Friday, December 24, 2010

Snow and Stars

I meant to have this up earlier, but just in time for Christmas Eve works, I suppose! Merry Christmas, to you out there.

My habit of creating playlists for every adventure and most seasons has grown over the past year. I think I hit every season this year, from my "Getting Warmer" soundtrack in the spring, to a Summer party playlist, "Make Time for Trouble," to my Fall mix, "The Road is Long" and I'm finishing out the year with a Christmas-ish mix of wintery and Christmas tunes. 

Snow and Stars Soundtrack--December 2010

1. What’s This?—Fall Out Boy
I love the movie "Nightmare Before Christmas" especially because of the beautiful metaphor of Halloween attempting to make sense of Christmas--a cultural clash of ideals.This song came from a special-edition soundtrack for the film. This is the only Fallout Boy track in my library. Incidentally, the only Marilyn Manson song in my library comes from this soundtrack, too.

2. Winter Winds—Mumford & Sons
Of course Mumford & Sons have been a huge influence this year. Their album Sigh No More tops many, many lists, and they were recently Grammy-nominated. It's not a hopeless song, but it is about letting go gracefully, a theme that has hit home hard for me recently.

3. Love Rescue Me—U2
Coming out of the letting-go theme of Mumford, U2's bluesy ballad is about hope and redemption:

"Love, rescue me/Yea, though I walk in the valley of the shadow/Yet I will fear no evil/I have cursed thy rod and staff, they no longer comfort me/Love, rescue me!"

4. It’s Christmas! Let’s Be Glad!—Sufjan Stevens
Sufjan's Christmas music is a delightful and well-worthwhile investment. A collection of 6 short EPs all packaged in a collection, it never gets old with quirky lyrics like these and his trademark innovative instrumentation:

"Sing a carol to your mom/cause she knows what's goin' on/and she knows if you've been bad or good/and if you get what you deserve/to be graded on a curve/oh, you got a lot of nerve/ lalalala..."

5. Tomorrow’s Fool—King Charles
King Charles opened for Mumford & Sons at the Vancouver concert, and I predict he'll take the world by storm next year. He's currently in the studio  recording his first full album(and tweeting delightfully about it, by the way), but this song, from a two-song ep available on itunes, was an immediate favorite with its rising, psalmic anthem at the end (I'll leave that for you to discover), and words straight from the Love chapter of Corinthians:

I will be a fool today/I'm scared of what tomorrow brings/Tears will flow, I'll beat myself/but I'm too proud to weather change/

Lord, give me the strength to be a man who could never be loved/Fearful, reckless, lazy, thoughtless, charmless traits betide my mind/money buys that easy life, the easy life ain't easy at all/

No sound of love will deafen me/No sound of love will deafen me/
No resounding gong will echo here/no resounding gong will echo here.

While this song isn't exactly Christmas, it does echo the longing of the world for Christ, and the peace His presence brings.

6. While Men Are Dreaming—Jenny and Johnny
The title of this song reminded me of the shepherds in the fields on the night of Christ's birth, and the dreamy waltz tempo of the song made it a perfect fit here.

7. Follow the Shepherd Home—Mindy Smith

Mindy Smith's holiday album has been a favorite of mine for a few years, and this is easily my favorite song on it. Her voice is so authentic and comforting.
When my paper heart’s in a frantic wind/and I feel I’m all alone/my whisper is heard when I call out to Him, and I follow the Shepherd home./All the burdens weighing on my back aren’t so heavy after all/faith is knowing you can always ask/ you can follow the Shepherd home."

8. Troubles Will Be Gone—The Tallest Man on Earth
My brother likes making mixes, too, and his summer playlist introduced me to this Swedish artist's new album. While most of the folksy, sweet album is a good fit for summer, this song is reminiscent of winter's reflectiveness. Maybe the snow and cold just comes through in his music.

There's a question somewhere asked with all the answers inside/but i'll never find the kid before she's gone/well the day is never done but there's a light on where you're sleepin'/so I hope somewhere that troubles will be gone.

9. Something in the Water—Brooke Fraser
Now, this song could definitely be on a summer or fall mix, but I just loved it so much, and I felt that we needed a little lift, a hopeful, joyful, fun prelude, a reminder.

10. Too Many Miracles—Badly Drawn Boy
Like many Americans, I got introduced to Badly Drawn Boy via their soundtrack to the movie About A Boy, which I wrote about last year at Silhouette. This new song is sweet and fun and talks about "photographing snowflakes" so I thought it fit.

Photographing snowflakes lately and slowly losing my mind/so many different kinds/and falling all of the time.../too many miracles happening here/same old story, different year/I'm so glad you were here.

11. Snow Day—Rosie Thomas
Rosie Thomas released a great Christmas album for free a few years ago. Lighthearted and fun, this is another album that never gets old. This instrumental track continues to slow the tempo.

12. Hengilas—J√≥nsi
Jonsi's album is one of the best of the year, in my book. The lead singer of Sigur Ros, Jonsi's album Go is bright and unique, even when he's not singing in English, and this unrushed, reverent track is lovely for Advent reading.

13. I Saw Three Ships—Sufjan Stevens
I recently read a blog post hating on this Christmas carol. "who cares if you saw three ships?" said the author. Well, if you capture imaginations with a good song, people care about it. I have a soft spot for this admittedly obtuse carol about joy on Christmas morning.

14. I’d Rather Have Jesus—Alison Krauss and the Cox Family
Give me Alison Kraus singing any hymn, spiritual, or traditional song, and I'll be happy.

15. Gypsy Girl—Katie Herzig
Katie Herzig's voice just is wintery to me. she's been on several of my winter mixes for the last few years.

You will hear them, you will hear them cry/you will hear them, you will hear them come/I've been sleeping harder than a stone/trying not to wake up till you get home.

16. Here It Is—Over the Rhine
Over the Rhine's Christmas album Snow Angels has a "it's-not-christmas-till-I-hear-this" place in my life. This is a happy-sounding song about tough act of forgiveness at Christmastime.
The deeper the love goes, the deeper the bruisin'/The trouble with talkin'/ is it makes you sound clever/and the trouble with waiting is/ you just wait forever/there's a loop of excuses that runs through your mind/that makes the truth even harder to find/I'm wrappin' up my love this Christmas...and here it is

17. Platform 7—Mt. Desolation
Maybe this band made it onto this mix because I heard them open for Mumford & Sons this fall...but the side project of two members of the band Keane deserves its place. And following Over the Rhine's upswing, the rollicking song about coming home makes for a bit of toe-tapping

Far from home, I may wander on my own/lost and down on luck/I'll return knowing that my heart has grown/just from missing you

18. Pins—Sara Groves

Sara Groves released a set of songs she played at a women's prison for a Christmas concert this fall. Among the carols and traditional Christmas songs, was this one about busyness, and I loved it's simple sweetness and catchiness along with the Nickel Creek-reminiscent mandolin.
It can feel simple/but it's really profound...sing for the beauty that's to be found/setting up the pins for knockin' em down

19. Salvation Song—The Avett Brothers
we came for salvation/we came for family/we came for all that's good, that's how we'll walk away/we came to break the bad/we came to cheer the sad/we came to leave behind the world a better way

20. O Come All Ye Faithful—Branches
A student band out of Biola University, a two song Christmas ep was released Branches on Bandcamp this fall and I picked it up right away because I substitute taught one of the lead singers when I was teaching in California. The sound is unique and creative, and I hear the band is getting great reviews.

21. Here’s To You—Brooke Fraser

Ending on a note of New Year's, Brooke Fraser's memorable lyrics say it all:

Cheers to the furrows on our brows/to each hard-won vict'ry/cheers to the losses that grew us up/killed our pride and filled our cup/

cheers to the friendships well-worn in/that time nor distance alter/here's to the sleepers we'll see again/ find company in memorium/

open your mouth, sing out your song/life is as short as the day is long/can't leave you my body,but I'll leave you a tune/this is my legacy, here's to you

Monday, December 20, 2010

Greatly Troubled

Mary, did you fight? Did you wrestle
With the destiny you found? I know
You wondered, wandered and—
Eventually—accepted, even joyful.
At least most of the time.

That, I understand, but Mary did you
tangle with it every day, every moment
Wondering to understand,
Battling to be won
To that acceptance, so easily written.

Mary, were you restless 
under the burden of grace 
others called blessing, did you wish
For other blessings, if less great, 
still lovely in your eyes?

I'd like to think you understand,
Mother of God, this un-mother
Greatly troubled, who fights
To be won to joyful peace, 
like you--and not like you.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

The Quiet Anxiety

When I wrote the poem from the last entry about three years ago, one of my very best friends was getting married.

There was a fracture, I felt, going on, as with continents shifting. 

I once chaperoned a field trip out to one of the most interesting and visible earthquake faults in the Bay Area, where you can see a fence that once stood in a straight line down the hill. An earthquake occurred, and the fence was shifted; what used to be a straight line flowing down the grassy hillside actually separated by about 6 extra feet of space that weren't there before. Where did the space come from? What happened when millimeters suddenly became yards? The transformation left a break. 

Suddenly, the fence felt silly, useless, superfluous. 

From living in the Bay Area, perhaps I've retained that sense of always being poised on shifting ground. I expect the breaks, now. That quiet anxiety humming just below the surface. But even expecting them, there are always the moments of panic during the quake.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Leaving and Left

Now I know where we are;
that faultline which will
leave me standing
where I am while
the earth shifts
taking you

And then, across the canyon left
by the quake, you've waved
and smiled, and turned--
too fast--you're gone.
The grasses whisper
and the broken fence
Marks the place.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Advent Season: what has been lost or lorn

Lo, in the silent night
A child to God is born
And all is brought again
That ere was lost or lorn.

Could but thy soul, O man,
Become a silent night!
God would be born in thee
And set all things aright.
--15th Century

"lorn": Desolate; forsaken. Middle English, from 'loren', past participle of 'lesen,' to lose.

Do you ever feel forsaken, desolate, broken, left out, empty?

I do. Perhaps, I don't have very many reasons to feel that way, based on the fact that I have a relatively happy, comfortable, and full life. But the fact is that even with the basics of life more than covered, everyone can relate to feelings of desolation at times. There are those, I suppose, who don't suffer with depression to a clinical extent. But no one gets medicated for being too happy although Americans in general have more circumstantial reasons to be happy than 98% of the world.

For the last few years, I've gone through a daily devotional for Advent season. it begins on November 24, and ends on Christmas eve. From the first day's devotional, an essay by Christoph Friedrich Blumhardt says

"That which is to come from God is the most important thing we have, in the past and in the present as well as in the future. It is only in God's coming that even the Bible itself has value to us, let alone all the other things we call "means of grace."

I'm in the midst of helping a dear friend prepare for a wedding. She's thinking of many little, drink, decorations, clothing, music, travel plans for out of town guests...

If she thought of all those things and only those things, she would be missing the point, wouldn't she? Her first thought, all the way through and surrounding and driving those details is of the marriage, and the joy of the relationship she is building with her future husband.

That's why Advent is special. I have another friend who constantly reminds me that every day of the year is special, and that the liturgical calendar is crap meant to fool us into letting ourselves slide into comforting comas every other day of the year except for Lent and Advent. Well, every tool can be mis-used for the wrong purpose as well as the right one.

The beginning of Advent season, and my practice is to open my eyes to why Christ's coming means anything to me.

What has been lost or lorn in my life that needs to be put aright? Where is my desperation, my desolation, my emptiness? How does Christ's coming heal that those wounds and fill that emptiness?

Monday, October 11, 2010

What I like about being clumsy: Mud and Grace

I fall. It's sort of what I do. I have a lot of stories about my experiences falling that I'm going to keep in the locker for other pointed morality tales. My flat elbow, lumpy collarbone, threadbare ligaments in my right ankle, and various assorted bruises that constantly haunt my limbs can testify.

My ex-roommate Sara is going to laugh at this post because she was witness to so many mishaps. I'm just dead clumsy.

Currently, my left hand and right shoulder are sore because of one such fall yesterday while exploring a Corn Maze with some friends. To be completely fair to myself, it had poured rain the day before into the clay-mud riverbottom fields of Burlington. I was not the only one slipping about in the narrow puddled trails of the cornfield scavenger hunt. But I was the only one who actually went all the way down with a squeak and a fling of the dried pumpkin seeds I'd been snacking on while navigating the maze. Flat on my backside, I did the only thing you can do. I started laughing.

I like to be thought of as cool. I'm a people pleaser, and generally care about what people think. But at times I've fallen into the trap of fearing what people think so much that I have stopped taking risks. I have stopped going on adventures, in a way. I have stopped putting on my Chucks (cool shoes) and going out in the sun to run around in the mud at a corn maze because of the fear of looking ridiculous. I've missed out on a lot of fun.

Do you know what happens when you actually do look ridiculous? You quit worrying about falling. You're suddenly free to slide and slip in the mud and splash in the puddles. Your butt is covered in mud. You can't really get any more ridiculous. So all of a sudden, you're free to risk everything.

Here's the were as free to risk everything before you fell, as after.

Fear of ridiculousness traps so many, many people I know into living safe lives. It's not fear of danger, necessarily. It's fear of being made silly. In a word, it's pride.

They stand around at parties, hands in pockets, making safe conversation, or not saying anything at all, just standing around awkwardly because they're so afraid of saying the wrong thing. They sit at their desks and watch the girls they like walk by and never ask for a date. They fear new foods. They mock other people constantly. They keep a list of expectations in their minds for other people. They offer very little grace to themselves, and therefore have very little grace to offer others.

Well, when you slip and fall on your butt in the mud, there's no acting cool, there's no hiding your Epic Fail. You suddenly have a lot of grace to hand out to anyone else who happens to fall.

Here's the thing. Everyone has fallen in the mud. But a lot of people are edging around with their backs to the wall, afraid of being ridiculous.

Epic Fail.

Guess what. You already are.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

"You can't see the gusts
but listen, and sense me-
I'm the spice in the air,
the cool on your cheek,
a shift of the season,
a change in your weather.
Swing wide your window,
to hear what I'm saying
Like Mary who listened,
her heart thrown ajar."

--from the poem 'Wind and Window', by Luci Shaw

Autumn's kind of awakefulness is different than spring's. It feels more directed, I'm leaning into it. Perhaps it's because my birthday is in autumn that I need to review and refresh my direction, make new goals. Perhaps it's just the relic of the school-year timetable that seems to never quite go away.

Tragedy has racked Bellingham these last two weeks, and now during the sunny afternoons downtown, everyone seems more rested, as if they are remembering the time to breathe is now.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Awake to Music

I took a church-based missions curriculum called Perspectives when I was a teacher looking to fill my ACSI credits. One of the concepts in the course that stood out to me was the idea of 'heart-music.' We had different teachers every week. This teacher, though I don't remember his name, played clips of music from different cultures, from throat-singers to opera. He talked about how missionaries in the 18th century had gone to extraordinary effort sometimes to bring a piano deep into the heart of Africa or India, in order to play their staunch, square-rhythmed hymns in the churches they built. Some missionaries spent their lives in bringing a gospel emphasized cultural change before heart-change. This isn't to say their ministry was worthless, but the Perspectives course emphasizes the history that a gospel vision which doesn't create connections to the culture will not stick, but will remain outside of it--a cult.

I hadn't been able to articulate that problem before, but the truth is, the same thing sometimes happens even in our own culture. We can miss the heart of the gospel by being distracted with a cultural change.

Heart-music is a natural bridge into any worldview. Music, which we've heard from our earliest years, ties into the senses and memories in a powerful way. While the throat-singers and Chinese opera sounded alien and weird to me, Amy Grant or "How Great Thou Art" sounds just as weird to another culture. 

As never before, my generation in the U.S. "owns" their music. There is variety, accessibility, publicity. There are publications dedicated to music, a thousand places to listen online or purchase and download at the click of the button. We customize our own heart music, download it, remix it, and create a new context for it, match it with clips of movies on YouTube, or mix it into the soundtracks of our lives.

We rejoice in the perfect match of story and song in TV shows and movies. "Ahh..." we say, while watching Chuck, "Bon Iver...Flight of the Conchords...The Strokes...McG is a genius." 

Arcade Fire's anthemic "Wake Up" matched with the trailer for Spike Jonze's "Where the Wild Things Are" was the pure abandon of imagination, a cultural cry that reminded us of what we should feel.

I really think that's why we take such pride in our music libraries these days. Music--the best music--reminds us of what we could feel. Outrage, playfulness, abandon, determination, wonder, love, fear, wakes us up.

My brother and I went to a concert this week in Seattle by the great indie-rock band Arcade Fire.  Live music is one of my favorite things in the world, and if you have not heard their recent album "The Suburbs," it's well worth checking out. I plan to write more about the concert and this band's music and lyrics next week, too, but above is a link to the Madison Square Garden concert encore of the same tour. 

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

What a Day That Will Be

What a day that will be,
When my Jesus I shall see,
When I look upon His face,
The One who saved me by His grace;
When He takes me by the hand,
And leads me through the Promised Land,
What a day, glorious day that will be.

-Jim Hill

Two weeks ago, my grandfather Wilbur passed away. As a family, we were given the opportunity to share at his memorial service. The following are the notes I wrote to share from, since usually the act of holding a microphone has this nasty effect of making me forget everything except two words: "ah" and "um."

Many people shared about his life; children, grandchildren, and friends. But mostly what we did is sing the beautiful old songs that he relied on all his life. The stanza above is from one of the songs everyone who knew him probably heard at one point. Grandpa was a restless man, but whenever he was singing, he seemed at peace, so it was a very special time with family to sing the same words that always comforted and sustained him.

Some of us got the flaky fingernails, or the double-jointed pinkies, or those blue eyes, and some got his wickedly playful sense of humor. Some inherited his passion and zeal for the gospel and missions. Some got the sweet tooth, the love of coffee or seafood, or the green thumb for gardening. But all of us at one time or another, got one of Grandpa's sloppy kisses.

Looking back, I realize that we grandchildren received a lot of strength from knowing that we were loved by Grandpa, and Grandma, and Great-Aunt Mona.

Any time I looked at scripture over this past week, it seemed like I could hear Grandpa's voice reading it, because if I hadn't heard him read through every scripture myself, I knew that he had read it at some time in his life. Micah 6:8 stood out to me especially

"He has shown you O man,
what is good and what the Lord requires of you:
 But to do justly
and to love mercy
and to walk humbly with your God."

I heard a few months ago, and the idea stuck with me, that Justice is really love in action, love at work in the world. We can never love perfectly here, but love covers over a multitude of sins. I'll remember as a granddaughter how Grandpa showed his love for us by being playful, spending time with us, going to every wedding and graduation and celebration in our lives, and by sharing his love for God's word.

To love mercy seems to have a lot to do with being thankful for what we've been given. Grandpa was good at playing with the grandkids because he never lost his sense of wonder at the world. He could always pick up a piece of driftwood or a bird's feather, or any little thing he collected on his many long walks, and be impressed by it.

Grandpa only spoke with pride of his own accomplishments a few times that I remember. One was being a part of his division in WWII, another was finally getting a date with the cutest redhead in town after a lot of hard work asking her out, and the last was giving up smoking when he found out he was going to be a father. He always repeated that more than once when he was telling me about it "and I did...I did stop. That day." as if he couldn't believe he had really done it.

Grandpa showed us what is good and what the Lord requires of us:

Do justly--love those around us as well as we can, trusting to God for help.
Love mercy--live with a thankful and wondering heart
Walk humbly with our God, taking pride, not in our own abilities, but in the work that God has done in transforming our lives.

Grandpa always longed to be part of a great work of the Spirit. Maybe he was, not in exactly the  ways he expected, but in these gifts, small and large, that he has left with us.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Note Card Shuffle

In my constant quest to update this blog once per week (at least), I have not always been successful. However, I have one surefire way of capturing the thoughts and wayward wonderings that come and go throughout a task-driven workday.

On the table right now are a stack of small note cards that have collected over the last few months in my wallet. Any thought, metaphor, phrase, idea or anything at all, really, gets caught in these, as long as I'm faithful to write them down. I'm going to grab five at random and write down what they say. Here goes:

1. "One of the signs of great art are the questions it asks"

2. Trees, roots, reading with water.

3. "I run when you tell me where to go"

4. Rich lands--the land is so rich, but the farmers aren't prosperous anymore.

5. HI--my name is I-N-T-R-O-V-E-R-T.

#1 is a quotation that struck me while listening to the Steelehouse podcast. I can't remember which episode.

The second is something I was thinking about while on a day trip to Bridal Falls in Chilliwack, B.C.

The third is I think a song lyric, but a quick google search didn't bring it up. I'd like to believe it was original, but I don't think it is.

The fourth is an insight after reading a portion of one of the Anne of Green Gables stories one night. I found a little contrast there where agriculture on small farms used to denote a fairly wealthy status at the turn of the last century, small family farms seem now more likely to struggle financially, at least in my corner of the world. The irony is, that the rich, river-bottom soil in the north of the county where my parents live and I grew up is so rich and fertile. Acres of soil that used to be strawberry fields and farms are being turned into housing developments. It sometimes seems a waste.

And that last looks like a sort of thing that was funny in my head and not so much on paper. Well, I think we all have those moments now and then. Maybe there was a context I'm forgetting now.

These little cards capture the thoughts, and now and then, there's a nugget of gold in there for an essay or story. Anne LaMott advised using notecards in Bird by Bird, and I first got into the habit in my Creative Writing class in college where we read the book as coursework.

It's not a perfect technique, but it's one small thing to help me remember and be aware of the flow of ideas and pictures that come up during my day and capture them.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Absence and Seasons

I get somewhat annoyed by apologetic prefaces for blog absences because, with the exception of a few, I don’t miss them specifically when they are gone. I’m always glad when bloggers do post again after an absence, but prefacing the return post with a long apology lessens the enjoyment. Everybody goes through phases of writing productivity, times where personal expression is less needed (or perhaps, half-formed, unfinalized), and seasons where to be present in life is more important than to be present on the internets.

I only intended to take a week’s break, during an 80+ hour work-week due to a huge annual fundraiser I help with. Then, I seemed to need a week’s recovery. Then, life happened. Several friends had babies; the world welcomed Evony, Danica, Owen, and Isaiah. Several got married, and one of my best friends (and current roommate) became engaged, and suddenly wedding magazines, plans, ideas, dresses, shoes, favors and flowers became regular topics of conversation around the house. Other friends are weathering painful breakups. I seesaw between rejoicing and mourning, listening and advising, sprinting and sleeping.

Several days ago, my Grandfather passed away. We have known for some time that he was terminally ill, but it is still a sad walk this week with my many cousins and aunts and uncles as we say goodbye to Grandpa Wilbur, who sang himself home with the hymns and folk songs, the words of which stuck with him longer even than the names of his many grandchildren and great-grandchildren. Passionate and unpredictable at times in life, what remained at the end of his life were the beautiful words of hymns about Home. Long after he was past the point of conversation, he would sing to his daughters and his caretakers as they helped him, and when he couldn’t sing anymore, his wife of 62 years sat at his side and sang by the hour because “I want him to know that I’m here.”

“Am I in heaven?” he asked my mom once.

“No Dad, not yet. Soon.” She said.

“Are you all coming with me?”

“Not yet, Dad. We’ll come later.”

“Is Wilma coming with me?”

“Not yet, Dad. You’ll have to go first this time.”

“But you’ll all be there? You’re coming?”

That night my uncle read from the Bible to him and told him “You don’t have to wait for us anymore.” The next night, he passed away quietly, as two of my cousins sat with him.

What comes from your life when pain stops you from going on, momentarily or for an extended time period? When you are held in a time of mourning or a period of thankless monotony, what words flow from your lips? What words and songs live in your heart and rise to your mouth when the rest of your words are stolen, your mind blank? What will you be reminded of as you forget more than you ever knew?

8 You shall tell your son on that day, ‘It is because of what the Lord did for me when I came out of Egypt.’ 9 And it shall be to you as a sign on your hand and as a memorial between your eyes, that the law of the Lord may be in your mouth. For with a strong hand the Lord has brought you out of Egypt." (Ex 13:8–9)

Thursday, August 12, 2010

"Oh, my friends...

...I am so glad you are not dead!"--Sallah, Indiana Jones, quoted ad infinitum by my friends and me whenever we reunite.

Jessi and Anne have been halfway around the world having adventures. Today I get to pick them up.

Aaaaand...there was much rejoicing.

Friendships like these don't come along every day.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010


This week is getting busy, with a friend's wedding on Friday and with preparation for my annual work at the Northwest Washington Fairgrounds with local non-profit group Teens for Christ. About 10 years ago, TFC bought a booth in the Expo building at the local fairgrounds. With our student volunteers, we raise a bit of money and a bit of awareness for the group in our community, and we teach students the skills of making coffee(a huge industry in our area!) and serving an excellent product. Anyway, with that ministry, my schedule is tight this week, so I was excited to get my first guest post submission idea from my friend and co-worker, Sarah Knepper, a Graphic Designer by profession, an artist by choice, and a snark-monger by necessity. Any fruit-logo'd products promoted below are Sarah's responsibility. Enjoy!

I'm honored to have this opportunity to guest-feature on Jana's terrific blog. We've worked together for about two years now and of all the people I've met across our company, she is definitely the most open to creative suggestion. I've often heard (and repeated) that "Everyone thinks they're a designer" but Jana is one of the few artists humble enough to admit where her experience ends, but good taste begins. On a dreary day, she is instrumental in joining in for a little "design snark" to get the juices flowing. So when I realized there were so many tell-tale signs of a "non-designer", she was only too happy to help comb through the list of somewhat wacky criticisms, and even, on occasion, to take a few to heart. With delight, she told me last week, "I'm a better person because I read your list!" So, to educate the masses and hopefully afford a few laughs at their expense, I present the first of a series of lists aimed at ridding the world of sub-par design. Enjoy!

You know you're not a designer if...

You've ever "designed" a flyer in Powerpoint.
You've ever asked to photoshop "out" or "in" people.
Bleed or cut marks make you think of emo teenagers.
PMS ( is an emotional state.
You use underlines. At all.
Leading rhymes with pleading.
You think that Nissan made the pathfinder.
A histogram is something you get at the hospital.
The only graphic design joke you know is about Comic Sans.
Italic means the same thing as cursive.
The words "retouching" and "stroke weight" make you feel uncomfortable.
"GD" is a cuss word.
You pronounce gif like its a brand of peanut butter.
Royalty-free means democratic.
You center anything.
You'd expect a clipping path to be a shortcut in the park.
You've asked why there are Latin words ("Lorem ispum dolor sit amet") in a design comp.
You think glossy LCD's are the the best kind of screen.
You run up to the printer yelling "Stop the presses!" every time you accidentally print 100 copies instead of 1.
You've ever had a custom-printed mousepad.
You've ever used more than two fonts in the same project.
White balance is a form of affirmative action.
You've never cleaned your keyboard.
You type two spaces after periods.
You staunchly believe anything smaller than 12pt is too small to read.
You think the client is always right.

Oh, and you use a PC.

Friday, August 6, 2010

A "Just" Life

"I know exactly what my five-year plan is."

Jeni surprised Sara and I in the middle of a conversation about how hard and scary it is to think about life in a five-year plan.

"I know what I want. I want to be living in Arizona, because you can get a great house for way less than here. I want to be married, well, hopefully, and have probably 2 kids by then." She grinned at us guilelessly as we stared a bit, then carefully avoided meeting each others' eyes. Sara cautiously implied that the picture she was painting might be more related to dream than to plan, but Jeni sailed past that warning sign glibly.

Perhaps Jeni got her dream. Some people's dreams seem to work out better than the best-laid plans. But if the dream doesn't work out 5 or 10 years down the road, where do you go? When other people got your dreams, but you're still waiting?

One of the biggest temptations I face when I wander mentally down that road of "why" is the "just" question. Lord, I just wanted ________, is that so much to ask? You gave _______ to __________, why not me?

Fill in the blank with one of your own unfulfilled desires, but they key word is "just." My vision of what my life could be is so small; I "just" want _________.

God wants more than that. He doesn't want "just" _________ for me. He wants things like good, satisfied, rested, joyful, peaceful, passionate. He wants a whole person, who helps others become whole, who help others become whole.

My vision is so small. "Just" isn't enough anymore.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Nothing in Between

“O, that I were a man! I would eat his heart in the marketplace!
…But manhood is melted into courtesies, valour into
compliment, and men are only turned into tongue, and
trim ones too: he is now as valiant as Hercules
that only tells a lie and swears it. I cannot be a
man with wishing, therefore I will die a woman with grieving.”

Much Ado About Nothing

I’ve heard rumors over the years that I’m an intimidating girl for nice Christian guys to ask out. Naturally, I think this is hilarious, but now and then wonder secretly if I’m doing something wrong. One of my comforts is that Beatrice was intimidating, too.

I wish I could carry through that intimidation to the creeps who cross my path every once in a while, too. A few weeks ago, I came out of the grocery store to my car. I had just come from work and was wearing office clothes. As I put the grocery bag in the back seat, I became suddenly aware of a low voice speaking from the passenger window of the car next to me, a monologue in an undertone that I couldn’t quite catch except for a few filthy words. I turned to see who was speaking, and he abruptly looked away until I turned back to my car, then carried on the monologue and the stare as I got into the car and drove away. Ugh. A few days ago I was walking up from my office, in a busy downtown district, to meet my friend Eliot at a coffee shop, and got chatted up while waiting for crosswalks by TWO different men of obviously less-than-stellar character and implication. Again, I do a mental self-check of my clothing and note that jeans, a long shirt, and a loose jacket are not asking for any attention in that regard. The summer camp director in me even agrees that I could “praise the Lord” (raise my hands above my head) or say “oops, I dropped my lanyard” (reach to pick something up from the floor), with no untoward consequences.

Whenever it happens, I feel vulnerable, unprotected. But even worse is when the same attitude comes from someone who is not a stranger.

When “nice Christian guys” display some thought, look, word or action that reveals the real injustice of their hearts toward a woman (or women in general), it triggers such a spark of rage in me that Beatrice’s cry rings in my ears. I have spent a lot of time listening to many of my girl friends over the years. Since relationships are usually a fair amount *please read irony into that* of what all girls struggle with, I’ve heard stories that grieve me, stories of hurts inflicted by men in their lives, some outright abusive and most just somewhere on the scale of bumbling to self-centered. It happens oftener than you might think, and often enough that I find myself terribly discouraged some days at the long years that, on bad days, seem to stretch on ahead…alone, because I refuse to settle for “nice”, (a word which here means, a veneer of politeness covering a heart guided by lust, bitterness, shame, fear-driven decision making, laziness and self-focus.)

I do sound intimidating, don’t I?

I'm intimidated by it myself. I face (and almost daily fail) the same challenges every day, too. It's a battle to not live a false or double life in any sense. To keep my heart and mind steeped in the Word. To live a quiet life. To rejoice and to grieve with my friends. To cultivate my thought life and my time, to pull the weeds and encourage the fruit-bearing plants with food, water, and sunlight. To be willing to say no. To be willing to say yes.

To be willing to settle for nothing in between.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

What I think about church at the moment

I worked at a large church in the Bay Area for over a year, and 90% of it was wonderful. I went to almost every event, and always had friends to meet. I was involved in 3 different ministries as a leader; Jr. High, Sunday morning coffee serving volunteers, and even a short-lived young adult study group. I babysat for MOPS on Friday mornings, I worked with the women's book club, I took Bible classes, I helped with events.

Now and then, I would hear complaints from other singles who found it difficult to connect. It sounded a lot like whining to me. "After all," I would think, "church isn't there to fulfill you personally. It's there for you to become a part of the family. Get involved, and then maybe you'll experience connection."

I have been on some sort of ministry inner circle since I was 13 years old, and my youth pastor changed my life by inviting me on a leadership trip. I thanked him at the end of the trip for letting me come "even though I'm not a leader." He smiled and said "You may not realize it, Jana, but I've got plans for you."

And he did. He made me try teaching, organizing, greeting people, thinking out of my comfort zone, mission trips, missional thinking, Bible study, Bible memorization, quiet times, fasting, outreach, witnessing, fundraising, and more. All of those elements became core to my life for the next leaps into working at Worldview Academy, going to a christian University, teaching at a Christian school after university, and working at a church after that. He gave me a sense of purpose in ministry leadership.

I think I became very reliant on being in the "inner circle." It was the best place to be, and I felt at home there. My struggle now is how to be good at being a regular attender at my large home church where my family has been for almost 20 years. I am heavily involved in 2 other ministries, and my schedule is already full; in fact, I've made some deliberate choices this year to cut back on the amount of time I have dedicated so I can spend more time with writing and art projects.

How do you get up the effort to go to church? To walk in the doors alone, knowing you may not even see someone you know? To know that no one would miss you if you don't show up? After a work week fraught with stress, how do you leave a welcomingly silent Sunday morning at home with coffee and comforting hum of the refrigerator and a good book to sit an an air-conditioned lecture room and mouth the words to songs you don't really know anymore?

It's time to leave for the late service, so I'm off. I'll be going to church for the first time in a month. I'll let you know how it goes.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010


My (new) roommate and friend pointed out that we needed an introvert night after several days of both hard work and revelry, including moving her stuff from her old studio apartment into my house.

She is so right. So here we sit, in the same house, within sight of each other, but silent. Later we might do pedicures and talk about nothing but frivolity and "what if's."I don't do a very good job of planning my own introvert time, and I'm too easily swayed to activity. It's easier than dealing with my own head. However, there are a few times and places where I can really find the head space and be alone with my thoughts. The garden is one of them. In fact, it was thinking while gardening one Saturday that somehow ended in a determination to blog regularly for a while (why yes, "regularly" is a term that here means "sporadic, but optimistic".)

Today I came home from work and immediately headed out to the garden. Gardens require maintenance. It's been warm lately, which means I have to water, or ask one of the roommates to water if I have to be gone. I have to pick things. Lettuce is a bumper crop right now, and the herbs will go to seed in a blink if I don't pick them. I found 3 large cucumbers on that vine the other day, which was a total surprise! I made them into dill pickles on Sunday, of which accomplishment I am inordinately proud.

Other than watering though, the main thing about a garden that takes work is the issue of pests. There are not many pests in my garden. There are the requisite slugs and bugs of our part of the world, but overall I've been lucky so far. But one pest is always there, the one that takes the most maintenance: weeds.

So many many people far wiser than me have compared weeds to sin in our lives, that it's a cliched metaphor, to put it mildly. But I can't help but have the metaphor slap me in the face when I've been away from the garden for a mere day, and I walk into it thinking I've been doing so well with taking care of it, only to find the darn green things have popped up overnight. I have a lot of questions about weeds. Why do they grow so fast, when my poor basil has to be so babied and pampered with the perfect amounts of sun and water and plant food? I swear, I will dutifully pull weeds in one patch, turn around, and immediately spy 3 or 4 more weeds in the midst that I must have missed.

Weeds are tricky. I have one kind of weed that has sharp prickers if it gets too big. When I reach down to grasp it to pull it up, I sticks me and I end up with a looser grasp, letting me pull off a few of the leaves, but leaving the roots untouched. Some weeds do the same thing without prickers, keeping their leaves loosely attached so you can almost never get the root out.

I have one other specially recurring weed that has a very tiny root system, and sprawls out lots and lots of viney little arms above the ground. These are very distracting and it's hard to find the center of the plant. Each arm will detach with the least pressure, but the others will all still be there. You have to go very slowly, gathering up all of the vines in the plant, finding the center of it, and then pull it out slowly.

Weeds require constant maintenance, AND they will almost never be gone. they are always there, waiting just below the surface, for the least and tiniest opportunity to spring into existence and choke out the good plants. This constant battle with nature is what we have come to call cultivation, the process of developing; promotion of growth or strength. In gardening, I work to promote the growth of some plants, and to inhibit the growth of others.

Once I thought that in the end, it would be the fruit that proved the gardener's wisdom in picking the right plants to cultivate. But then I realized that the gardener doesn't really have any control over if the right plants actually produce fruit. I have a crazy cucumber plant in my garden, but I also have a pepper plant and a lavender plant that don't seem to have grown at all, no matter how much plant food, water, and sun they get.

So I make dill pickles, and enjoy them. I won't worry too much about the rest. But I will keep pulling the weeds.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Creation, Doors, and Art as a gift

This is the last in a series of posts about the art project my sister and I and some of our friends collaborated on for a recent wedding. The story and details are in the previous 7 posts, if you are interested in reading and seeing more about the artwork shown here.

This is the only photograph we have of the doors set up, just after the ceremony (Thanks to Bekah Stolhandske, who had just finished running the Seattle Rock'n'Roll Marathon in time to come to the wedding, and still had the presence of mind to take a picture.). I think the main reason we're short on pictures of the whole set of doors together is that Luz and Cole wanted to include an aspect of revelation, so each door was draped with white fabric at first. A dramatic reading of scripture, both Old Testament and new, started the ceremony, accompanied with music from a local band, and the groomsmen removed the fabric for each door at the appropriate point in the reading. You can even catch a bit of the white fabric on the floor behind Day 2 in this photo.

The other part of the project that was critical were the stands, designed by my dad and I. We needed them to support the doors, especially Day 3 and Day 6, which were terribly heavy, but we also wanted them to be minimal in appearance, and to stand the doors upright like a proper door and not like an easel or sandwich board. Since the integrity of the stands was important, I went to my dad for help. We spent an afternoon in the lumber store (childhood memories!) and in the garage cutting the lengths of 1x4 and getting them assembled.

The stands are the part of the artwork you're not supposed to notice, I suppose...but they are also part of the integrity of the whole picture. And that is probably a metaphor for something. :)

Doors: Day 6

Genesis 1:24-31 And God said, “Let the earth bring forth living creatures according to their kinds—livestock and creeping things and beasts of the earth according to their kinds.” And it was so. And God made the beasts of the earth according to their kinds and the livestock according to their kinds, and everything that creeps on the ground according to its kind. And God saw that it was good. Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that cre
eps on the earth.

So God created man in his own image,
in the image of God he created him;
male and female he created them.

And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” And God said, “Behold, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is on the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit. You shall have them for food. And to every beast of the earth and to every bird of the heavens and to everything that creeps on the earth, everything that has the breath of life, I have given every green plant for food.” And it was so. And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day.

These are my friends Cole and Luz, who happened to be behind the whole doors thing, because they met, then got engaged, and then decided to get married. Luz is a graphic designer, and has always loved handmade and unique designs. Cole and Luz's idea was to include the 6 biblical days of creation in the ceremony, and they asked Jessi and I if we could work out an idea for 6 multi-media art pieces. That sounded very serious and heavy, and made us pretty nervous. Then we realized that it was, after all, a gift to celebrate Luz and Cole, two great friends who are starting out a life of commitment and living grace.

The last piece is about relationship and personal connection. The most interesting thing about working on this door is that I believe I removed more layers of paint than were left in the end. I always work in layers, adding color washes on top of color washes, then wiping or sanding the layers off, leaving only the residue or history of what was there. This process of building and destroying, creating and removing seems to me to embody a sort of sacrificial process that, by being destroyed, actually builds.

Jessi and I heard Andy Crouch, a teacher, writer and musician speak a couple of years ago at the Calvin Festival of Faith and Music. He talked about the Tom Waits song Picture in a Frame, and we've never forgotten the tender lines of it. It's one of my favorite tender songs now, and I thought of the words as I brought in the blue and gold into this portrait: The sun came up, it was blue and gold/The sun came up, it was blue and gold/The sun came up, it was blue and gold/ever since I put your picture in a frame.

The other two panels simply carry through the theme of connection and relationship. The borders around the panels are illustrated with sketched animals to reflect the variety of creation.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Doors: Day 5

Genesis 1:20-23 And God said, “Let the waters swarm with swarms of living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth across the expanse of the heavens.” So God created the great sea creatures and every living creature that moves, with which the waters swarm, according to their kinds, and every winged bird according to its kind. And God saw that it was good. And God blessed them, saying, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the waters in the seas, and let birds multiply on the earth.” And there was evening and there was morning, the fifth day.

Initially when we went door-shopping, I
thought that we would use these smallish doors for all 6 days. In the end, the variety of doors helped to create a more unique
way of expressing each concept, and we worked with more different media this way.

This door, though, was more fully acrylic painting. My friend Sarah really envisioned the simplicity of the design, and she helped me clean, finish and paint this door, and chose the antique hardware latch. This was the first one we completed and it really helped set the tone for the whole group with the bright colors and the joyful mood.

And, as Sarah pointed out, we chose to paint a type of fish, the Koi, that looks like it has a mustache. But more about that tomorrow!

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Doors: Day 4

Genesis 1:14-19: And God said, “Let there be lights in the expanse of the heavens to separate the day from the night. And let them be for signs and for seasons, and for days and years, and let them be lights in the expanse of the heavens to give light upon the earth.” And it was so. And God made the two great
lights—the greater light to rule the day and the lesser light to rule the night—and the stars. And God set them in the expanse of the heavens to give light on the earth, to rule over the day and over the night, and to separate the light from the darkness. And God saw that it was good. And there was evening and there was morning, the fourth day.

This day is all about light. But more inherently, it's about the division of days and order of seasons. We were completely lucky to find a beautiful french door at the Re-store (unfortunately, we photographed the white side, but ended up using the pretty blue side because, well, sky.). At $25, this one was a splurge. But we did literally nothing to it except clean it up a bit, and build the shelf on the back to hang the lights.

The paper lanterns were my favorite part of the lights, I love how the light glows from within. I traveled to Seattle again this past weekend to set up the doors for an art walk, and Luz and I bought more medium-sized paper lanterns in place of the stars. I'll try and show pictures of that version when I get them.

After the wedding, I was spending time with some friends at their house for the fourth of July. They mentioned that once they had done a storyboard for Creation for their preschool classes, but they had only used 3 boards, since for each of the first three days, God created, but the second three days were about populating that creation. Day 1, the separation of light and dark, finds its purpose now in day 4, with its order of governing bodies for day and night.

I had never thought about creation that way, but that idea lent order and clarity to the whole creation idea for me.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Doors: Day 3

Genesis 1:9-14 Then God said, “Let the waters beneath the sky flow together into one place, so dry ground may appear.” And that is what happened. God called the dry ground “land” and the waters “seas.” And God saw that it was good. Then God said, “Let the land sprout with vegetation—every sort of seed-bearing plant, and trees that grow seed-bearing will then produce the kinds of plants and trees from which they came.” And that is what happened. The land produced vegetation—all sorts of seed-bearing plants, and trees with seed-bearing fruit. Their seeds produced plants and trees of the same kind. And God saw that it was good. And evening passed and morning came, marking the third day.
This old screen door was $4. Screen doors are more outdoors than in, and in my mind they seem to have more to do with gardens and outdoor living, so it seemed to fit day three quite well. The only trouble we had was in determining how to include the separation of the seas in the imagery. In the end, we went with a very simple depiction of just a single clear glass container with water. The door was also very fragile to begin with, and we reinforced it with staples and nails to keep it in one piece.

Here's the final version. We wanted to do the green paint to tie it more closely to plant life and growth. The birch branches are from the tree in our front yard, and the paper flowers were made by Margaret, who also made the flowers for the bridesmaids bouquets. They turned out to be so bright and clear, that against the green door the design showed very clearly and simply. We floated a few candles in the vase so that the water would be more obvious.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Doors: Day 2

Genesis 1:6-8: And God said, “Let there be an expanse in the midst of the waters, and let it separate the waters from the waters.” And God made the expanse and separated the waters that were under the expanse from the waters that were above the expanse. And it was so. And God called the expanse Heaven. And there was evening and there was morning, the second day.

Here is the door we picked for day 2.

Day 2 seemed to have three natural divisions, so this door worked very well with its distinctly separate sections. I didn't want to do too much to this door because I loved it's basic structure so much. The center section had a panel of plexiglass screwed onto the back, making that section double-paned...this gave us the idea for a shadow box or collage for the middle panel. Jessi's main medium is found art and collage, so that section belonged completely to her.

This is the finished door. On the top section, we used pieces of hand-stained vellum, part of an old art project from my senior year in college. The vellum takes in these dark, rich layers of paint and can be scrubbed, crumpled, dried, and stained again, then ironed back out. The finished paper is still transparent, like stained glass. To bring out the transparency, we put a lamp behind this door, too.The center section began with the idea of a collage of maps. Jessi used National Geographic maps, a hand-painted map, more pieces of the vellum, draft graph paper, ribbons, ceramic ornaments, buttons, and a branch with light bulb tips to create a dimensional collage. (close up picture below) She put in some more personal elements, including a drawing of the states of Arizona and Texas, where the Luz has lived, and a hand-drawn map of Seattle, where Cole is from and where they will live now.The bottom section I wanted to be very simple and iconic. I painted the wave with acrylics in layers, and sandpapered away enough of the paint to make the surface a little richer and more historic.This door turned out to be one of my favorites of the set.

A close-up of the vellum section. (the top left pane was missing when we bought it, but I liked that.)

A close-up of the collage. The blue map Jessi hand-painted, and I love it. The light behind glowed through some of the vellum and graph-paper sections, too.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Doors: Day 1

Genesis 1:3-5:

And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. God saw that the light was good, and he separated the light from the darkness. God called the light “day,” and the darkness he called “night.” And there wa
s evening, and there was morning—the first day.

Luz and Cole, while giving us the subject matter, didn't give us many other guidelines. After meeting to talk about the artwork, we weren't even set on doors, just panels of some kind.

By the time we came to talk of doors, it was time to get started. So my friend Sarah and I went off to the Re-Store to purchase some salvaged doors. The two louvered doors you see here were $1 each, the old-fashioned hinges to attach them, $2 each. I never would have gone for louvers, but Sarah, a designer, helped me pick out 6 totally different doors.

We wanted to incorporate words somehow, without being overly obvious, and for this one we wanted light to be the main feature. So Jessi collaged together printed pages of scripture, stained with sepia and black ink, and hand wrote in every language and font we could find the words for "Light" "Dark" "Word" and "Speak". The bottom panels, like the one shown here, are solid and so are dark when the light shows through the louvers, as in the top photo. The words look very subtle, but rich. (you can see the word "luz" in the upper left corner; a tribute to Luz's name, which is the spanish word for "light.")

The top louvred panels are finished with copper and gold acrylic glazes, and silver leaf to really reflect the light from the lamp which stands behind it. The idea was to have the light reflected as pouring and dripping through the slats, formless as yet, but still glorious and gushing light.