Monday, January 28, 2008

Careful Language

This evening I was cooking dinner and opened a package of mushrooms. I noted that on the underside of the label was, as there often is, a recipe. This recipe? Was for "Asian-Flavoured Mushrooms."

Think about it for a minute. What does that even mean?

Sunday, January 27, 2008


Today (technically yesterday), I drove all the way to Cape Cod to see my friend Anne get married. It was fun. Beautiful drive. Lovely ceremony. Fun reception. Also, there were friends there I hadn't expected to see, so it was a little like a reunion.

I know Anne from when I lived in Nannyfield. She's some years older than I am, and we've had our share of Girl Talks about guys and marriage-longings and that stuff. Anne's never been married before either and she's held out a good long time for the right guy, so I think that everyone was just really happy to see that her steadfastness had finally paid off.

People don't always express these things so well, though. It was one thing when the pastor said to her, during the ceremony, "You've waited a long time, Anne." It sort of okay when her brother, who was also officiating, (and who was also her brother) said, "It's been a while!" But by the time the ceremony was over, people were going up to her father, congratulating him, and saying, "Finally!"

Here's a little heads up. I currently have no plans to get married (although, you know, I'm amenable to making such plans, you know, whenever). But if it ever happens? I am the only one who is allowed to say, "Finally!" at my wedding. Okay? You can tell anybody I said so.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Yes, I Have Written a Book

I seem to have acquired some Readers since this post. (How gratifying.) What's more, even some colleagues and Favourite Customers (I'm sorry, but I have favourites, okay?) have stared at me blankly when I have said, "My book has a cover!" Then I have to say, "Oh. Did you not know I was having a book published?" I guess I thought everybody knew, partly because the ones who do know have been asking for about a year, "So, what's the latest with your book?"

Anyway, for those of you who haven't been asking that because you didn't know you could, here's a recap:

I have written a children's novel about an 8-year-old refugee girl and her family who flee prejudice in Kosovo, only to arrive in London and discover that prejudice is alive and well there, too--outside them, but also within them. It is fiction, but I couldn't have written it had I not lived and worked among refugees (quite a few of them Kosovar) in London myself in the 90's.

Christian Focus Publications (in Scotland) has kindly taken it upon themselves to make this story available to the world, so stay tuned. It will be available in the UK (and on-line from them) in May, and everywhere else in June. It's been kind of a long wait, and so I've been kind of blase about it up to this point, but now that it actually looks like something, it seems for real.

There is probably some deep philosophical point and analogy that can be drawn from that, but we'll just leave it there for now.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Check. This. Out.

My book has a cover! It looks (at least for the moment) like this:

Editor-Catherine says I can post this here.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Valid Cultures

Magazine-Editor-Jim, one of our Starbucks customers, has gone out on a limb and recruited me to write an article for New England Condominium. This is daring of him because I have never written a commissioned article (let alone conducted an interview) in my life. And although he has maybe visited my blog occasionally, experientially all he really knows I can do is give him his daily grande coffee.

Yesterday I headed out to Concord, Massachusetts, about which this article is supposed to be. (And can I just say that I think that the fact there is a Thoreau Shopping Center is one of the most hilarious pieces of irony I've run across in a long while? I didn't see it, but I did see a sign for it.) Apart from the fact that I'm having a rerun of my New Year's Cold and so my head felt like someone was gripping it in a vice all day, it was quite a lovely little outing. The early morning slush-pelting had stopped, the sky had given way to blue and the temperatures had given way to 40. I visited shops, had a heart-warming (and maybe -stopping, but whatever) bowl of clam chowder at a local eatery, and I visited the Concord Museum.

Even though I was writing about living in Concord now, and the museum was about what Concord was famous for a long time ago, that visit was probably the most helpful for my article. But in one room, I saw something that gave me pause. And then made me a little angry, in two apparently opposing ways.

Of course in Concord, as in other parts of New England, there lived a tribe of Algonkians before the English settlers arrived. At some point (I'm sure after Concord was incorporated as a Puritan town), a missionary named John Eliot began to make inroads into the Algonkian population. A number of them became Christians (and were known as the "Praying Indians"), but they also were rejected by their "non-praying" cultural counterparts. Turns out, though, that their supposedly Christian brethren rejected them, too. The Puritans in Concord were afraid that the angry unconverted Algonkians, who were ravaging English settlements during King Philip's War, were going to attack them, too. So even though the Praying Indians were fighting on the side of the English, these Puritans sent their local Praying Indians off to a little island where many of them died.

I think I learned all this stuff once, but I had not thought about it in some time, and I read it with horror and found myself utterly infuriated. What right do we, as Christians, have to make our ethnicity of greater importance than our family-hood in Christ? How is it that we can imagine that Jesus does not transcend all that? Or that He won't call us to account for betraying His children that way? I think we still do it, when we forget the Persecuted Church or imagine the culmination of history and return of Christ is dependent solely on American or Western history and experience. It made me want to scream. Or cry, or something.

Then I read the next set of placards and felt like screaming again, for the opposite reason. This was set up as a sort of board-book and written in a somewhat condescending manner, as if by someone who does not really understand children. The text was in question-and-answer format. It delineated certain native customs which the Puritans were outlawing among the Indian converts. Then it said something like, "Why do you think the Puritans wanted to keep the Indians from performing their ancient rituals?" (for example). After you turned to the next board--well, what do you know? Apparently "The Puritans didn't think that other cultures were valid. They wanted to make everybody just like them." (I am not quoting verbatim, here, but if you doubt that I'm getting the basic spirit of this, you can just go visit the museum yourself.) At some point there was some dismissive mention of a belief in devil-worship.

Okay, look, guys. Puritans have a somewhat, er, puritanical reputation for a reason. The witch trials were a travesty. Also "American literature" from that time period is really boring. There were a lot of things wrong, I fully admit it. I just don't think it's fair for someone who obviously has no sympathy for a particular group of people to assume they know why that group did something, and then to present it to the general public. A lot of cultural desecration has happened in the name of Christ, and I don't want to try to justify it. I'm sure many of the laws the Puritans set down for the Praying Indians were condescending and culturally insensitive and arbitrary.

But the writers at the Concord Museum have conveniently ignored the fact that John Eliot, for one, was being as culturally sensitive as he, in his day, knew how, and that he loved these people and wanted them to know the salvation of trusting in Jesus. They don't take into account the idea that, for Christians, Jesus must take precedence over everything, and that even though for the most part we mess that up and assume Jesus to want certain things He probably doesn't, some cultural practices (like worship of natural spirits--or betraying a group of people because they're browner than you are) really do have to go. Some things do have to be renounced. Undoubtedly the Puritans didn't renounce everything they should have. But I do feel a case could be made for at least the above question, as follows:

The Praying Indians had dedicated themselves to Christ.
The Bible says that communing with spirits other than God is forbidden.
The Puritans (and presumably their Praying Indian counterparts) believed the Bible was truly inspired by God.
The Puritans wanted to help the Praying Indians to obey God, and not to be in contact with demons. So they forbade the use of powwows.

Maybe there was a better way for them to have gone about this. Maybe some of them were racist. But I don't think it's very helpful to assume such things. It's like assuming we have the only valid culture, or something. Sometimes I wish people would recognise that true diversity requires listening to what Christians have to say, too.

Happy Martin Luther King weekend, everybody!

Thursday, January 17, 2008

One (?) Book

I've been memed by Heather, and I haven't been memed at all in a while, so even though I can't actually think of any of the right-for-me answers to the questions below, I'm going to try to answer them anyway.

1. One book that changed your life.

My Name is Asher Lev by Chaim Potok. I read it my senior year in high school, along with my first Dostoevsky and my first Fitzgerald. All three books rocked my inner, conservative-in-a-box, Evangelical world a little bit. But Asher opened up the world and ideas of art to me in a way I hadn't been able to access before, in spite of having grown up in a pretty creative and artistic family.

2. One book that you have read more than once.

All of the Chronicles of Narnia. Which isn't just one book. But . . . it could be. A really long one.

3. One book you would want on a desert island.

Blue Like Jazz by Donald Miller. Though I don't know why, because it's so relational, and if I were on a desert island (unless I crashed there with a plane full of other people and we all survived), I doubt I'd be being very relational.

4. Two books that made you laugh.

The Lyre of Orpheus by Robertson Davies. (Not an all-time favourite, but I did laugh.)
How to Be Good by Nick Hornby. It was also poignant, but that guy manages to do poignancy with hilarity.

5. One book that made you cry.

The High King by Lloyd Alexander.

6. One book you wish you'd written.

The Man Who Was Thursday by G.K. Chesterton.

7. One book you wish had never been written.

Any of the ones I never finished reading. And maybe the one I'm currently writing.

8. Two books you are currently reading.

On Writing by Stephen King, and From Pentecost to Patmos by Dr. Craig Blomberg

9. One book you've been meaning to read.

Tiger Rising by Kate diCamillo. I found it in the children's section of a bookstore in London once, and then forgot what it was called and who wrote it. Then, just last month, thanks to Chris, I heard about it again on a podcast and knew that was the book I had been blindly searching for all these years . . .

10. Five people that I tag:

Cubical Reverend ('cause he keeps SuperPoking me on Facebook)
A Musing Mom
Craver VII
Greek Geek
and Barry Pike

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Glottal Stops

I got some Arabic language-learning CD's for Christmas.

"Who would give someone something like that?" you may ask. You may wrinkle your nose. I'll tell you who--my brother and sister-in-law (who are, by the way, going to have a baby girl in June!). This is because it's what I asked for.

"Why would you ask for something like that?" you may ask. With the same quizzical and wrinkle-inducing facial expression.

Um . . . to give me something to do in the car on the way to work at 4.30 in the morning? I don't know. I guess I feel I have totally underused second-language abilities, and I'm testing them out. Also, I think that, while Spanish may be the most practical second language to learn in this country, people the world over might be a step ahead of the game if they picked up some Arabic, too. I think Christian colleges should include Arabic in their foreign language programmes. But I digress . . .

Anyway, here are some things I have noticed, after going through just two lessons:

1) When you're learning a language which has very little overlap with your own, you start to hear words from your own language in some of the sounds. Sometimes it sounds like "bad words," actually. This can be funny . . . and a little distracting.

2) Speaking Arabic with a cold is a challenging endeavour. The first time I tried it, I found myself helplessly choking on all the glottal stops. And all the different aspirated sounds are tricky. I feel like I'm practicing tongue twisters, except that my tongue is scarcely involved at all, and the part that's twisting is the back of my throat.

Monday, January 14, 2008

" . . . Sometimes Use Words"

I'm applying for a new job. I feel that I can announce this on the internet now, because most people know about it, and I don't think either of my managers really expect me to stay at Starbucks forever, especially now that I'm not planning to go into management myself.

Here's the thing, though. I have never exactly had to apply for a job. Mostly everything I've done in my life has happened because I thought, "That would be cool to do," and then I've gone to the place I thought would be cool to work at and talked to some people, and they've said, "You want a job?" After which point, the application and resume are kind of a formality.

Which means my resume is kind of feeble.

So I have a couple of friends who have been helping me tweak it over the past, say, six months. A couple of nights ago, one of them said, "You might want to leave out the missionary part--if you want to apply to a secular school it's unlikely they'll even look at your stuff once they see that."

I got all huffy about this and pompously protested that to leave such person-forming information off my CV was Not Me and I would rather remain unhired than stoop to such dissembling. (That isn't really what I meant, but I fear that's probably how it came across.) I'm still not convinced that leaving such information off completely is really the tack for me to take, just because five and a half years in London really was character-forming and gave me some useful and transferable experiences. However, this is not my point.

My point is that I started wondering about how necessary it necessarily is to let all and sundry know that I am a Christian right off the bat. If I went back to traditional missionary-dom, there are some countries where it would take a long time before I knew who I could share such information with at all. And it occurred to me that if I waited a bit before spilling these beans, I would probably have to live a little bit better than I do.

If I had any desire to communicate Jesus' love with people without actually talking about Him first, I'd have, for example, to stop getting upset when someone's sense of entitlement encroaches on mine. Better--I'd have to stop feeling like I'm entitled at all. I couldn't slip up and make snide remarks about customers. I'd have to remember that it is the Lord Christ I'm serving, instead of getting annoyed that District-Dan wants the retail shelves rearranged for inexplicable reasons.

You would think I would be more motivated to live like this because I trumpet to the world that I am a Christian. But I think maybe talking about it makes me subconsciously imagine I am making up for any actual and practical failures. Oops. I messed that up . . . but I shared the Gospel once in the last six months. So, you know. It's all good.

But I don't really think it is. I haven't had that many "evangelistic" conversations in quite some time anyway, but I think I'm going to experiment for a little while. I don't want to refuse the conversations if they come up. But I think I need to maybe not consciously look for them for a while. I think I need to focus on letting my light shine before I let my words run away from me.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Sweet Little Woodland Creatures

Last night I heard a fisher for the first time.

For those of you who don't know, a fisher (locally known as a "fisher cat," though all the on-line blurbs make sure to let you know this is a misnomer) is, essentially, a gigantic weasel with a rather sinister and ferocious reputation and an almost legendary scream. When people talk about fisher cats around here, you feel like they're telling a ghost story or something. The fact that almost no one ever sees them adds to the sense of horrifying mystery. I actually have seen one, or at least its silhouette; before I moved back into my parents' house, I lived in an apartment in a wooded area, and one night I saw one slollop across the road.

(I made up slollop. Say it out loud. And picture how a weasel walks. You'll know what it means.)

I only know one other person who has seen one, but I know plenty of people who have heard them, and they all say the same thing, "It's terrifying. It sounds like a baby screaming."

When the sound started last night, I was sitting in the Little Room painstakingly filling in a job application. I've been a nanny and I've also known cats, and at first the sound reminded me more of cats in heat than of babies. I don't know why none of the on-line definers don't posit this as one of the reasons people here call it a fisher cat. Whatever. Caterwauling isn't really that pleasant.

As the sound went on, it started to remind me of the two red foxes that used to run around the streets of East London near my house. Also a rather disarming noise. But it didn't stop there, either. The shrieking went on and on and on and on, and then it did start to sound like a baby. A very upset, demon-possessed baby. Sitting on the front step. Trying to get into the house.

I don't know that that's where the fisher actually was. Its cry was undeniably eerie and could have been coming from anywhere. But I didn't feel any better about the fact that the split second I stood up to see if I could see it anywhere, the cry stopped and never started up again. How did it know? Was it actually looking at me?

I went around the house and rechecked all the door locks, even though, as far as I am aware, fisher cats do not have keys.

Thursday, January 10, 2008


Last week on my first day of work after the New Year's break, I observed that, according to the digital thermometers outside of the banks along my commute, it was 1 degree Fahrenheit. The next day, it was a whole 4. There's something about only one vertical line being lit up in an entire digital read-out that makes me feel like I'm teetering on the verge of maniacal laughter.

The good thing about temperatures like that is that when they finally get back up to freezing (32), it actually feels kind of warm. And when they hit 66, like they did over the weekend, people around here start thinking about shorts and tank tops, and they order Frappuccinos by the bucketful. Yesterday I saw a girl who had gone from thinking about it to actually doing it--and it was only 52.

Everyone knows that winter's not over. It'll come back and sock us with a big one, most likely. But in the meantime, may I leave you with the public service announcement:

No, folks. It is not summer. And we really don't actually enjoy making Frappuccinos. Also if we run out of plastic cups, it's not our fault.

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

In Which We Welcome a New Member of the Crazy Cousins

Can I just tell you how much I love my cousins? The ones from Mom's side of the family do something along these lines every time we get together. Even at Grandpa Madeira's funeral.

Cousin Dave got married during part of that time between the Overly Delayed Flight and the Urban-Traffic-Like Headcold. The wedding was beautiful and grace-filled (which was needed, given some of the extraneous family dynamics). The reception was One Great Party. The cousins were . . . crazy. My sister-in-law was inducted into this batch of cousins this way when she married my brother, so we had to do the same thing to Liz. Congratulations, you two!

(If anybody noticed that the dress I'm wearing looks familiar--sorry. But thank you for reading my blog this long.)

The other exciting event during this time was that my Mom turned the same age as my Dad on New Year's Day. They look pretty great, huh?

Saturday, January 05, 2008

I Have Other Things to Say, I Promise

But for some time now, my profile here has stated that I am involved in "Accounting." This is really pretty hilarious, if you think about it (if you have any idea how my brain completely freezes up when confronted with numbers). It also bugs me. It isn't true. I am not an accountant. Nor, frankly, do I want to be one. Nor do I even want people thinking I am one.

But when I try to change that little box to "Not Specified," and hit "Save," it just reverts back to accounting. Any hints? Anyone?

Friday, January 04, 2008

Happy New Year to You, Too

I do not want to start the New Year off whining. It's just that right now the only things I can think of to say might not be viewed as exactly positive. Actually, that's not entirely true, but I feel like if I start off with the happy stuff, and then move on to the immediate stuff-in-my-head, it will sound like I'm saying, "So yeah, some good stuff happened, but . . . "

So I'm just going to go ahead and get these things off my chest:

  • No airplane delay should last longer than the flight which is delayed. It certainly should not be four times as long. I don't mind airports, as long as I am planning to hang out in them for over 12 hours. But I do mind if I'm not.
  • Although I began my seasoning as a world-traveler when I was two and learned how to say "Tegucigalpa," I have only just come up with the following, empirically well-tested theory: Any sleep gotten or food ingested in the process of traveling is utterly irrelevant to one's overall state of being.
  • There really is stuff-in-my-head. This morning when I woke up, it felt like someone had taken Boston's Ted Williams Tunnel during rush hour, and tried to surgically implant it into my sinuses.
  • I used to like winter. I'm pretty sure it's all past tense at this point.
Um. Yeah. I hope your turn of the year has been lovely, too!