Grace and Truth: The Tension

    

The other day I heard a sermon by Robert Madu (Google him) on the topic that is this post’s title. I feel you flinching. Don’t worry. I will not preach at you (unless you want to talk privately). But I found it interesting because of the discussion on the dichotomy of grace and truth. Too much grace, and a message is watered down. Too much truth, and compassion goes out the window. Yet it is possible to live in the tension of both.

I’ve struggled to know what to post lately. With so many voices already lifted, what could I add? (By the way, for a great post on giving voice, I recommend Laura Bruno Lilly’s latest post. Click here for it.) And then I heard the above sermon which really hit home to me. So here I am.

Sometimes, it’s easy to forget that we’re all struggling, hurting, sad, afraid, and overwhelmed. That we all want to be heard. That we all were children once who grew up without all of the answers, no matter how much we pretend otherwise.

So, we criticize, complain, ignore, put down, demand—I feel exhausted just thinking about that list. And by we, I mean me. I’ve done all of the above in just the past week or so. “They see what they need to do. Why don’t they do it?” I grumbled. Truth without grace.

Or, I have thought, Let’s all just move on! Grace without truth.

Living in the tension of grace and truth is not easy. But we need that tension, don’t we . . . when we mess up. When we see someone else mess up. When we’re afraid. When we see someone else with a fear that’s different from ours and we are tempted to judge.

We need it from each other. We need each other.

Grace and Truth images found somewhere on the internet via Bing.

Speechless

I debated about whether or not to post at all in such a time as the one in which we find ourselves. But when I thought about this illustration, I had to post.

You may wonder what this is all about. Mel Blanc provided the voice of many, many Looney Tunes and Hanna-Barbera cartoon characters (Elmer Fudd, Yosemite Sam, etc.). Consequently, he was known as the man of a thousand voices. After his passing, this illustration was done as a tribute. The title was perfectly chosen. And it describes how I feel these days. Maybe you feel the same. I would add outraged, full of grief, sad, overwhelmed, and struggling to the mix as well in the wake of recent events. Yet in these speechless days, I take comfort in these words:

The Spirit of the Sovereign LORD is on me . . . to comfort all who mourn, and provide for those who grieve in Zion—to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of joy instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair. Isaiah 61:1-3

Illustration found on Pinterest.

My Definition of Restful and Why That Might Be Weird to You

Recently, I’ve had text, email, or Zoom conversations with friends about books we’re reading, and in one of them, I made this statement: “I want a restful book.” Though you were not part of that discussion, I want to elaborate on what I meant.

By restful, I mean a book I can enjoy any hour of the day or night or during a pandemic. It is one that does not evoke feelings of righteous indignation, rage, depression, or mind-numbing fear. Though dinosaurs may or may not eat people and wealthy tyrants might be murdered in locked rooms by any number of suspects, I don’t fret about it, especially since I’m not the one being eaten nor the one whose murder is the basis of a cozy, but entertaining mystery.

My reading does not always involve murder or full-bellied dinosaurs, however. I thoroughly enjoy Mr. Darcy getting a comeuppance by Elizabeth Bennet (you know this one); Valancy Stirling experiencing life in a new way (The Blue Castle); and a small, unsupervised child crawling out of a window via a handy tree and going off by himself at night in search of a pillow. (Guess which book this is. No parenting advice will be forthcoming from me.)

 

  

Pride and Prejudice DVD case shown here, rather than the book cover, because I already had this photo in my blog library

Many of the books I’ve read in the last two months are restful in that they are familiar like well-loved walking trails. I’ve traversed these paths again and again and still appreciate the scenery.

What is restful reading to you? If books are not your thing, what have you been watching lately that you would categorize as restful?

The Blue Castle cover from Goodreads. Other photos by L. Marie.

The Perfect Pillow

I read this picture book the other night (perfect bedtime reading)

and thought, What is the perfect pillow?

I must confess that this is not a question I’ve ever thought long and hard about. Back in the day, my parents shopped for sheets and pillow cases during the January white sales. They probably bought new pillows also. I say probably, because when I was a kid, I never paid too much attention to what my parents thought about pillows or bedding in general. I only knew that the pillow I was used to was the perfect pillow. In fact, I took to college the same pillow I’d slept on for ages!

These days, I’ve never met a $3.99 pillow I didn’t like. Some people might be appalled at the cheapness, especially when pillows sell for ten, twenty, even a hundred times that amount.

Or tens of thousands times that amount.

Out of curiosity, I Googled to discover the most expensive pillow, thinking that pillow had to be the most perfect pillow ever. This article stated that the world’s most expensive pillow (photo below) was developed by a Dutch inventor/physical therapist named Thijs van der Hilst. It is called the Tailormade Gold Edition Pillow. It is made of memory foam based on a 3-D scan and has a 24-carat gold cover, diamonds, and a 22.5-karat sapphire. It is only $57,000.

The Tailormade pillow. I think the appropriate thing to say right now is, “Ta da!”

Ha! A mere pittance! The company that makes this pillow sells one for $3995. I’m sure you’ll want to order several, so click here to get yours now!

Seriously, the perfect pillow is one that helps you gain restful sleep. If you’re a back sleeper, a stomach sleeper, or a side sleeper, the perfect pillow varies, especially if you’re dealing with back or neck pain also. Searching the internet for these categories can net you dozens of duck feather/down, memory foam, and latex pillow recommendations.

But these days, the perfect pillow, at least for me, is one made by a friend: the fabulous Laura Bruno Lilly who made and sent this one:

What kind of pillow is perfect for you?

Pillow found at trendhunters.com. Other photos by L. Marie.

“Your Wind Song Stays on My Mind”

Okay, I apologize. (I seem to be doing that a lot lately.) Why? you might ask. Because if you know where the post title comes from, that jingle is probably drifting through your brain right about now. (If you are absolutely confused, the ad is for the perfume, Wind Song, by Prince Matchabelli. Look here for more details. And no, this is not another post about scents.)

Along those lines, today I woke up with this song lyric in my head: “Here come those Santa Ana winds again.” If you know your Steely Dan tunes, that’s probably spinning through your head also. (The line is from “Babylon Sisters” for those of you scratching yours.)

Song earworms—they plague us for weeks, don’t they? Bet you’re already thinking of songs from the first Frozen movie (for some reason, I have trouble recalling most of the songs from Frozen 2) or, as the article pointed out, any song by Lady Gaga.

When I was a kid, any song by Glen Campbell or Queen would stay in my head, sometimes for months. (Bet you’re already thinking of “Rhinestone Cowboy” or “We Are the Champions.” Sorry.)

Advertising jingles are definite earworms. I had no trouble recalling that Wind Song ad (it stayed on my mind, you might say) even decades later. I can sing jingles I heard in my childhood. I am certain you can as well. (My bologna has a first name . . .)

This article from CNN health talks about earworms and why they do what they do.

Isn’t it interesting that a song can get lodged in our heads for months or years but a compliment or some other affirmation has difficulty taking root? If you’re like me, negative information is an earworm that doesn’t seem to go away. I call that a word worm.

Last week, my dad said something nice about my writing. Note the word something, because I have trouble recalling his exact words. Yet I can remember, word for word, a rejection I received for a manuscript about two years ago. Two years ago.
It’s time—past time—to take out the trash.

What do you do when earworms or word worms persist?

Wind Song perfume from FragranceX.com. “Babylon Sisters” from Discogs. Bart Simpson gif from Tenor.

Been Hitting the Bottle Lately

I apologize to anyone who had hoped for a juicier blog post based on the title. But I actually mean this bottle:

 

This mixture of tea tree oil and peppermint is such a treat to my senses. I can’t begin to describe just how soothing it is. I look forward to using it every day. But I had to delve into why it brightens my mood. So, I turned to Google and found this article from Mayo Clinic, which states:

Aromatherapy is thought to work by stimulating smell receptors in the nose, which then send messages through the nervous system to the limbic system — the part of the brain that controls emotions.

Uh okay. But why these particular oils? I wondered. So, I read this article from Hopkinsmedicine.org and this one at Healthline. In a section called, “Which Essential Oils Are Best?” the article at Hopkinsmedicine.org listed the two oils mentioned earlier in this post, plus some others you can note if you click on the above link. Peppermint oil has been used for headaches. It supposedly helps relax the muscles. Tea tree oil, on the other hand, is used for things like acne and dandruff. So I’m still not sure why the combination of tea tree oil and peppermint is so magical.

Don’t worry. This is not a sales pitch for aromatherapy, regardless of the health benefits these article mention. I’m just delighted by the experience of a good smell and how certain scents have an emotional association.

For example, I can’t help recalling Mom’s Chanel N°5, a cologne she wore when I was a kid. The scent of that cologne to this day makes me feel safe and loved. The smell of English Leather—my dad’s after shave—gives me that feeling of consistency. Such a day in day out sort of smell.

What do you look forward to every day? What scents evoke an emotional reaction within you? While you think of that, Charles and Lori, think of what you’re getting at Amazon, ’cause you will each receive and Amazon card! Please comment below to confirm.

English Leather from Etsy. Chanel image from frangrantica. Other photos by L. Marie.

A Birthday in the Age of COVID-19

As I wrote the title of this post, I thought about books like The Diary of Samuel Pepys, excerpts of which I read back in the Dark of Ages in my undergraduate years (Da Vinci was one of my classmates; that guy knew his way around a painting), A Journal of the Plague Year by Daniel Defoe, which I also read at some point, and Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel García Márquez which I have not read, but probably will someday. Others have probably mentioned these books lately, particularly those by Pepys and Defoe, who wrote about the Bubonic plague back in the seventeenth century (though Defoe’s book was historical fiction).

So anyway, this is how I celebrated my birthday this past Sunday in these days of social distancing. First, my fellow island villagers threw a surprise birthday party for me in the video game Animal Crossing: New Horizons, which I’m playing on the Nintendo Switch Lite. I just wish my character had been allowed to change out of her night wear before the festivities began. Oh well. Back in college, birthday ambushes with me stuck in pajamas used to happen every year. But in these social distancing days, many people are using the game to have birthday parties, not just with NPCs (non-player characters, if you’re not into gaming but were curious) but with real-life friends who visit their islands to celebrate.

 

That was just one way of celebrating the day. Before I get to the rest of the Sunday festivities, let me add that the day before, friends dropped off breakfast, lunch, and dessert. There’s nothing like someone showing up in a mask to hand you a cup of coffee and a restaurant meal that says, “Celebrate good times, come on!” (By the way, the knight’s helm-looking hat on the sign in the first photo above is one I’ve worn while heading out in the world. The visor fits over my nose and mouth perfectly.)

  

Back to Sunday, I received a phone call from a friend (one of the pastors at church) who instructed me to come outside. Days earlier, she’d told me she wanted to drop something off, so not suspecting anything, I went out, expecting to see her standing by the front door. Instead, I was greeted by a line of people in cars honking their horns and shrieking “Happy birthday!” These are just a few.

 

So that’s how birthdays are celebrated in these virus days. I received some great gifts, part of the tradition of celebrating. Here are a few:

   

 

One of the above books was given by a friend who showed up with dinner on my birthday (not pictured due to having been eaten before I remembered that I needed to take a picture). The other came from my brother and sister-in-law. Speaking of books, one of the gifts I received that was not pictured was an Amazon card which I promptly used to purchase the book below, which is a must-have for the socially conscious person, especially parents looking to enhance their children’s understanding of classroom etiquette.

Why am I telling you all of this? Because you can receive what I received—a tradition around this blog. I can’t show up at your house even with a mask on to hand you a meal. But I can celebrate you, even if it’s not your birthday. So I am giving away TWO $25 Amazon cards or the rough equivalent at Amazon UK (easier to email).

That’s right:

Two $25 Amazon gift cards!

Comment below to be entered in the drawing.

Photos by L. Marie.

What Is My Song This Season?

Anyone else feeling the timey-wimey-wibbly-wobblyness*** of the passing days? Hours seem like seconds. And if I don’t check my calendar, I lose track of days. (Feels like tomorrow already.) Anyway. . . .

Whenever we’re not bombarded with snow in my area (which has happened a few times lately), and the temperature is reasonably warm, I hear birdsong throughout the day. Lately, the various songs and sounds of birds have seemed so plentiful and joyous. Which got me to wondering , ..

Can you identify the bird based on each call? (Pretty sure you can.)

1.

2.

3.

(For answers, check the **** below.)

Some bird calls are more recognizable than others. I’ve enjoyed hearing the birds’ songs and conversations. Such normal, happy sounds. Maybe they’re happy, not only for spring and mating season, but because they don’t have to think about viruses or masks or long wait times at the grocery store.

But hearing them caused me to wonder what my song is in this season. Some days, it is the sound of irritation, frustration, and fear, like raucous notes banged on a piano. My inner territory is too narrowed by circumstances, my song too one note. I want to change the tune, even if circumstances don’t change anytime soon. The best way I know how is to pray and to look outward instead of inward, to lighten someone else’s load if I know how, or brighten someone’s day. One way I can do the latter is to give away stuff.

With that in mind, onto the winner of The Edge of Anything by Nora Shalaway Carpenter. Go here for the interview.

       

And that winner, according to the random number generator is Nancy Hatch!

Nancy, please comment below to confirm. Thank you to all who commented.

Sparrow from Orange Free Sounds. Loon sound from Archive.org. Robin call from SoundBible.com. cloudcentrics.com. Bird silhouette from clipart-library.com. Other photo by L. Marie.

***If you’re a fan of Doctor Who, you recognize this.
**** The sounds are (in order) Robin, loon, sparrow

Check This Out: The Edge of Anything

With me on the blog today is another of my awesome Secret Gardener classmates from VCFA: Nora Shalaway Carpenter. You might remember her from this post. She’s here to talk about her young adult novel, The Edge of Anything, which debuted on March 24. It was published by Running Press Teens/Hachette Book Group. Click here for the synopsis.

  

Nora is represented by Victoria Arms Wells of Wells Arms Literary in association with HG Literary. Now let’s talk to Nora!

El Space: Four quick facts about yourself?
Nora: 1. My favorite food is watermelon.
2. I am a certified yoga teacher.
3. My favorite imaginary creature is a phoenix.
4. My hair is often blue.

 

El Space: The Edge of Anything is very powerful and moving. How did it come to be? What came first—the characters or the plot?
Nora: Thank you so much, Linda. I’m glad you enjoyed it. The characters definitely came first. I’ve always wanted to write a volleyball character because I played volleyball growing up and it was a huge part of my identity. However, I never found any books about teen volleyball players while I was growing up, and I wanted to change that. That’s how Sage got her start.

Len evolved because I wanted to write a character who was unknowingly suffering a mental health crisis. This happened to me in early adulthood and it was the most horrific thing I’ve ever experienced. I had no idea what was happening, and even though I had a supportive spouse and good health insurance, we had an incredibly tough time not only figuring out what was happening, but then finding the right care. I remember thinking I was going to die. I also remember feeling so incredibly alone, like no one else had ever experienced anything like what I was going through. I later found out that wasn’t true, of course, but there’s so much stigma and misinformation about mental health conditions—and the people who suffer from them—that many people don’t talk about it. I wanted to open a conversation. The Edge of Anything is the book I wish I’d had during that awful time in my life, a time when I doubted if things could ever get better. I wanted to create a book that showed a character struggling authentically and that depicted the hidden internal battles a person goes through daily. Most importantly—I wanted to show that Len—like all real people struggling with mental health—is so much more than this condition that is terrorizing her brain. She is a regular person, worthy of love and respect and dignity.

El Space: What were the challenges of bringing personal issues to light?
Nora: I talk about this a bit in the author’s note, but the biggest challenge was dealing with any lingering shame I had about my own experience with severe OCD. Over the years, I found that the more I talked about having OCD, the more people connected with me about it and offered their own experiences, and the less shame I felt. Still, writing a book is a whole different level of opening up. But I wanted to. Communication can be life saving when it comes to mental health conditions, and if my story could help someone, then I wanted it out there. It’s also important to note, though, that The Edge of Anything is not autobiographical. I used my own emotional experiences to inform Len’s, but the story is fictional.

El Space: Why was the setting important to you?
Nora: Place always plays a big role in my stories. A number of important scenes in The Edge of Anything take place in the forest surrounding the Blue Ridge Parkway, so it was super important that the book be set somewhere where the characters had easy access to such a place. There are also hiking scenes, and as I live in the North Carolina mountains, I drew on my own experiences hiking the area.

Blue Ridge Parkway

El Space: I love the emphasis on female friendship. Please tell us why that was valuable to you.
Nora: I’ve always been fascinated with deep friendships—why they form and how they last. Female friendships have been incredibly important in my own life, and so I wanted to really dig into what puts one of these life-changing friendships on a different level than an average friendship. How is that bond established?

El Space: As you wrote your novel, what craft advice, if any, helped you along the way?
Nora: I struggle with perfectionism, which is basically the antidote to productive writing, so while writing The Edge of Anything I adhered to the mantra “write shitty.” It might sound silly, but my writing flows much better if I have permission to write badly at first. I even have a sticky note on my laptop that literally says, Write shitty, Nora. It makes me laugh, and it also makes writing much more manageable for me. I want my work to end up beautiful and cohesive, of course, but if you set out trying to write a finished product from scratch, you’re setting yourself up to fail.

First drafts are always bad, unless you’re the kind of writer that revises while you write, which can take a long time. But when I see my note to myself, I relax, because the pressure is off. I know I can write shitty, and so the words start flowing. Then, after I get the story out on the page, I can go back and see what themes my unconscious has put into the book, and start to tease those out. I can revise and re-vision and make the words beautiful. That mantra got me through drafting the book, and I recommend it to writers constantly. One of the biggest challenges for many writers, I think, is getting to the end of a draft when you know there are lots of things you want to fix in the beginning and middle. Of course there are and there’s time for that. But you have to get to the end so you can see the whole picture.

El Space: Did you read YA books growing up? How do you feel being part of the community of YA authors now?
Nora: This is an interesting question because there weren’t that many books designated as YA when I was growing up. At least I didn’t know they had that designation if they did. I feel like I jumped pretty quickly from reading the Berenstain Bears to middle grades like Tuck Everlasting and Bridge to Terabithia and then Lord of the Flies and Fahrenheit 451. I do remember reading The Catcher in the Rye and freaking loving it. In fact, I’m a little afraid to reread it as an adult because I’m worried I won’t enjoy it as much. It’s truly a life-long dream come true to be part of the author community now.

El Space: What inspires you as you write?
Nora: Other books and nature. Whenever I’m feeling creatively stifled, I always start reading a ton and I spend as much time as I can outside and away from my phone and social media. For me, there is nothing like soaking up great books and reconnecting with the earth to get those creative juices flowing.

El Space: What will you work on next?
Nora: I’m currently writing another contemporary YA. This one is set is rural West Virginia. But my next book is a mixed genre anthology called Rural Voices: 15 authors Challenge Stereotypes of Small-Town America, out October 13, 2020 from Candlewick Press.

El Space: Thanks, Nora, for being my guest!
Nora: Thanks so much for having me on the blog, Linda!

Looking for Nora? Click below:

            .

Looking for The Edge of Anything? Check out your local bookstore, Amazon, Malaprop’s Bookstore/Cafe. Barnes and Noble, or Indiebound.

One of you will receive a copy of Nora’s novel in your very own mailbox. Just comment below! Winner to be revealed next week sometime.

 

In these days of social distancing, the book club had to meet on Zoom. But they were on the same page when both said they wished the characters in The Edge of Anything were friends of theirs.

The Edge of Anything book cover and author photo courtesy of the author. Chip Bryan took the photo. Cover illustration: Fabio Consoli. Cover design by Frances J. Soo Ping Chow. Other book covers from Goodreads. Volleyball from cliparts.co. Blue Ridge Parkway map from blueridgeparkway.org. Watermelon image from download.com. Yoga clipart from 101clipart.com. Other photos by L. Marie.

String-Pulling Bees and Other Things I Didn’t Realize I Needed in My Life

I don’t know about you, but I crave a bit of normalcy, a bit of adorableness. And what’s more normal than scientists getting some bumblebees to pull strings? (Those bumblebees must have some influence if they’re pulling strings. Am I right? . . . Okay, I’ll stop.)

Anyway, I ran across this video at the SciNews YouTube Video and a follow-up—scientists teaching bees to roll balls—and was mesmerized. If only they could teach wasps to be kind. (If somehow the video disappears, click here for it.)

See? You needed it too, didn’t you? (For more info on the bumblebee experiment, conducted at Queen Mary University of London, click here.)

Recently, a friend sent photos of her newest acquisitions, which turned out to be something else I needed:

  

As I looked at the photos, I could feel my blood pressure drop and something broken within me starting to mend. Maybe you feel the same way.

This also made my day (photo below). Chalk art courtesy of the kids who live in my apartment building.

Also, I saw these at the grocery store. Maybe they’re not as essential as water or toilet paper, but they’re essential in a soul-building sort of way.

  

What have you seen this week that helped lift your spirits? Please share in the comments.

Farm animal photos by Colleen Yang. Other photos by L. Marie.