How precious are Your thoughts to me, O LORD ... how vast is the sum of them!

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Beautiful People: Valentine Edition

Even though I don’t really celebrate Valentine’s Day, the opportunity to delve into my first romantic couple was too enticing to pass up with this edition of Beautiful People. Check out the blogs at Paper Fury or Further Up and Further In to learn more!

Up until last year, I wouldn’t have had a couple to use for this questionnaire. But since my 1930s retelling of Sense and Sensibility, obviously I have one now. Two, in fact, but I’ll focus on my favorite: Ellen Dashiell (aka Elinor Dashwood) and Everett Shepherd (aka Edward Ferrars).

1. How did they first meet?
They met in Ellen’s cousin’s living room. It was totally unexpected on everyone’s parts, including the cousin’s, because Ellen was late and Everett was early. It might as well have happened then, though, because two days later they turned into coworkers when Everett became the accountant at the business where Ellen was a secretary.

2. What were their first impressions of each other?
Ellen noticed Everett was shy, at least around girls. She thought he had a pleasant, endearing look about him, and she felt he needed friendly drawing-out. Everett thought Ellen was strikingly pretty, poised and confident, though quiet, which he especially appreciated. Overbearing girls make him want to disappear.

3. How long have they been a couple?
Well, they’re not really an official couple yet…

4. How committed/loyal are they to each other? Would they break up over a secret or a disagreement? Could stress drive them apart? Would they die for each other?
A certain secret makes it impossible for them to be together. But if that issue were swept away, they would be united for life—even into death. They would die for each other.

5. List 5 “food quirks” they know about each other. (Ex: how they take their coffee, if they’re allergic to something, etc….and feel free to mention other non-food quirks!)
1) Ellen knows Everett can’t make a decent sandwich to save his life.
2) They both choose apple cider over coffee and hot chocolate (can you believe someone would do that? Actually, they’re people after my own heart there).
3) When Ellen works, she always eats lunch at her desk.
4) They each know the other is cold-natured (they noticed almost as soon as they first met, because neither of them are ever quick to doff their coats or gloves in winter).
5) Everett gets absorbed in numbers; Ellen gets absorbed in typing.

6. Does anyone disapprove of their relationship?
No one really except Leona Bingham (aka Lucy Steele). If you know Sense and Sensibility’s plot, you know why.

7. What would be an ideal date?
Although they like working in an office well enough, they love getting out into nature. So a day trip out to Turkey Foot Lake or some other nearby natural spot would be absolutely idyllic to them.

8. What are their personality dynamics? Similar? Contrasting? Do they fight a lot or mesh perfectly?
They’re pretty similar as far as couples go. Both are quiet, though Ellen is more outgoing. Both are neat and orderly. They understand each other very well, often without speaking, so arguments are rare.

9. What have been their best and worst moments together as a couple?
If I answer this question, won’t it give away their story? :) Their best and worst moments as a couple are at the heart of Suit and Suitability.

10. Where do they see themselves and their relationship in the next few years?
At this point, they aren’t sure. They think they want to marry, but the obstacles seem insurmountable.

All in all, Ellen and Everett are rather sedate as a couple—nothing flamboyant or unpredictable, thank you. They love peace and quiet and work and structure, and being there for their friends. We need more people like them in this world!

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Cranford: A Life Well Lived

Last month I read the story one of my favorite movies is based off: Cranford by Elizabeth Gaskell. As I sank into the quaint nineteenth-century English country village, I felt like I was drinking warm tea. It’s probably one of the coziest reads in existence! I even read part of it while I was sick, and it was very comforting.

It’s darling. The ladies who make up the main cast have their quirks that may color them with a shade of silliness, but who of us doesn’t own a quirk that throws some people off? Cranford is dominated by the “Amazons” because most of the principal residents are spinsters or widows. There are the Jenkyns sisters, imperious Deborah and gentle Matty; feisty busybody Miss Pole; the Honourable Mrs. Jamieson, sluggish but aristocratically connected; her friendly, unpretentious cousin Lady Glenmire; kind, unassuming Mrs. Forrester; and a host of other women who come and go in the episodic chapters, like Mrs. Fitz-Adam and Miss Betty Barker. Young Mary Smith, a friend of the Jenkyns sisters, is their frequent houseguest and the narrator. Mary, being an outsider, is the perfect individual to describe Cranford life.

Since the ladies are so insulated in their own little village, they’ve forged the rules of polite Cranford society. Some of the comedy and tension of the book is how they go about following those rules:

(Deborah Jenkyns instructing her guest Mary Smith)
“Our friends have sent to inquire how you are after your journey to-night, my dear” (fifteen miles in a gentleman’s carriage); “they will give you some rest to-morrow, but the next day, I have no doubt they will call; so be at liberty after twelve—from twelve to three are our calling hours.”
Then, after they had called—
“It is the third day; I daresay your mamma has told you, my dear, never to let more than three days elapse between receiving a call and returning it; and also, that you are never to stay longer than a quarter of an hour.”
“But am I to look at my watch? How am I to find out when a quarter of an hour has passed?”
“You must keep thinking about the time, my dear, and not allow yourself to forget it in conversation.”

The book isn’t exactly a novel; the chapters are more like sequential episodes. Most of them have their own story arc. Mrs. Gaskell originally published them in Charles Dickens’s magazine, Household Words, from 1851 to 1853, and only after finishing did she compile them as one volume.

Although all the characters are delightful, I would say the stars of the story are 1) Miss Matty Jenkyns and 2) Miss Pole. Miss Pole brought me the most laughs with her fiery, sometimes foolish, know-it-all-ness:

“She took me so by surprise, I had nothing to say. I wish I had thought of something very sharp and sarcastic; I daresay I shall tonight.” (Miss Pole after she was offended by Mrs. Jamieson)

(Miss Pole trying to learn a magic trick through reading a book) Miss Pole only read the more zealously….“Ah! I see; I comprehend perfectly. A represents the ball. Put A between B and D—no! between C and F, and turn the second joint of the third finger of your left hand over the wrist of your right H. Very clear indeed! My dear Mrs. Forester, conjuring and witchcraft is a mere affair of the alphabet. Do let me read you this one passage?”

Miss Pole may be Cranford’s comic relief, but Miss Matty is its heart. She is gentle, humble, and always considers others better than herself (Philippians 2:3). Her timidity, which sometimes keeps her from doing things she’s capable of, was a little frustrating to me at times, but no one could be perturbed with Miss Matty for long. Through her quiet, steady, principled, unconscious influence, she is a solid rock to her friends. When a misfortune strikes, they rally around her.

“See, Mary, how a good, innocent life makes friends all around.” (Mary Smith’s father when he hears how the Cranford ladies mean to help Miss Matty)

“It was really very pleasant to see how her unselfishness and simple sense of justice called out the same good qualities in others. She never seemed to think any one would impose upon her, because she would be so grieved to do it to them…. People would have felt as much ashamed of presuming on her good faith as they would have done on that of a child. But my father says ‘such simplicity might be very well in Cranford, but would never do in the world.’” (Mary of Miss Matty)

“We all love Miss Matty, and I somehow think we are all of us better when she is near us.” (Mary)

In the end, I think Miss Matty has much to teach readers. Although she’s hardly been out of her village and her experiences are limited, she has influence over her circle and has earned their undying respect. That’s within every individual’s power, no matter how young, secluded, or impoverished we are. God wants all human beings to be touched, and if, like Miss Matty, we can only touch a few of them, we are doing what God has called us to do.

Cranford did an excellent job of showing this truth through an entertaining and endearing narrative, without moralizing. Everyone needs encouragement to live graciously with their neighbors, and reading a book like this is a very effective treatment!

Have you ever read Cranford or seen the wonderful Masterpiece Theatre adaptation? What did you think?

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Infinity Dreams Award

I needed something for my blog today, so Faith Blum’s post on the Infinity Dreams Award was just the thing! She tagged whoever wanted to do it, so I held out my hand for it. I’m not really sure what “Infinity Dreams” means, but oh well. The questions are quite interesting. Thanks, Faith!

Tell us eleven facts about yourself.

1. This is the hardest part of these types of tags for me: coming up with eleven facts to share about myself. ;)
2. My brother and sister-in-law just had their first baby (a boy), so I am now an aunt!
3. My favorite colors are various shades of blue—sky blue, periwinkle, cobalt, royal blue, powder blue. They soothe, cheer, and intrigue me like no other color.
4. My favorite animal is a dolphin, though I’ve never touched one or seen one in person. Their personalities fascinate me, and they’re so beautiful.
5. My favorite trip ever was two weeks in England, back in September 2014. I went with one of my best friends. Part of that time was with a historical costume tour; we got to dress up in Regency and Titanic costumes (I made my Regency dress). Such fun!
6. I am a second-degree black belt in martial arts—my favorite sport.
7. I love teaching, though it always makes me really nervous (at least at first).
8. I’m the only one in my whole extended family who has true red hair.
9. Classical music is my favorite genre of music. One of my favorite pieces (perhaps my absolute) is Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake.
10. I love Hebrew and can read it, though it can take me a while to understand it (especially non-Biblical Hebrew). The Bible’s most ancient language is incredible.
11. Whew. Almost done. Let’s see…one more fact…oh! Unlike quite a few writers I’ve talked to, I love the editing process. I also love proofreading for others.
Answer the eleven questions.
What is your favorite thing to blog about?
Classic books or authors I’ve just read.
Who is your favorite fictional character?
Elinor Dashwood from Sense and Sensibility. I really identify with her, although she’s a lot more admirable than I am, with her strength, fortitude, and competency, among other qualities. Maybe someday I’ll be just like her.
What is your biggest pet peeve?
I don’t know—maybe when people talk badly of others.
If you could visit one place on earth, and only one, where would you choose?
Israel! I want to see the Promised Land, the land where my Lord walked and where God revealed Himself in the Scriptures.
What’s one movie coming out in 2016 you want to watch?
Hmm…let me go look up what’s coming out in 2016…okay, found one! The Jungle Book sounds interesting.
Would you rather time travel to the past or the future? Why?
The past. I would love to see what life was like in the past, preferably 1940s or earlier. And honestly, the future has always scared me a little.
What is your least favorite holiday?
What do you want to be when you “grow up”?
Well, another hard question to answer. I wanted to be an author/writer since I was oh, eleven or so, and I am, but I’d like to be more and more of one as the years go by. I want to be a wife and mother, too, and then there’s an editor, and I will always want to be some sort of teacher. Right now it’s a karate teacher. So the only thing I haven’t started “becoming” is a wife and mother.
If someone offered you a million dollar inheritance if you would drive twenty bucks (as in deer) across Alaska, would you do it? (I know it sounds weird, stems from a game of Balderdash.)
I probably couldn’t do it, but if there wasn’t any penalty for losing the bucks, I’d try. ;)
What genre of books do you like best to read?
Do you prefer movies or TV shows?
Movies. I like their complete story arc, cinematography, and closure. Miniseries (like Pride and Prejudice and Cranford) fit the bill, too.

・    Use the Infinity Dreams Award picture
・    Thank the blogger who tagged you
・    Tell us 11 facts about yourself
・    Answer the 11 questions
・    Tag 11 bloggers

Tagged Bloggers
Anyone who wants to! Post a link in the comments if you do. 

The Eleven Questions:
I wasn’t sure if I was supposed to make up new questions or re-post the ones I answered, so I did a mixture of both. 

What is your favorite thing to blog about?
Who is your favorite fictional character?
What is your favorite color and why?
If you could visit one place on earth, and only one, where would you choose?
What’s one movie coming out in 2016 you want to watch?
Would you rather time travel to the past or the future? Why?
What’s a Bible verse that’s meant a lot to you lately?
What is your favorite classic book (written before say, 1920)?
What is your favorite place you’ve ever been?
What genre of books do you like best to read?
Do you prefer movies or TV shows?
Feel free to answer the questions in the comments, too, if you don’t have a blog or don’t want to post them. How many of the things I talked about can you identify with?

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

The Workshop

This past weekend, I was blessed to be able to attend a Christian writers workshop at a local church. Getting out my door that early on a Saturday morning dignified the day right from the outset. I was nervous (new places always do that to me) but extremely excited. This was to be the biggest gathering of writers I’d ever joined in person. Something sparks when you get face-to-face fellowship with like-minded people. That’s why church and camp and other such places are so important, and can make you feel vibrantly refreshed. It’s infinitely more impacting than hearing a recording or reading words on a screen.

Even though I’d basically heard what Tricia Patterson, an incredible speaker and blogger, had to say before (from other people who put it differently, of course), it sunk in so much deeper to hear it spoken in person by her—infectiously energetic and passionate for the Lord. She emphasized the reason we write, which is to glorify God. Her perspective was encouraging. I’d been drifting away from the simple, pure reason I write, and her words tugged me back, slicing upstream through my narrow, dogged focus on just getting stuff written. It’s not about writing because I’m a writer, and writers write. It’s so much bigger than that—people who can say things on a page have a gift from God that He wants offered back to Him. It’s an exciting calling, full of purpose and influence, even if we only reach one person with any one thing we say. Since every person is precious in God’s eyes, reaching him or her is worth every effort. That reminder also destroyed a fear I’d been struggling with—that perhaps my writing wasn’t worth much. But this assured me that indeed, it is worthwhile, because it’s meant to serve my King and the people I can reach. (Let me take this opportunity to thank every one of you who read my words and get something out of them. You are a blessing!) My confidence isn’t so much in myself as it is in God.

I was so energized by Tricia Patterson’s talk that I couldn’t wait to get home and write. But there was still half the workshop left, which was definitely a good thing! During intermission, I met a few other local authors. I hope I get to know them better, perhaps through the weekly classes the church will be having for the next two months. The second speaker for the workshop was Kurt Kaiser, an extremely gifted songwriter, who shared his experiences of writing lyrics with us. As an extra blessing, he played his beautiful music on the piano.

If you ever have the opportunity to fellowship with other Christian writers, please take advantage of it. You can encourage and inspire each other far beyond any contact online. And if you are ever discouraged about your writing or any talent God’s given you, take heart—He gave it to you for a reason, and He wants you to use it, for His glory. And that infuses life with excitement, purpose, and discovery!