton didn't know at the time, however, is that the materialists have cheated and snuck an imp into their pimpernel. They don't actually believe in the imp, but in the twilight, they suspend thier belief and let him out to fly.

But the half-imagined imp is still only flitting above the stony rubbish of disillusionment. Playing make-believe with the spiritual, we're still just squatting on parched ground where the sound of water flowing will never be heard from the rock.

* I tried in vain to find C.S. Lewis' essay on fairy tales in writing this. Can anyone tell me where I can find it?

Some Daily Perspective

One of the daily reminders I get that my home is pretty stinkin' nice, apartment and all. (I love watching the show House Hunters, on which the families very often are buying a new home because their old home is just so small. Pretty funny in this context.)
This beautiful young woman in the middle is Faith, who is studying at Nairobi University to become a Finance Auditor. I believe the Compassion project she went to as a child was one I visited, so it makes this more personal to me. This isn't where she lives now, but it's her aunt and grandmother's home.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

My Pleasure Is Placed Beyond the Blue

Although I hate politics, some good things come with an election year, the height of which is the Jib Jab Video. Here it is. You have to at least watch until you see Obama on the unicorn. (In this election year, I now also have the new season of Project Runway which started tonight to console me, on which I get to hear fabulous phrases from Tim Gunn, such as "It's a teradactyl out of a gay Jurassic Park.")

Also, on a much heavier topic, here's a post I wrote for the Compassion blog on human trafficking.

Now on to the real topic.
I mentioned in May how we had a new neighbor: a port-a-potty and two dumpsters. Crews have been painting the apartment complex for the past two months, using our view as their homebase. They pull up outside our apartment every morning at 7:30 and have their lunches here to pumping Mexican polka and amuse us with their whistling at quittin' time. They're quite a fixture.

I noticed something interesting happening to my vision since they moved in. When I used to look out our window, I would look out on the long view of the mountains and the trees. Those are still there, unobstructed. But now all I see when I look out my window is the trash and the port-a-potty and the various debris thrown around each day.

How like life. Instead of focusing on the beautiful long view of life, all the beauty in what I have and what I experience and what surrounds me, without even thinking about it, all I notice is what's close and ugly and unwanted. I want instead to choose to focus on whatever is lovely, pure, and praiseworthy.

And not only what is lovely in this life. This life will always have a share of the unwanted and ugly. How often I forget, as the old song goes, that: This world is not my home, I'm just-a-passing through; My pleasure and my hopes are placed beyond the blue.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

The One

Written upon the occasion of my 5th wedding anniversary. This post contains ideas that we can't fully know or understand this side of Hades. This is just my little take.

I don't believe in destiny. I love the movie Only You (because I, as a 14-year-old, knew instinctively what generations of boys and men are just now figuring out: Robert Downey Jr. Rocks), and I love swaying in my soul to the idea that, as Plato said, two souls were split down the middle at the beginning of time, and now they're just floating through the universe trying to find their other half. But I can't buy it.

Before time, God knew that I would choose Mike. But I don't think God decided before time that it was my destiny to marry Mike. I think God created the universe to give us choices. Real choice excludes destiny. If there was a "right" and "wrong" decision, if I could have chosen the wrong man and destroyed my destiny, free will would be quite a terrible thing to throw on mankind.

I think it's more like a candy shop. God created this glittering shop full of men. He set me in front of the door, gave me a little pat on the tush, and with great anticipation said, "Go, pick one!" There were shelves and jars full of licorice whips and candy dots and root beer barrels. Each one tasty, but you can only pick one. If I pick a licorice whip man it's delicious, but I choose it at the exclusion of a root beer barrel man.

(Now I know where this metaphor breaks down. The men of this world weren't exactly sitting on a shelf, just waiting saying, "Ooh, ooh, pick me! Pick me!" But if you point that out, it will hurt my feelings.)

But I don't think the metaphor is that crazy. God made this world fun. All those 9th grade emotions and intrigues of liking a guy and passing notes and finding out if he likes you, I think God created those. Those all come with a free will in the world of men. This isn't to make light of our choices. Because they're real choices, they really matter and are really significant.

Now I'm off topic. But God allows me to choose a mate. I could have chosen any number. Had I not married Mike, maybe I would have met some line cook from Brugges whom I would have loved.

But something magical and extraordinary and mysterious happened the second I said, "I, do." Mike at that moment did mysteriously become my one. Mike transformed into my destiny and God now weaves an incredible story between us.

It's not the only story that could have been. Sitting on my father's lap and looking through the shelves of story books, I could have pulled out another one and asked for it to be read to me. But this is the story I chose, and that somehow makes it all the more beautiful.

Any story that involves Mike has adventure and humor and romance and intrigue. And what a story it has been, as you will see from this video. In case this post has been too foo-foo for you, I leave you with a video of my now YouTube-famous husband dancing his hula from his freshmen year of college. (Thank you Jon Hart for the best birthday gift ever.)

Monday, July 14, 2008

The Shack

I just finished The Shack and wanted to debrief my reactions here. Now that I'm a published author, I find it terrifying to think that others would criticize one of my books on their blog. But since this book has been the number 2 seller on Amazon for weeks now, I doubt Mr. Young cares what some twit in the Springs has to say about it.

Heresy: First things first. Many people seem concerned that this book is heresy. To which I respond: Meh (said with an indifferent shrug). Perhaps I'm a heretic myself (but I don't think I am; Orthodoxy by G.K. Chesterton is my favorite book after all), but I don't see anything to get too freaked out about. Am I going to write my religious doctrine based on it? No. We shouldn't rely on any book for doctrine other than the Bible. It's a work of fiction, speculative fiction at that. Christians (including me) love C.S. Lewis and drool over anything that he has to say. We are willing to overlook borderline heretical insinuations, such as in The Great Divorce people in hell can choose to leave it at anytime to go to heaven, in favor of the greater truths that are made vivid in his writings. I don't see how this is any different.

Life Changing: This book is being described by many as life changing. To which I respond: Meh. I'm sure it is life changing for many, it just wasn't for me. We're each at different places on our life's journey and certain things will strike someone at a certain time and place as infinitely poignant and meaningful, while it will strike another as vapid. A book that changed my life was New Kind of Christian, because at the time of reading it, I was mired in legalism. So the truths in it were like water to me. But my husband, who is far too independent and rebellious to ever get stuck in someone else's legalism, read it and said: Meh. I think the Shack could take others, who have gone through traumatic loss and have a hard time liking a God who permits evil, through an incredible healing process. But I haven't had to cope with the trauma that the author or protaganist did, so for me it remains: Meh.

What I Did Learn While Reading The Shack is:
  • There's a lot about this world and life that I don't understand.
  • God is not human and is infinitely different from me.
  • I've still got a lot to learn.
  • I'm excited for heaven.

Literary Criticism: Now for some good ol' literary criticism. I'm not a fiction writer, so I should be stoned with a thousand stones for critiquing someone else, but "those who can't write, criticize." This book reminded me of how key good dialogue is. The number one reason I didn't love this book is the dialogue. He writes beautifully, using metaphors and imagery expertly. His pacing and suspense and tension are perfect. But for me it all broke down with dialogue.

The story was singing along until the author entered in many long conversations between Mack and God, which for me took the narrative to a thudding, sputtering halt and took me completely out of the story. The main character, Mack, is supposed to be a pretty sharp guy. But the dialogue left me suspecting he was a bit of a dolt. (I'm sure if I were having a conversation with God, I'd sound like a dolt too, but I don't think it was the author's intention.)

This line epitomizes it for me. A very obvious plot thread has been wound through the book of a princess and a waterfall. The reader has figured out the meaning of the metaphor a long time ago, when Mack finally says (and I quote): "Princess? Waterfall? Wait a minute!" Ugh. That could have been a line taken from Scooby Doo on Saturday morning as Scrappy figures out the mystery simple enough for the 8-year-old viewers to piece together.

As soon as the story would go back into pure narrative, it would sing again and was a pleasure to read. Then blam, you hit up against of some mystical explication prompted along by Mack's "Golly Gee God, I think I done get it!" I chalk this up not to Young being a bad writer, which he clearly isn't, but to the need for experience and a good editor. Let this to be a lesson to all you thinking of self publishing. Hire my husband first to help you with dialogue, or I'll make fun of your stilting words too.

The other main issue I had with the writing was what I'll call the Deep Waters Technique. Young had a lot of thoughts he wanted to get out there. A lot. These thoughts were revealed through many "deep" conversations with God. But so many thoughts were thrown in that none were explored in depth. It was "here's a thought," then off like lightning to the next insight Young wanted to cram in. One of my husband's favorite quotes is from Thoreau (or someone) and goes something like this: "As long as there are pools that you cannot see the bottom of, there will be those who imagine they are bottomless." Sometimes writers write in such a way to make things seem mysterious and deep. Readers don't quite understand what things mean, so the reader assumes the thoughts are just really deep, man, and they're just not quite smart enough to fully get it. But the truth is that the ideas were never clearly explained in the first place. The reader assumes that because the waters are muddy, they must be deep, and the writer is off the hook to fully explain himself.

The Clincher: (Spoiler Alert: I will tell you the ending here.) What really made my feelings on this book final was the ending, which happens to fall into one of my biggest writing pet peeves. If you have the chutzpah to write a story in which God is embodied by a big black woman who makes winking comments about greens and indigestion, at least have the cahones to bring it on home and NOT MAKE IT A COMA-INDUCED DREAM SEQUENCE! I hate dream sequences. At least the author included a clue that made it clear that what Mack experienced was true. But honestly, all you authors out there, don't you know how much dream sequences piss off your readers? I've invested how many hours reading and caring about all these crazy events and then you slink back from all your outrageous ideas, saying he was hit by a truck and was in the hospital the whole time? This irks me to no end. Irk, irk, irk, irk, irk. The end.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

In My Next 30 Years

Now that I'm 30, I'm finding that I'm quite serious and goal-oriented. So this post will be about what I want to do in my 30s. Please enjoy this great song as you read (but I apologize for the cheesy Tim McGraw montage, you don't have to watch, just listen.)

Goals for my 4th decade on the planet:

  • Do what my bio says I did in my twenties
  • Get a henna tattoo. Oh look! I did that yesterday! I'm so efficient in my 30s. (We're crossing our arms. It makes us look a bit deformed.)
  • Be a loving, supportive, encouraging wife of my knight of a husband.

  • Hang out with friends and family more. (Can you tell I'm just using this as an excuse to show my pictures from the Renaissance Festival yesterday? Speaking of which, that place is rich with blog post potential. But it would mainly consist of me making fun of others, which I'll choose not to do...for now.)
  • Travel to and experience new places, and revisit my Colorado favorites.
  • Eat yummy, spicy new foods.
  • Savor life. (I hate how cheesy that sounds, but I mean it.)
  • Follow Christ.

Friday, July 11, 2008

In My Twenties

Today was my last day in my twenties, so I thought I ought to live it up. My coworkers brought me DONUTS FROM THE DONUT MILL IN WOODLAND PARK! I'm sorry for yelling. I just really like their donuts. Then they pasted pictures of donuts all over my cube.

Becky won quote of the day when, upon seeing my napkin full of donuts I'd picked out for myself, she said, "How are you not 500 pounds?!" I like this quote because it implies I'm not fat. Becky is therefore my new best friend. That's Katy, the cool girl, in the hat. We had relationship issues today because I dissed Bama's video, but we hugged it out.

Then I got to try TWO restaurants I've been wanting to try since I moved down south. So for lunch, we went to Plate. I had the scallops. Yummy.

Upon arriving home, as soon as I opened the door, Mike started playing this song, and we danced it out. He's so sweet. I love this song because when I was very young, we recorded a Disneyland TV special with Kool & the Gang singing it and watched it over and over again, and it reminds me of happiness and youth and fireworks.

Then I took an IQ test (to live it up as a 20-year-old), and found out I'm a frickin' genius. So I made a new goal for my 30s. The problem isn't that I'm not smart enough, but that my friends are too smart. What's the good of being smart if you can't lord it over anyone? So in my 30s, I'm going to get me some dumb friends to oppress.

Then Mike and I went to the Elephant Bar, the other place I wanted to go in the Springs, and got some drinkies.

Now, with two pina coladas in hand, I'm fully ready to be 30, flirty, and thriving!

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Yes, We Can...Persuade Others Without Saying Anything

While I was stalking Katy DB Tizzle on Facebook, I found this video. (And, by the way, she informs me she was the Homecoming Queen not the Prom Queen, and she never saved any kittens, but she did read books to the elderly at nursing homes.)

Now this video irks me. I'm not anti-Obama or pro-McCain, so stick that behind your ear as you listen. (On a side note, isn't "irk" a great word? Say it over and over again. Irk. Irk. Irk. Irk. Irk. Irk. Irk.)

This video is beautifully made (Time magazine called it "brilliant"); it has a catchy tune; it has cool-looking celebrities. It makes you want to jump up at the end and throw your fist in the air and say, "Yes! We Can!" (Unless you already don't like Obama, in which case you're probably just annoyed.)

But what is it exactly that we can do? No actual information is transferred. It's purely an emotional appeal to make the viewer associate certain things with certain other things (namely Obama.) It appeals to people's perceptions of a particular star--nudging them to ascribe the hipness of that particular celebrity to Obama. It gives the viewers a feeling while listening to the tune--one of hope and empowerment--so that they will ascribe the feeling of the song to Obama. It nudges the voter to make up their minds through their associations with words, images, and celebrities. Do you want hope? Yes, of course I want hope! Yea Obama!

Over 12 million people have watched this video and are now potentially swaying along with B.O. in their good feelings. No mention of policies or stances need be made.

When did we make celebrities our political lighthouses? And why in the world did we? I guess I'd rather look at Kareem Abdul-Jabbar than this guy, but I'd rather hear what this guy's got to say. I know Scarlett Johansson is flippin' gorgeous and that guy playing the violin looks pretty cool and, hey, that's Ashley Banks from the Fresh Prince!...but what's that got to do with how I vote?

If I was going into the prosthetic leg shop to choose my new, shiny prosthetic leg, I really wouldn't care which one Ashton Kutcher endorsed. Because I just have no reason to think Ashton knows any more than I do about prosthetics. We all like to shake it to "My Humps," but should the fact that the Black Eyed Peas think Obama is swell have anything to do with how we vote?

And I am really left with no information.

OK, so if on the ballot, there's a vote for Hope, I know Obama will color in the little bubble next to Hope with his Number 2. Dreams? Yep, he's coloring that one in too. Change? He's so there.

But I have no idea how he responds to issues on immigration or free trade or foreign policy. I know that Obama's campaign didn't make this video, but it's being used nonetheless to sway voters for no real reason other than it's hip, and therefore Obama is hip.

Thank you for sticking through my political post. Now, as a reward, here's the dessert. This is why I was totally going to vote or Hillary if she was nominated, and I'm pretty bummed that it will never come to pass.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

At the Cool Table for the Race War Lunch

I have a date at the cool table on Tuesday.

At my last job, there was a Cool Table at lunch. The girls all had cute shoes and stylish hair and intimidated others with their hotty-potatty walks. They were (and are) excellent people, but The Cool Table nonetheless.

One day a new girl started on my team, and I wanted to make her feel welcome, so I asked her to out to lunch. I didn't usually go out to lunch, but, hey, I was trying to be friendly. On the day of our lunch date, she awkwardly said, "These other girls asked me to eat with them today. But you can eat with us if you want to."

It was like 7th grade all over again. The new girl with her cute shoes had been invited into the Table of Tables, and she couldn't say no to such social gold. I think she invited me along as social charity, thinking I didn't have anyone to eat with. You know, "bring-your-dork-to-lunch" day. So I awkwardly ate my slice of pizza next to her, as she inserted herself into their circle.

Some people labor under the misapprehension that I am, in fact, cool. That maybe I was a cheerleader in high school. Bless them. I might wear cute shoes now, but growing up I was more of the National Honors Society, Marching Band, Show Choir persuasion. And if I'm honest with you, I was even on the fringe of these social groups. Fringe marching band. Pretty sad.

But on Tuesday, I have a date at the cool table with Katy B. Let me tell you about Katy B, or Katy DB Tizzle, as I like to call her. She's the girl in high school who was probably on the soccer team, friends with all the cheerleaders, in the NHS, won the national debate competition, saved a kitten in a tree, was prom queen, and was nice to all the nerds. She's pretty. She's flat-out hilarious. She's smart. She has innovative outfits. She throws theme parties. She's going to a Journey concert tonight. She has 992 friends on Facebook. And Katy is the type of person to make every one of those 992 people feel like she likes them a lot and wants to know them and be their friend. She's that girl.

To try to make her think I'm cool, I occassionally send her Flight of the Conchords videos to watch (because a girl with 992 friends doesn't have time to watch them on my blog). So I've made her into a respectable FOTC fan. So this little nerd of yours took a chance this week...and asked her over to lunch. We're going to eat cereal and watch the best FOTC episode ever, which is Race War, in which the naive New Zealanders find themselves the victims of New York Kiwi Racism.

I'll let you know how it goes.

Guess what Mike has been doing while I've been writing this. Really, guess.
OK, do you have it?
He's making pickles. I absolutely adore the fact that I'm married to a man who makes homemade pickles. Adore it.

And look! I got a new friend! Over there on my blog roll, Blissfully Krissy. Go check out her blog, but be careful. if you see her picture, your head might explode.
I also added Stuff Christians Like. It's funny, and you should read it.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Muskrat World

A couple of weeks ago, the banks of the Great Mississippi River were flooding. National Guardsmen in sturdy boots and hundreds of residents lined its banks, passing sandbags from hand to hand, piling up all their human strength to stop all the power of the great river. It was working and their plans and houses were safe.

But then a muskrat decided to take a swim. It burrowed through the sandbags, and the levee broke. With all our technology and all our might, a muskrat can still crumble our neat-cornered lives into chaos.

I'm reading The Shack right now, and I'm not sure if I like it or not. But I just read one line regarding why the author thinks God placed poisonous plants in creation: "Ask any person who has a passion to explore and discover and create. The choice to hide so many wonders from you is an act of love that is a gift inside the process of life."

We, and I, want such tidy lives. We want to control. And when we can't control, we want to blame. But this isn't a tidy world. Muskrats abound. Poisonous plants abound. I'm not sure if I quite agree (or understand) what the author says about poisonous plants being an act of love. But at least I can remember that this life is an adventure. We can't control it, and we can't blame all the problems caused by a mighty river and a bitty muskrat on the government or the army or or gardener or anyone else we can sue.

It's easier to think of a muskrat as a gift when I'm the one on my couch eating cupcakes (yes, cupcakes), and not the one whose home has been destroyed. But at least I can remember that as much as I try to sew my life into tight corners and 90 degree angles, it's really no use. The river is mightier, and God's never seemed too concerned with tidiness.

Now, on the Cupcakes.
We made some crazy cupcakes tonight, cupcakes I'm deciding to call

Hazelnut Buttered Jelly Donut Cupcakes

We made cupcakes, then injected them with Mike's mom's homemade wildberry jam. For frosting, I realized I didn't have powdered sugar, so I combined 5 T butter with 1 1/2 T Nutella, then about 1/2 cup brown sugar. Since there's not as much sugar as in most frostings, it's super creamy (read buttery), but it's actually really good. It is quite a decadent treat.

Monday, July 7, 2008

Come What May

My 5th wedding anniversary is in 1 1/2 weeks, and as a tribute to my man, I had to place this video here. This song was our first dance at our wedding, so I started out all sweet, wanting to post something he'd like.

But then this video is so wrong in so many ways, that I couldn't not post it. And it really fits, because I'm just like Hermione (fuzzy hair, annoying know-it-all), and Mike is just like Ron. Just kidding. He's not at all Ron. More like Gilderoy Lockhart with a tich of Snape.

And besides, Hermione Puckle mae this video. Think of how delighted Hermione Puckle will be when, checking her post over bangers and mash one night, she says to her mom (in a cockney accent), "Blimey mum, look how many blokes are watching my fan video!"

Sunday, July 6, 2008

My Troublesome Self

(Disclaimer: I'm always self conscious when I talk so much about myself on my blog. I must be so self centered. But my life is fairly limited in scope, and Mike doesn't want me divulging all his crazy neuroses, so I'm left with just my own crazy brain to pick. So I guess the real question is, why do you keep coming back here to read about me? Kinda creepy, don't you think?)

(Disclaimer to the disclaimer: I apologize for the above comment. I'm trying to stop being so offensive all the time. But I keep forgetting. Now back to "My Troublesome Self"...)

The core of my being contains two diametrically opposed components. On one side, I'm an extremely ambitious, over-active, over-concerned person. On the other, what I yearn for most in life is peace. Utter peace.

One of my all-time-favorite songs is: Movin to the country, I'm gonna eat a lot of peaches. Movin to the country, I'm gonna eat me a lot of peaches. Millions of peaches, peaches for me. Millions of peaches, peaches for free.

This song embodies my deepest desire in life: I want to move to the country. I want to eat a lot of peaches. That's it. Really, that sounds so superbly, supremely wonderful to me if that's all I do for the rest of my life. To disappear into an oblivion of juicy, ripe peaches.

I picture myself in a gingham dress. I meet Mike at the door each day, apron on, with a plate of cinnamon pecan muffins freshly baked. (He doesn't actually like muffins, but I do. He'll learn.) I raise tomatoes that I eat with black pepper for lunch each day, and peaches that are our nightly meal. We walk barefoot by the river after dinner, under the cottonwoods and stars. That's what I really want. That and nothing else. No cars or projects or programs or cares.

And then there's the other side. This other side is tireless. It's led me to exercise an hour every day. It leads me to care about every need I come across. It's led me to write 3 books before 30. It leads me to always be thinking about what is next, always moving, always progressing. It leads me to dream of one day doing this, doing that, doing everything.

These two sides are not friendly bed mates. One is always kicking the other out. Like Voldemort and Harry Potter, "one cannot live while the other survives." I yearn for peace, and as soon as I get a scrap to curl up with, I start itching, the fabric rubbing and irritating me out of bed and into motion. As soon as my itch for achievement and movement is scratched, all I want, all I can think of is peace. Quiet. No striving. No working. Just peaches.

But the two things I want most I am singularly bad at enjoying.

Saturday, July 5, 2008

How We Celebrated the 4th

I bet you're wanting to know how a fun bunch like my family celebrates the 4th. Here is your photo tour through our holiday.

1. Mike took lots and lots of pictures.

2. We sat around this very table for 8 hours and ate two separate meals.

3. I did the walker dance for my mom.

4. Chris gave us all Play-Doh, which kept us amused several hours. Aunt Cin sculpted Piglet.

5. I allowed my face to be used as a canvas.

6. My dad wandered around being hospitable and chatting with everyone.

7. Maverick thought patriotic thoughts.

8. While Mylie slept (Mylie as in Blue Hawaii, not as in the Achy Breaky Heart Guy's kid).

9. Mike acted suspiciously. I think he stole a couple candlesticks.

10. Bryan acted nonchalant, watching the whole event with his arms crossed from afar.

11. While I boogied some more to Itsy Bitsy Teeny Weeny Yellow Polka-Dot Bikini.

12. Then I wrecked a journal by wearing it as a sandal.

13. Then we drove home and watched 7 different firework shows on the way, only swerving off the road several times.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Until You Have a Child

Speaking of parenting, I came across some gold yesterday that my hubby showed me. Because it so perfectly illustrates what I mentioned in my post Things I Heretofore Swear Not to Say Upon Procreation, I thought I ought to pass it on.

Now that YouTube is worried about being sued, you can't easily watch it here, so what you'll do is click on this link, and then only watch from 17:30 to 18:25. I know, it's hard work, but it will be good exercise for your fingers that are pudgy from too much easy internet video watching.

I watched this video clip about 5 times in a row. Love it.

This Is Pretty Much What All My Interviews Are Like

Oh my gosh, can he possibly be for real? Apparently, yes. Check this one out.

I agree, Gary, people need to be better...feelings.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Van Schooneveld Says

Lately I feel like all I do is interview. I had four on Monday, two on Tuesday, one today, and two tomorrow. Which is great. Way to go publicity firm! But it's not my favorite thing on the planet to do.

It's kind of funny that someone with my particular neuroses would end up doing so much interviewing. I think having begun my career as a copy editor and being the perfectionist I am, I'm a bit obsessed with accuracy. The marketer and the copy editor approach life in very different ways.

I'm having to get over that as an interviewee. I'm also having to get over my insecurity of having labels and titles attached to me (titles I don't think I deserve by any stretch of the imagination). I guess it's good for marketing, but it's fairly comic in my opinion. I've been called now "humanitarian advocate" and "change advocate." In a recent interview, the interviewer said, "you've been working with Compassion for years now." (Umm...make that 10 months.) I've heard, "You have written multiple books on the topic of taking mission trips" and "you work ceaselessly to end human trafficking" and "you have travelled all over the world to put an end to world poverty." I've heard, "Change advocate Van Schooneveld says," so many times now.

It's all so preposterous that it's a bit funny. What's a chick like me to do? Stop them in the middle of a 5-minute live interview airing in Chicago to say, "Well, actually, I've really just been working at Compassion a couple of months now and my other book is about parties and my extensive world travel includes buying vanilla in Juarez."

Instead, I just roll with it. I try to get my press releases rewritten to be sober and unassuming, but after all, the interviewers want you to be something big. If it's not on the paper, they'll read between the lines anyway.

Not sure what the point of this post is, except: Interviewing is new and weird and it's taking all my time.

Speaking of my extensive world travels: I knew this mortar and pestle I bought in Kenya would come in handy. This week from the CSA farm we got bunches of mint and dill and cilantro. So I muddled the mint for a mojito.

We made the recipe for Cuban Spritzers in Party Divas with the muddled mint (non-alcoholic mojitos, and I know, I'm so hyperlink happy since I figured out how to insert them). Here Mike's hand is enjoying one on our balcony.
And, now, here is my secret to how I stay so svelte and slim: Turnips for dessert served in a parfait glass (just kidding, I had a bowl of ice cream before I ate my turnips, and I've never understsood, does svelte mean skinny or curvy? or both?). Also from the farm, I made turnips with fresh dill and poppy seeds. It was pretty tasty and different and freshy fresh (but ice cream is better after all).

Coffee and Chocolate

Participating in Oppression
We don’t always think of ourselves in America as the lazy rich, lounging on couches and being fed grapes by servants. But this is just because luxury is commonplace here. Think coffee and chocolate.

These two products are luxuries that we can afford to have exported to us. Far too often, farmers who grow coffee in places such as Ethiopia aren't treated with fairness or justice. The wages industries pay them for their goods keep them trapped in a cycle of poverty, not being nearly enough to feed their families, send their children to school, or afford health care. Believe me, I see pictures and read the stories every day of the children who don't go to school, who don't wear shoes, and who share one egg with their brothers and sisters for their dinner so we can drink cheap coffee.

Over half of the world’s chocolate is made from beans harvested in C’ote D’Ivoire. 12,000 children have been trafficked (kidnapped and forced to work as slaves) into C’ote D’Ivoire on cocoa farms. The prices for coffee and chocolate are kept low on the back of the poor and children.

Are we implicated in the guilt of the oppression of workers and children in the production of coffee and chocolate when we buy these products? Perhaps if we really knew nothing about it. But we know now.

People say they just can’t afford the price of fancy (read: fair trade) coffee or chocolate.
But maybe that means we can’t afford these luxuries period. If we can't afford to pay farmers fairly for their coffee, then we can't afford coffee.

We suffer under the misconception that affordable chocolate and coffee is our right. It’s not. We won the geographic lottery being born in a country where we have access to luxury. A thin, thin line separates us from those born into a country where the prices our industries pay for their labor isn’t enough to buy the basic necessities.

Our places could easily have been switched. And if we switched places with these families trapped in poverty, we’d pray to God that they would be more merciful to us than our industries have been to them.

If the only way we can afford to maintain our lifestyle of luxury is to knowingly allow the continued oppression of children and poor workers in distant, distant fields on another continent, then we are the same as the haughty women of Zion.

Learn more about fair trade chocolate and fair trade coffee. (And look for the Fair Trade label you'll find on coffee bags at the grocery store by clicking on the fair trade coffee link. One of Starbucks coffees is certified fair trade.)