apartment love: quilting

Over the last four months, bit by bit, our little apartment has become more and more like a home. Decorating is a slow process, and a long one, but I am still loving every moment of it. It is so satisfying, I’m discovering, to find just the right thing for a space, whether it be a piece of furniture or a lampshade or a framed arrowhead that your husband found way back when. And throughout that process, I am still gleaning bits of inspiration from all over the place (read: Anthropologie’s website). Remember when I shared my love for book pages as decor, in an effort to identify what is distinctively us? Well, here’s another piece of apartment love:

quilting

I struggled, actually, to think of the right word to use when describing this bit of inspiration: quilting? stitching? patchwork? anything that places colored pieces of fabric and/or thread together in a cohesive manner? I’m not sure… but I know that something about it simply appeals to me. It’s homey and bright and just lovely.

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Bohemian, rustic, and cozy.

I love it.

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the tale of despereaux

I’ve been thinking about literature quite a bit recently, and so I’ve decided that it’s time to explore another book from my well-loved bookshelf. So far, I’ve talked about The NIght Circus, Mere Christianity, The Time Traveler’s Wife, and Ender’s Game… today, I want to delve into a new genre: children’s literature.

The Tale of Despereaux, by Kate DiCamillo

“Welcome to the story of Despereaux Tilling, a mouse who is in love with music, stories, and a princess named Pea. It is also the story of a rat called Roscuro, who lives in the darkness and covets a world filled with light. And it is the story of Miggery Sow, a slow-witted serving girl who harbors a simple, impossible wish. These three characters are about to embark on a journey that will lead them down into a horrible dungeon, up into a glittering castle, and, ultimately, into each other’s lives. What happens then? As Kate DiCamillo would say: Reader, it is your destiny to find out.”

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The thing that I love most about children’s books is their simplicity. So many novels are sweeping, covering huge distances and tackling one social-political-emotional issue after another, jumping from culture to culture and burrowing into everything from racism to sexuality to politics. Epics like The Brief and Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao or Middlesex come to mind. These books are incredible in their way, but sometimes, I find the greatest joy in a story that is stripped down to its core. Truly great children’s literature, in my opinion, is just that: it takes away all of the cultural references, and instead presents the reader with a story that is not rooted in some societal context, but borne along simply by its characters. The Tale of Despereaux captured my heart for just that reason: in it, a story about a mouse and a princess, a rat and a serving girl, becomes more profound than any tale that spans centuries or continents.

The book is divided into four parts, with the first three telling parallel stories focusing on main characters: Despereaux (a tiny mouse, different from other mice in almost every way, who falls in love with a human), Roscuro (a rat who envies a world of light and so determines to pull it into darkness), and Miggory Sow (a slave-turned-servant who only wishes, impossibly, to be a princess). The fourth and final portion of the book narrates how the three stories intersect, focusing on the consequences of each’s actions and hopes and dreams. The pages of the book have jagged edges that I find particularly romantic, there are beguiling pencil illustrations throughout the chapters, and it is finished with a lovely coda from the author. I cannot say enough good things about it.

One of my favorite things about The Tale of Despereaux was DiCamillo’s choice to address the reader directly, with narrative asides and all. She elegantly gives the impression that you are sitting in some hidden room in a library, listening to a wise librarian as she reads the story aloud for a group of children (“Reader, do you know what the word ‘perfidy’ means? I have a feeling you do, based on the little scene that just unfolded here. But you should look up the word in your dictionary, just to be sure.”). Similarly, DiCamillo treats the reader with respect and honesty, refusing to dilute her story and instead stating the facts: that sometimes, people (and mice) are cruel, or they are a mixture of good and bad, or that our actions have consequences, or whatever other profound truth through which the story leads her. She doesn’t shy away from difficult topics, taking a hard look at what sadnesses and injustices befall her characters, while still balancing the darkness with a celebration of love and light and forgiveness.

Ultimately, DiCamillo gently guides the reader through a story of prejudice, betrayal, child abuse, and parental abandonment, going slowly enough that the full weight of the topics can fall on the readers’ shoulders. She walks through the consequences of selfishness, or revengeful actions, or greed. She expores in detail the power of forgiveness, the fear present in courage, the wonder of being accepted. She tells the truth, both good and bad, about the world as it is today. And yet, somehow, in the midst of all the heavy topics, the book remains whimsical and playful, thanks to her narration style and her choice of words. DiCamillo has said that she sees darkness in writing as a place where readers can enter in, exploring it as a means to come to terms with their own personal darkness as well as a foil to the light in their lives. I, for one, must agree. This book has convinced me.

“And while the mouse slept, Roscuro put his terrible plan into effect. Would you like to hear, reader, how it all unfolded? The story is not a pretty one. There is violence in it. And cruelty. But stories that are not pretty have a certain value, too, I suppose. Everything, as you well know (having lived in this world long enough to have figured out a thing or two for yourself), cannot always be sweetness and light.”

ender’s game

I think it’s about time to share another one of the books from my bookshelf. This one, actually, is a quite famous science fiction book, has won lots of awards, and is being adapted as a movie that is slated to come out at the beginning of November. I began reading it in middle school and haven’t stopped since… Have you guessed yet?

Ender’s Game, by Orson Scott Card

“In order to develop a secure defense against a hostile alien race’s next attack, government agencies breed child geniuses and train them as soldiers. A brilliant young boy, Andrew “Ender” Wiggin lives with his kind but distant parents, his sadistic brother Peter, and the person he loves more than anyone else, his sister Valentine. Peter and Valentine were candidates for the soldier-training program but didn’t make the cut—young Ender is the Wiggin drafted to the orbiting Battle School for rigorous military training.

Ender’s skills make him a leader in school and respected in the Battle Room, where children play at mock battles in zero gravity. Yet growing up in an artificial community of young soldiers Ender suffers greatly from isolation, rivalry from his peers, pressure from the adult teachers, and an unsettling fear of the alien invaders. His psychological battles include loneliness, fear that he is becoming like the cruel brother he remembers, and fanning the flames of devotion to his beloved sister.

Is Ender the general Earth needs? But Ender is not the only result of the genetic experiments. The war with the Buggers has been raging for a hundred years, and the quest for the perfect general has been underway for almost as long. Ender’s two older siblings are every bit as unusual as he is, but in very different ways. Between the three of them lie the abilities to remake a world. If, that is, the world survives.”

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Ender’s Game is, according to the general consensus, a science fiction novel. And that categorization makes sense… the book is full of science fiction-y things: that is, genetic experiments, spaceships, alien war, zero gravity battles, and so on and so forth. The trailer for the upcoming movie looks about as “war in space” as it possibly could be. It’s funny in some ways, and exciting in others, and just shiny enough to make it a universal favorite of middle school boys. But ultimately, I think that these facets of the novel were simply enhancements to a story that is more. And by more, I mean thoughtful, complex, emotionally- laden, and highly philosophical.

Each time I read Ender’s Game, I’m a little bit older. And each time, I grasp the psychological and moral (under)currents a little better. This book raises a thousand heavy, thought-provoking questions… most of which I have no answer to. It is an examination of utilitarian values, of the concept of “the other”, of leadership and war and family and manipulation and politics and loyalty and colonization. Simply trying to write a summary brings up a myriad of ethically-challenging issues.

Think about it: the book features a hero who was genetically engineered to be the perfect combination of empathy and brutality, so that he, and he alone, understands his enemy well enough to be able to kill them. But in an attempt to create a tool for saving the world, the world created a boy who, in understanding that enemy, begins to love them and hates his own purpose… and so Ender is constantly faced with situations where he forces himself to choose murder not in a spirit of malice, but simply out of an undeniable survival instinct. He wrestles with these psychological battles in the midst of impossible social and emotional situations- he is, after all, torn away from his family and placed as a commander in an army of brilliant (but still emotionally immature) children- and is manipulated and tested and monitored by adults throughout the entire book. And the ultimate purpose? Destroying an alien race that may or may not be a threat.

Card’s writing style is streamlined, characterized by unadorned prose and a straightforward descriptions. And, to his credit, he does a fairly good job of leaving the ethical questions unresolved: the ending leaves the readers sad, surely, but it does not take the liberty of approving or disapproving of the characters’ actions. Ender’s Game, therefore, is ultimately composed of nothing more than what people do, and the motivations that lead to those actions. Any philosophizing is left for the reader to do on their own time. If you choose to read it as nothing more than a fun and crazy story of little kids playing video games in space, you are welcome to do so. If you want more, well, it’s there in abundance.

In the words of a child:

“I don’t care if I pass your test, I don’t care if I follow your rules. If you can cheat, so can I. I won’t let you beat me unfairly – I’ll beat you unfairly first.”

apartment love: book pages

Who would have known that “marriage” is code for “now-it’s-time-to-unpack-all-your-things-and-buy-a-mattress-and-a-couch-and-a-thousand-little-tables-and-don’t-forget-about-decorating-too“? Goodness gracious. Well, it is. And now, my foray into life as a Mrs. has been accompanied by a rediscovery of homemaking and organization and decorating… and I must tell you all that, although it comes with its fair share of nervousness, it mostly just makes me smile.

I have always been someone who thrives from creating a “home”. As a child, I’d make little nests in closets, in corners, on top of shelves. I loved decorating my bedroom as a high schooler, my dorm room as a college student, and now… now, I am so excited to begin creating a space that represents Will & I, a home of warmth and inspiration and beauty. And my favorite tip thus far? Embrace the quirky things that make you happy and adopt them as “signature” items (thanks to these lovely folks).

Thus, a new series: apartment love.

Here, I share those things that catch our eye and make us smile. And let’s be honest…by “us”, I mostly mean “me”. But still us, too. First, an old favorite:

book & newspaper pages.

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Lovely, right? It just makes me want to read and decorate all at once.

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for the love of teal

fe92a9ef3fda4e17d3a417a1c571043b36cd74f1afc5b288f2b72816c9bdd2f3Beautiful, beautiful, beautiful. I love how bright and alive these spaces feel. There’s something about the blending of wood and the color teal that is oh-so-lovely. Do you love it as much as I do?

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You can find the photos, with their original links, on my Pinterest page.

the time traveler’s wife

Are you ready for another book from my bookshelf? I’m sure that by now, you’ve rushed out to buy both The Night Circus and Mere Christianity and found that you love them as much as I do. Right? Anyways, to keep you reading, here is another:

The Time Traveler’s Wife, by Audrey Niffenegger

“A dazzling novel in the most untraditional fashion, this is the remarkable story of Henry DeTamble, a dashing, adventuresome librarian who travels involuntarily through time, and Clare Abshire, an artist whose life takes a natural sequential course. Henry and Clare’s passionate love affair endures across a sea of time and captures the two lovers in an impossibly romantic trap, and it is Audrey Niffenegger’s cinematic storytelling that makes the novel’s unconventional chronology so vibrantly triumphant.

An enchanting debut and a spellbinding tale of fate and belief in the bonds of love, The Time Traveler’s Wife is destined to captivate readers for years to come.”

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The Time Traveler’s Wife is about a relationship, and how a relationship, the lifelong bittersweet touching of two souls, shapes a person in the best and the worst ways. It is a love story nestled in with two biographies, a romance with a touch of science fiction, chick-lit that requires thought and concentration and rewards you with a relationship that rings deeply true. It is, as Scott Turow says on the back of the paperback edition of the book, “an enchanting novel, beautifully crafted and as dazzlingly imaginative as it is dizzyingly romantic.”

The distinguishing factor about this love story is that it is presented in bits and pieces, passages that describe a snapshot in time with remarkable detail. In turns, these sections are joyous, mournful, warm, deeply disturbing, hopeful, wistful, heartwrenching… the book, as a whole, is a dance of dark and light, as the two characters separate and come together again. Because it follows Clare’s life from beginning to end, and Henry’s too, the reader is witness to a lifetime’s worth of sorrows and joys: vulgar at times, and sweetly innocent in others, the novel is emotionally heady in all the right ways. It is both incredibly microscopic, as Niffenegger describes Clare losing herself in her artwork or Henry getting a haircut, and yet sweeps across decades. Their love story is trapped in time and yet outside of it, if that makes any sense at all, and the reader gets to experience both.

Those snapshots, however, are not in chronological order, but instead shuffled and overlapped, in such a way that the thread that holds it together has emotional continuity but is logical in no other way. It is sometimes disorienting to attempt to keep track of the progression of Henry’s life, as he jumps through time and in those moments when he is in “real time”, as well as Clare’s life as it corresponds to both those facets of Henry’s existence. One passage may be from “Saturday, April 8, 1989 (Clare is 17, Henry is 40)” and the next is “Saturday, November 30, 1991 (Henry is 28, Clare is 20). It takes profound concentration to keep it all straight. I cannot help but admire Niffenger for weaving together such an intricate puzzle, for building a story using clues and hints and an incredibly creative welding of time. For this reason, though, reading this book requires a little more effort than you may desire, though I loved the challenge.

Perhaps it is because I know the feeling of being separated from somebody you love, but the inevitable “cheesiness” of the love story feels nothing but perfect to me. Of course the characters describe their love in the grandest of terms… to them, there is nothing more important than the moments when they are together. I can understand describing love in saccharine or melodramatic terms because that’s the only way, really, to describe it. To downplay the extravagance of these emotions would be to do the book a disservice. It is wonderful because it is grandiose.

“All I ask for are humble delights. A mystery novel in bed, the smell of Clare’s long red-gold hair damp from washing, a postcard form a friend on vacation, cream dispersing into coffee, the softness of skin under Clare’s breasts, the symmetry of grocery bags sitting on the kitchen counter waiting the be unpacked. I love meandering through the stacks at the library after the patrons have gone home, lightly touching the spines of the books. These are the things that can pierce me with longing when I am displaced from them by Time’s whim.

And Clare, always Clare. Clare in the morning, sleepy and crumple-faced. Clare with her arms plunging into the papermaking vat, pulling up the mold and shaking it so, and so, to meld the fibers. Clare reading, with her hair hanging over the back of the chair, massaging balm into her cracked red hands before bed. Clare’s low voice is in my ear often.

I hate to be where she is not, when she is not. And yet, I am always going, and she cannot follow.”

an ode to anthro

How delightful is it to pick out kitchen fare? Dishware, serveware, flatware, glassware, bakeware, cookware. It’s all just wonderful. Out of all my recent explorations, here are a few of my favorites. And let’s go ahead and be honest: they’re all Anthropologie.

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In my eyes, the “Swirled Symmetry” dishware set is a bohemian version of the classic china plate. The layered shades of blue add complexity and class, and allow it to be used for any meal, not just on special occasions.

Don’t you just want to use these beauties to wipe your lips? Delicate and lovely.

Happily, I already own a few of these perfectly-sized teacups. There’s just something about the fact that they’re painted in about a thousand different colors that makes drinking tea a little bit better.

Hey there, my little owl. Are you full of cookies for me? I love your sunny color and your cheeky disposition, plus the fact that your belly is full of sweets.

La-de-de, let’s eat some salad, shall we?

This platter, pitcher, & bowl set is about as colorful and cheerful as can be, and yet still toned down enough to be elegant.

So, what do you think? Are you in love, too?

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There is something about two overstuffed chairs, sitting side by side, that warms my heart.

One of the hardest parts about being an introvert is balancing the exhaustion that comes from being with people and the boredom that results after too much time by myself. Though it is wonderful in many ways, a day filled with coffee with friends, church, or other random adventures generally leaves me simply wanting to be home in my pajamas. Going to work often has the same effect. And yet, there is only so much alone time that I can really take. So, the two chairs, side by side, with each of its occupants happily engrossed in their own world, presents the perfect solution. And the holding hands? Well, that’s just the cherry on top.

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p.s. You know this scene in Up? That’s what I’m talking about.

mere christianity

When I was fifteen, I spent a glorious summer selling ice cream at a hotel pool. It was the best type of job for a high schooler, and I distinctly remember sitting on a stool with my feet propped up, the warmth of the sun on my legs, and snacking on a ice cream cookie sandwich while reading C.S. Lewis’ Mere Christianity. As long as we sold the ice cream when a customer approached, we were free to spend our time however we liked. And so the summer passed as I turned the pages, and I have to tell you, the season left me mesmerized. Mere Christianity was inspiring and influential, and I truly believe that reading it was what set me out the path that lead me to Westmont College, and then to receiving a degree in Religious Studies. It was the catalyst.

Mere Christianity, by C. S. Lewis

“In 1941 England, when all hope was threatened by the inhumanity of war, C. S. Lewis was invited to give a series of radio lectures addressing the central issues of Christianity. More than half a century later, these talks continue to retain their poignancy. First heard as informal radio broadcasts on the BBC, the lectures were published as three books and subsequently combined as Mere Christianity. C. S. Lewis proves that “at the center of each there is something, or a Someone, who against all divergences of belief, all differences of temperament, all memories of mutual persecution, speaks with the same voice,” rejecting the boundaries that divide Christianity’s many denominations. This twentieth century masterpiece provides an unequaled opportunity for believers and nonbelievers alike to hear a powerful, rational case for the Christian faith” (summary found here).

mere christianity

When I think of Lewis’ theology, I imagine it as if he were coloring in a drawing done in ink, filling in the blank spaces with wide, bright, watercolor strokes. The lines are those pieces of Christian theology that are clear enough in the Bible: the doctrines that most every Christian will agree upon. In grace-filled humility, Lewis acknowledges that there is a “core” of Christian beliefs that span across denominations (that is, “mere” Christianity), and that the rest of it just doesn’t matter quite as much.  Absolute truth. The existence of a holy, Trinitarian God. The Hypostatic Union (the dual humanity and divinity of Christ). Salvation by grace. Santification. Life (or death) everlasting. The watercolor that connects all those lines, bringing depth and color and feeling… those are Lewis’ philosophical, moral, and emotional responses to the said doctrine. Could that drawing be colored with slightly different hues? Probably. Is there any reason to believe that the colors he has chosen are wrong? No, I don’t think so. And so that is what Mere Christianity is. It is an wise, affable old man laying out the foundations of Christian doctrine, and then using metaphors and illustrations to fill it all in, so that at the end, there is a beautifully drawn, intellectually & emotionally compelling, picture of his faith and mine.

I imagine Lewis’ voice as one that is both matter-of-fact and storyteller-esque. Perhaps it’s because I see him as the narrator of The Chronicles of Narnia. Or maybe it’s because he does his best to appeal to human nature at its very core, and that core is on one hand, simple and concrete and clear, and on the other, mysterious, complex and, well, a little bit magical. Some may say that he’s pompous. I prefer to think of him as speaking to both the adult and the child in me. The rhythm of the book is the same: some passages are plain while others are more intricate. There are bits and pieces of Christian theology can be addressed in just a few sentences, and Lewis does not hesitate to do so. Those doctrines that require more explanation, conversely, are bravely met with thoughtful attempts to portray their complexity. This natural rhythm, I believe, rightfully mirrors the layered depth of the Christian faith and so is a great attribute of this apologetic work.

To attempt to summarize my favorite parts of Mere Christianity would take much too long. The fourth portion of the book, “Beyond Personality” is most definitely my favorite, centering on the Trinitarian relationship and how it affects the Christian life. It is enough, I think, to say that it touched me. See for yourself:

“Now the whole offer which Christianity makes is this: that we can, if we let God have His way, come to share in the life of Christ. If we do, we shall then be sharing a life which was begotten, not made, which always existed and always will exist. Christ is the Son of God. If we share in this kind of life we also shall be sons of God. We shall love the Father as He does and the Holy Ghost will arise in us. He came to this world and became a man in order to spread to other men the kind of life He has — by what I call “good infection.” Every Christian is to become a little Christ. The whole purpose of becoming a Christian is simply nothing else.”

the night circus

Remember when I told you that I’d be revisiting my bookshelf, to rave about my absolute favorite books? And explain why it is that I love them so? Well, today, I thought I’d introduce you to the first on that list. Drumroll, please……

The Night Circus, by Erin Morgenstern

“The circus arrives without warning. No announcements precede it. It is simply there, when yesterday it was not. Within the black-and-white striped canvas tents is an utterly unique experience full of breathtaking amazements. It is called Le Cirque des Rêves, and it is only open at night.

But behind the scenes, a fierce competition is underway—a duel between two young magicians, Celia and Marco, who have been trained since childhood expressly for this purpose by their mercurial instructors. Unbeknownst to them, this is a game in which only one can be left standing, and the circus is but the stage for a remarkable battle of imagination and will. Despite themselves, however, Celia and Marco tumble headfirst into love—a deep, magical love that makes the lights flicker and the room grow warm whenever they so much as brush hands.

True love or not, the game must play out, and the fates of everyone involved, from the cast of extraordinary circus per­formers to the patrons, hang in the balance, suspended as precariously as the daring acrobats overhead.

Written in rich, seductive prose, this spell-casting novel is a feast for the senses and the heart.” (summary found here)

night-circus

The Night Circus is, in one word, enchanting. I have never read a book that is so incredibly rich in imagery, beautiful and sensuous. One of my deepest joys in reading is being drawn into a multi-dimensional world, a world of taste, texture, and smell. And The Night Circus is just that. The main character in the book is the circus itself, and so the story is not as much about what happens, but what is: think of a wondrous and whimsical Cirque Du Soleil, but with true magic secretly weaving throughout the acts. Yes, there are characters and there is a plot, but the heart of the novel is found in the garden made entirely of ice, or the tent full of memories, or the wishing tree, where one person’s wish is lit by another’s. Morgenstern’s imagination is incredible, and she exquisitely builds a world that is fantastic and yet just believable enough to make you hope that it all could actually happen. The writing is lyrical, sometimes reading more like poetry than prose, and the ending is achingly bittersweet.

To be fair, I must mention that The Night Circus has somewhat of an ambiguous storyline: the point of view shifts frequently and the timeline is nonlinear. Ultimately, the plot itself is saturated with mystery rather than clarity. Although the blurb above mentions “a fierce competition” and “a remarkable battle”, the book is not full of action, but is instead slowly meandering and subtle. And some may find that frustrating. But it’s just so good in every other way that even my type-A personality was wooed.

A favorite quotation, for your delight:

“They stand entwined but not touching, their heads tilted toward each other. Lips frozen in the moment before (or after) the kiss. Though you watch them for some time they do not move. No stirring of fingertips or eyelashes. No indication that they are even breathing.

“They cannot be real,” someone nearby remarks.

Many patrons only glance at them before moving on, but the longer you watch, the more you can detect the subtlest of motions. The change in the curve of a hand as it hovers near an arm. The shifting angle of a perfectly balanced leg. Each of them always gravitating toward the other. Yet still they do not touch.”