Sunday
Feb122017

Svithe: #clutch

Hope blocks a shot. It looks like she's wading, but that pool is twelve feet deep.
This post is an edited version of a letter I wrote last week to our son James, who is in France serving a two-year, full-time mission for our church. Click on the link for a definition of the term "svithe."

The highlight of my week was your sister Hope's miraculous water polo victory on Wednesday. I don't use the term "miraculous" lightly. I'll write the whole saga out for you. 
Going into Pasadena High School's varsity water polo team's game with Burbank--their last league game AND their last home game--Hope's team was 0 and 7. She was so hoping for ONE win her senior year. Her team has struggled all season long. 
If the team didn't get a single league win, they would be shut out from the post-season preliminaries and finals. Hope loves water polo, and she's worked hard and consistently to learn the sport over the past four years. 
She had been praying about the Burbank game, and I had, too. Now that the all-encompassing stress of completing college applications is done with, being a senior is kind of a drag. She's gotten a little antsy. Her two best friends are busy with boyfriends, and she only gets letters from Toby [her boyfriend, who is serving his mission in Brazil] once a week, obviously. So overall, she's been down. 
Wednesday morning, she texted me from school about how much she wanted the win. I texted, "Is Burbank beatable?" She answered, "I think so." Then I texted her Philippians 4:13, and we both kept praying as we went about our day. I emailed all my church lady friends, hoping that some could show up to cheer her on with me, and a couple of them were able to make it. 
The last home game of the season is traditionally Senior Day, so after the coaches honored Hope and the other five seniors with flowers and brief spotlights, the game started. It was intense and very evenly matched from minute one; either the game was tied or one of the teams was up by one the entire time. Every girl on our team played with energy and focus. Hope had some outstanding blocks (ten saves in all), but she missed some, too. Each time, I watched her face as she mentally got herself from discouragement back to fierceness again.
At the half, when the buzzer sounded, Hope lobbed the ball from the goal box across the pool, and it almost went in. But that's happened before. Your sister has a pretty incredible arm, and it's what you should do when time is almost up, right? You see it in basketball all the time. Sometimes it works; sometimes it doesn't. 
Fast forward to the last minute of the game. Two more goals were scored, and it was tied again at 12-12 (which is high for water polo). With 11 seconds on the clock, Hope's coach called a time out. PHS had possession of the ball. If they could hang on to it and not let Burbank score again, the game would go into sudden death overtime.
But I knew Hope didn't want that. From my spot on the bleachers, I could see her face at the gathering at the edge of the pool. She was crying; she was exhausted. She mouthed to me, "I don't want to do this anymore." I held up the sign that one of my friends had made (it read "WE LOVE HOPE") and mouthed, "You can do it." 
Time out over; everybody got back into position. The ref gave Hope the ball, and she passed it to a defensive player. That girl looked around, didn't see anyone else to pass it to, so she threw it back to Hope. Your sister was out of her goal box, but she was still 3/4 of the pool away from the opposite goal. As goalie, it would have been fine for her just to hold the ball for the last five seconds, but some other parents and I jumped up and started shouting, "Take the shot!"
Everything was in slow motion. I could see the gears of Hope's mind turning. Finally, she reared back and hurled the ball the length of the pool, and as the final buzzer sounded, the ball hit the orange canvas goal backing with a slap. The crowd went mad; you would have thought there were 500 people there.
Hope faced the stands in delighted surprise, and her always wide smile was like lightning. Her teammates surrounded her (nearly drowning her in the process, no lie), and then they all finally got out of the pool and scrummed in this wet, squealy group hug for a good, long time. Hope was crying; I was crying. Tess, who was assigned to the stats table (as she has been all season long post-concussion), was jumping up and down. She got shushed pretty hard by the ref, since the stats kids aren't supposed to cheer, but she said, "That's my sister!" 
The whole thing was like the end of Hoosiers, or really any underdog sports movie I can think of. It was one of the best moments of my mothering life, and I will never forget it. 
The next morning in seminary [which I teach every schoolday morning at 6:00], I talked about the game during the 15 minutes we usually spend on Doctrinal Mastery. I told the kids about the Philippians 4:13 text conversation, and I talked about the sports definition of the word "clutch." (Actually, I want to get Hope a T-shirt that reads #CLUTCH.)
I mentioned try-fail cycles, and how the whole game had been a series of them, and how try-fail cycles in books and movies and sports make us feel like victory is earned. I had the kids read James 2:17-18, and testified that when we have both faith and works going for us (as Hope did), we can expect miracles (assuming they are God's will to grant).
I mentioned how, in my conversations with the Lord the previous day, I had acknowledged that there is much to be learned from a losing season, and that if that was His will for Hope, so be it. But I also had the thought occur to me during those same conversations: wouldn't it be fun for Hope--who, since she's been the goalie for the entire four years of her career, has never scored a goal--wouldn't it be cool if she could score one, just once? 
Next, I brought up Paul's words to Timothy in 2 Timothy 4:7-8. At the end of the day, whether we win or lose, have we fought the good fight? Even if we still look like the underdog at the end of the game, have we given it our all? If we have, then we have won even if the scoreboard says otherwise. 
I finished by bearing an emotional testimony that I knew that faith carried that ball home for the last goal. Hebrews 11:1 "The substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen."  And I knew when the ball left Hope's hand--in that second that stretched into an hour that it was in the air--that it was going in. No question. I was jumping up and down in victory mode before the buzzer blasted, because I knew Hope had already won the game. 
When I emailed friends a quick summary of the events, one of them emailed a riff back on the famous President Kimball quote, "Faith precedes the miracle." 
Hope Precedes the Miracle. That's my message to you this week. And also a post-mission suggestion: the water polo version of Hoosiers hasn't been filmed yet, and I'd be happy to collaborate with you on the script. A good sports movie will always do well. :) 
The next day, the school made a special loudspeaker announcement about Hope (as you might remember, they don't ever do announcements on Thursdays), and her coach started calling her "Kobe." She basked in the glory all day long, and I'm so glad she had that. And now, because of Hope, the varsity team got to go to prelims and then league finals after all. They won both those games, bringing their standing up from last in the league to fifth. I believe that next year's team will be able to build on that momentum. Hope's high school water polo career is over, but how grateful I am that through the sport, she's learned powerful lessons to carry forward in life. 
Saturday
Dec312016

A Decade of Superlatives

Our family in 2014. Unfortunately, we don't take group photos very often.

2006

2007

2008

2009

2010

2011

2012

2013

2014

2015

2016

Saturday
Dec312016

Crumbling Lightposts: The Best of 2016

Taken at the apex of a hike up nearby Bailey Canyon on Labor Day.

This is my eleventh Best of the Year post! Here's a list of all of them, mainly for my own convenience.

I know that when it comes to the world at large, 2016 was annus horribilis. But for me, personally (when I don't think about politics), this year has been terrific. I've loved my first two semesters of grad school. I got to take my mother to Paris for a week to celebrate our milestone birthdays. (I turned fifty, but I'll let Mom tell you her age...or not.)

Our dog is still delightful. Our kids are growing in all the right ways. I've made new friends. Patrick continues to be the best husband of all time. And I've consumed a lot of great media and delicious food (as you'll see).* 

As always, books are first. In the past twelve months, I've read 130 novel-length books and 120 new-to-me picture books--both all-time highs spurred by my MFA program. (My previous recorded high number of novel-length books was 85, and I've never kept track of picture books before.)

Top Ten Novel-Length Books Read:**

1) My Book of Life by Angel, by Martine Leavitt

2) Symphony for the City of the Dead, by M.T. Anderson

3) Calvin, by Martine Leavitt

4) Long Lankin, by Lindsey Barraclough

5) Jellicoe Road, by Malina Marchetta

6) The Elementals, by Michael McDowell

7) Chains, by Laurie Halse Anderson

8) Bellweather Rhapsody, by Kate Racciula

9) Exit, Pursued by a Bear, by E.K. Johnston

10) The Snow Child, by Eowyn Ivey

Most Disappointing (not the worst) Book:

Wink Poppy Midnight

Favorite New-To-Me Picture Books:

Lester's Dreadful Sweaters, by K.G. Campbell

The Iridescence of Birds, by Patricia McLachlan

The Fantastic Jungles of Henri Rousseau, by Michelle Markel

Monsters Eat Whiny Children, by Bruce Eric Kaplan

The Dark, by Lemony Snicket

Duck, Death, and the Tulip, by Wolf Erlbruch

Boxes for Katje, by Candace Fleming

The Lion and the Bird, by Marianne Dubai

The Day I Swapped My Dad for Two Goldfish, by Neil Gaiman

Jane, the Fox, and Me, by Fanny Britt

Because of school, I didn't see that many movies this year. But there were some good ones.

Best 2016 Movies Seen:

10) Ghostbusters

9) Pride & Prejudice & Zombies

8) The Legend of Tarzan

7) Midnight Special

6) Batman v. Superman

5) Mr. Right

4) Suicide Squad

3) 10 Cloverfield Lane

2) Eye in the Sky

1) Arrival

Ditto on the TV (but I never watch that much, anyway).

Favorite TV:

1) The Magicians

2) Stranger Things

3) Black-ish

Best Music Downloaded:

Summary: A whole lotta French pop--and another terrific album by one of my new favorite bands. 

St. Paul and the Broken Bones: Sea of Noise

Eli and Papillon: "Les rêves," "Cette nuit," et "Automne"

Vianney: "Pas là"

Soleil: "Ce qui guide mes pas"

Favorite Websites:

Sifex

Fluent Forever

BFMTV

Best Resturant Experiences:

Maison Christian Faure, Montreal

Au Pied de Cochon, Montreal

Angelina, Paris

Aux Merveilleux de Fred, Paris

Altaeats, Altadena

Bistro de la Gare, South Pasadena

101 Noodle Express, Arcadia

Goals for 2017 include further improving my French and writing and turning in both theses (critical and creative) required for my MFA. Happy New Year!

* Sometimes I rank things in ascending order. Sometimes I rank them in descending order. Sometimes I don't rank them at all. It just depends on what I feel like doing.

** I am not and have never been an Amazon affiliate. I include links purely in case you're interested in knowing more. 

Wednesday
Nov092016

What Now?

Twenty-four hours ago, I went to vote. I cried a little with joy as I voted for Hillary Clinton, then wiped away my tears and carefully voted on the many measures presented in California.

As I left my polling place, I thought back to November 4, 1984. I turned 18 that very day and got to cast a ballot for the first time. I was thrilled to vote for the first female vice-presidential candidate, Geraldine Ferraro. Of course, she and Mondale lost--hugely--to Ronald Reagan and George Bush, Sr. But in the years that followed, I hoped that a door had been opened with Ferraro's nomination. 

When Barack Obama won in 2008, my faith in newly opening doors was bolstered. Even though I'd supported Hillary in the primary (I also campaigned and voted for her when she ran for the senate in NY), Obama won me over with his integrity and vision. And then, I thought, it would be Hillary's turn. Surely it was time.

Our son, Christian, has been employed by Hillary's campaign since early this summer. He's worked 18-hour days seven days a week for months. He's had amazing experiences along the way, and has felt--rightly--that he's been a part of history.

Today is his last day of work. He's broken-heartedly packing up the temporary office he's been in charge of in Pennsylvania and heading back to Virginia. In a few days, he'll be with us for Thanksgiving, and it'll probably be the biggest family group therapy session ever. I am so proud of my boy, his strong ideals, and his tireless, cheerful work on behalf of our first female presidential candidate. 

Last night felt Apocalyptic with a capital A to me. As a devout Christian/Mormon, I do believe in the Last Days foretold by Jesus and all the prophets before and since. They may well be upon us. 

But until then, I feel called to rise up and be better. A couple of weeks ago, I read this piece by David Wong (warning: language), and realized I'd been smug and selfish, and that I needed to reach out to those to whom our president-elect has appealed so strongly. I feel chastened and humbled; I know I can be a more involved citizen and a better practitioner of my beliefs. 

I believe in tolerance and love; I believe in peace and understanding.

I believe in taking care of the poor and the disenfranchised--in every part of this country and in the world.

I believe in working to eliminate injustice and inequality of all kinds.

I believe in careful, radical stewardship of our precious, irreplaceable environment.

I believe in action and dialogue and co-operation.

I believe in asking God--and working myself--to bless not one nation, but ALL nations, with freedom and prosperity.

Because I believe we are all children of God. Now, with this unlooked-for result, I'll be called upon to live those ideals even more fully.

Patrick often says we get the government we deserve, so I will now set about deserving better than what I got last night. Here's hoping we can find our way. 

Saturday
Nov052016

Book Love

 

I have this great friend named Trevor. I haven't seen him in years, but he's one of those people who seems like a spiritual twin. Yesterday, he tagged me in an email conversation about favorite books. Here's what I wrote back to the group.

Trevor, I don't know that I've ever received a better compliment than being included in a group of "people whose lists [you] would almost kill to see."

I have lots of favorite books for lots of different reasons. Out of courtesy to you all, I had to make rules for myself: no more than five books per category; no mentioning a writer more than once.

Books that rescued me from Very Bad Places:
The War of Art, by Steven Pressfield
Outlander, by Diana Gabaldon
On the Banks of Plum Creek, by Laura Ingalls Wilder
Eight Cousins, by Louisa May Alcott
The Diamond in the Window, by Jane Langton

Books I've re-read the most times:
Gone With the Wind, by Margaret Mitchell 
The Lord of the Rings, by J.R.R. Tolkien
Jane Eyre, by Charlotte Bronte
To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee
The Weight of Glory, by C.S. Lewis

Cookbook upon which I rely most heavily:
The Way to Cook, by Julia Child 
(Though, YOU GUYS, I just got Kenji Lopez-Alt's The Food Lab for my birthday yesterday. I've read 40 pages so far this morning, and I am deeply infatuated.)

Books in which I see myself mirrored most clearly:
Crossing to Safety, by Wallace Stegner
Kaaterskill Falls, by Allegra Goodman
The Glass Castle, by Jeannette Walls
Here Be Dragons, by Sharon Kay Penman

If at gunpoint I could choose only one book by my favorite British writers not otherwise mentioned:
Middlemarch, by George Eliot
Persuasion, by Jane Austen
Little Dorrit, by Charles Dickens
The Dead Secret, by Wilkie Collins
Possession, by A.S. Byatt

Same thing, gunpoint, favorite Americans:
The Children, by Edith Wharton
The Song of the Lark, by Willa Cather
The House of the Seven Gables, by Nathaniel Hawthorne
The Shining, by Stephen King
Beloved, by Toni Morrison

Books that made me laugh the hardest:
Make Way for Lucia, by E.F. Benson
The Loved One, by Evelyn Waugh
Me Talk Pretty One Day, by David Sedaris
Bird by Bird, by Anne Lamott

Books that made me sob the hardest: 
Charlotte's Web, by E.B. White

Books in the sweet spot on the Evocation-Aesthetic Venn Diagram in my brain:
The Name of the Rose, by Umberto Eco
Orlando, by Virginia Woolf
All the Light We Cannot See, by Anthony Doerr

Picture books I most love reading aloud to my kids:
Outside Over There, by Maurice Sendak
Little Bear, by Else Holmelund Minarik
The Piggy in the Puddle, by Charlotte Pomerantz
The Zoom Trilogy, by Tim Wynne-Jones
Busy, Busy World, by Richard Scarry

Books that most terrified me:
The Turn of the Screw, by Henry James
Ghost Story, by Peter Straub
Long Lankin, by Lindsey Barraclough
The Haunting of Hill House, by Shirley Jackson

Speculative fiction most influential on my own writing:
Was, by Geoff Ryman
The Magicians, by Lev Grossman
Flora Segunda, by Ysabeau Wilce
Cryptonomicon, by Neal Stephenson
Stranger Things Happen, by Kelly Link

Books I've discovered and most loved since starting my MFA:
The War that Saved My Life, by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley
A Single Shard, by Linda Sue Park
Bone Gap, by Laura Ruby
Lester's Dreadful Sweaters, by K.G. Campbell
There you have it. I wish people still blogged, so I could tag all of my friends and ask you to make your list of favorites. But you can tell me in a comment. :)