The Prodigal Son

This last Sunday, Bruce and I were asked to give talks during the main meeting at church. (In the LDS church we don’t have a paid ministry, so people from the membership of the church are asked to give a talk – like a sermon, I guess- each week.) We were asked to talk about the parable of the prodigal son, and it really struck a chord with me. I ended up with quite a lot to say. I thought I’d share it here.

 

We were asked to speak about the prodigal son today, and pondering this parable and its implications for us has been such an enlightening experience. I will be using a lot of personal examples, because this parable is about individual souls.

I heard a lesson about the prodigal son once where the teacher challenged us to not assume that we were the father, (benevolent, loving, forgiving), but to take a deep look at how we function as the other characters in the story, and that is what I would like to do today. I don’t know that we are ever the father in this story (even if we are earthly parents of earthly children who stray from the gospel) – at its base this is a story about how we interact with God and how we view and react to how others interact with God.

The father in the story runs a household, and one of his sons comes to him asking for his inheritance early. He wants to live his own life on his own terms. The father allows this, and the son leaves. He enjoys his life of reckless spending (did you know that that is the definition of prodigal? It’s doesn’t mean wayward. I had NO idea.) and finally comes to the realization that he has wasted his money and has no further way to support himself.  He realizes that the servants in his father’s home have more to eat than he does, and he humbles himself and returns to his father’s home to beg for the chance to be a servant.

We are, all of us, that prodigal child. Every day, in different ways, we step away from our Father’s home and recklessly waste the time that we have here on earth. Some of us do that in big ways and find ourselves far from our Father’s house, some do it in small ways and maybe just find ourselves just outside the door. But every one of us finds ourselves in the position of needing to humble ourselves and return home.  Sin makes it impossible for us to have residence in His home or in His presence, and so we return as supplicants.

But as the parable teaches us, the Father is standing with arms outstretched, not even standing- the scripture tells us “when he was yet a great way off, his father saw him and had compassion and ran, and fell on his neck, and kissed him” . The Lord is always waiting, ready to forgive us when we return. Because of the Atonement of Jesus Christ, it tells us in Ephesians that  ” you are no longer called outcasts and wanderers but citizens with God’s people, members of God’s holy family, and residents of His household.” – Ephesians 2:19

I bear testimony that no matter how lost or far from God you feel, He knows exactly where you are. I went to college at the University of CA in Santa Cruz, which is about as far from a church school as you can get. It was extremely easy for members to come to college and then just never go to church. A friend and I were stake missionaries, and part of our job was to track down people whose records had been transferred to the student ward and let them know when church was and encourage them to come. Sometimes this was really straight forward, but other times people were quite elusive, especially if they lived off campus. We basically had a list of names in our heads all of the time and we just kept an eye out for them. One of them was Fred.

One quarter toward the end of the year, I was prompted to take a beginning Chinese language class. It sounded insane but kind of fun, and I like that combination, so I signed up. I figured that maybe I’d use Chinese in the future at some point, because I really felt prompted to take it. I went to the first class and realized that it really was just insane. Chinese is extremely difficult, and my other two classes were going to be intense as well. But I decided to stick with it. The next class came, and the next, and I realized that Chinese was not going to happen. I needed to get out of this class or I was going to flunk, but the only class I could transfer into was being taught by a teacher I had taken classes from before and had sworn I would never take a class from again. But it was my only move, and I felt like it was the right one, so I went in and pleaded for him to make space for me in his class, which he did. I showed up to class the next day, this class that I would never have chosen to take, and there was a roll sheet being passed around. I took it and as I went to write my name I noticed the name above mine. Fred.  I passed the roll on and then passed a note to Fred that said, “Are you the Fred who is LDS?” His head popped up and he asked how I knew who he was and I told him that we’d been looking for him since the beginning of the year and it was time for him to come to church. And he did.

The Lord knows where we are. He knows our hearts and He knows when we are ready to come back to His house.

But there is someone else in the parable- the older brother of the prodigal son. I said at the beginning that I don’t think we are ever the father in this story, and that’s because we are the son, and we are the older brother, and we get to choose how we respond when those around us repent. In the parable the older brother is resentful and angry about his father’s rejoicing and forgiveness and judgmental of his brother.

As I thought about this, I initially thought, oh, I don’t do that. But then the Spirit chastised me as I realized that, oh yes, I certainly do. There was a situation with a friend of mine, where in my view, she was wronged. Her ex-husband and his new wife went through a repentance process and when they announced that they were being sealed in the temple, I was resentful and angry, just like the brother in the parable. I didn’t feel like they had repented enough, though it was absolutely not my call and none of my business. We are not the father. We do not get to set the terms of other people’s repentance.

In another situation I know, a person committed a sin with very public consequences. They worked very diligently at the repentance process, and were able to return to full fellowship in the church. Everyone in their ward rejoiced with them. But then they committed that sin again. And because the consequences were public and easily seen, everyone knew. And though the person diligently repented and returned again to full fellowship, there were those in their ward, who, like the older brother, were resentful and angry, even going so far as refusing to serve in callings alongside this person.

And this leads me to the thought that has been on my mind for the past two weeks, as I think of the unfortunately large number of my friends who have left the church – do we make our brothers and sisters feel welcome in our Father’s house?

In sixth grade, I had a best friend. We were in the same class at school, and the same class at church. In high school her family stopped coming to church, and when we left for college we lost contact.  Speed forward a lot of years, and when Tiny was a baby I found her again, living about 10 minutes away. She had a daughter Zoe’s age and twins Tiny’s age, and we fell back into a deep friendship. We did preschool co op together and play groups, and even though she was still not active at church, she was surrounded by women who were. My friend was the Relief Society Enrichment counselor and invited her to teach a baking class. She led cooking lessons for our church playgroup. She was invited to baby blessings and baptisms.

We loved her and welcomed her regardless of whether or not she was active, and to this day she is not, but we don’t care, we love her and she knows that she is welcome.

Back in college, we got a name at the beginning of the year of someone whose records were transferred, and got in touch with the girl really quickly. We went to visit her and found out that she had a car, which was a huge thing. The campus is up on a big hill, and the church building takes about an hour to get to by bus. But it only takes 20 minutes by car, and so we arranged a carpool every week. But we had too many people and not enough seats.  So we asked her if she would drive people to church the next Sunday. She said no problem, and became a regular part of the carpool and was very active in church activities. About a year later as she was preparing to go on a mission, she sent me a card, and thanked me for asking her to drive people to church. She really hadn’t been planning on going to church in college, but we showed up and just assumed that she was active, and we communicated to her that she was welcome and needed, and so she came.

When we treat our brothers and sisters who are returning to their father’s house with real love and respect, they will feel welcome. If they feel like an assignment, or feel judged, they will not.

But what about those who aren’t returning on the time table that we want, or who are in the process of leaving?

Regardless the reason for their leaving, I believe the actions are the same. We love. We listen. We live the gospel and take the opportunity to share it when appropriate, being aware of their comfort level. We listen some more. And then perhaps listen some more. The commandment is for us to love our neighbor. Not love them if they are active, not love them if they are keeping the commandments the way we think they should be. Love them.

I asked a couple of my dear friends, one who has been away from the church for a while, and one who only this week announced her intention to leave what was helpful to them in keeping them connected with the church. I thought their words were so illuminating.

One of them said: “My friends that ask me questions still about spirituality and take my answers and experiences seriously, who do not minimize my feelings or conclusions because I am no longer a Mormon, those have been the most helpful friends. Because honestly it’s pretty terrifying to realize that a church you have belonged to for a decade is no longer where you need to be. Unhelpful: sending the missionaries over (if you feel that strongly that I need a 19 year olds help, come with them please), explaining that my feelings are just Satan, or acting like being offended is the only issue I have. I was offended…by the lack of inclusion and support as I went through a terribly dark night of the soul.”

Because of the time that we have spent talking about her concerns,  and the love that we share, I feel comfortable sending her conference talks or other things that come up that are about topics that are meaningful to her. And I have been able to learn and grow so much from the things that she has shared with me from the church that she currently attends.

The other friend said: “I know – from 27 years in the church – that the encouraged response is to see me as fallen, misled, apostate, or in need of “saving.” I hope my friends will sit, listen, and mourn with me, for I am mourning. I feel so loved and supported as people “sit” with me and we muse about questions together, some just said they loved me or sent hugs, and some compassionately shared times they’ve been on the outside as I have. I feel like, often, church members avoid those with doubts or those who’ve left as those with the plague; and yet, Christ was unafraid of those in his own time; he visited them, spoke to them, sat with them.”

If those who have left do not feel welcome, they will not return. If they feel dismissed or belittled, they will not feel that they have a place in their father’s home. May we never say or do anything that gives someone that impression, whether they are a participating member of the Church or not.

Many of my friends who have chosen to leave the church have done so because their feelings were really hurt. I know that we like to refer to that as “they chose to be offended”, but I think often times “they chose to be offended” is a way to not admit that someone made a mistake and said or did something hurtful. Everyone has their agency to decide how they respond to hurtful things, but we also have a responsibility to be inclusive.

One friend took a break from church attendance after a number of weeks of hearing that if she just had more faith she would get pregnant. A number of friends who are converts have a hard time feeling welcome when they hear lessons begin with “Think back to a time on your mission” or “All of us learned this in Primary”. Another friend was exhausted and hurt by criticism of her child’s behavior at church. Yet another felt judged for his decision to wait to serve a mission.

As the saying goes, the gospel is perfect, the people are not- but as Saints we should try to be a little more perfect and aware of what we’re saying. Don’t criticize how people are fulfilling their callings. Don’t assume everyone’s experience is the same as yours.  Teach doctrine, not culture.

It’s not stated in the parable, but I can imagine the older brother making the comment to his younger brother that if he really doesn’t like his father’s rules he can just leave. That should never be an option for us.

There should always be a place for everyone in our Father’s home. As far as he is concerned, there is. Our job is to love and wait and welcome our brothers and sisters back to our Father’s home, and to make sure that it’s where we are.

 

Books I read this week: end of July, beginning of August

Here’s what I’ve been reading over the last couple weeks.

A Pretty Mouth  by Molly Tanzer is a book I would recommend really selectively. When I reviewed Tanzer’s more recent book, Vermillion, I said that it was a book that people who enjoyed that genre of books would really enjoy, but that it was worth a try for those who had never really ventured into the pulp genre before. I would not say that about this one. It’s a great read, but heavy on the eldritch horror, very dark and twisty and strange. It’s a series of short stories following the members of the Calipash family through generations- a family known for their “sinister schemes, lewd larks, and eldritch experiments”. So if you know and enjoy that style and genre, this is a good one. If not, move on.

I do not enjoy verbal fencing with mercurial gentlemen, that is for sharp-tongued spinsters with too many cats and well-thumbed copies of Emma.

The Watchmaker of Filigree Street by Natasha Pulley had so much potential. All of the pieces were there for it to be transcendent, and it didn’t quite make it for me. About halfway through it kicked into high gear and I loved it, but there were emotions and endings that didn’t feel quite earned. But, it really was quite good, if not transcendent, which is a high bar anyway.  It’s the story of Thaniel (an affectation that was a bridge too twee for me) who works as a telegraph operator and is saved from an explosion at Scotland Yard by a mysterious watch that was left in his house. He tracks down the creator of the watch, who may also be the creator of the bomb that exploded Scotland Yard, and the story goes from there. Mori, a Japanese expatriate is a really interesting character, and I wish more had been made of him earlier in the story. The characters are interesting, and there’s a clever element at the crux of the story, so I recommend it with a “stick with it” caveat.

I think if you go about claiming at strangers that you make clockwork flying things they start to feel doubtful about any sort of elongated tenancy.

The History of Love by Nicole Krauss IS transcendent.  It tells the intersecting stories of two families from three perspectives, all of which turns on the pivot of a book called The History of Love. Leo, an old man, just wants to be seen, and wishes to know his lost son. Alma, a teenager named after “every girl in The History of Love”, grieves for her dead father and wants her mother to be happy again, and her little brother Bird thinks that he might be one of the holy men left on the Earth to save mankind. The voices are distinct and alive, their struggles and hopes heartbreaking. I totally cried toward the end, it’s just SO good.

Except for when I was very little and thought that being an “engineer” meant he drove a train. Then I imagined him in the seat of an engine car the color of coal, a string of shiny passenger cars trailing behind. One day my father laughed and corrected me. Everything snapped into focus. It’s one of those unforgettable moments that happen as a child, when you discover that all along the world has been betraying you.

Astonish Me by Maggie Shipstead is so lovely. It’s the story of Joan, who used to be a ballerina but left ballet when she got pregnant. It’s the story of Arslan, her ex-boyfriend, who defected from Russia. It’s the story of Jacob, the boy who always loved her. It’s the story of Elaine, who is still a ballerina. It’s the story of Harry, Joan’s son, who is a ballet prodigy obsessed with Arslan, and the story of Chloe, his best friend, who loves ballet more than anything. As these stories interweave in and out of the dance studio and back and forth in time, the book raises questions about talent, art, the goals we make and the dreams we leave and what we sacrifice. It’s incredibly good.

The motions. She has been trained to believe that the motions are enough. Each motion is to be perfected, repeated endlessly and without variation, strung into a sentence with other motions like words in a sentence, numbers in a code.

He had kissed her once, just before they left for college. It had been the kind of kiss that asks for something enormous.

How to homeschool when you’re scared

Today one of my friends linked to this post and said that while she is really interested in homeschooling, she also shares the fears of the writer of the post. She asked how her homeschooling friends dealt with those fears, and thinking about that inspired this post. Because, predictably, I have thoughts.

First and foremost, let’s just put it out there- homeschooling is scary. You’re stepping outside the norm, you’re taking responsibility for your child’s education, you’re taking on having them home all day, you’re taking on teaching them subjects you may not feel confident in. But just because something is scary doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do it. It also doesn’t automatically mean you should do it. So here are some ways to battle the fear.

“I’m afraid to take my kid out of regular school.”

Write it down:

Why? I’m being serious here, take a look at why you are afraid. Are you afraid of being judged? That your child will miss out on something? (If so, hold on to that, we’ll come back to it.) Are you afraid because you’re doing something unusual? Think of every reason you’re afraid and write it down. Identifying the sources of our fear can help in and of itself.

Read a lot:

The more you read about homeschooling, the more concrete it becomes in your mind as an option. Read far and wide, blogs, books, websites, anything that gives you perspective and options. Read The Well-Trained Mind, A Charlotte Mason Education, A Thomas Jefferson Education , Home Grown: Adventures in Parenting off the Beaten Path, Unschooling, and Reconnecting with the Natural World, and any other book that looks good. You don’t (and won’t) have to agree with all of them, but they’ll show you what is possible outside of a “regular” classroom. This goes hand in hand with

Figure out your philosophy:

My friends will laugh because I have a philosophy about everything, but this is really important. The book 102 Top Picks for Homeschool Curriculum is the most helpful source I’ve found for this, as the workbook pages walk you through thinking about what you want for your child’s education. Think about what it’s important to you that your child know when they graduate. What subjects do you wish you learned more about in school? Do you want them sitting at a desk a lot? Outside? Doing hands on work? Memorizing facts? Figure out what is important to you, so you know what approach you want to take. At this point, you may realize that a regular classroom is the best forum for realizing your philosophy, and that’s just fine. All of the possibilities are tools in the education toolbox, and if you need a classroom shaped hammer, then don’t try using a homeschool sized wrench.

“I’m afraid I don’t know enough to be a good teacher.”

Use the library:

The library is your best friend. The fact is, no one knows everything about anything. If you’re doing a unit on Egyptians, hit the library for age appropriate books about Egypt. Teach your child how to use the resources at the library to look up and find books in the non-fiction and fiction sections.

Use the internet:

There are so many fantastic resources on the internet. I rely on it all the time when I’m trying to figure out how to explain a math concept, or finding an answer to a question I don’t have an answer to. Youtube is full of great videos for visual learners, there are great games for practicing different subjects, and great websites with premade worksheets.

Make friends with other homeschoolers:

If you have a community of homeschooling friends, you have a pool of resources to pull from. Maybe one of them is great at a subject you’re not confident in and is willing to either give you a refresher or do some subbing in for you. Other homeschoolers are also a great resource for ideas for curriculum if what you’ve picked out isn’t working for you.

Look at classes and clubs:

You don’t have to be your child’s only teacher just because you’re homeschooling. There are lots of options for classes at different price points at gyms and community centers, as well as subject specific locations like cooking classes. Girl/boy scouts and 4H are also excellent opportunities for kids to learn outside of the home. The charter school that we went through allowed us to use state funds for certain classes, so that is also something to look into.

Remember, you don’t need to know everything and neither do your kids.

Check out the state standards for the grade your child will be in. See where other kids their age are expected to be at the beginning and end of their grade. It really isn’t necessary for your 1st grader to be able to tell you all of the relevant dates for the history of the Romans- being able to tell you about togas and gladiators and remembering the name of Julius Caesar is pretty awesome. The further I get in homeschooling, the more I realize that I was expecting too much early on. Learning should be interesting and mentally stimulating, not frustrating.

“I’m afraid I’m going to fail.”

Find a mentor:

This is, I think, the most important thing you can do to help yourself not be afraid. Find someone who has done it before, who is further in the process than you are and look to them for inspiration. When we started homeschooling, we went through a charter school that provided an accredited teacher to check in with once a month. I highly recommend this approach for at least the first year. Having someone who can hold your hand as you start is invaluable. My current mentor has no idea that I hold her in that regard, we’ve never met, she doesn’t know who I am. But Heather from Beauty That Moves is a homeschooling mama whose daughter is turning 18, and her posts remind me that this is a viable option, that homeschooling is a wonderful, edifying thing.

Make a schedule:

This is second on the not being afraid list. You can’t have a sense of what you’re accomplishing if you don’t know what you’re trying to accomplish. Determine at the beginning of the year what you want to accomplish. This can be anything from “By the end of the year I want my child to know how to read 3 letter words” to “I want us to do a science experiment every day” or “I want my child to progress through their math workbook”. The more specific, the better. Then break that year long goal down into monthly goals, and then weekly goals. You can go more specific than that, or leave it loose if you want more freedom. I know a lot of people who feel restricted by schedules, I used to be one of them. But I’ve learned that having at least a rudimentary schedule gives you the freedom of knowing that you’re getting the things done that you want to.

Have realistic expectations:

Figure out what your expectations are, and judge yourself against them, not against something impossible. Don’t expect perfection from yourself or your kid, you’re not going to get it. You’re going to make mistakes, and so is she.  If you expect your kid to sit in her chair while you work on math, don’t keep her there for an hour if she’s 5.  This is where a mentor and homeschooling friends come in handy- as a reality check when you get frustrated. Also, be realistic about what kind of homeschooler you are, not just what you think you should be. The fact that pinterest is filled with pictures of intricate reproductions of the Great Wall of China made out of sugar cubes doesn’t mean you have to do that with your kid unless you really want to.

Remember, homeschool isn’t regular school:

And it probably isn’t going to look like it. You’re most likely going to finish lessons in far less time because you’re focusing on teaching less children. Once they’ve got the concept, practice it and move on. School doesn’t have to take 7 hours because you don’t have to wait for everyone to finish. Don’t compare your school to regular school. One of the lovely things for us is that we didn’t have to worry about all of the Common Core techniques for math- once the girls found a technique that worked for them and that they understood, we left the rest alone.

If it isn’t working, you can always stop (for the day):

You are going to have days when you are frustrated beyond belief, or your child is frustrated, and what you are doing isn’t working. Just stop. One of the joys of homeschool is that you can take a step away, no matter what you have on the schedule for that day. If you’re all too tired, watch a video about animals instead of making an intricate sugar cube reproduction of the Great Wall of China. If borrowing is causing tears, cuddle together and read a book instead. Borrowing will wait until tomorrow, and will probably be easier with fresh eyes.

If it really isn’t working, you can always stop (and try something else).

Maybe you have your heart set on giving your child a Classical education and they’re bristling against the structure. Maybe you really love the idea of unschooling but you’re going a little crazy not having things planned ahead of time. Maybe the spelling curriculum that looked awesome causes tears and frustration every day.  Reassess and try something else. It can take time to find what works for you and your kid.

If it REALLY isn’t working, you can always stop (for good.)

Discovering that homeschooling isn’t working for you or your child (or both) isn’t a failure, it’s just a discovery. So you try something else. Maybe it’s public school, maybe it’s private school, maybe it’s a tutor. I know a number of families who tried homeschooling and stopped, and all of them are happier because they were honest about what was working and what wasn’t. Just because you start homeschooling doesn’t mean that you can’t do something else.

“I’m afraid that my child will be weird/not socialized.”

Give them a social education:

I approach my girls’ social education the same way I do their academic education. I plan playdates and social opportunities with specific parameters (not all the time, but you know what I mean) because playing with one friend takes different interaction skills than playing with two or three friends. Give your child lots of opportunities to be around other people and you’ll be fine and so will they.

Are you weird?

In my experience, homeschooled kids of weird people end up a bit weird. Homeschooled kids of fairly normal people end up fairly normal. It’s just kind of how it is. But a little weird never hurt anyone. However, if you (as parents) are introverts (I’m not saying introverts are weird), and you worry about your child feeling comfortable getting out and around other people, then work hard to give them that social education. They won’t have a forced interaction with 30 other kids every day, so you’re going to have to supplement what they’re getting at home.

Homeschooling can be scary, but it doesn’t have to be. Most fear comes from the unknown, and the more you know, the more confident you’ll be. If you’re a religious type who believes in prayer, pray about it. We had very strong promptings that we were supposed to homeschool. Other people might not. Every family and every situation is different. And this is all just my opinion, your experience may vary wildly from this. But hopefully it helps a little bit.

 

San Francisco, here we come

While we were in CA for vacation we took a trip up to San Francisco to visit with my lovely Brandy, who was there for a library conference. We took BART in and took the cable car to Pier 39. It was the girls’ first cable car experience that they can remember, and they enjoyed it greatly though they didn’t appreciate the line to get on.

I’ve been to SF tons of times, but it took being away for me to realize how much I love the look of the town.

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Two intrepid travelers.DSC03864

Two more!DSC03867

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There was a lovely layer of mist over the Golden Gate.DSC03902

The girls found a friend.DSC03914

The girls are now enamored of wax museums (YAY!) so we made a stop at Madame Tussad’s SF location to compare. DSC03925

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They have feelings about Zuckerberg. (Ok, not really, I told them to do this. But it made me laugh.)DSC03937

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They have an exhibit about how they make the wax works (there’s one in the Tokyo version as well) and Neil Patrick Harris is the model for the SF version.
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Posing on Abbey Road, which they totally recognized.DSC03943

Miss Audrey with Miss Audrey.DSC03947

This may be one of my favorite pictures ever. DSC03952

And a special picture for their daddy, looking tough with Steve McQueen. DSC03957

For this one you’re supposed to pose with Elton John.
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There was only one problem.DSC03961

Elton left! DSC03963

We went out to see the sea lions, but this little guy was all alone.
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The weight of all of our expectations tired him out.DSC03976

My sweet Brandy! It was so lovely to spend time with her and enjoy San Francisco!DSC03981

Heard Wildlife Sanctuary

I just created a new category for this blog! Now there’s a check box for Texas posts. How exciting!

When we were in McKinney to find our house, we took a day and went to Heard Wildlife Sanctuary. We hiked around for about an hour and didn’t see a 1/4 of it, and we didn’t go into the science museum either- I think repeat visits will be necessary. It’s a gorgeous place, we all loved it.

There’s a butterfly enclosure with lots of variety. There are few things I like better than getting a good picture of a butterfly.

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The hike included a bunch of different eco systems, including Texas Blackland Prairie, one of the rarest eco systems in North America.DSC03754

There was also marsh.DSC03756

And lots of wildlife!DSC03757

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The swamp might have been my favorite.DSC03762

This flower looks like electricity.DSC03763Here’s to many more adventures at Heard!

Magic at Meguro Gajoen

Today B told us that he had a surprise, and we headed into Meguro. We went to Meguro Gajoen, a really beautiful building that I’ve never been to before. Inside was the most amazing exhibit. It will be seriously difficult to describe, and anyone who lives in Tokyo should make every possible effort to go before the exhibit closes on Aug. 8. Like, move mountains to go. As I was looking at the pictures tonight I realized that it felt like a real life incarnation of Erin Morgenstern’s The Night Circus- full of wonder and oddity and magic. Tiny literally sobbed when it was time for us to leave. We’re going back again next week. (My camera ran out of batteries part way through and so I will post again with pictures of everything I missed this time.)

Meguro Gajoen was originally built in 1931 and functioned as a gorgeously decorated wedding complex. Only part of it still remains in its original form, and this area contains the exhibit. 100 stairs go up, and there are intricately decorated tatami floored rooms off the landings.

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The first room contained a collection of Japanese creations. Lanterns,

 

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hair accessories,DSC04125

wood cut prints, DSC04128

glassware. Beautiful, but normal enough.DSC04130

In the next room was a 3 dimensional display.DSC04141

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Details on the walls of the room.DSC04149

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The next room was stunning in its simplicity. We all wanted to stay there for a long time. It was full of wind chimes.

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There was a fan blowing so that the windchimes tinkled softly. One wall was filled with a diorama of bamboo (my picture came out blurry) and another had these cut, lighted bamboo stalks.

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The next room was my favorite, and it was at this point that things stepped up in the awesome, weird department. The room was full of these strange containers (see the third picture down) with incredible dolls inside.DSC04173

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DSC04193There were glass balls around the room in different configurations so that things reflected oddly- it was unreal.

The next room was full of gorgeously lighted leaves. I wish I could have gotten more pictures, but my camera was losing it at this point. I will take more next week.

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Then there was the washi paper lantern room. All of these are made of washi paper.DSC04208

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DSC04209The last room was full of lanterns.

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I seriously cannot describe how wonderful it all was. Each room was like a present, a lovely magic surprise. Tiny declared it her absolute favorite place we have been in Japan, and I very well might agree with her.

 

 

Books I read this week: mid June through mid July

It’s been a long while since I’ve posted about books. Since we were on vacation I didn’t have as much chance to read- which is probably backward to most people. But I did get some reading done.


West with the Night by Beryl Markham was so fascinating. Markham grew up in Africa with a horse breeding father who didn’t pay a ton of attention to her, and so she had a lot of latitude to run around the savannah , go hunting, and otherwise put herself in dangerous situations. She grew up to raise horses, became a pilot who tracked elephant herds for big game hunters, and eventually was the first person to fly solo across the Altantic from East to West. Her writing is gorgeous- even Hemingway said that she was better than any writer he knew. Some of her stories are insane- she was attacked by a lion twice in her life, almost trampled by an elephant, it’s a crazy, awesome life.

“Life is life and fun is fun, but it’s all so quiet when the goldfish die.”

It is no good telling yourself that one day you will wish you had never made that change; it is no good anticipating regrets. Every tomorrow ought not to resemble every yesterday.

Peering down from the cockpit at grazing elephant, you have the feeling that what you are beholding is wonderful, but not authentic. It is not only incongruous in the sense that animals simply are not as big as trees, but also in the sense that the twentieth century, tidy and svelte with stainless steel as it is, would not possibly permit such prehistoric monsters to wander in its garden.


Almost Famous Women: Stories by Megan Mayhew Bergman is SO good. It’s a collection of short stories about real women who, as the title suggests, were close to fame but were overshadowed by the famous person near them, or they just weren’t as well known. There’s a story about conjoined twins, members of the first racially integrated women’s swing band, Edna St. Vincent Millay’s sister, Beryl Markham (from above), and others. The writing is lovely, and I finished reading with a list of women I want to know more about. I highly recommend this one.

Now, reading her letters, I knew more about the woman I thought I loved. Or maybe I knew less. Maybe what I knew was that there was more mystery and hurt than I could have imagined. Maybe the world had been bad to its great and unusual women. Maybe there wasn’t a worthy place for the female hero to live out her golden years, to be celebrated as the men had been celebrated, to take from that celebration what she needed to survive.


Murder at the Breakers (A Gilded Newport Mystery) by Alyssa Maxwell is a twisty little mystery that takes place in a mansion in Newport, RI in the early 1900s. I happen to have a soft spot for mysteries set in a specific, evocative location and historical setting (surprise, surprise) and this one has great characters and some nice twists and turns. The main character is a poorer cousin of the Vanderbilts, and there’s a lot of excellent historical detail. Her brother is accused of a murder that happens at a grand coming out party, and she investigates the crime, all the while negotiating the ins and outs of society.

My parents were who they were, and no amount of wishing would change them. Did I even want to change them, need them to change? Even now I couldn’t answer that question.


The Book of Speculation by Erika Swyler is so good. When I read the blurb I bought it immediately:

Featuring mermaids, swarms of horseshoe crabs, deadly floods, and the silent secrets of an ancient tarot deck, The Book of Speculation is split like a savory peach between the odd ventures of a traveling carnival in the late 1700s and the modern-day discovery by librarian Simon Watson of an old, handwritten volume containing his grandmother’s name.

It’s a book heavy on magical realism, full of people who can disappear, others who can hold their breaths for ten minutes under water, those who can see the future in cards, and more. Simon is a librarian living in a home on the coast that is slowly disintegrating away. His sister, his only family still alive, has run away with the circus, but the circus runs in his family. When he receives an odd, ancient book in the mail, he discovers that there is a tradition of early death that runs through the women in his family and that his sister may be at risk. It’s an excellent story and I really enjoyed it.

“I know you want to think it’s something more, but maybe it’s just that we’re sad. Maybe Mom was unbearably sad. It doesn’t have to be more than that. Being that sad is enough.”

I’m trying to decide what to read next, I may start on The Goldfinch, which is our bookclub book and is forever long.

Random thoughts

Hi!

We’re back in Japan. It’s raining and windy today, which is lovely because it’s been hot for the last few days. I love the rain. It’s not currently raining- we are in a lull- which is good because we had to run down to the bakery and the girls couldn’t whine at me that it was raining because it wasn’t. Apparently they are witches, or at least believe themselves to be, and will melt if rain hits them. Who knew?

I read 5 magazines on the plane flight back to Tokyo, and the most important thing I got out of any of them was that Tommy Hilfiger has a son who is a rapper.  This man.

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What could said rapper son look like? HAHAHAHAHAHA, I just looked him up and it’s so much better than anything you could imagine.

hilfiger 2I may die.

Out of the 5 magazines, Oprah was the one I kept because it had articles I wanted to refer back to, and Shape was the most boring. I’ve never read Shape before, but I got it because it had an interview with Her Lady of Perpetual Pain, Jillian Michaels. The interview was interesting. The rest of the magazine wasn’t.

I also watched the 2012 version of Anna Karenina on the plane, and it is my new everything. I love it so much. The sheer choreography of it is stunning.  The costumes and sets are gorgeous, and Anna’s stupid decisions and then her complete trappedness are so believable. Jude Law as Karenin is a revelation.

I’m in the middle of reading The Book of Speculation by Erika Swyler which I’ve been reading for weeks because I was distracted in CA. I’m excited to sink into it and binge read to the end now. Speaking of reading for weeks, I was telling my sister about Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell and how it took me 6 months to read it and I stopped 3 different times, and that I thought she would really enjoy it, and her response was, “You want me to read a book that took YOU 6 months to read?” It made me laugh. But it is a great book. We just finished watching the BBC version of it last night, and I thought they did an incredible job. The book really does bog down a couple of times and they kept those sections light enough to keep things moving. The humor of the footnotes was missing, in that they didn’t cover the footnotes at all, but that makes sense. I thought the casting was exquisite and the sets were gorgeous.

Over our vacation the girls and I read The Hotel Under the Sand by Kage Baker. It’s a truly lovely book, I really highly recommend it. It’s about a little girl who experiences tragedy and loss (skimmed over) and then finds new courage and family and magic when she uncovers a hotel that has been buried in the sand for 100 years. It’s such a great story. The girls loved it. Now we’re reading The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, and even though the girls say it makes no sense, they also say that they love it. I’m not sure when the first time is that I heard the book (we used to listen to it on audio tape driving to Utah during the summer), but I know it made very little sense to me either, and that I loved it anyway. So the girls will get what they get from it. They’re laughing at all the right spots, so at least the humor is coming through.

I have had Locked Out of Heaven by Bruno Mars stuck in my head for the last 3 days. I wouldn’t mind except that the line ” your sex takes me to paradise” grates on my last nerve. Number one, it’s too obvious. I love Bruno Mars, but there are times his lyrics are the equivalent of Steve Carrell’s character in The 40 Year Old Virgin describing breasts as feeling like “bags of sand”.  Number two, the “cks” sounds in “sex” and “takes” back to back just bugs. He could have gone with “your love takes me to paradise” and solved both of those problems. I don’t know why he didn’t consult me first. But there are moments in that song that are sublime, so I’ll listen to it anyway. I’m sure he’s relieved.

I am currently cooking hashbrowns to eat for lunch. Don’t judge.

We had a weird experience over our vacation that inadvertently gave me the murder I was looking for for a location I had in my mind for a book. The location was perfect, but I had no idea who died there or how. And now I at least kind of know. Once we move, one of my main goals for the rest of the year is to sit down and write. And write some more. And some more. Not s’more. Though eating those is also a goal.

I hate the phrase “baby bump”. Who came up with that?

The more I see about Scream Queens, the more interested I am. Change that, I wasn’t interested at all until I saw these videos today. Now I’m totally in. I love the Heathers vibe. Although it would probably be better for everyone if Ariana Grande didn’t speak. She really does not come off well in her video at all.

Time to read!

Book I read this week: June week 3

We’ve been busy finding a house to buy this week and doing all of the things that go along with that, so I’ve had less reading time than usual. But it was very enjoyed reading time, because the one book I read this week was a superstar.

Vermilion: The Adventures of Lou Merriwether, Psychopomp by Molly Tanzer is such a fantastic book. I don’t even remember how it came to my attention, but when I read the blurb:

Gunslinging, chain smoking, Stetson-wearing Taoist psychopomp, Elouise “Lou” Merriwether might not be a normal 19-year-old, but she’s too busy keeping San Francisco safe from ghosts, shades, and geung si to care much about that. It’s an important job, though most folks consider it downright spooky. Some have even accused Lou of being more comfortable with the dead than the living, and, well… they’re not wrong.

When Lou hears that a bunch of Chinatown boys have gone missing somewhere deep in the Colorado Rockies she decides to saddle up and head into the wilderness to investigate. Lou fears her particular talents make her better suited to help placate their spirits than ensure they get home alive, but it’s the right thing to do, and she’s the only one willing to do it.

I knew it was for me. It’s part Western, part pulp novel, part I don’t even know what. The writing is a joy, the characters are well developed and interesting, the action and adventure are top notch. The world that Tanzer has created is drawn with a soft touch- there are sentient animals (mostly bears) living alongside humans, supernatural monsters are real- but those aspects are added so casually that it’s completely believable that they exist in this alternate West.

The part that I appreciated the most was the character of Lou. She’s good at what she does, she has complex feelings about her parents, she’s prideful but realistic- she’s a 19 year old. But most interesting to me: she’s ugly. She states numerous times in the beginning of the book that she’s not attractive (she dresses in men’s clothing for convenience’s sake, and often people think she’s a man). But later in the book she comes across a childhood friend who she has always had feelings for and there’s a moment when you think it’s headed toward a “what are you talking about, Lou? You’ve always been beautiful” moment, but no. She’s actually ugly. And I LOVE that so freakin’ much. By the end of the book she’s gone through things that have further messed up her face, and it doesn’t matter because she is who she is. She doesn’t have to be perfect and beautiful. The fact that she’s a woman does play into things in a minor way- there are always possible complications when you’re pretending to be a man in the Wild West, and there are a few ruminations of a romantical nature, but those have less to do with being a woman and more to do with being 19 and trying to figure out your place in the world. The major plot points and the things that happen to her and the choices she makes are the same as they would be if she was a man in a book of this genre, and I love that.

There is one section of the book that takes place in a “gentleman’s” club on the outskirts of civilization that toes the line of graphic content, but it serves to illustrate the outskirts of civilization aspect.  I just thought I’d mention it for readers sensitive to that kind of thing.

But the book is full of interesting (but never pedantic) thoughts about living as a minority and/or living between worlds- Lou is half Chinese half Caucasian and doesn’t fit into either world. The missing Chinese workers are considered disposable by authorities. Treaties with the bears are disregarded and abused. It’s really well done.

If this sounds like your type of book, I highly recommend it. I do think it would need to be your type of book- I don’t know how well it would work as a introduction to the adventure/pulp genre- but try it! What could it hurt?