Blessed Are You Among Women

I thought that being big and pregnant this year would give me a new perspective on Mary. A new point of view, maybe, on that young girl, carrying the saviour of the world.

And while I’m more sympathetic than ever for her ride to Bethlehem on a donkey and sleeping in a stable (I can’t get a good’s night sleep in my own bed these days!), the person in the Christmas story that I find myself drawn to this year isn’t Mary but Elizabeth.

Elizabeth plays a smaller part. She’s Mary’s relative, she’s described as being “advanced in years”, and she’s barren. At least, she’s barren at the beginning of the story. In fact, Elizabeth’s pregnancy is used by the angel Gabriel as proof of God’s power to Mary when he tells her,

“And behold, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son, and this is the sixth month with her who was called barren. For nothing will be impossible with God.”

It’s Elizabeth’s husband, not her, who’s visited by an angel. And while Zechariah is so disbelieving that he is struck dumb, Elizabeth acknowledges God’s power, saying:

“Thus the Lord has done for me in the days when He looked on me, to take away my reproach among people.”

I sympathize with Elizabeth because this year I have had a glimpse of barrenness. Only a glimpse but enough to remind me every day of my pregnancy that this child is a gift from God. That He, not myself or my husband, is bringing this baby into the world.

While Mary’s pregnancy is unexpected and unplanned, Elizabeth’s is longed for, waited for, prayed for. As I feel my own prayed-for baby move inside of me everyday now, I think of Elizabeth and the moment she and Mary are reunited.

“And when Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary, the baby leaped in her womb.”

Feeling that other life move inside of you is a weird and wonderful feeling and I can only imagine how much more wonderful it was for Elizabeth – compounded with her joy over her own pregnancy was her realization that the Saviour of the world was near. I love picturing those two women celebrating and praising God together.

“And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her from the Lord.”

(*All quotes are taken from Luke, chapter 1, in the ESV translation.)

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In Conclusion: My Autumn 2014 Reading List

At the beginning of the season, I set myself a goal of 18 books I hoped to read in the coming fall. (You can read that post here.) I didn’t cross off everything on the list but I did read a lot of great books. Here’s how I did.

1. Shotgun Lovesongs by Nicholas Butler

Status: Unread

2. Maps and Legends by Michael Chabon

Status: Read!

3. Harvest by Jim Crace

Status: Read!

4. Sweetland by Michael Crummey

Status: Read!

5. All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr

Status: Unread (been waiting on the library hold list for this one)

6. The Gift of Rain by Tan Twan Eng

Status: Unread

7. To Rise Again at a Decent Hour by Joshua Ferris

Status: Read! Read my review here.

8. We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler

Status: Read!

9. The Sad Truth About Happiness by Anne Giardini

Status: Read!

10. Alone in the Classroom by Elizabeth Hay

Status: Read! Read my review here.

11. Devil on Her Tongue by Linda Holeman

Status: Read!

12. The World Before Us by Aislinn Hunter

Status: Unread

13. Walking with God through Pain and Suffering by Timothy Keller

Status: Still Reading. I know, still. There’s so much in this and I’m just steadily chewing away at it. I mean that as a compliment – my brain gets overloaded reading too much of it at a time.

14. Burial Rites by Hannah Kent

Status: Unread

15. Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver

Status: Unread.

16. Transatlantic by Collum McCann

Status: Unread

17. The Birth House by Ami McKay

Status: Unread

18. The Bone Clocks by David Mitchell

Status: Read

In total, I read 8 books on my list and have 2 that I’m still working on. So not all that impressive. However, I have done a good amount of reading this fall so let me share the other titles that have kept me busy.

  • I Remember Nothing by Nora Ephron
  • Butterflies in November by Audur Ava Olafsdottir (Read my review here.)
  • If I Stay by Gayle Forman
  • Boy, Snow, Bird by Helen Oyeyemi
  • Everything in this Country Must by Colum McCann
  • The Eliot Girls by Krista Bridge
  • Stars Between the Sun and the Moon by Lucia Jang & Susan McClelland
  • Perfect by Rachel Joyce
  • Writing with Grace by Judy McFarlane
  • The Buried Giant by Kazuo Ishiguro

I feel that that brings me up to a more respectable count.

The thing I did not do well at is keeping up with book reviews. I don’t know if I should blame working two jobs or gaining 20 pounds but the reason’s somewhere in there. I’m sure I’ll have lots of time for blogging come March 2015!

Stay tuned for my Winter 2014/2015 Reading List!

Christmas Comes to Halfmoon Bay

It’s feeling festive around here.

Last Saturday, this was my view while eating breakfast:

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That’s right – the first snow of the season! (Hey, that’s a West Coast winter for you.) It lingered briefly and is now not much more but a distant memory. Maybe we’ll get some more one day.

It was a slightly less frosty but still very festive day this weekend when Peter and I embarked on one of my favourite holiday traditions. The Great Tree Hunt!

This is where we go into the woods near our house and find our Christmas tree, cut it down, find a way to transport it in our car, and bring it home. Martha Stewart perfect fir Christmas tree it’s not, but it’s always fun to tramp through the bushes and find our favourite.

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It was successful!

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(That stump to Peter’s left is not the stump left behind by our tree. In case you couldn’t tell.)

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I also started some Christmas baking this weekend and I was pretty proud of myself for having the foresight to make double batches and hide half in the freezer. Because while many foods don’t appeal to me these days, sugar is not one of them.

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Baby’s first picture with Christmas Tree!

Peter: Turn sideways so we can really see the belly.

Hi there, third trimester! It’s kind of nice to look more pregnant around Christmas time. A customer the other day was commenting on the dangers of too much delicious food over the holidays. She glanced at my belly and said, “I feel like there’s something else going on there though, so you can eat whatever you want.”

My boss helpfully chimed in with, “Oh no, she’s just fat.”

But seriously, are you going to tell a pregnant woman she’s had enough shortbread?

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And a family shot for good measure!

Book Review – Butterflies in November by Auður Ava Ólafsdóttir

Butterflies in November (Black Cat, 2014) is an Icelandic novel first published in 2004 but only recently translated into English.

What is this book about? A woman’s husband announces his desire to divorce him. She cooks a goose. She goes on a road trip with her friend’s child (for some reason). She meets some men. And, oh yes, she wins two lotteries.

This is one of those books where you are constantly waiting for something to happen. But instead the book plods along and then just sort of ends. There’s no climax or conclusion. Nothing’s really changed but you’re relieved it’s over.

Our heroine and narrator (I can’t recall that we’re ever told her name) is a translator with a gift for languages. She’s having an affair with a man she doesn’t care about much and so when he tells her they should stop, neither she nor the reader cares much. She goes home to her husband who announces his plan to leave her for his mistress, who is a few weeks away from having a baby. Again, our narrator doesn’t seem to care that much. At this point, the only character with a name is the mistress. Since the husband’s name is eventually revealed, I’m not sure why it had to take so long.

Here is where one of the major problems of the novel became apparent. Our narrator’s husband tells her that she is too unpredictable to be with, too independent, too secretive and free-spirited. However, this doesn’t fit with anything we’ve seen from her so far or, indeed, ever see from her. She seems entirely normal, if strangely unemotional when told her husband is leaving her for his pregnant mistress.

This scene is surrounded by our narrator hitting a goose with her car and then bringing it home to cook for dinner. I think this was supposed to show us how she’s different from other people but it read to me as less “oh so unpredictable” and more, she must have lived in extreme poverty at some point in her life.

Throughout the book there are disconnected memories of our narrator’s past. Her childhood, her young adulthood. Some hints at the secrets of her past. These never really go deep enough or intersect with her present and so although there were points where my interest was piqued, there’s no payoff.

From the divorce, the narrator wins two lotteries (cough, deus ex machina, couch) one of which is a summer cottage. Her best friend, pregnant with twins breaks her ankle and is put on bed rest and so the narrator takes charge of her five-year-old son who is nearly entirely deaf. She decides to take him on a road trip to see the summer cottage. His mother, over and over again, shows a shocking lack of concern over his well-being and seems only too happy to be rid of him. Fair enough, he’s nothing more than a prop throughout the book.

And so then they go on a road trip. It rains a lot. Our narrator meets three men, none of whom are given names because, sure, why bother naming any of your characters? Eventually, they reach the little town where the summer cottage is located. The end. Honestly, that’s about it.

I read this as an Advanced Reading Copy so I can hope that some of its issues were worked out before final copy. I did wonder if some of it was due to translation. I noticed several instances of repetition and awkward sentence structure. Over all though, the greatest problem was a sort of blandness to the writing (and to the characters) and I’m not sure that’s simply the fault of translation.

I did enjoy reading a book set in Iceland and the fact that the author kept the landscape very present in the plot. It created a sort of otherworldly aspect to their trip, though some of that may have stemmed from my own unfamiliarity with Iceland. I did find I was never sure whether it was dark or light in any given scene or if the excessive rain was normal for Iceland in November. But I can’t blame the book for my ignorance.

Everything else? Yeah, I blame the book.