31 August 2016

Tea and Tunes

Cling about her,
Waters blue;
Part not from her,
But renew.

- George MacDonald

The rain is falling gently now. I can hear it pattering outside my door, falling into flower pots and the tin watering can. My thoughts drop frequently like the droplets that accumulate in the watering can. Perhaps they are collecting in my mind, but they need somewhere to go. If I pick them up and pour them out, will they water the soil and help flowers to grow?

Earlier, the clouds built up on the horizon; it grew deeper into the realm of blackness. It was like the clouds over Mordor, the black land of Middle-earth; the land that always looms over the cheerful places. A menacing strength lingered in the clouds as they moved swiftly towards us. There is no escaping a storm as it heads toward you. The only way out is to hold your ground, let it sweep over you, and come out the other side. Oftentimes, there is necessity in the storm. There is rejoicing in the emergence. 

As the rain falls, I can think of no better way to make an evening of rain cosier, than steeping a cup of mint tea, and playing some music on the piano as the tea cools. There isn't much required, except a dozen minutes to play some tunes. My fingers glide across the keys and familiar notes sound according to my mood. Sometimes I play faster than I should, as if to give my fingers a work out. Other times, I play slower and moodier, with an air of melancholy. Sometimes I play louder, with more enthusiasm. 

My audience is the rain tonight, the blooming tulips on my table, and my books sitting on the sofa.

29 August 2016

Exploring Tampa

Exploring more in Tampa this weekend, I realized that fun little adventures always seem to revolve around coffee, food, and books. This time around there weren't any books in the picture, but there was coffee and food. Thankfully, April doesn't seem to mind the coffee and food requirements to adventures.

I've never explored Hyde Park, Tampa before, but they have a village of shops and restaurants. I found Piquant, a French inspired restaurant for breakfast, and it was absolutely delicious. The decor was fancy and classy with a twist of the modern, like clear chairs. The wallpaper added such elegant dimension to the space. The waiters all wore suspenders and small bowler hats. I had a cappuccino and a tartine (an open faced sandwich) with freshly baked bread, vegetables, and a fried egg on top. The savory flavours were perfect.

After a little shopping at Anthropologie there in Hyde Park, we had a coffee shop stop planned, except that coffee shop wasn't open when we got there. So, thankfully, I had a back up option, and we went to a new coffee shop in downtown Tampa called Caffeine. The interior was decorated with some of my favourite colours and textures. Wood plank table tops, yellow chairs that looked like they were from school, faded brick walls, warm glowing light bulbs. All the warm and earthy tones was my cup of tea. And my latte was delicious.

Summertime in Florida means you are forever looking for a good place to beat the heat. Walking from a parking garage in downtown Tampa to the coffee shop was a 2-3 large blocks, and about as much heat as I could take, and retreating indoors is such a welcomed prospect.

We ended our adventure at Trader Joe's. You probably know how great that place is, so I don't even need to tell you. It all makes for a tiring day, but it is fun to experience the really great local places that put care into their drink and food, and that is worth a trip to Tampa.

25 August 2016

Tales of Fairy

A genuine work of art must mean many things; the truer its art, the more things it will mean.
- "The Fantastic Imagination", George MacDonald

This is not your normal book of fairy tales. The book opens with an essay MacDonald wrote called "The Fantastic Imagination". Then, we dive into the short stories. George MacDonald has a way of opening up an entirely different world of imagination and whimsy that delves into something so much deeper. Shadows becomes speakers of truth here. Children become wiser than giants, and show courage enough to fill a few adults.

Your typical fairy tale has some sort of moral and lesson, but MacDonald takes it to a much deeper level of imagination and depth. Something I love about his stories is how each reader could take a different important meaning from the story. One person may notice a certain meaning in something, while the next person will find something else meaningful. With each re-reading and sharing with others, you cast a variety of perspectives given the readers' nature.

The best thing you can do for your fellow, next to rousing his conscience, is - not to give him things to think about, but to wake things up that are in him; or say, to make him think things for himself.
"The Fantastic Imagination", George MacDonald

Another thing I love about his stories is how he constructs them in a way that only reveals just-so-much to make you create the rest in your imagination and apply it to yourself. He attempts to awaken the reader's mind and rouse a thought that leads to another, and onward down a twisty, interesting, imaginative world which exposes evil and where truth wins out. It is a fantastic adventure, indeed, and you never know where the journey will take you.

If you know me, you know that I love to encourage others to think. If you ask me something that tinkers on the edge of the rabbit hole, I generally like to guide the thought-process to get the other person thinking about where that rabbit hole might be going. I think there is greater value in discovering things ourselves as we explore, than simply being told that something is a fact. This is probably frustrating to those who "just want to know!" but in the end, it is so much more satisfying to have that sudden layer peel away, and you've gained wisdom in the discovery.

"Can that be true that loves the night?" said the king.
"The darkness is the nurse of light," answered the Shadow.

"Can that be true which mocks at forms?" said the king.
"Truth rides abroad in shapeless storms," answered the Shadow.
"Ha! ha!" thought Ralph Rinkelmann, "it rhymes. The Shadow caps my questions with his answers. Very strange!" And he grew thoughtful again.

- "The Shadows", George MacDonald

And always in MacDonald's stories, we are reminded that we are usually closer to home than we might imagine, especially when the journey leads deep into a fairyland where everything is odd and whimsical. Creatures change into book-reading owls with green spectacles, a halo of moonlight rounds the top of every tree, and the flowers dream. MacDonald was good friends with Lewis Carroll, who had such wide success with Alice's Adventures in Wonderland. There are glimpses of that same kind of quirky charm amidst a fantastical world, and it is really delightful to experience it.

"How far am I from home?"
"The farther you go, the nearer home you are."

The people stared at each other with open mouths, for they saw that what they had taken for a lot of umbrellas, was in reality a flock of black geese.....But an umbrella that could lay eggs would be a very jolly umbrella.
- "Cross Purposes", George MacDonald

23 August 2016

August Snapshots

I've had some adventures, challenges, and joys this month, and I haven't posted about many of them, so to sum up some things, I thought a photo collection of iPhone shots might help bring us out of summer and into an autumn mindset. This is all dreaming, to me, as I patiently wait for the heat to depart. I will have to keep waiting, I know.

- This month, I made a baby blanket for my new nephew Benson David, who was born on August 18. 

- I got to drink a Coca Cola from a bottle with my name on it! Such a rare treat for me, because my name is so different (thanks to April's mom for the bottle!). 

- The stormy weather is the norm for this time of year, but it always seems more intense when the clouds hover right over you with their menacing darkness. I welcome the rain storms, as it cools the air. I am not one who seeks the sunshine.

- My neighborhood post office is getting a much needed face lift! It is about two blocks away from me, so I get to see the nice facade every day now. Looking good Dixieland!

- The lake offers the loveliest evening walks around here. As the sun sets, the colours of the sky unfold and the lake glistens. God draws His paintbrush across the sky in soft strokes.

- I got to enjoy tulips in the deep heart of summer, which is a lovely surprise, and has never happened before. 

- Even though it still feels like 100-105 degrees out there, I cannot help but make tea each night. And any visitor to my home will be offered some tea as well.

22 August 2016

Special Little Nephew

Our lives are seen more vividly when a new little life enters in. A baby born reminds us of how we all began in this world - the same small, helpless, dependent human who God loves. It's an amazing thing to behold - that God saw and knew my nephew, Benson David, before he took his first breath a few days ago. A gift, he is, from God. A new life in our world, with a soul already set-up for eternity. Even before Benson could be seen. God saw him.

Isn't it amazing that God's love is so deep that it reaches into the womb and creates a beautiful soul that He loves as much as you and I? Before baby Benson even knows his parents, he was known and loved by God. More deeply than we can even comprehend.

It is a beautiful mystery of God, and to glimpse it come to fruition is a joy. A new nephew in my life will add smiles and love. I have one niece, and now one nephew. I get to teach them, cherish time with them, and watch them grow into little people. I am so happy to show them love and teach them the importance of their story in the world, through the delightful imaginative discoveries. 

I got to go to Gainesville to visit Benson this weekend on a quick trip. Being three days old is pretty tough work, and he slept most of the time. I was thankful to get some baby snuggles. You cannot help but smile at that.

16 August 2016

Summer Tulips

Let us today, while it is called to-day, 
Set out, if utmost speed may
yet avail - 
- Christina Rossetti

Tulips in the summertime is as rare as snow in our winters. It just doesn't ever happen.

Summertime can throw the unexpected at me. In the form of twists of delight, on rare occasions. But the unexpected has its own delight, so when it comes along, there is a little celebration in my head - full of thanks for the small things that cause me to appreciate that which is before me.

Like tulips in summer. They are adorning my coffee table now, and it is sheer delight I get to enjoy their graceful beauty in the depths of summer. I have never had tulips apart from January- February because tulips thrive in the colder, pre-spring temperatures: days I dream about now. So, you can imagine how pleasantly surprised I was to see these blooms at Trader Joe's and had to take the five stems home with me.

I am so glad I brought them home because they are a reminder, albeit a little one, that even in the off season, we might catch a glimpse of the beauty and goodness of what is to come. How can we refuse to see that as God's graciousness and gentle attention to that which we notice, and care about? Even when, in the midst of oppressive heat, there are signs that it will not always be so. Reprieve and change of good is coming.

15 August 2016

Signs of Blue and Hope

Let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. and let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near. 
Hebrews 10.22-25

When I am passing through a stressful week and feeling rather blue, there are reminders that I need to hear. I need to be reminded of the goodness, grace, mercy, and love that surrounds me in Christ every moment of every day. I read my morning scripture and am reminded through Hebrews, where I am currently reading. I am not lacking in those graces, and yet it is sometimes all too easy to numb myself to their presence and sink further into a darker hue of blue.

When a state of blue can be shifted to something brighter, there is hope again. Rising above the horizon with reminders that the light does come. Sometimes it is through the cracks, not just above the horizon, but we don't always look there. And it might require some changes, which means the lovely, smooth finish I had all sorted out will be jagged and rocky. My plan might not have come to pass. I am not ready to deal with that decision. I am not sure how to handle that situation. Several things pile up to a seemingly insurmountable stack. I hear the words in my head I know so well - that hope is the thing with feathers that perches in the soul and never stops at all (to paraphrase Emily Dickinson's poem).

This is where faith comes in. I sit on my sofa after a whirlwind week, in an attentive attitude as the rain storm pounds around my home. Tea is steeping in a teapot and my heart finally grows quiet. It is not necessarily in the good days that we feel we need faith. We hardly think of it then, but as something shifts underneath my feet I find myself losing grip on that which  I thought I  knew, and all the questions arise in my mind and the wheels start turning and turning. As I try to sleep some nights my mind clutters with remnants of thoughts that linger. I land on the wispy strongholds of faith, a paradox in itself. Hanging onto that which requires trust that God is the ultimate planner and His plan is perfect.

May faith restore in me the joy of the Lord. Let me hear the words of hope, love, faith, and goodness instead of the chatter that can clutter a thoughtful mind.

“Hope” is the thing with feathers - 
That perches in the soul - 
And sings the tune without the words - 
And never stops - at all - 

And sweetest - in the Gale - is heard - 
And sore must be the storm - 
That could abash the little Bird 
That kept so many warm - 

I’ve heard it in the chillest land - 
And on the strangest Sea - 
Yet - never - in Extremity, 
It asked a crumb - of me.

Emily Dickinson

11 August 2016

The Dark Tower

When we remember, we are not simply getting the result of something that goes on inside our heads. We are directly experiencing the past.
- C.S. Lewis

This book has a story, even before you open the cover.

I love a book that has an amazing story in itself. It was rescued from a bonfire, literally. The handwritten manuscripts for these stories (and many other papers) were going to be burned by C.S. Lewis's brother Warnie after his death, in November 1963, because he was downsizing and throwing things away. Walter Hooper showed up at the Kilns (the home of C.S. Lewis) just in time to save all the papers and manuscripts from the bonfire that Warnie had going. Walter had to take all the papers right then and there, or they would be burned. Warnie would not wait another day. This entire book of stories, plus a huge suitcase full of manuscripts was carried (albeit quite difficultly) on the bus and then dragged by Walter back into Oxford where he was staying. It is because of his efforts then, and his further editing efforts, that I get to read these words today.

And these are words that stick with me. The images Lewis provokes in the reader is memorable to where I find myself pondering these things for a long time after reading a chapter. The first story in this book is "The Dark Tower", which is an unfinished story written to take place in between Out of the Silent Planet and Perelandra. This story is so creepy. I am amazed how Lewis could write the character of evil so distinctly in a story (and in the characters) and the way it connects with our own modern world is simply astonishing.

A group of men use a new device, a chronoscope, to project onto a screen a live-feed of Othertime, a world that looked similar to ours, but was thought to be another time entirely. Past or future, the men debated. They watched scenes move around a building and inside it (the dark tower, as they dubbed it), which became the central focus of some very odd behavior by the people who lived there in Othertime. People acted very strange, like automatons, because of a disturbing ritual they take part in, in one of the rooms in the dark tower. Idol worship? Brainwashing (stinging?)? The men watch the Othertime, trying to figure out what this place is, when it is, and what it all means. They soon discover, disturbingly, that the dark tower is the same building they are currently in, in Cambridge. The worlds are the same, yet in different times, or are they?

Things get even stranger, when they see a man on the screen who looks exactly like one of them in the room, Scudamour. A duplicate. How can this be? The evil that they see on screen makes them shudder, but there is nothing they can do, except when Scudamour and his duplicate switch places, everything is thrown topsy turvy. Scudamour finds himself in Othertime, and the evil man is in our world. Scudamour witnesses the terror underpinning Otherworld firsthand, but then also begins to learn about that world, and how it is parallel in time and space to our world, and now the paths between the two are linked with the chronoscope, which is now broken.

This first draft of the book is incomplete. It actually ends mid-sentence. There were no more manuscripts found, and no end to the story has been written, but I am still entranced by C.S. Lewis's ability to write about the nature of evil and the human reactions to it. His space trilogy books (this one included) all do that, and they are simply fascinating and so full of thought-provoking truths mixed in with old myths and modern social and political issues. It is amazing how relevant all these stories are today. I am just sad this story was not completed, but it sure has my imagination going.

09 August 2016

(Dis/Re) Enchantment

Do you think I am trying to weave a spell? Perhaps I am; but remember your fairy tales. Spells are used for breaking enchantments as well as for inducing them. And you and I have need of the strongest spell that can be found to wake us from the evil enchantment of worldliness which has been laid upon us for nearly a hundred years. 
- C.S. Lewis

Lord, help me live under the spell of imaginative grace.

We are in the world, but not of the world. We have to stand inside the moments of each day and all the distractions, deeply rooted in God. That is not an easy thing to do, and it requires faith. This Sunday was holy communion, and I was reminded of how it shows faith being played out in life. It is not hidden. It is in plain sight, and to sit there and see all the early morning risers go forward, and actively participate in acts of faith. Trusting in what God tells us and what Christ did for us. It is a beautiful thing. Our everyday lives can become entombed in the enchantment of the worldliness Lewis writes about.

Seeing community come together to act in something that is tangible (bread, wine), implemented by Jesus two thousand years ago further deepens my faith that God's Word and deeds have been the same all the while. It does not matter that two thousand years have passed. It might as well be one hundred years, but God is all the same. The enchantment of the world begins to fall away, and a new spell sweeps over me - one that focuses my mind's attention on the Creator.

I think about the beauty of God that I can see and feel in a cathedral or sanctuary. A sacred space with reminders of God's glory, be it stained glass or lofty arched ceilings indicating the height of God's reach, far beyond what we can imagine. Raising our eyes up to the glory of His creation.

Words and hymns that have stood the test of time as spoken and sung as they have been for centuries. They are deep truths in words - meditated upon and shared out loud for the people of today, same as they were hundreds of years ago. These words have been heard in the cathedrals I have visited in England. Their ancient echoes rebounding off the stone walls and reflecting off the intricate stained glass. The truth that shines forth, throughout history.

(St. Paul's Cathedral, London, 2011)

08 August 2016

Summery Notes

I’ll tell you how the sun rose,—
A ribbon at a time.

- Emily Dickinson

These deep summer days are drenched in humidity and bright light from the glaring sun. Any time clouds come to hover over us, I breathe a thanksgiving prayer in my head.

How are you getting on through these hot summer days?
Smoothies and cold brew coffee for me.

I bought a small blender and have been making homemade smoothies. I think I have figured out some delicious combinations of frozen fruit and a little bit of juice. Currently, my favourite mix is frozen mango, frozen pineapple, peach mango orange juice, and a banana. The blender does all the work, and I do all the enjoying.

My grocery store sells cold brew coffee in glass bottles now, so I have one as an extra treat each week. If I need something quick in the morning, and don't have time for my french press, I just mix some cold brew with soy or almond milk in a pretty glass and can wake up my brain for the day.

I am trying to thrive in these hot days. My car's a/c is broken (and it will cost a lot to fix it), so driving anywhere raises the question in me "is this worth feeling hot and distraught to drive to this place?" Hence, I am staying at home a lot these past several days. When it starts to rain, I rejoice in the cooler air that comes with the rain. My thoughts can quickly turn to autumn when there is the chance of cooler air behind the rain, but I try not to dream too much yet, for autumn is slow to arrive to the deep south, where the tropics reign (and rain).

Until the season of autumn draws closer, I shall try to just enjoy these summer storms, afternoons of drizzly rain, reading in my home, drinking smoothies, knowing that a change will come. 

04 August 2016

The (un) Ordinary: A Tale

Calm and still. The air is heavy and dense. Last reflections of a day glitter on the lake's surface.
A traveller stands on the dock, ready to turn and begin a journey. She gathers her light load of a leather backpack filled with sustenance for several days, slings it over her shoulders, and takes her first steps of the great journey to discover new land. There is rumour of an undiscovered country nearby, a mere two day walk away. Always seeking the new and beautiful, so as to discover the hidden treasures that God lays out before us, she is ready for a new discovery.

The journey begins with sidewalks and people, but slowly grows more grassy and quiet. The people have departed, and it is up to directional skills to navigate now. Cutting across fields of tall grasses, thankful for a dry day, she inches northward, toward the undiscovered land that awaits. Groves and lines of planted fields surround her for a while. Her heart is thrilled at the thought of a new place to explore. The sky is open and wide, filled to the brim with puffy white clouds that almost touch the earth on the horizon. A place that she hasn't ever seen awaits. It's not that she despises her former place, but she longs for a place that is new to her, for all has become dull and void of deeper meaning.

After the first day, she is walking with a solid, steady step as the clouds overhead build, turning silvery and dense, and then dark grey. She approaches another landscape with a few hills and little shelter, mostly scrubs and some scattered trees laden with moss. The rain begins as she is about halfway across this land. A farm is in the distance, but the fencing seems to circle away from her. This is God's country. Her footsteps soon become muddy and her line of sight is cut off by the heavy rain. She considers stopping to let the storm pass, since she feels somewhat disoriented, but decides to keep going, albeit rather slowly.

The storm passes a few hours later, and she can see the land ahead of her again. She trudges onward toward the unknown....

She has kept track of the time and the distance, and she calculates that she should be breaking upon the new country very shortly. The land ahead flattens out and her weariness is great but the excitement persists as she nears the place. She feels in her bones this is a place calling to her. Like home.

A bend in the landscape draws her closer to a scene almost familiar, but lovely in her rejuvenated eyes. It feels like home already, she thinks. She passes through tall grasses and takes a short break to munch on the last of her food, then she begins to inch toward that which is left to discover. Groves line her peripheral and she wonders how it can all seem so similar to her own land. 

Then, she sees it. The lake glistening in the late afternoon golden light. Captivated, she draws near and notices that this land isn't only familiar, it is her original starting place! She was so drawn to it, she was seeking to discover that which she already knew, but oh how it glistened! The everyday feature was her journey's destination. She looked at the scene before her as if she was a foreigner. She had never noticed the ducks that waddled toward the water before. Or the water grasses, reaching up skyward and brushing the side of the dock. Her feet were tired but her thoughts jumped alive. She sat cross-legged on the dock and took out her journal, writing down all that she was noticing from her journey, her adventure, and the scene around her. Writing out all the tiny details she realized that her lack of attention two days ago caused her to miss the beauty of what she saw daily.

Sometimes what we seek so hard to find is actually right beneath our feet. Sometimes while we dream of a land outside our own, we miss the beauty that rests with us. Sometimes we choose to take a step out that really leads to taking a step back in. 

Sometimes, the shortest way home is the longest way around.

02 August 2016

Thoughts Are Speaking

Her thoughts were speaking with her: speaking pleasantly, as it seemed, for she smiled as she listened.
- Charlotte Brontë

I love this line I recently read in the lesser known Charlotte Brontë novel, Shirley. I smiled when I read that line, because that is me. My thoughts are speaking, which is how I come to write down so many thoughts in my journal, and must continue to do so every day. Many people do wonder at my need to write so often, and why. Perhaps I can shed some light on my thoughts behind the thoughts.

We all have thoughts, musings, and ponderings, but it is a matter of - do we listen to them? Or do we drown them out with other distractions? 

When I read really good books of literature, essays, or even correspondence in the form of letters from the days of C.S Lewis, for example, I am impressed and inspired by the good organization of thoughts, the use of vocabulary, the elegance of sentence structure, and the choicest methods of portraying points on subjects. Some modern day writings lack imagination (in general) and even the proper use of grammar! There are exceptions, of course. I could name many modern authors that are wonderful. 

I come back from that tangent to say that all of that reading of other good works inspires me to be a better writer. My reading is almost a way of learning to be more articulate, elegant, thoughtful, and resourceful when it comes to the words I select. That is why I generally cringe at the overuse of heavy slang or uses of modern syntax with the younger generation today. 

We live in a modern age of innovation, so I am certainly not against new words or alternate uses of words; that happens as a result of changing society and times and shows the way the world is changing and our language with it, but I am an old soul, and I value that which is thought-provoking and has stood the test of time. My love of writing grows the more I read, and the more I read the more I admire and wish to engage in the history of that time through story.

I do not seek to mimic the writers of the 16th - 19th centuries, for they stand on their own and I admire them for they cannot be reproduced, but rather to explore my own voice of writing with a nod to those great writers before me. There is a reason we are still reading John Keats' poetry, Samuel Taylor Coleridge's poetry, George MacDonald's strange tales of fantasy, and the imaginative sub-created stories of J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis. This kind of creative writing speaks to generations. Through their ability with words that capture our attention, we can be left with thoughts and insights that we had not considered. 

The more I write, the more thoughtful I become about organizing my thoughts and selecting words to portray my ideas precisely (hopefully!). This is why I need to write (I must write!) everyday. It is practice. I cannot expect to be a better writer if I do not challenge and engage those creative aspects of my mind by writing furiously with my pen.

01 August 2016

Love Learning, Will Travel


Sometimes the travel and learning I do doesn't revolve around literature, England, or writing. Imagine that! It is actually directly related to my job. And it is learning, and I enjoy it. It is a different kind of learning - investments and working with clients. I have a lot more to learn about it all, and am eager to soak it in, acquire, and utilize. 

I recently went to St. Louis for my semi-annual  company event. It was a busy, jam-packed few days of attending a regional investment conference at the Ritz Carlton (O the luxury! I had a full day there, and enjoyed it very much) and then some company meetings the next day, focusing on updates and good talks/lectures, which left me writing thoughtfully in my notepads, for review later.

This is the kind of thing I really enjoy, and am always thankful to take part in. Soaking in knowledge about topics that apply to me (and/or interest me) so I can do my job better, taking notes, with a little bit of social time mixed in. I know I am odd when I say I prefer the days to be weighted more heavily in the learning sessions or meetings more than the social events, and this time it was exactly that for me, but I also had some really good, lengthy talks with various planners and advisors that I hadn't spent much time with previously. Of course, the days are exhausting and my brain felt overflowing with information that might spill out, but something in me likes that. For I know that if I am not continuously learning, I am in danger of being complacent in my knowledge. 

There was also a bit of fun in those days, with a pie-eating contest for the partners of the firm (and a few other brave employees!). Those guys have amazing Christ-centered hearts, and I am glad they are running the show, and are willing to do some silly things.

Learning and travel go hand-in-hand I think. When you travel you are learning about locations, routes, places, histories, people, and cultures. Mix those two together and you get a pretty wonderful combination, in my eyes.