A Hot Summer Day at the Beach 

Oh, the power of a child’s imagination. The backyard becomes the beach, the dry swimming pool becomes the ocean, and the sand box becomes the sand. And the house is the YMCA, with the boy’s room being his “lock room.” 

“Blowing bubbles is a fun thing to do on a hot summer day at the beach!”

Oh, Puddleglum

“Suppose we have only dreamed, or made up, all those things – trees and grass and sun and moon and stars and Aslan himself. Suppose we have. Then all I can say is that, in that case, the made-up things seem a good deal more important than the real ones. Suppose this black pit of a kingdom of yours is the only world. Well, it strikes me as a pretty poor one. And that’s a funny thing, when you come to think of it. We’re just babies making up a game, if you’re right. But four babies playing a game can make a playworld which licks your real world hollow. That’s why I’m going to stand by the play-world. I’m on Aslan’s side even if there isn’t any Aslan to lead it. I’m going to live as like a Narnian as I can even if there isn’t any Narnia.”
The Silver Chair by C. S. Lewis

(photo from unsplash.com)

And yes, I’m going to try to start blogging again.

Settling Down

I just moved for the fourth time in four years. Four crossing state lines kind of moves. This latest move is different because I don’t know when the next move will happen. The next big move, that is. In about a year we’ll do an in-town move when we buy a house, and that’s part of what makes this move different. We plan to buy a house here.

With every other move we’ve had a definite time frame of how long we would stay–two years in one place, one year in another, then back to the first place for a year.

And now this. We’ve moved and have no plans in the foreseeable future to move. It feels good to be in a place that we know will be our home for a while. It feels great to know we can settle down and build a life that looks more permanent than the transiency of the last four years.

But at the same time I wonder, do I know how to really settle down? I’ve moved so frequently that I feel like I’ve become a pro at transitioning quickly. All (well, most) of the boxes are unpacked, pictures are hanging on the walls, I’ve found places to shop and already have a favorite place to get BBQ and another favorite place to get ice cream. I have a new driver’s license, and, as of today, a new library card. I’ve gone through all the motions of settling down. But how do I put down roots that will grow deep and spread out? How do I grow rather than just survive in this new place?

I imagine it will take some time to figure that out, to discover what long-term life looks like here. And the wonderful thing is…I have time! I’m not going anywhere.

This blog is part of a writing adventure. The current theme is “transitions”. Check out the rest of the blogs at Via Scribendi.

2011: The Year I Lost My Belly Button (Among Other Things)

Or, 2011: The Year of the Baby

When 2011 began, I wasn’t thinking much–if at all–about my belly button. It was there. It was an innie. And it had a little freckle on one side of it. But it really didn’t enter into my thoughts at all.

Babies, on the other hand, did enter into my thoughts. We weren’t trying to get pregnant, but we also weren’t trying not to. As 2011 began and I wondered what the year would bring, I did wonder if it would bring a baby.

January began, and I wondered. February began, and I still wondered. March began, and I wondered again.

But March brought other excitements. I got to buy a fancy new computer. We went on vacation. I broke my old computer and had to wait two weeks for the new computer to show up. I wondered how I was supposed to work without a computer. And then at the same time that my new computer showed up, I started wondering about babies again, and about one very specific baby that would join our family in November.

I still didn’t think much about belly buttons, but as the months passed and as my belly got bigger, I began to lose my belly button. It became less of an innie. The freckle got bigger. And in August, when I visited my family in Texas, this happened:

My niece, who was almost two, was spending the night at my parents’ house. She showed off her belly button, and then wanted to see her Poppy’s belly button. Then she wanted to see Gram’s belly button. And then she turned to me, so I showed her mine. She took a step away from me, a puzzled look on her face. “Aunt Sherrah’s belly button is all gone,” Gram said. “All gone?” the niece asked. Then she made the rounds again, and when she came back to me, she shrugged and said, “All gone.”

My belly button wasn’t the only thing I lost while pregnant:

  • I lost my memory. (Babies eat brain cells.)
  • I lost my ankles. (And my feet looked like water balloons.)
  • I lost my immune system. (And caught every cold that walked by me.)
  • I lost feeling in my right hand. (Did you know pregnancy can cause carpal tunnel syndrome? Supposedly it goes away after baby’s birth. Supposedly…)
  • I lost sleep. (Four trips to the bathroom every night will do that to you.)

But in spite of all the losses, I gained something amazingly sweet and precious and very, very dear to me: my son. And so, 2011 for me is the year of baby, the year of family, the year of an amazing gift, the year of lost things, and the year of gained things.

This blog is part of a writing adventure. The current theme is “2011 in review”. Check out the rest of the blogs at Via Scribendi.

My Childhood in Books

First and Second Grade: My mom started reading Little House in the Big Woods to my brother and me, and then she stopped reading it. I don’t know why…busyness, I suppose, but I wasn’t happy with being left hanging in the middle of the book. I wanted to know more about Laura. One day I saw the book sitting on the end table, and I wondered if I could read it on my own. It was a big book for a first grader…chapters, you know, not very many pictures. I started pestering Mom to finish reading it, and I think she finally told me to just read it on my own and she would help with any words I didn’t know. So I did. And she did. And when I finished it, we took it back to the library and checked out Little House on the Prairie. For Christmas that year, my parents gave me the boxed set of the series. It took me over a year, but I read all of them. I remember sitting on my bed at the end of second grade, turning the last page of The First Four Years and feeling an overwhelming sense of accomplishment. And thus began my love affair with books and reading.

Third Grade: I discovered Little Women and Louisa May Alcott, whose books I devoured over the next few years. I remain eternally grateful to my parents, teachers, and librarians for never telling me a book was too big for me.

Fourth Grade: I discovered Anne of Green Gables. I thought the first chapter was horribly boring and skipped it, but by the time I got to the middle, I was entranced. I remember laying on my bed in my tiny bedroom one evening when I should have been doing homework, but instead I was reading Anne. That night, I cried when Matthew died, and I cried again in the next chapter when Anne and Gilbert were reconciled. Ever since, I’ve loved a good reconciliation story.

Fifth Grade: Our student teacher introduced me to Narnia. I had seen The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe in my fourth grade teacher’s room, and thought it looked interesting, but knew my mom would never allow it. The word “witch” was in the title, and that was the year my mom began her campaign against Halloween and anything related so I didn’t think witches would be allowed. However, I adored my fifth grade student teacher and thought she could do no wrong, so I read The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe (and probably hid it from my mom), and was amazed at the Christian story that came out in it. The student teacher loaned me her boxed set so I could read the whole series, and I had finished them by the end of fifth grade. I took the books back to school on what was supposed to be her last day in our classroom, only to find out she wouldn’t be coming back. I tried calling her to return the books, but her roommate said she had gone to Africa for the year. I still have her books….

Sixth Grade: I was that kid who took her reading book home on the first day of school and read all the stories that looked interesting. One of the stories was about a creature who lived in a hole in the ground and had hairy toes and was forced to feed a bunch of dwarves who showed up at his house one day. And so I discovered Hobbits and the world of Middle Earth. After reading the first chapter in my reading book, I had to check the book out from the library, and then I had to read The Lord of the Rings. My parents gave me the set for Christmas, and I think I had read all three books by the time Christmas break was over. For many years, I reread the series every winter. It’s a good tale for winter, and while I don’t reread it every year now, whenever the weather turns cold and the days grow shorter, I find myself thinking of Middle Earth. Perhaps I’ll journey there again this winter…

This blog is part of a writing adventure. The current theme is “books we loved as kids”. Check out the rest of the blogs at Via Scribendi.

Horned Hounds, Stranders, and a Dreaded Fork Factory

A review of North! Or Be Eaten, by Andrew Peterson

On the Outside:
The cover promises, “Wild escapes. A desperate journey. And the ghastly Fangs of Dang.” So…does the story deliver?

First Lines:
In this sequel to On the Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness, we get no introductions to the world of Aerwiar but instead jump right into the story with this opening:

“‘Toooothy cow!’ bellowed Podo as he whacked a stick against the nearest glipwood tree. The old pirate’s eyes blazed, and he stood at the base of the tree like a ship’s captain at the mast. ‘Toothy cow! Quick! Into the tree house!’”

Plot Lines:
North! Or Be Eaten picks up just a few days after the ending of the first book. I don’t want to give away details from the first book, so I’ll try to be careful here. Janner, Tink, and Leeli Igiby have found out that they’re not who they thought they were, and who they really are places them in great danger. They have fled to the Glipwood Forest, where they are under the protection of Peet the Sock Man (who is my favorite character in the whole series). And, if the monsters of Glipwood Forest weren’t enough danger (Horned Hounds, Quill Diggles, and Gargan Cockroaches, to name a few), the Fangs of Dang are on their trail. The Igiby’s must flee to the north, where the cold climate will keep away the Fangs. On their journey they meet all sorts of people who help them or harm them, but the greatest danger comes from the jealousy and bitterness that threatens to tear the family apart.

The Bottom Line:
I loved this one more than the first! The first several chapters are so fast paced that I was out of breath just reading them. The characters are more developed, and the relationships between the siblings, especially between Janner and Tink becomes more interesting. Overall, the story takes a darker turn than the first (although there are still plenty of laughable moments). I think it’s the darker overtones that make me love it more. Things happen to Janner and Tink both that are unimaginable, and as I finished this book, I was anxiously looking forward to the next to see how those things would be resolved.

This review is also posted sherrahb.tumblr.com

The Evolution of a Novel

As seen through the lens of Google searches:

searched: “the symmetry of snow”

I read this phrase in an article, and it struck me as beautiful and mysterious, and with the phrase came an image of a girl walking in the woods. It was snowing and she was mesmerized by the snow. I watched her walk through the snow and the woods and it suddenly struck me that she was afraid, and she was looking for someone…her sister. So who was this girl, I wondered, and who was her sister? Why was she afraid? Why was she so mesmerized by snow? And thus, a story was born…

With a title like The Symmetry of Snow (because that obviously had to be the title), the story was (again, obviously) a fairy tale. But which one? One with sisters in it, of course!

searched: “The Twelve Dancing Princesses” (one of my favorites) and “Snow White, Rose Red” which led to “bears in fairy tales”

That’s when it occurred to me that this wasn’t a fairy tale set in a once upon a time, far far away place. It was a modern fairy tale, set in the United States. And, in my opinion, for a fairy tale to be American, it needs to include some Native American folklore elements. I also needed a place to set the story.

searched: “bears in Native American folklore” and “coyote’s mother in Native American folklore” and “Seneca myths and folklore” and “Springville, NY” and “Native Americans in western New York” and “New York history” and “Seneca Indians in Western New York”

My great grandparents lived in Springville and it’s surrounding areas their entire lives. It seemed like the perfect setting for me…it’s a small town, and I wanted a small town for my story, and it snows there.

searched: “Propp’s Functions”

Propp’s Functions of Folktales are one of the few things I remember from my communications classes in college. I don’t remember why we looked at Propp’s Functions, but they did stay with me. And whenever I think about writing a fairy tale-ish story, I have to review Propp’s Functions. and a review of the functions means a review of fairy tale elements.

searched: “seventh son of a seventh son” and “common themes in fairy tales” and “common elements of fairy tales” and “fairy tale enchantments” and “how to break enchantments”

It was time to look for names:

searched: “names that mean…fox, cunning, deceiver, fearless, brave”

There was one more idea that I’d seen in one or two other stories that I thought would work in this one.

searched: “fire of roses” and “stores about fires of roses” and “what does a fire of roses mean”

The writing began. Once I start writing, my searches turn kind of random as I often search for things as a way of procrastinating. They’re usually related to the story in some way so I don’t feel like a total slacker.

searched: “origin of cat got your tongue” and “Longfellow’s Hiawatha” and “Longfellow’s Evangeline” and “what does pine bark look like”

Then a new character appeared and started talking.

searched: “Iroquois names” and “Seneca word for hello” and “Seneca word for girl” and”picture of a Seneca woman”

This character had a bear with her, and I had to wonder…

searched: “bears in New York”

Thus assured that there are bears in New York, and that there had even been recent sightings of bears in the same part of the state my story took place in, I continued writing.

But then I reached a point at which I didn’t know how a certain situation would be handled.

searched: “missing persons in New York” and “missing persons report”

And then, about 32,000 words into my story, I realized something. The setting was all wrong! It wasn’t a modern fairy tale set in a real place. It was set in a fictional, fantasy world—a world that I’d already created for another story (which meant I didn’t have to do a whole lot of world building). But this story would introduce a new culture to that world. So….

various searches: Russian words for sun, forest, bear, fox, art, craft, dreamer, dream, magic, power, witch, country, land, writer, story, sea, queen, fairy tale, storyteller; German word for land, grassland, heaven, new; Greek word for weaver, wild, wilderness, east, forest

Writing recommenced. Another random procrastinating search.

searched: “how many days between February 1 and September 22” (really)

Oh, look at that! My main character has some interesting hobbies!

searched: “dulcimer” and “Russian word for dulcimer” and “parts of a guitar” and “guide to herbs and plants for writers” and “autumn herbs that grow wild” and “wild flowers that grow in autumn” and “herbal cures for croup” and “herbal cures for migraines”

More writing, and with that, I needed some images so that i could better picture the setting.

searched: “peasant clothing of the 1700s” and “gypsy wagons” and “transportation of the 1700s” and “cooking in the 1700s” and “forests in the Cascades” and “animals and wildlife of the Willamette Forest” and “Columbia River Gorge” and “weather in the Redwood Forest”

And then my computer died, I went a week and a half without a computer, and by the time I had a new computer I had found out I was pregnant which completely derailed the writing for a while. Of course, preparing for a move and moving and recovering from the move kept me away from the story for a while.

I’ve recently returned to writing, but since my return I’ve only had one story related search: “fir trees”.

This blog is part of a writing adventure. The current theme is “things we search on Google”. Check out the rest of the blogs at Via Scribendi.

Fearsome Toothy Cows, Oh My!

A review of On the Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness by Andrew Peterson

On the Outside:

They say you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, but it’s on the cover that I often find a reason to read a book. On this book’s cover, the name Andrew Peterson was reason enough for me to want to read it. He is one of my favorite singer/songwriters; his music is True, and though his music, he is a master storyteller. I wanted to see if he could pull off that same mastery in a book.

This cover gave me another reason to want to read it: the subtitle: “Adventure. Peril. Lost Jewels. And the Fearsome Toothy Cows of Skree.” It implies that the book has everything I like in a good fantasy: adventure, danger, a quest, strange creatures, and a sense of humor.

First Lines:

On the Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness has a few introductions before you actually get to the story, and they are worth reading. From the first, “A Brief Introduction to the World of Aerwiar”:

“The old stories tell that when the first person woke up on the first morning in the world where this tale take place, he yawned, stretched, and said to the first thing he saw, ‘Well, here we are.’ The man’s name was Dwayne, and the first thing he saw was a rock. Next to the rock, though, was a woman named Gladys, whom he would learn to get along with very well. In the many ages that followed, that first sentence was taught to children and their children’s children, and their children’s parents’ cousins and so on until, quite by accident, all speaking creatures referred to the world around them as Aerwiar.”

We go on to read about a Great Evil, a “nameless evil, an evil whose name was Gnag the Nameless.” How could anyone not want to keep reading?!

Plot Lines:

On the Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness is the story of the Igiby family—mom Nia, siblings Janner, Tink, and Leeli, grandpa Podo Helmer (who used to be a pirate), and dog Nugget. They live in the country of Skree, which is occupied by Gnag the Nameless’ evil Fangs of Dang. The Fangs seek the Jewels of Anniera, a beautiful island where the High King of Aerwiar lived before the island fell nine years ago to Gnag and the Fangs.

The Fangs suspect that the Igiby family knows something about the lost Jewels and begin to focus a lot of attention on the family. Attention from the Fangs is something the people of Skree would rather avoid, so this sends Janner, Tink, and Leeli on their adventure.

In the course of the story, we learn secrets about the Igiby family, meet a bookseller name Oskar Reteep and a Sock Man named Peet who both seem oddly interested in the family, and with the Igiby’s, we encounter all manner of strange creatures, including the fearsome Toothy Cows. (There’s even a drawing of a Toothy Cow at the back of the book!)

The Bottom Line:

I loved this book! From the story itself, to the footnotes (seriously, footnotes!), to the sketches, to the appendices, I was completely enchanted.
I highly recommend it for anyone who enjoys a good adventure. While I think all ages would enjoy, I think it would be especially appreciated by a ten year old boy. And, it would make for a great book to read aloud as a family.

And the best thing…it’s the first of a series, so there are more adventures to come!

This review is also posted at http://sherrahb.tumblr.com.

Staggering Generosity

In the last couple of years my husband and I have been the recipients of overwhelming generosity. It’s a beautiful and humbling, and sometimes even embarrassing, thing to be the recipient of generosity. After all, what did we do to deserve these gifts, other than go to seminary? And what are we supposed to do with the gifts?

Okay, so I know what to do with them, but beyond the actual cashing of the checks and paying for seminary, what do we do with this kind of generosity? How do we respond to it? Know what I mean?

There are two churches that we have strong connections to who have been supporting us, but then there are the churches we’ve never been to, who got our names from someone who knows someone who knows us…churches in Iowa, Missouri, and Texas.

We never know when a check is going to show up, but it always comes at just the right time…like last fall when we spent about $380 on repairs for one of our cars and a week later we got a check from a church for $380…or this spring when we were planning some vacation time but were still short some of the money needed to make it happen and then a check showed up that was the exact amount we still needed.

And then there’s the church in Wichita, Kansas, where we spent the last year, where my husband did his internship. The kindness and generosity they showed to us was more than overwhelming. I don’t know what the word is that means more than overwhelming, but staggering comes close. There was the pantry shower they threw for us when we moved in last August (we just finished off the last package of spaghetti, have one more roll of paper towels left, and probably won’t need to buy Ziploc bags for at least another year).  And then the baby shower they threw for us in July (we’re able to buy pretty much everything we need with the gift cards we received). And there were also Christmas gifts, going away gifts, and random groceries-are-really-expensive-right-now gifts. Sometimes we could only sit back, look at each other, and all we could come up with to say was, Wow. It was staggering.

But back to the what do we do with this question…

Well, we write a lot of thank you notes. And we do a lot of praying, thanking God for these people He has put into our lives. And we try to set aside a portion of what we have been given to give to someone else.

I love it when Matt tells me we have a certain amount of gift money and asks what we should do with it. Because…

There are these camps that played important roles in our lives… there are  friends who are missionaries overseas… there are friends planting churches… there are ministries reaching out to kids from broken homes… there are tornadoes and hurricanes and wild fires…

There is just such staggering need in the world, and I wish there was more I could do…

This blog is part of a writing adventure. The current theme is generosity. Check out the rest of the blogs at Via Scribendi.