Evidence That Proves Why I Can’t Find a Book Club

Thanks to a previous Freshly Pressed blog, The Librarian Who Doesn’t Say Shhhh, I have been introduced to another great group of readers/reviewers/bloggers/book worms like myself over at The Broke and the Bookish. Each Tuesday, they all participate in a meme called Top Ten Tuesday, and many of their bloggers create top ten lists based on a new topic. The Top Ten Tuesday for November 30, 2011 is “The Top Ten Books On My TBR List For Winter.” So, without further ado, here is a list of the ten books I plan to read over the holidays and into the new year. They aren’t listed in any particular order or ranking system because, well, I never know what kind of mood I’m going to be in. Sometimes, I love a good piece of literary fiction, but teen fiction and non-fiction make it onto my shelves as well. History, graphic novels, politics, science, apologetics, philosophy….the list goes on and on! I can’t stick to one genre, style, or medium. Hence, a book club that fits my style is harder to find than a perfect pair of women’s jeans.


1. Fire by Kristen Cashore—While I impatiently wait for the first Hunger Games film to be released in theaters, I’ve been glutting myself on teen fiction in the same vein. I enjoyed Graceling, the first book in this series very much. Like most of the books in its genre, it features a strong female protagonist and a studly male love interest. However, unlike you’re run of the mill dystopian book, this one is more fantasy based. (Think Game of Thrones meets 1984.) Apparently, aside from one essential character from the first book, this one has an entirely new cast. I’m eager to see why she chose to do that.

2. Mrs. Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs—This one has been on my radar since it came out and will likely be one of the books I don’t purchase on my Kindle as it is a blend of text and photography, both of which are essential. It involves mystery, fantasy, tragedy, orphans with special abilities, and a remote island, and visual/narrative storytelling. What’s not to like!?

3. Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor—This one was one of Amazon’s Best Books of 2011 as well as a starred review on many websites. Karou, a seventeen-year-old art student, runs errands for her father that include things like gathering teeth for some kind of spell casting. Needless to say, there’s a high fantasy quotient. However, rather than simply being a fantastical love story, there’s some depth to this one. Apparently, the writing is very lush, literary, and dense, which means that I’ll love it all the more!

4. A Devil to Play: One Man’s Year-Long Quest to Master the Orchestra’s Most Difficult Instrument by Jasper Rees—I have had this one on my shelf for months. As a French horn player, I know all too well just how dangerous and difficult the instrument can be, but I also know how beautiful it is and how it makes the effort worth it when you do it well. This one is a combination of musical elements and biography in this because the author sent himself on his quest due to a mid-life crisis. I think musicians and non-musicians will find something to like in this one.

5. Moonwalking With Einstein: The Art and Science of Remembering Everything by Joshua Foer—This is a non-fiction read about one man’s study of the science and art of memory. The back matter sums it up well, “On average, people squander forty days annually compensating for things they’ve forgotten. Joshua Foer used to be one of those people….Even more important, Foer found a vital truth we too often forget: In every way that matters, we are the sum of our memories.” Scops, griots, and troubadours–all of them remembered entire epics and recited them orally, thereby protecting their culture in verse. Where has that art gone? I hope this book teaches me the answer to that question.

6. The Paris Wife by Paula McLain—This one is a mix of history, biography, and literary fiction that tells the story of Hadley and Ernest Hemingway and their doomed love story. As his first wife, she was muse, support system, critic, drinking partner, and everything else he needed, which I’m sure took a toll on her. How can you love someone with such a gift and the ego it takes to use it well? How can you love without losing yourself? I’m prepared to have my assumptions about one of my favorite authors turned upside down and to learn the real story behind the day-to-day lives of the members of the Lost Generation.

7. The Angel Makers by Jessica Gregson—This one doesn’t come out until January 2012, but I’m thinking I’ll love it. Based on a true story, this book tells the tale of women in a remote Hungarian village after their husbands go off to war. No longer beaten or worked to death to provide for their spouses, the women experience freedom and love for the first time. When their men return, one of the women begins using her medical knowledge to “remove” the people responsible for their anguish. Should be an interesting read!

8. The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck—As a former English teacher, I’m embarrassed to tell people the books I haven’t read because they look at me like I have a superfluous eye in my forehead. Moby Dick, The Plague, War and Peace….I’ve read none of them. Don’t get me wrong, when I look at a “100 Greatest Literary Works List,” I’m well ahead of your average reading bear, but there are just a few that never happened to cross my path. My kid cousin is reading this one for AP Literature this year, and I’m interested enough to try reading his copy over Christmas break.

9. The Problem of Pain by C.S. Lewis—I adore his fiction, and the short work he wrote after the death of his wife (A Grief Observed) made me want to weep. There’s something about Lewis that’s both academic/philosophical and open/human that it’s hard not to want to read more by him. This work focuses on the concept of suffering and why God allows it into the world. It is a tough question to answer when witnessing to non-believers, and I hope it can help me in that area.

10. 11/22/63 by Stephen King—I’ve been reading Stephen King since I was eight or nine years old. When I was younger, my favorite work was The Eyes of the Dragon, but I soon learned to love works like The Stand and It. His magnum opus, The Dark Tower Series, is one of my favorites! This one sounds like an odd mix of fact and fiction, but I love the idea of a magic portal in a diner enough to give it a shot. (Ugh, did I just make a pun concerning the JFK assassination?!)

Both Small And Exceedingly Wise

Whenever you’re at a loss as to what to read in the Bible, I highly suggest the book of Proverbs. It is a thirty-one-chapter collection of Solomon’s wisest aphorisms and insights, many of which are cleverly written and very memorable. I always seem to find something relevant to whatever I’m dealing with when I read them, and I always close the Word of God feeling encouraged.

Today, I came across Proverbs 30 and 31, written by Agur and Lemuel respectively. Some scholars believe they were penned by Solomon and/or Hezekiah, but regardless of the author’s identity, they both remain worthy of study. Chapter 30 is the more abstract and metaphorical of the two and is divided into shorter statements, several of which are “lists.” The one that caught my eye, Proverbs 30:24-28, reads:

Four things are small on the earth, but they are exceedingly wise: The ants are not a strong people, but they prepare their food in the summer. The rock badgers are not mighty people, yet they make their houses in the rocks. The locusts have no king, yet all of them go out in ranks. The lizard you may grasp with the hands, yet it is in kings’ palaces.

On a first read, the surface meaning is easy to see. These animals survive because of their adaptability and their smarts. However, I think there’s some symbolic value regarding the Christian life as well.

The Ants

From what I know of ants (most of which, I’m sad to say, comes from A Bug’s Life), they work as members of a team to harvest food they will use survive the hard months when nothing grows. One ant alone might not be able to gather enough for the time of famine; however, by working together, they provide plenty for all. I see a connection to Christians; we should work together for the greater good here on earth, providing for one another. However, the same can be said of our work for God’s kingdom. Remember, Jesus advises in Matthew 6:19-21:

Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves do not break in or steal;  for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

The Rock Badgers

With no Disney movie to guide me, I had to ask the all-knowing Google what a rock badger is exactly. Apparently, it’s called a rock hyrax and is a “terrestrial mammal, superficially resembling a guinea pig with short ears and a tail.” They live in little families and forage in groups while one or two stand lookout and warn the rest if predators are coming. If they’re threatened, they all scamper back up to the rocks that cover their nests. In essence, to get at one, a hunter would have to pull apart the side of a mountain. Pretty secure digs!

Wikipedia, the other great source of knowledge on the web, mentioned something I thought rather interesting: “In Israel, the rock hyrax is reportedly rarely preyed upon by terrestrial predators, as their system of sentries and their reliable refuges provide considerable protection. Hyrax remains are almost absent from the droppings of wolves in the Judean Desert.”

Our connection to this animal is even more obvious. As Christians, Jesus Christ is our rock and our strong refuge. Nothing in this world can rob us of our salvation, our eternal life in Him.  Like God did with Moses, He puts us “in the cleft of the rock” and covers us with His hand for our protection and deliverance (Exodus 33:20-23).

The Locusts

Like the ants, locusts aren’t a problem individually. However, get them in a group, and you’ve got trouble. (Just ask the Egyptians!) This passage isn’t telling Christians to descend upon others and eat them out of house and home, but that is something I think we Baptists could manage with little effort. 🙂

What the proverb is saying is that believers were never meant to go it alone in this life. We’re instructed time and time again in the Bible to work as one body, using our spiritual gifts in ways that make light work of anything. We are each blessed with talents God means for us to use in His service, and none of us should ever compare those talents. Some are born to serve, others to lead. Teachers are meant to educate fellow believers to help them better understand God’s Word, and those who have the power to exhort should always encourage others. Healing, prophecy, tongues–the list goes on and on! This is now though no one person (“a king”) leads us,  we “advance in ranks” with Jesus Christ as our leader. Because of that, we can change the world in the power of His name!

The Lizard/Spider

This last one is an interesting translation conundrum. In most versions, it reads “A lizard you may grasp with the hands.” However, in the KJV and NKJV, the text is “The spider skillfully grasps with its hands.” There is even a third translation that lists the animal as something “poisonous,” which lends itself to either animal, though more readily to the spider. All three versions, however, close with “And it is in kings’ palaces.”

Whatever way it is translated, the animal (like the ant, rock badger, and locust) is small and seemingly helpless. However, its size is of no consequence because that is exactly what allows it to dwell in the home of a king. At the risk of sounding like Yoda, “Size matters not. Look at me. Judge me by my size, do you?”

The animals in question here could dwell happily in the palace of a king, often going unnoticed for their entire lives because of their size. In the opulent home of a ruler, they would be protected from the elements, provided with an ample supply of food, and experience less exposure to predators than they would in their natural environment.

Like them, we will dwell in the home of our heavenly Father, but instead of skulking around or weaving webs in corners, we are joint heirs with Jesus, and each room of the heavenly palace is as much ours as it is His. We did nothing to earn our place there, but it is one of the many blessings we are granted because of His great atoning sacrifice on the cross.

Interestingly, these four animals appear to be part of a pattern.

  • Ants–Symbolize our life on earth, our labor and our toil. This pertains to all humans (both saved and unsaved).
  • Rock Badgers–Those of us who know Christ as Savior are like these creatures. As the psalmist said, “He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will abide in the shadow of the Almighty” (Psalm 91:1).
  • Locusts–Rather than dwell in our own land, we are meant to go out as a part of the Great Commission and do to so as Christian soldiers.
  • Lizards–We will receive our reward in heaven when our lives are over and dwell in the place Jesus left to prepare for us.

Yes, the Book of Proverbs does offer amazing insight and wisdom, most of which is packed into portions of text so compact they would make IKEA engineers jealous!

Yes, I may be small in comparison to this world and the universe that surrounds it. However, the same God who made it all knows me. The very hairs on my head are numbered by Him, and nothing escapes His notice. Why should I ever be afraid when that great God is with me?

I’d love to hear your favorite Bible passages, be they from Proverbs or another book. Please take a moment and share your thoughts below!

Put on Your Yarmulke…It’s Time to Celebrate Jenukkah!!

I didn’t just want an excuse to put that song in a blog, I promise! However, if you want to get into the spirit of this post, I highly suggest you watch. Sing along, too!


I am one of the few people in the world who can actually say I like my boss. (Most people will do so and then flinch, waiting for the inevitable lightning strike sent down to punish audacious liars.) And when I say I like my boss, I don’t just mean that in the “I’m friends with her on Facebook” sense or even the “I’d consider going on a vacation with her” sense. No, no. Nothing so piddly or ephemeral as that. I’m talking in the “Yes, of course she can have my kidney/liver/bone marrow” sense.

This year, her birthday falls on Thanksgiving, which meant that we wouldn’t be at work to celebrate it. Also, it’s a milestone birthday, one that ends in a zero, and it deserved a little extra ooomph as such. Naturally, all the little elves and I put our pointy hats together and came up with a fun and unique way to celebrate the miraculous and wonderful birth of one truly amazing person. Feel free to steal our ideas or just the concept itself in order to truly show someone you care about how glad you are that his/her mother chose to give him/her life.

We decided one day was simply not enough for the beginning of a new decade, so we elected to go for the week-long celebration instead. Thus, Operation Jenukkah was born. Naturally, we went with the Hanukkah idea as it provided a fun framework and title. Granted, our celebration was five days in length rather than eight, but no one (not even we) works eight days a week! 🙂 (Well, maybe Jen does, but that’s a story for another blog.)

Day Zero (Saturday)

You don’t think it’s too subtle, do you?

On Saturday, I snuck up to work and with a roll of obnoxiously pink wrapping paper, copious amounts of tape, and a few other gewgaws and transformed her door into a package just waiting to be opened. Yes, it does look like a five-year-old, a highly distracted one, did it. But it’s the thought that counts, right? Right!?

**This turned out to be an unforeseen (but important) advertising element, the effect of which you’ll see on day five.**

Day One (Monday)

Simple Gifts

The key to throwing someone off the track regarding a Jenukkah-type birthday is to start simply. Seriously, think more “Ang Lee” and less “Michael Bay.” It gives you somewhere to start and work your way up from. We opted for flowers and a nice notepad as you can see here. Oh, and a jaunty balloon on a stick. Everything, and I mean everything, is better on a stick.

** Concerning logistics, it is best to sneak in before your friend gets to work. Thankfully, ours left her door unlocked, and that made this operation a cinch to carry out. If your friend/loved one is a little less trusting in humanity and locks the door, you have two options—1.) Buy and learn how to use a set of lock picks or 2.) Bring a box or two of tasty homemade baked treats to the building manager in exchange for access.**

Day Two (Tuesday)

Sweets for the Sweet!

Day two featured all manner of sweet things. Candy from Peterbrooke, a cupcake from CamiCakes, and a balloon featuring, you guessed it, a pink cupcake! She mentioned later in the week that this gift was well timed as she was stressed and fell upon the CamiCake like a Tasmanian Devil. After that, the day was better all around.

This is the lousiest picture I’ve ever taken, and not because I’m only slightly more skilled with a camera than an orangutan. Granted, there’s a ton of work on her desk in this one (as per usual), but the gift is not well featured. That’s something else to consider when carrying out your own operation. Gift placement is essential. It needs to POP, to draw the eye immediately. Her screensaver is more attractive than this set up. However, it was all themed, and that goes a long way. I’m a big fan of themed things. Just ask my mother about winning the neighborhood Christmas decorating contest a few years ago when we beat the guy who wins almost every year. It was like something out of Hoosiers.

Also, on a humorous note, Jen beat me in to work that day, so I had to stop, drop, and roll (all while holding a balloon) to get out of sight in time. She didn’t leave her office until nearly eleven, which is when I ninjaed in there with treats in hand. I suggest stretching before delivery each day…you know, just in case.

Day Three (Wednesday)

Beautiful Inside and Out

As you can see here, day three was all about the Achilles’ Heel of all females–make-up and bath products. One of the other girls at work snuck this one in and took the picture for me, and I have to say she’s a much better photographer than I am. She took several shots, all of which were done from different angles and levels. It made the gift look artistic! Also, she left a nice handwritten note to add to the surprise. Jen already had an inkling that something was up by day three, so letting her in at this point was part of the fun.

**Bonus idea! I had considered little handwritten notes explaining the theme of the day in doggerel verse, but time was short. It’d be a nice touch if you can pull it off.**

Day Four (Thursday)

A Few of Your Favorite Things!

By day four, it became apparent that the gifts were getting bigger. This one had the first double digit priced gift, a B&N gift card. (Great, now I’m singing “Hey, Big Spender” from Sweet Charity in my head!) The rest of the gifts are a clever cup from CB2 that has a place for a spoon in its handle, a box of vanilla almond tea from a company called Purse-anali-Tea. (There’s no link for this one because I can’t figure out how to spell it, and Google is giving me some weird as heck results I’m not keen on sharing here! It’s a purse full of tea. Hence the clever play on words. You get the idea.) We also threw in a cute little gift book, Wisdom for the Sole, because Jen is a shoe fanatic nonpareil. It’s full of fun footwear quotes and clever drawings, and it cost next to nothing.

**Shop smarter, not pricier! I find more often than not that people appreciate gifts that are well-thought-out to those that are pricey. It requires a little more work to find them (in this case, fifteen minutes perusing B&N after grabbing the gift card), but she said it was one of her favorite gifts of the week.**

Day Five (Friday)

Get Your Fash-On!

Two things you’ll notice here. One, I took my own advice and made the gift much more attractive on the desk using a pillow from her couch. Had I thought about it, I’d have borrowed a mannequin (or at least one of those terrifying body-less ones that people use to display wigs). However, like Indiana Jones, we were all making it up as we went along. The scarf was from Charming Charlie, a great place for accessories, and the LOFT gift card was for her to pick an outfit to go with it from her favorite store.

The other point of note is the green bag sitting bashfully off to the side. Throughout the week, other people starting bringing in little things to add to the pile, things that we had nothing to do with! How cool is that!? Co-workers had begun talking about the door, which led to a discussion of the plan, and on their own, a few other folks started dropping things off on the sly as well. 🙂 Isn’t it great when an idea takes off!?

Unexpected Blessings

I think it’s replicating!

By the end of the week, Jen had a pretty sizable stash of treasure on her desk. However, according to her, the best thing was the fact that something else showed up on her desk each day…sometimes two or three times a day! The surprise is indeed the thing.

The Grand Finale

Have your cakes, and eat them too!

We finished the week with something we dubbed Cakeapalooza! A co-worker made the delicious cookie cake on the left and topped it with homemade whipped cream and strawberries. I did the chocolate peanut butter cake on the right. Naturally, we got together, sang, and ate a ton of sugary, carbtastic goodness. However, Jen (the smiling woman you see in the middle) thought her gifts were at an end and the cake was all there was. However, a group of people had chosen to contribute to another gift, and it was a whammer! Over the course of a week and a half, they had gathered enough to get her a $200 gift card to the Apple Store for the purchase of a new iPhone 4S, which she had been needing/wanting/dreaming about since it came out. Talk about an exciting conclusion! In fact, she was so stoked, she ran to the store before the end of the day and got exactly what she wanted.

So, all in all, Jenukkah was a fun experiment in gift giving we got to enjoy as much as the recipient. I highly suggest doing it to see how many people get caught up in the fun!

Have a happy, happy, happy, happy Jenukkah!

Alas, poor Onk! I knew him, Horatio…

My recent blog post about a piece of graffiti named Onk is now an example of God’s perfect timing (and perhaps His sense of humor).

Onk is no more. He has ceased to be. Yes, he has shuffled off his mortal coil, kicked the bucket, bitten the dust, gone belly up, gone west, and cashed in his chips. Last night, Wayne and I hopped in the car to go meet my father, who is working in town this week, for dinner, and when we came to the end of the street, this is what we saw.

Some do-gooder in rolled-up blue jeans and a hat that looks like the one Walter White dons in Breaking Bad when he adopts his alter-ego, Heisenberg, was painting over the blue ninja turbaned mouse! There was no doubt in my mind that poor, helpless Onk was next on his list, but I was unable to stop him. Traffic was whizzing by so quickly, I had to take six pictures with my cell phone just to capture this one, and there was no way I could get out, cross the street, and beg him to stop. So, we drove on to dinner, me bemoaning the untimely demise of my friend for the entirety of the journey. I even called my mother to tell her the sad news, and she was nearly as upset as I was. Nearly.

I must admit that our shared reaction is odd, even for us. And that’s saying something.

We’re a family that takes pride in order, in neatness, and in civic pride. Graffiti is the last thing we’d normally praise. Neither of us views it as “art” per se, and we’re not taking up a collection to bail graffiti artists out of jail to continue practicing their craft on unsuspecting, innocent walls. Heck, most times, we’d be out there with paint rollers helping get rid of it! That’s just now how we roll.

However, this little guy was different for reasons I’ve already explained in the previous post featuring him. My defense of him was something much more personal than it was social. I did not want him to remain because doing so was against the idea of freedom of expression; I wasn’t upset because of what Onk means to the graffiti spraying public. I just liked the idea of him and the comfort that came from seeing him each day. I suppose it would be akin to going back to a town where you used to live to find that a place where you spent time with friends and had made good memories in had been torn down or converted to something else, perhaps something corporate and soulless.

Perhaps the snuffing of Onk made me more introspective than usual. Who knows?  But on the way home, Wayne and I discussed the many challenges we’ve faced and overcome as a couple with God’s help and guidance. We evaluated ourselves spiritually and agreed that the things the Father had to use in the past to get our attention might not be necessary any longer. However, we agreed that we should always be ready for the next event He might use for His ultimate purpose for our lives.

Well, when we returned from dinner, it was dark, but I could see the square of paint–much whiter and cleaner than the area around it–where Onk used to be, and sighed resignedly. I suppose we can never stop change; we can only strive to see what God is doing through it and respond to it as such.

This morning, I decided to stop and snap a picture for this blog to show you the blank space that was left, but I was happily surprised to see this…

At first glance, it appears to be a patchy white wall, but look more closely…

Yep, underneath the single coat of white paint, he’s still there! Granted, it’s not the same as having him out there, slightly stage right, each day. However, I know he’s there like a benevolent spirit—my own personal Jacob Marley, Clarence, and Nearly Headless Nick all rolled into one.

Rest in peace, buddy.


???? – 2011

Reacting to the Writing on the Wall

Having recently moved into Atlanta, the first truly metropolitan area I’ve ever lived in, I can say that there are some adjustments I’ve had to make. Some of the changes that come from moving from a rather idyllic suburban area to an urban zone have been positive. Others, well, not so much.

Photo by the Associated Press

On the negative side, with my poor sense of direction, learning my way around has proven to be a challenge. For those who have never visited the ATL, half the streets have “Peacthree” in their names, and none of them meet up. It’s like the street were titled by the same five-year-old who calls all her pets and stuffed animals “Kitty.”

I’ve ended up going the wrong way down more than a few one way streets, calling my husband to help me get somewhere after I’ve gotten lost, and generally crying hysterically for a few minutes once I get home. On the plus side, my prayer life is much richer for it. Also, once I do reach my destination, I have to determine where I can park because “parallelin’ it” is often out of the question, and only so many of the parking garages take debit cards. (I’ve also learned the value of the word “validation,” which has NOTHING to do with my self esteem.)

And the TRAFFIC. I’ll save my discussion of that for another blog post. It truly

Photo by Jack Kurtz

deserves its own. I’d like to find the person or persons who thought it would be a good idea to merge I-75 and I-85 together through a major city and to do so in such a way that it is impossible to ever widen it. I would have a reasonable discussion with them about civic planning, like Sampson, smite them with the jawbone of an ass.

However, for all the drawbacks (i.e.–not as many people say “Hello” when they pass you, personal safety is of greater concern, and it gets hecka cold here in the winter for a thin-blooded Florida girl like me), there are a great many positives. For example, I live five minutes from an amazing arts center where I can visit the museum, take in a show, or listen to a concert just about year round. There’s a botanical garden close to it as well. There are unique bookstores, restaurants, and music shops straight out of High Fidelity I can peruse at my leisure. Broadway’s best shows come here, as do the biggest bands while on tour. All major sporting leagues (except hockey…sorry Thrashers) have teams here I can follow, and there are beautiful historical sites and festivals going on all the time. There’s never a shortage of new things to experience; I just don’t always have the funds to indulge in all of them!

I’ve tried to balance out these two diametrically different forces in my life. Sure, I’m farther away from my family than I’d like. However, moving to Atlanta gave me the opportunity to leave education and jump feet first into the print industry. I’m writing and editing for a living, which is something I NEVER could have done back home. The many long and painful things Wayne and I had to endure on the path that led us here were worth it, both spiritually and financially.

People have been doing the “Thirty Days of Thankfulness” thing this month on blogs and on Facebook, posting one thing a day for which they are truly grateful be it family, a flush toilet, or flavored dental floss. I think it is an excellent exercise, one we should practice the other eleven months of the year. After all, we’re blessed year-round, not just during the one month the holiday happens to fall on the last Thursday.

I can tell one thing I’m grateful for.

His name is Onk.

Me and My Buddy

You’ll notice that I didn’t name him; the “artist” who created him did. Granted, he’s just graffiti, a spray paint squiggle defacing a wall separating a train station from the street. I see him each morning when I leave for work as the road I take out of our neighborhood runs into the one where he’s stationed. There’s something about him that makes me smile. Perhaps it’s the “whomperjawed” eyeballs that sit, off kilter from one other, or the bucktoothed grin. Maybe its just the mystery of why someone would take the time to create such a thing (and name it) on a random Atlanta wall. I’ve come to think of Onk as “home.” I know I’m in my place when I see his familiar teeth, and I can use him as a guidepost for others who need directions to find me. Sure, time and the elements will eventually erase him, but, to a Southern girl like me, that’s no different than knowing how to get somewhere based on where “such and such building used to be.” There’s a comfort in distinctly human things like this, a quirky thing that decorates an otherwise soulless wall. I’m willing to bet hundreds if not thousands of people drive by him every week and never notice he’s there, but I do.

Imagine my surprise yesterday morning when, on the way to church, my husband and I saw this!

Onk Has New Friends!

Yep, Onk has a roommate! (Or two—I can’t tell if the squiggles in brown are a word or a design.) There’s now a vivid blue mouse wearing a turban (or a ninja hood) a foot or two away from my old friend.

Unlike the sanguine Onk who sits tranquilly on the wall, his eyes glazed in half sleep, the blue mouse (who I have to name on my own some day) seems flabbergasted to be where he is. His wide eyes and acute eyebrows betray his panic to oncoming traffic, as if he’s afraid we’re going to choose neither left nor right and plow straight into the wall where he’s stuck. I was actually delighted when I saw it for some reason, and I stopped to take a picture this morning.

Perhaps I clapped my hands in delight because yet-to-be-named-blue-ninja-turbaned-mouse reminds me that I live in a world of constant change. Nothing stays the same, but I can choose how I react to it and be thankful that I’m around to experience it.

I can either get angry because A.) Someone is defacing a wall or B.) I liked Onk just the way he was -or- I can see it as a positive. It’s just another guidepost, a thumbtack on the topographical map of my life. I think I’ll choose the latter.



A Sublime Coalescence of Sound

My husband and I, because of our shared love of music, decided to splurge this year and purchase a package of six concert tickets from the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra so we could enjoy some of our favorite pieces and perhaps discover a few new ones. Our first concert was a perfect starter as it featured selections from The Ring of the Nibelung by Richard Wagner and Ludwig van Beethoven’s immortal Symphony No. 9. As a trombone player who relishes powerful melodic lines and bass parts that are heavier than potato and knockwurst suppers, Wayne naturally adores Wagner (and Mahler…and pretty much anyone else who is of Germanic descent and writes music featuring brass instruments).  As a French horn player, I can enjoy chamber music as easily as opera, and I am often treated to a stunning performance by someone on my instrument at every performance I attend. However, I must say that I prefer the powerful and dramatic works of the romantic composers, and I especially love the ninth for its history and the political turmoil that played into its creation. (Check out this book I read if you’d like to learn more about it yourself!) We began the afternoon with a lovely supper at Cafe Intermezzo that involved a huge slice of peanut butter chocolate cake and espresso and ended with sweet harmony. It was a true delight!

Edgar Allan Poe

After a dinner of Jambalaya and Shrimp Etouffee at Front Page News, we headed to the Woodruff Arts Center for our second concert, which featured Nyx, a new composition by Esa-Pekka Salonen, and Le Poème de l’extase (The Poem of Ecstacy, Symphony No. 4) by Alexander Scriabin. Both pieces are, as one would expect, marvelous. However, the reason I chose this particular concert was the third selection for the evening—The Bells by Sergei Rachmaninov. I have always wanted to learn more about him as a composer, and I thought it was a bonus for a word nerd like myself to be introduced to him via a piece that came about because of a poem by Edgar Allan Poe of the same name. Having taught it before, I knew all about Poe’s use of onomatopoeia and other poetic devices to create the sounds of different types of bells and explore their symbolic meanings. It’s a poem that almost begs to be sung from the page, and I was excited to see how it would sound in the hands of a master like Rachmaninov.

Sergei Rachmaninov

Like the poem, the choral symphony, is composed of four parts, each of which feature the sound of a distinct type of bell–silver sleigh bells, golden wedding bells, loud alarm bells, and mournful iron bells. Notice they move from light and jovial to dark and morose, a true chronicle of the cradle to the grave. While Poe’s poem is the inspiration of this piece and though some of the same concepts are presented in it, the words in the libretto are wholly the composer’s. (If you would like to listen to each movement while reading the remainder of the blog, please feel free! I have also included the English translation of the words for you to explore.)


Movement I—Allegro non ma troppo (The Silver Sleigh Bells)

This movement opens with a jaunty, crisp feel full of bells and other percussion, flute trills, and muted trumpet. (It honestly sounded like the inside of a snow globe might when you shake it.) The horns and other brass round out the introduction and then give way to the tenor soloist who enters faintly, his voice growing in volume, to tell us “The sleighs rush along in a line.” And then, oh mercy, an absolute brick wall of sound erupts when the entire choir joins him to tell the story of the silver sleigh bells! The chord they form is massive, rich as chocolate ganache, and I swear it blew my hair back even all the way in the balcony where are seats were. The movement then alternates between the gossamer opening to the more mellow section in which the soloist sings of the delight that follows in death when the “days of delusion” are over and we travel into the bliss of oblivion. Finally, he ends on a climactic note of triumph.

In the concluding bars, the orchestra gives the audience a taste of the sweet tranquility of that place by using long, fluid lines in the string section and light touches of flute and oboe to accent it like the delightful twinkling of the stars. The entire piece ends with a sort of rocking movement that’s hard to describe, but it gently lulled me back down from the peak, almost as if someone was rocking me to sleep. Filled with gorgeous similes, clever onomatopoetic words like “twinkling” and “flickering,” repetition, and personification, this movement is, at the risk of sounding cliche, magical.

Movement II—Lento (The Mellow Wedding Bells)

I love pieces of music that feature the viola, the most maligned of all stringed instruments. This one opens with them and eventually gives way to muted trumpets, cello, and then the string section as a whole recapturing the rocking feeling that the first movement ended with. It’s strangely mellow and pensive for a piece about a wedding, but I actually found it more moving because of this. After all, a wedding is not just a ceremony; it is the physical union of two people who are joined together in flesh and heart. It is a spiritual commitment as well as a physical one that we are never meant to break until death, so why not speak of it in terms of eternity? The words tell of the moon and “fairytale delights” the couple will soon enjoy as well as the “serenity of sweet dreams” they’ll share in the “harmony” of marriage. The soprano soloist in this is a perfect choice; her voice soars over the choir in an attempt to capture the thoughts of a bride who is listening to those bells waiting for her groom to arrive. In short, this movement captures the feeling of rapture that comes with true and all-encompassing love.

Movement III—Presto (The Loud Alarum Bells)

Movement three is the only one that doesn’t feature a solo—not that it needs one! If it is possible to capture cacophony in music, to replicate the feeling of chaos in sound, this is it. The piece opens much like movement one with flittering brass and strings, but the French horn enters with beautiful bell tones that the trumpets soon echo, and it builds from there. The alarm bells desperately warn people about the approaching fire that they cannot stop. Rachmaninov describes them in such human terms that he actually invokes the pathetic fallacy—they groan, beg for help, weep for mercy, and feel grief. Likewise, the fire expresses its desire to climb to the very reaches of the sky before it is extinguished. I love the placement of this movement after the sweet movement that symbolizes youth and the golden movement of marriage. After all, when does tragedy often strike? When we are least expecting it. It honestly made me think of Job 5:6-7, which reads:

For affliction does not come from the dust, nor does trouble sprout from the ground, for man is born for trouble, as sparks fly upward.

The contrast between the previous movement, which is actually rather intimate in nature, and the communal experience of chaos in this piece is striking. You feel as if you, too, are part of the scene–that your life, your home, and your very way of life are being threatened.

The ending measures are the most amazing of the entire portion. The chorus sings about waves of sound, the bells ringing and telling of the misfortune that is coming for them all. The waves are a fantastic choice symbolically speaking. After all, misfortune and good fortune do come in waves; they are both part of the natural ebb and flow of life. Also, the tide is a powerful force, one that cannot be controlled or contained. It is a fitting ending for a piece such as this.

Movement IV—Lento lugubre (The Mournful Iron Bells)

Oh, movement four! Be still my heart! I listened to this one with my hand wrapped around Wayne’s arm because I found it so moving. This is the funeral portion full of iron bells that tell of the death of one in the community. It opens with an oboe solo atop a palate of languid strings. (On a side note, I adore the oboe because, like the cello, it’s such an expressive, sensual instrument. It’s a perfect choice for this section.) The gentle sway of this piece when the bass soloist enters is reminiscent of a funeral march, a gentle walking on weary feet. It felt as if you were standing by watching the procession but are carried away with it, as if compelled to see where it ends—the grave.

Take a moment and re-read the most stunning lines of text in the entire piece:

In the belfry’s rusty cells, for the righteous and the unrighteous, it menacingly repeats a single thing: that there will be a stone on your heart, that your eyes will close in sleep.

I actually gasped when I read that section and heard it sung. The “stone” is speaks of is, of course, the tombstone, the one laid atop the grave. However, the image when paired with the booming voice of the soloist made it feel utterly ponderous. I could actually feel the weight of it pressing on my chest, as if I was experiencing a sort of death by proxy through the music.

It is Death personified ringing the mournful bell, swinging wildly and rejoicing over another brought into his grip. Those who hear run “from their pastimes” and weep knowing that such a bell will invariably ring for them in the fullness of time. However, Rachmaninov does not leave the entire piece with a negative mood because “at length” the bells proclaim “the peace of the grave.” The closing measures build into a peaceful postlude in the strings, harp, and clarinet and end on a glorious major chord that fades out into silence. (By the way, when you hear this live, there are moments where the orchestra and choir cut off, leaving the tones to fade and blend into the silence, and those moments are surreal. There is sound remaining though no one is producing it. Go hear it for yourself!)

Through this symphony, the listener can experience a wide range of emotions from rapt wonder and joy to panic and, eventually, peace. Rachmaninov masterfully leads listeners through them movement by movement, allowing them to experience something akin to the catharsis the ancient Greek dramatists sought. It combines the thoughts of Poe and one of his most musical poems with the methods of expression available to a musician, and becomes a sublime coalescence of sound.