Anne and Me

Last night I watched the first half of Anne of Green Gables with a group of ladies in my building (and you can be absolutely certain that, mature, reasoned, responsible ladies that we are, we were every one of us sorely tempted to stay up until midnight watching the entire thing, and only barely managed to be sensible enough to call it a night after Part 1).

It got me thinking about Anne, and my relationship with her over the years. As a child, she was one of my best friends. I adored her temper, her dramatics (and sadly, unconsciously imitated both), her sense of beauty in the world, her vivid imagination (I unconsciously imitated those as well, with a much happier result). Anne, like Lucy Pevensie, Vesper Holly, Mary Lennox, Sara Crewe, Jo March, Emily Starr, Eilonwy of Prydain, Betsy Ray, and others whom I am most certainly forgetting at the moment, had a hand in shaping the person I grew to become.

As an adult, I started to lose some patience with Anne. Her dramatics made me wince, her over-exaggerations caused me to roll my eyes, her disdain for ordinary, everyday life seemed short-sighted and arrogant.

Watching the movie this time around, though, I found myself with an entirely new perspective. When others laughed at her statements such as “being in the depths of despair” or wishing to be called Cordelia instead of Anne, I found myself wanting to gather her in a big hug. I think it’s being a mother of little girls that’s helping shift the way I see things now. Now I can see Anne as the child who never had any kind of touchstone with reality, whose only exposure to a life beyond harshness and ugliness came from books, and who genuinely had no idea how to properly interact with the world until Matthew, Marilla, and Diana (and even Mrs Lynde, to an extent, in her advice to put Anne in school and Sunday School) showed her through example and friendship. Now I find myself getting really emotional, as Matthew’s kindness and Marilla’s practicality took a child who literally had no life beyond books and made her capable of living in the world and loving it as much as her dreams. Instead of wincing at her insistence on giving everything “imaginative” names, I now can appreciate how she was simply trying, in her own childish way, to make the beauty that she saw for the first time in her life fit the flaming glories it brought to her inner life.

I said in a post a little while ago that while I still love Anne, I don’t know that we would be friends anymore – I had started to feel like I’d outgrown her. I don’t feel that way anymore. Now I think I’ve gotten to a point of enough maturity to properly love her and befriend her once again.

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Top Ten Books About Friendship

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1. Betsy-Tacy et al, Maud Hart Lovelace. I know I rave about these books a lot. But I love them, and they don’t get half the recognition they deserve. The friendship between Betsy, Tacy, and Tib (and various others who dance into and never out of their lives) is a beautiful thing, and my Joy has been searching for a best friend to be a Betsy to her Tacy ever since we first read the first book.

2. Chronicles of Prydain, Lloyd Alexander. Another series that doesn’t get half the recognition it deserves, and that I love dearly. The Chronicles are about many things, but among them is friendship. The final scene in The High King (not giving any spoilers in case you haven’t read it!) makes me choke up every time.

3. The Year of Secret Assignments, Jaclyn Moriarty. This book was recommended heavily to me on Twitter, and so I picked it up from the library even though contemporary YA isn’t usually my thing. And I’m so glad I trusted the recommendees’ judgements, because it was such a beautiful portrayal of modern day friendships, and the pitfalls and joys therein.

4. Anne of Green Gables, Anne of the Island, Rainbow Valley, LM Montgomery. All of the Anne books have friendship woven through them, but it’s a much bigger theme in these three. The friendships Anne forges with Diana and the other Avonlea girls, and with Matthew, Marilla, and even Mrs Lynde, are such an integral part of AoGG. I personally think the bits of AotI between Anne, Priscilla, Stella, and especially Phil, are the best (well, maybe except the end, between Anne of Gilbert!). And Rainbow Valley, featuring the friendship between the manse children, the Blythe youngsters, and Mary Vance, is a sweet tale of childhood.

5. The Horse and his Boy, CS Lewis. Not necessarily about friendship, per se, but it is a strong thread woven throughout the story. The friendships between Shasta and Bree, Hwin and Aravis, Aravis and Shasta, Hwin and Bree, and Shasta and Corin are all fabulous, and I like the portrayal of friendship between kingdoms, too, with Narnia and Archenland being so close-knit.

6. The Grey King & Silver on the Tree, Susan Cooper. The friendship between Will and Bran in these books is meant to reflect the friendship between Merlin and Arthur, and without those strong bonds, the Old Ones would have fallen and the Dark would have risen forever. And in the end, it is only friendship that saves Bran, and saves the world.

7. Our Mutual Friend, Charles Dickens. OK, I did put this one in mostly as a joke. But seriously, I do enjoy this book, and it does revolve around one central characters who connects all the others (the titular “mutual friend”), so it isn’t that far out there.

8. Sorcery & Cecilia, Patricia C Wrede and Caroline Stevermer. Yet another book on my list that isn’t technically about friendship, yet would be nothing without the relationship between Kate and Cecy, and between Thomas and James.

9. Heroes of Olympus series, Rick Riordan. If these books aren’t about friendship, then I don’t know what is. That’s all.

10. Breadcrumbs, The Real Boy, Anne Ursu. I first read Breadcrumbs last year, and I read The Real Boy in one fell swoop last night, and oh, they are so good, and the friendships so poignant and truthful, full of the perils of everyday friendships as well as the ways they are our salvation. Read them! They’re good.

There you have it, my Top Ten. Check out more lists at the Broke and the Bookish.

Top Ten Characters Who …

… I would want to be my friend. (Or, to put it in a more grammatically correct form: Top Ten Characters with whom I would want to be friends.)

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1. Betsy Ray, the Betsy-Tacy books by Maud Hart Lovelace. When I think of book friends, Betsy is the very first who springs to mind. How I would have loved to have her as a friend when I was young, and even now, I think how much fun she’d be to have around. The great thing about Betsy is that I kept “discovering” more of her books the older I got (sneakily and well done, parents), and so we really did grow up together. I read Betsy’s Wedding shortly after getting married myself … so in some ways it feels like we are old friends who grew up and experienced much of life together.

Betsy and Joe, also one of my very favorite literary couples!

Betsy and Joe, also one of my very favorite literary couples!

2. Lucy Pevensie, Tarkheena Aravis, Chronicles of Narnia by CS Lewis. No offense to Susan or Jill or Polly – I like all of them, but it’s Lucy and Aravis I’ve always wanted to have as friends. Could you imagine the trouble we’d get into? It’d be awesome.

3. Randy and Rush Melendy, The Melendy Quartet by Elizabeth Enright. Re-reading all of Enright’s books recently reminded me again of how much I love this brother-sister team, and how badly I wanted them to be real people and my next-door neighbors when I was a kid.

4. Miss Marple, Agatha Christie. Dudes, can you imagine a better friend? No matter what’s going on in your life, Aunt Jane would have some gentle wisdom and humor to impart, and she would keep you from every being too conceited.

5. Sophie Hatter, Howl’s Moving Castle etc, by Diana Wynne Jones. SOPHIE. I want to hang out at the playground with Sophie, while my kids play with Morgan, and just talk. And then I want to foist our respective children off onto the husbands so Sophie and I can keep talking, without having to parent or wife at the same time.

6. Princess Cimorene, the Enchanted Forest books by Patricia C Wrede. Cimorene is another that I want to have as my friend now, not just as a kid. The younger Cimorene is awesome enough, but grown-up, mother-of-Daystar Cimorene is awesome as well, and I hope someday Wrede writes about some of Cimorene’s adventures between when Daystar was born and when he set off to rescue his father. Because we didn’t get to see nearly enough of her Being Awesome in Book 4.

I love Cimorene’s expression on this cover. It sums her up so well.

7. Tiffany Aching, Wee Free Men etc by Terry Pratchett. I actually think I’d like to hang out with Granny Weatherwax and Nanny Ogg as well, but Tiffany is the one I’d most want to be friends with.

8. Brother Cadfael, the Brother Cadfael series by Ellis Peters. Like Miss Marple, Brother Cadfael would be a most comforting and wise friend to have. Also like her, extremely useful if one is ever accused of murder. (Wrongly accused, that is. Though if you’re a mostly-okay person, and the murder was provoked, even Brother Cadfael might find excuses for you. Not Miss Marple. She doesn’t approve of murder, no matter how justified.)

9. Molly Gibson and Roger Hamley, Wives and Daughters by Elizabeth Gaskell. I swoon more for Margaret and Mr Thornton from North & South, but I’d want to be friends with Molly and Roger. Both because I think they could use some like-minded friends, and because I think they would make wonderful friends in return.

10. Joy-in-the-Dance, Lucian, et al from The Arkadians by Lloyd Alexander. I love all of Alexander’s characters, from all his books, but it’s the main cast of the Arkadians who most make me want to dive into the book and go adventuring with them. I wish he’d written more than one book about them all – I’ve always wanted to know what they did next.

Picture taken from my favorite cover of The Arkadians

Picture taken from my favorite cover of The Arkadians

And that, my friends, is my top ten. It surprised me, when I started writing it, how many of my favorite books and characters do not appeal to me as friends, however much I may love them for themselves (Lord Peter and Harriet, for example, I think would make me feel utterly stupid and inadequate, and that’s not exactly good for a friendship). Some of my opinions have changed since childhood, also – once upon a time, Anne Shirley would have been my ideal friend, but now I have a sneaking suspicion she would exhaust me after every visit. I haven’t outgrown her, but I have outgrown her friendship.

To see others’ top ten characters who … lists, check out The Broke and the Bookish. Happy reading!

{Don’t} Plug In

In the second year of our marriage, all the guys in our Young Marrieds/College Student Bible Study got together for a game night. Hey, thought I, I’ll invite the girls over to our apartment that same evening for movies and snacks. I sent out the invite, everyone responded enthusiastically, I spent that day cleaning and baking in prep.

Carl headed out for the game night, and I eagerly anticipated doing one of the things we’d dreamed about when we were engaged and talking about married life – opening our home to others, making it a warm, welcoming place, having it be full of life and laughter. We hadn’t had too many chances to invite people into our home yet; somehow, the folks in the church seemed hard to get to know, despite their often-quoted statement of “plug yourselves in! Find where you fit! Reach out to others!” This, though, reminded me of the Saturday game/movie/pizza nights I’d hosted all through college. This, surely, would start to bring us closer to people.

Five minutes before everyone was supposed to arrive, just as I was starting to hover by the window in case anyone got there early, I got a phone call from our Bible Study leader. Everyone had called her earlier in the day to let her know they weren’t going to be able to make it after all. She couldn’t come either, and she felt so bad about nobody coming that she hadn’t been able to bring herself to call me before. She felt so bad about making me feel bad, in fact, that I had to spend our entire  conversation consoling her. When I finally hung up the phone, feeling a bit bemused, I thought that at least Carl and I would have plenty of baked goods and a nice clean apartment for the next few days.

Then I got another phone call, this one from the new girl in church, the college student who had just started coming, the one that I hadn’t even met yet but only communicated with through email, the one I had invited on impulse, thinking she might like a chance to get to know some other students. She was on her way, she said, but she was going to be a little bit late because she’d gotten lost. I told her not to worry – it looked like it was just going to be the two of us, so she wasn’t holding anyone up.

By the time Carl got home that evening, Ash and I had been so busy talking that we’d completely forgotten about watching a movie. She left with the invitation to return for dinner in a couple days, and the promise that we would, in fact, get to watching the movie soon.

In the next four years that we lived in Pennsylvania, Ash became much more than just a friend – she was our little sister. She helped me buy a pregnancy test when I was too scared to go alone. She was actually at our house when I took the test and found out Joy was on her way. She came to us with family troubles, with guy troubles, with her joys and fears, and we likewise shared with her ours. She spent many a night on our couch because she’d stayed too late for us to trust her to stay awake driving home. She used our house and kitchen when she wanted to cook for friends. She and I went skating together, sharing our love for the sport. When she fell in love, it was our house she brought her boyfriend to, for our approval, not her actual family’s.

I’ve lost touch with most of the people from that Bible Study. Some I keep in very casual contact with through FB. But Ash is still one of my dearest friends. I was matron-of-honor in her wedding; Joy was flower girl. Through many moves and life changes we’ve stayed in touch, even if it’s only a few emails a year, and we each have a standing invitation to come to the other’s home if we’re ever in the area, even if a visit isn’t planned.

I am not a fan of the “plug yourself in to a group” mentality. To me, authentic friendship takes time, it takes effort, it takes a few individuals working together to build something meaningful. Even in blogging – when I try just jumping in and commenting on someone’s blog, I most often get no response. But there are one or two bloggers with whom I’ve slowly, over time, with both of us making the effort to get to know each other, gotten to be good friends with. And those relationships are far more meaningful to me than a few scattered comments on (or even from) a hundred different blogs.

Maybe, instead of “plugging in,” giving an image of instant electricity, we should start trying to “build fires” instead – a slow, painstaking process, but one infinitely more satisfying in the end.

Baby Joy with “Tia” Ash on a family picnic

You Matter

Today is World Suicide Prevention Day. TWLOHA is doing a campaign this year titled “You Cannot Be Replaced.”

I’m not a big fan of open messages in general. Especially ones that are meant to be encouraging. Because most often, they end up depressing me MORE, and making me feel even more faceless and anonymous.

“Hey you,” on Twitter, @ nobody. “Yes, you. You are loved.”

Really? How do you know? You don’t even know who I am! If you really wanted to make me feel loved, take the time to find out my name and what I’m struggling with.

OK, yes. I have issues.

But I love this campaign. Because every single person, whether you or I or anyone else knows them or not, is unique and CANNOT BE REPLACED. This message? This one does give me hope, even if it is anonymous.

I believe in a Creator who purposely and carefully forms each and every human being on this earth. He knows every one of us by name. He has a story for each of us. He cares for each one of us. He DIED for each one of us. Not a faceless mass of humanity, but each individual person, those long dead and those not yet born included. He loves us.

He loves you.

He loves me.

And that makes each one of us precious and irreplaceable.

I know this, but I don’t believe it every day. I struggle a lot, actually, with feeling secondary, merely good for filling others’ needs, and could easily be replaced by a robot, because me as Louise, my individual personality and character and self-ness, doesn’t matter.

But that’s a lie.

God delights in me as a person.

And no matter what else, even if you strip everything else I do and am away, I have value because of that. Because he made me and he loves me. Because of him, I can stand tall and value myself.

I cannot be replaced.

And neither can you.

None of us can be.

We all matter.

Tap, Tap … Is This Thing On?

Wow, I think I’ve almost forgotten how to blog. 

Our days have been filled with unpacking, running errands, organizing, re-organizing, re-packing stuff we don’t need right now, making lists of things we still need to buy, throwing other stuff out, and trying to get outside to the playground with the kids at least once a day.

We like the tire swings

We like the tire swings

We’ve also been doing some fun stuff – we went to the beach, and this past weekend we visited Boston, and while we haven’t made any bosom friends yet, we have met a few people who seem like they might be kindred spirits.

Me, happy to be at the ocean

Me, happy to be at the ocean

Still haven’t made it to the library, though.

I will be starting school with the kids on Monday, so that will add a whole new wrinkle to things. This morning I wrote out our education plan to submit to the district. Ugh, I hate doing things like that, but oh well, they have to be done, and at least, from all I hear, this district is pretty hands-off and homeschool-friendly, so I’m hoping we won’t be asked to provide meticulously detailed descriptions of all our curriculum and materials. It is, after all, only kindergarten.

School bookcase

School bookcase

(We’re doing first-grade work with Joy (Grace is still preschool age, so I don’t need to start reporting her for another couple years), but technically she’s kindergarten age, so that’s what I’m reporting her as, which gives us some cushion room in case she hits a road block with her studies and we need to take longer with any particular subject than they would in public school. Which pretty much sums up MY entire mathematical education.)

Visiting different churches, not fun but necessary. Setting up bookcases, SUPER fun and necessary. Figuring out which of my beloved books I can keep in storage for now, painful but has to happen in a small apartment! Working on the baby quilt for my niece, not necessary but fun and a good way to relax. Working on three different writing projects, probably stupid.

My precioussssses

My precioussssses

I made spaghetti and meatballs, with fresh green beans and homemade bread, for supper Sunday night. It was our first “big” meal in this place, and it happened after Carl and I finally got the last of the boxes in the living room unpacked and disposed of, and the kitchen organized the way we wanted it. It felt like a celebration.

Life’s going to be different, these next few years, and parts of it will be very hard indeed. But we take our joy wherever and however we can, and I think we’re going to be okay.

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Moving Back to Move Forward

This weekend, we made a flying trip back to PA, where we lived for the first four years of our marriage. When we left, there were two weeks between finding out we had to leave, and pulling away from the house with our moving truck. It’s been almost five years, and we’d never made it back for any kind of closure. With Carl starting grad school this fall, and another huge move coming up in a month (EEK!), now seemed like a good time to finally go back, see our friends there again, show Joy the house where we lived when she was a baby, revisit some old haunts.

And go grocery shopping at Wegmans. Because we have MISSED it.

Bringing Joy home from the hospital.

Bringing Joy home from the hospital almost six years ago.

It was so, so good.

We had dinner Friday evening with some of our dearest friends. It was sheer chaos in parts, with ten kids running around and six adults trying desperately to cram five years of conversation into a few hours, but it was so good. It felt like we’d never left.

Friends and soul-sisters

Friends and soul-sisters

Saturday was a more leisurely lunch with more friends, these with two daughters close in age to our own girls. The four of them played so nicely together all afternoon, and Joy cried when we left – she felt like she’d finally found the Betsy to her Tacy, and then had to leave after just a few hours. We told her we would start praying, and KEEP praying, that God would send her a best friend at Gordon-Conwell, now that she has a taste of what it’s like.

Then we went back to where we used to live. NOTHING has changed. I don’t think anybody’s even painted their house a different color or bought a new vehicle. It was so weird, like stepping into a time warp. Milkshake (Carl and me) and chocolate milk (the girls) at the dairy bar down the street (and wasn’t THAT place dangerous to have within walking distance when I was in my third trimester during one of the hottest summers EVER), and then on to the cemetery where all the locals go to walk. It’s the closest thing to a neighborhood park around.

Joy, six months

Joy, six months

Posing just a few feet down from where the previous photo was taken

Posing just a few feet down from where the previous photo was taken

And THEN we did our grocery shopping. Then came home. Then crashed the next day (literally, for me – we got out our bikes on Sunday and mine decided it had had enough of my stumbling attempts to master it, and showed me who was boss. Hint: it wasn’t me).

The entire trip felt both like closure of the past AND reopening of old friendships. We were able to lay to rest some of the miseries that had chased us from PA, remember the good parts of living there, and reaffirm the friendships we made while there.

I also was able to remember that old tombstones are one of my best sources for finding awesome character names, and that ancient cemeteries are beautiful, peaceful, other-worldly places to stroll.

Despite our exhaustion, we came home energized, ready to tackle packing up this house, thankful for all God has done in our lives, and in my case, ready to dive back into writing now that I’ve gotten some more real-life filling.

How was your weekend?

"Rest in peace" feels a bit more tangible, here.

“Rest in peace” feels a bit more tangible, here.