More of Me and Yahoo

A couple of weeks ago, I accepted a funny short story assignment on Yahoo. I wasn’t sure what to write, because I don’t necessarily think of myself as a comedy writer. On the other hand, I have a registered nurse for a brother who works the night shift. He comes home with the funniest stories sometimes and tells them to me in such an animated fashion, that I often find myself doubled over with tears streaming down my cheeks. So, for this assignment, I took his stories as inspiration and crafted my own crazy “nursing” story. Well, it has clearly hit a chord with more people than I ever suspected. As of last night, the story has received over 40,000 views. I called it Night Shift at the Hospital and you can read it today if you like! I also have a few more stories published as well, though they haven’t become the smashing successes “Night Shift” has been. The first is Justice Peace, a story about a black cowboy who walks into a small town,  told through the eyes of a lonely young boy. The second is an essay on the resurrection with an original illustration by a good friend, Robert Hines. The last is a flash fiction story, Your Dad, told in one hundred words, focusing on the effects that meth (and really drugs in general) have on innocent children.

So that should give you plenty to read for a while. I have not heard about any further book offers from my agent. I suspect I may hear from him within the month. As soon as I have news, I’ll pass it on to you!

All Things Nudist

This semester, I’m taking about three English classes. One of them is Advanced Composition. For that class, I’ve written an annotated bibliography, a literature review, and my most recent assignment was to write a Rogerian letter. (A Rogerian arguement is a way to argue a point while charming your opposition so much that they don’t mind being argued with.) But before we could write our Rogerian letters, we had to write terrible editorials–using biased sources, making fallacious though impassioned statements, etc… (Mine was about evil vaccinations.) Once those were finished, my professor instructed us to choose one of our classmates topics and respond to it in a Rogerian manner. Well, one of my classmates wrote a very clever little editorial promoting nudism. If we all just chucked our clothes, so many societal evils would be remedied–unhealthy body image, social cliques, thievery and the like. So, below is my Rogerian response.

 

Amanda Barber

1000 Some Rd.

Whoville, MI 49001

 

March 3, 2012

 

Rachel Eve

The Nudist Times

2000 Breezy Rd.

Barely There, MI 49021

 

Dear Rachel:

I had the opportunity to read your latest editorial, “Your Right to Bare Arms, Legs, and Other Body Parts” in The Nudist Times last week at the dentist’s office and I spent a considerable amount of time pondering it. I now find myself compelled to reply in what I hope will be an effective manner. Before your editorial, I had never really considered the topic of nudism and its philosophy. Though I disagree with your ultimate conclusions, it is clear that your intentions are admirable. Many of the points you brought up were quite valid. The problems you have observed in society and seek to fight against through social nudity are real and clear and they trouble me as well.

It would seem that you and most nudists in general are troubled by the materialistic attitudes of our society—this constant drive to express our exalted place in the social stratosphere through our clothing. The way humanity tends to divvy up social standing according to appearances is extremely unfortunate, especially when it affects children. As you rightly pointed out, many school children are obsessed with designer clothes so that they can be accepted by their peers. The fact that children worry about these things and face rejection based on appearances is sad and it ought not to be. This inordinate focus on outward appearances leads to cliques and takes attention away from the main purpose of school which is to learn.  Your comments on the idealized body image of our society were appropriate as well. It is tragic that women should feel inadequate as women when they compare their own bodies to the photo-shopped images of supermodels and actresses.

I understand that while all nudists are not religious, a large number of them would classify themselves as Christians (Bullough). I noticed that you (and other nudists I have read since I came into contact with your article) spend some time praising the magnificence of God’s creation that we can see in the human body. Nudists often point to the fact that God sees to it that babies come into the world naked as proof that God certainly cannot disapprove of nudity. As I said before, I do not entirely agree, but I am encouraged that you include God in the equation. I am also a Christian, and I believe that though our conclusions on the matter may be different we ultimately have a common goal. So, I would first like to discuss your Biblical rationale for social nudity and then my Biblical opposition to it.

When I first learned that a large number of nudists were Christians, I began to wonder why they would come to that conclusion. My mind immediately jumped to Genesis and the creation account. The Bible clearly states that when Adam and Eve were first created, they were naked, not ashamed of it, and God called it “very good.” So I thought to myself, “I see. They must believe that since God created us naked, we would be doing ourselves a favor if we shed our clothes. Clothing, after all, is nothing more than a reminder of sin and shame.” It turns out that I was right. In my research online, I came across a Christian nudist organization whose arguments practically mirrored my speculations (Naturist Christians). This viewpoint is particularly interesting and one worth thinking about.

My difficulty is that I have a question about one small detail. Why did God kill animals and make clothing out of their skins for Adam and Eve to wear after the Fall? The passage I am referring to is Genesis 3:1-21. When Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit, the Bible says, “…the eyes of them both were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together, and made themselves aprons.” (King James Version) Now right here, I am certain you would point out that the very act of them rushing to cover themselves up was only proof for your argument, but that still does not explain why God helped them cover up only fourteen verses later. God exchanges their rather useless fig leaves with coats of skin. “Unto Adam also and to his wife did the Lord God make coats of skins, and clothed them.” (King James Version, Genesis 3:21)

In addition to all this, nakedness is never looked upon favorably in the Scriptures. Nakedness is always portrayed as a very shameful thing and clothing a good thing. In Chapter 9 of Genesis, another account seems to give further evidence of this. After the great flood, God blesses Noah and his family. Noah plants a vineyard, makes some wine and gets himself roaring drunk, so drunk in fact, that he ends up lying in his tent wearing nothing but his birthday suit. His son Ham wanders in about that time and has a good laugh, telling his brothers, Shem and Japheth, all about it. Shem and Japheth take a “garment” and go into the tent backwards to avoid seeing their father naked and cover him up. When Noah, a man very close to God’s heart, came out of his drunken stupor and realized what had happened, he said this, “’Cursed be Canaan [Ham]; a servant of servants shall he be unto his brethren.’ And he said, ‘Blessed be the LORD God of Shem; and Canaan shall be his servant. God shall enlarge Japheth, and he shall dwell in the tents of Shem; and Canaan shall be his servant.’” (King James Version, Genesis 9:25-27) In Noah’s opinion, it was not a light matter for his son to have seen him naked.

These are the observations that cause me to pause. Because of them, I feel reluctant to accept the nudist position completely. It would seem to me that God does not entirely approve of nudity. At the same time, I understand your concerns and your desire for a change in the attitudes of our society. Since our goals and concerns are so similar, surely there is a way that we could work to change these problem areas in our culture in a way that would be less offensive to the rest of the population. Perhaps one would be to seek to glorify God and bring attention to Him in the way we dress rather than attention to ourselves through our clothing choices or lack thereof. Whatever the outcome of this debate, I feel that more open dialogue on this issue would be beneficial to both sides.  I look forward to it.

 

Sincerely,

Amanda Barber

 

 

Publishing…My Saga Continued

I recently heard from my agent that at least one publisher made a short run publishing offer on my book, The Pursuit of Elizabeth Millhouse. In other words, they would print a relatively small number of copies to see how well my book does on the market. If they sell, then maybe more in the future. This is understandable. I am, after all, a completely unknown author with not much of a following online. So, they have no way of knowing whether I’ll be a success or not.

My agent would like to wait another month or so before he replies to this offer to see if other offers are forthcoming. In the meanwhile…I wait as usual. Or daydream about the time when I’ll hold a printed copy in my hands.

I realize as I write, that just the fact I can say, “my agent,” is really something in and of itself. A year ago, I was writing query letters and sending them out with a liberal hand. The problem was, no one ever responded to them! So, I am extremely thankful to the Lord for providing someone who believes in my book enough to represent me to publishers. If it weren’t for that, I’d still be sitting on a novel, tearing at my hair in frustration, trying to get somebody to pay attention to it.

At any rate, stay tuned. I’ll keep you up to date as soon as I learn new information.

A Trip to Europe

A couple of years ago, I was given the opportunity to travel to England and France with a group of students from college. A very generous person paid my way entirely, and I was only too thrilled to take him up on the offer. While there, I recorded my thoughts and impressions and then put it together in a narrative that my family and friends could read. It was truly the highlight of my year and the needed vacation gave me the extra energy to finish my novel, “The Pursuit of Elizabeth Millhouse,” when I got home.

 

May 2, 2010

It rained cats and dogs this morning. I thought it might rain all day, but it stopped before lunch. Justin drove me to the school parking lot. Everyone was there early. Naturally. We’re going to London today!! The luggage was quite a sight. Such a mound of bags, of all different sorts! But I think it’s fairly safe to say that mine with its black and white stripes with big, black pokadots on it stood out from all the rest. Where do you get such outrageous stuff? Kohls.

M— was in fine form, grinning and cracking jokes, and J— was simply himself, the self that I will hopefully know a little better at the end of this trip. Ah, poor fellows! How will they fare amongst all these females? Mrs. C— took a picture of the two of them before we left. A before picture.

Well, we loaded the bus down with all that baggage while the driver, a tubby fellow with a curly-haired ponytail, sat and looked on. (I suppose he was only hired to drive.) Then we were off. We got to Chicago without a hitch, accept for the time when the GPS gave some bad advice and we ended up in China town instead of O’Hare. Re-computing. We got back on track pretty soon.

While we waited to board the plane, I sat between H— and an Indian woman heading back to India whose name I failed to ask for. She was very sweet and we had a nice chat.

It wasn’t until I pulled out my tatting, though, that I really started talking to people. Rather, people started talking to me and sending curious glances my way. An elderly Italian lady behind me praised my skill in the loveliest accent. I chatted briefly with two Muslim ladies on the way to Saudi Arabia. That’s about as close as I every want to get to Saudi Arabia.

Now I’m on the plane flying over Quebec, hearing the roar of the engines beneath me, feeling the vibrations through my feet as we hurtle through the air at 715 miles per hour. I’m thinking about how much faith all of us have in this big metal contraption. So much faith, in fact, that we all sit calmly in our seats, drinking pop, eating snacks, reading and sleeping thousands of feet above ground. It’s absurd. We should be freaking out. I think about the strangest things.

That’s all for now. Maybe I’ll check in again at some point in the next five and a half hours. In the morning, London!

May 3, 2010

I slept in fits and spurts on the plane. But it helped the time pass. We reached Heathrow airport around 6:30 in the morning. We got through customs and found our luggage in a snap, then navigated through tube tunnels and streets to our lodging. It must have made quite a spectacle, all of us trudging through the streets, huffing and puffing as we dragged our luggage behind us. Our rooms are very nice, more like apartments, really. They are, however, purely functional and not scenic at all. With a name like “Ability Towers” functional is all you’re going to get. I was quite pleased to find an iron and an ironing board, though. I can’t stand going around in wrinkles. There’s also a convenience store down below where we bought some food.

At the moment, I have a severe case of jet lag. I was so determined to stay awake until nine or ten in the evening, but I gave in and took a nap. I think a lot of us did.

It’s quite chilly and rainy out. I hope it warms up a bit for later. We’re going out around two o’clock to see some neat stuff–Big Ben, (Oh, pardon me. Not Big Ben, but the tower that Big Ben resides in.), Trafalgar Square, and Buckingham Palace.
Well, I’m about ready to give in to my exhausted body and sleep.

So, I slept.

First Impressions:
1. London is blessedly free from America’s big, baggy sweatshirt plague. In fact, I’ve noticed that, as a rule, Londoners look quite spiffy. Though the styles may be a trifle bizarre and the tights and flamboyant flats everywhere you look may be a little too much, Londoners still manage to appear very sharp and put together on the street. No sweats, no big, floppy t-shirts with garish slogans plastered on them. Heavenly.

2. Londoners don’t talk about the weather or anything else, for that matter, with strangers. They don’t catch your eye and smile. They don’t say, “Excuse me,” when they bump into you on the street. They have the ability to maintain the classic poker face in all circumstances, which brings me to my next observation.

3. The tube is so neat. Somehow, watching the constant stream of people flowing through the system, all going their own ways, captures my imagination. I could stand at the exits and watch people for hours. I get a kick out of how the recorded voice says, “Mind the gap,” as you step from the platform to the coach. But about the London poker face…I got on the tube today to get back to my room, and we were so crowded in there, stuffed in like sardines in a can, treading on toes, someone’s elbow in my side, hanging on to the rail for dear life. People were practically sitting on top of each other. You’d think that in such close quarters, people would talk to each other, at least joke a bit. But did they? Certainly not. I was literally standing so close to a lady, our noses were about three inches apart. One good lurch, and we’d have been black and blue for the rest of the week. So there we were, eye to eye. I wanted to laugh, but really, how do you laugh at such a sober person? In the tube, people stare at you or stare at the floor, but they don’t smile.

We walked up around Trafalgar Square, Buckingham Palace, Westminster Abbey, and then we had dinner at an Italian restaurant. It was very good. Just as our food was arriving, though, somebody said, “We’re missing H— and J—!” M— went out to look for them, but they were no where to be found. We lost them somewhere around Trafalgar Square. So we were all quite worried. Thankfully, when I got back to my room, there was H—, safe and sound, and J— was in hers. They had the good sense to get lost together and then navigated the underground back to the hotel. Not bad for the first day in London, huh?

May 4, 2010
Today was the day of Stonehenge, Bath, and Windsor, though not in that order. A bus picked us up and took us to the main station, but not before stopping to pick up more passengers and giving me the worst case of motion sickness I’ve had since childhood. The crazy man jolted and swerved around corners, narrowly missing pedestrians and cyclists. I was so sick by the time we got to Victoria station, my legs were like rubber and I thought I was going to lose breakfast. Thankfully, V— had Dramamine along with her. Good old M— swiped a plastic bag from a bin nearby just in case, and even risked sitting by me all the way to Windsor. I closed my eyes and talked to myself through the next thirty minutes, “You’re not going to throw up. You are not. You are NOT!” And I didn’t. By the time we got to the castle, I was feeling almost myself.

Windsor was pretty spectacular, but Bath was beautiful. I liked it the best. There were hardly any modern buildings. All were regal, old stone ones. The streets were narrower and the city was sort of nestled in a valley. It was a lovely drive into and out of it.
Stonehenge was pretty fun, but I still think Bath was my favorite part of the day. I’ve been told some people get strange vibes off of Stonehenge, but I didn’t. I must have been too cold. I intended to pay a visit to the cows grazing nearby, but they had all moved farther away when I got around to it.

When we got back to the hotel, Hena cooked a very yummy Indian dinner since the others had decided to stay out. J— came and ate with us, and I sewed a button back on his jacket. We talked for quite a while until the others came back and then went to bed.

May 5, 2010 

 We started out the day by getting on a bus tour of London. M— was in fine form once again, saying the most outrageous things and generally being funny. After a while, we hopped out and walked through Westminster Abbey. All those dead people! I stood on top of one of my most favorite authors, Charles Dickens. That was a strange feeling.

After our walk through the Abbey, we stopped in at the Westminster Abbey Coffee Club located just before the exit. Just think about that for a moment and see if you don’t laugh. After I pointed it out to M—, he remarked, “Coffee to keep you awake through morning prayers.”

After the Abbey, we got on a boat sailing down the Thames. It was very cold. While most of the group went topside, me and M— went below where it was warm. Then began the funniest tour commentary I have ever heard. They guy had such a dry way of saying things combined with perfect timing. Add the accent in, and there was the crowning touch. I laughed so hard, I had tears running down my cheeks, and I thought M— was going to choke on his coffee.

We took the bus back and then stopped at the Sherlock Holmes Pub and Museum where we ate fish and chips. The “museum” was a boxed in little room where you could look in at Holmes and his fiddle, pipe, and collection of chemicals that he’d mix together to solve cases. Poor Watson would come home to clouds of noxious fumes.

It was getting on towards early evening when I headed back to my room with H—. A few of the others went back out and came home at various times and in various stages of inebriation.

Another day, another night.

May 6, 2010
The day got off to somewhat of a rough start on account of certain members of the party suffering from hangovers.

We started off at the Tower of London, looking first at the armory tower or the “White Tower,” where there’s a huge collection of armor that belonged to the various kings of England. I always manage to go wandering off by myself, so by the time I got out of that specific tower, my group was way ahead of me. So, I continued on into the tower where the crown jewels are kept. Funny thing is, once I saw them they didn’t seem that impressive. Just a lot of glittering stones stuck in a funny-looking hat. What a silly girl I am! Don’t I know that those sparkly rocks are worth millions?

Well, once I was done with the jewels, I grabbed a sandwich and hunted for the rest of the group. I found them near the entrance and we took the boat back down the Thames and trekked back to Trafalgar Square to look in at the National Gallery. We saw paintings by Van Gogh, Pissarro, and all those guys. Rooms upon rooms of paintings. After a while, I was on painting overload and made my escape. Of course, I’d lost track of the group, but I came across a few of them in the gift shop. We sat and talked to J— for a while. I noticed a sign on the wall said, “Pickpockets operate in this area.” Gulp.

After the gallery, we headed back to the hotel. The others went back out to the streets to get a walking tour of Jack the Ripper’s haunts. I never liked that guy, so I stayed behind. I am now at Burger King, (yes, there is a Burger King in London), sipping coffee and scribbling away.

Impressions, continued.

4. I’ve seen next to no obese people in London. Practically everyone is slim and trim in spite of Burger King. Hmmm…

5. “Mind the gap,” is becoming quite the thing among us tourists. In fact, we expand upon it. “Mind the puddle.” “Mind the pole.” We’re very careful to use the same vocal inflections as the recorded voice at the tube.

May 7, 2010
Passed most of the day with M— and H—. We went first to the Tate Modern Museum which charges no admission fee for good reason. It fulfilled my wildest nightmares. Ugly, ugly, ugly. And depraved in some instances. One “artist” had filmed herself standing by a river, stark naked. She poured blood all over herself. (Wonder where that come from. I shudder to think.) To put the crowing touch on this masterpiece, she rolled around in a pile of feathers and stood up. By the way, the title of that little horror was, “Blood and Feathers.” Very original.

After the Tate, we walked along the Thames until we came to a restaurant and had lunch. Our waitress had a French accent. I ate mussels for the first time. They were really good.

I had kind of wanted to see Harrods just to see what it was all about, so we headed down in that direction to look around. Well, it was pretty much what I had expected–a big, fancy building with lots of expensive stuff in it. We saw a dual-duty butterfly, diamond-studded broach/hair clip thingy for about 23,000 pounds. Crazy. It was quite a dazzling display. We sauntered around, sampling perfume, trying to outdo each other in finding the most expensive item.

When we left, we stopped at a few shops, then met the rest of the crew at Westminster. Suddenly, it got really chilly and looked like it was going to storm. But that was okay because we were just boarding the London Eye. The Eye is pretty much a gigantic Ferris wheel. If I understand it correctly, it’s the largest observation point in the world except Singapore. From the top you can see the entire city.

We got into these enclosed “pods” as they’re called and made the trip. It was pretty fun.

By the time all that was finished, it was around quarter to eight in the evening and the group dispersed. A bunch of people had said they wanted to go to a concert with me at St. Martin-in-the-Fields, but it was pretty chilly and they decided to head for cover. But A— and M— went along. The Feinstein Ensemble performed. Truthfully, I’ve never heard of them before, but they were really excellent. They played one of the Brandenburg concertos, the Bach double violin concerto, and a Vivaldi recorder concerto. During the course of the concert, Angelina asked me some questions about the music, quietly. At least, it seemed quiet enough to me. But the old geezer in front of us turned around and glared balefully at us. That stopped the questions pretty quick.

We went to an Indian restaurant after the concert. The food was so good. I had tandoori chicken and naan. We discussed religion, Oxford, and A—’s desire to go to the zoo. At any rate, those were the topics that stuck out to me.

It was probably twelve when I got back to the hotel, and I called it a day and went to bed.

May 8, 2010
The weather had not taken a turn for the better by the time we were all up the next morning. Damp, dank, drizzly, dastardly…well, I’m getting a bit carried away. It was cold for sure. We went to Oxford anyway.

We took the above ground train, about an hour’s distance from London. We ran to catch the first one so we wouldn’t have to wait a long time for the next. Once we got on, though, there weren’t enough seats for everyone. So…we made ourselves comfortable on the floor. Some of us were so comfortable, in fact, that we fell asleep.

In spite of the rain and cold, I think Oxford was my favorite place of all. We walked around all the colleges. It was graduation day today, so most of the colleges were closed to visitors. We did happen upon one that wasn’t closed somehow. It was so picturesque with it’s own chapel and gardens. I took some pictures, but pictures never do justice to those kinds of places. Some day, I’m determined to have my own garden like, “The Fellows Garden.”

I fell asleep on the way back. Thankfully, I had a seat.

When we got back to the hotel, C— and S— decided to make dinner for us–spaghetti, salad, bread. While they prepared the food, I sprawled out on the bed and chronicled. A—, not one to mince words, ordered from the bathroom where she was fixing her hair, “Amanda, sing something!” So I did once I finished laughing.

The food was good. While we ate, we watched, “Britain’s Got Talent,” the episode filmed in London no less. This grand, 80-year-old lady floored everyone by singing a song called, “No Regrets.” We played dictionary and charades for the rest of the evening. Charades was fun, and I believe A— was the best at it.

It was a good day.

May 9, 2010
Today was Sunday, so I convinced A—, C—, S—, and M— to go to church at Westminster Abbey. I heard the choir sing from where I sat in the Poet’s Corner. It was a bit dreamlike. I never thought I’d attend a service at Westminster Abbey. It was the Sung Eucharist that we attended. Westminster is Anglican but M— said that the Mass was the same as a Catholic Mass. I couldn’t help wondering, as I looked at the people around me, whether they really, truly believed. Especially when we said the Nicene Creed, “We believe in one God, the Father, the Almighty, maker of heaven and earth, of all that is, seen and unseen. We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ, the only Son of God, eternally begotten of the Father, God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God, begotten, not made, of one Being with the Father; through him all things were made…” Or was it just a nice, soothing activity to indulge in once a week? Was it just a break from the workaday world, something to take down on Sunday and put away after the service? Or does it color everything in life whether it’s eating, sleeping, talking, walking, loving like it does me? It’s hard to know.

We went into the gift shop at Westminster Abbey, and when we came out, A— handed me this cute, little pewter violin pin. “I got this for you,” she said. I thought it was very sweet of her and I’ve been wearing it on my jacket ever since.

We had lunch, then went to Trafalgar Square to help A— find a friend. Then C—, M—, and I went to the Regent Gardens and walked around Queen Mary’s Garden. That was beautiful. There was a little section set aside for a Japanese garden, and that was my favorite.

At supper time, we all met in M— and J—’s room and ate another wonderful meal made by H—. We stayed up and talked for quite a while, then bedtime.

France tomorrow

More impressions:
6. Everything costs money around here. They know how to juice it out of you! If it’s not already built into the price of goods and services by way of taxes, they’ll charge you to use the toilet. Seriously, at some public restrooms, you have to pay fifty pence just to get in. That’s how they pay for the tube, I guess.

May 10, 2010
We’re in France, where smoking is the national sport. Truly, I’ve never seen so many people smoking in my life. We arrived via the Chunnel, (the tunnel underneath the English Channel). I was kind of disappointed because I was looking forward to going through it. But we went through several tunnels, one of which must have been the Chunnel, and then suddenly we were in France. I was none the wiser. Oh well, at least it was painless and we didn’t get stuck down there or anything.

We dragged our luggage through the streets once more in a single file. We walked and walked and walked and walked and walked…anyway, we had a hard time finding the hotel. By the time we did find it, the right wheel on my suitcase was busted. I scraped instead of rolled it along. It was nice and warm at first, a blessed change from London. But later on in the evening, when we set out for the Eiffel Tour, the wind blew and blew and the rain came pouring down. We soldiered on, anyway, and went up. I only got a few pictures of a very murky-looking Paris before the cold drove me inside the café. We went back to the hotel that evening, (which, by the way, was much cuter than the Ability Towers in London.). I put on a few more layers of clothes and went out again with H—, A—, C—, and M—. We walked around in the rain for quite a while and saw some pretty neat stuff. Once we reached the Notre Dame Cathedral, we walked along the river until we came to the gigantic Louvre. Then we walked along the Champs-Elysees to the Arc de Triomphe and took some pictures. I wasn’t able to get many good pictures in the dark with my little camera, but the others got some.

By the time I got back to the hotel, it was 1:30 and I was thoroughly wet, cold, and tired. But I slept like a log the whole night and woke up ready to go the next morning. So there’s something to be said for tramping around in the rain in the middle of the night.

May 11, 2010
We woke up to yet another cold, wet drizzly day, but we hit the streets with a vengeance, determined to make the most of the last day in Europe. We headed towards Notre Dame on foot, stopping in at the Palace Luxembourg on the way. We didn’t go in or anything, just looked at it. There was a really beautiful park in front of it that we wandered around in for quite a while.

There were so many shops on the way to Notre Dame, but the only one I stopped at was Starbucks. Pathetic, I know, but it was a familiar face. Once we got to the river, we split up and did some window shopping. Everything costs a lot of money, at least it seems like a lot of money to me, so I just looked. I did get a few posters for the folks back home at one of the cheesy tourist traps that abound in that area.

We went inside Notre Dame today. It was pretty amazing. It was a little spoiled for me, though, because some guy was playing this awful dissonant music on the organ the whole time we were in there. He must have been a reincarnation of the Phantom. I guess it fit–gothic cathedral, creepy music.

My favorite part of Paris that we saw was Montmartre. To get there, we had to climb this colossal flight of steps. I loved it, but A—’s asthma kicked in on the way up and she was feeling pretty awful by the time she reached the top. Thankfully, it seemed to subside enough for her to enjoy the rest of the day. The cathedral was lovely, and I decided right away that I liked it much better than Notre Dame. The people in charge there took the job seriously. “Monsieur, your hat,” the man at the entrance would say very sternly if the guys didn’t take their hats off right away. They had this little machine in the cathedral where you could put in a euro or two and get a medallion with the cathedral etched on. So I put in my money and down came the medallion with a loud clatter. That very instant, I heard a resounding, “Shhhhhhh!” directed my way. It’s amazing how universal that sound is. Cringe. I couldn’t help it, honest!

For our last dinner in Paris, we went to kind of an upscale place nearby. At least, I think it was. I’m not very knowledgeable about restaurants. I don’t eat out often, but when I do, it’s Subway or a Bob Evans type of deal. So, for me, it was fancy! Presentation, presentation, presentation. Everything was good and it looked beautiful too. Somehow, we got on the topic of love and relationships, a common thread throughout the trip. Unfortunately, we were unable to solve the problems involved with that subject.

After dinner, we dispersed to shop for a while, agreeing to meet at the top of the stairs at the cathedral. I wandered around and bought some cards at a shop. Then I went to the cathedral and waited for the others. I was sooooo cold! But I enjoyed watching all the people milling around. I struck up a conversation with a guy who was also waiting for a friend. Rather, he struck up a conversation with me, in French no less. I had to apologize and tell him I didn’t know any except the basics. He had a good laugh and then started back up in English. We talked about France and bakeries since I work at one at home. I told him about some of the pastries we make. When I told him I hadn’t had a chance to go to a French bakery yet, he groaned and threw up his hands in dismay. I was kind of disappointed about that myself. Well, maybe I’ll make it to France again someday.

Anyway, after about ten minutes of this, I noticed my group at the bottom of the stairs waving and laughing at me. So, I said goodbye and left. They all took the opportunity to rib me about my gentleman friend. “He was hitting on you.” “He was not!” I replied. “He was just being friendly.” “You’re naïve.” Sigh. All you can say to that is, “I am not naive,” which makes you look more, well, naïve. So, I held my peace.

On the way back to the hotel, one of the girls wanted to see Moulin Rouge, and we ended up hiking through the equivalent of a red light district. But I was too naïve to appreciate it.

Two more impression:
7. Gypsies. They were all over the place in Paris, especially crowded places. They’re great beggars. I had the misfortune to have to wait for my group by myself in front of Notre Dame Cathedral. They’d come up looking very pious and mournful. “Do you speak English?” they’d ask then hand me a hand-written note with a sob story on it. I gave them a couple of euros. Why? I don’t know. I knew better, too. This happened twice–two different women, same note. When I came out of the cathedral, the police had them all rounded up. M— says that their men drop them off in the morning to make some money then pick them up later. Sad.

8. I thought fifty pence to use the bathroom in London was ridiculous. I got the shock of my life in Paris. We were in the subway station that’s closest to the Louvre, looking around at some really nice shops. We followed the signs to the bathrooms, and at first, I didn’t see anything resembling a restroom. I noticed a lot of vibrant hues first before I realized the whole place was decorated in brightly-colored rolls of toilet paper. “One euro, please.” Guys to the left, girls to the right. It was pretty doggone swanky. You could even buy a roll of toilet paper and bring it back with you. I can just imagine some silly American bragging on their roll, “See this toilet paper with dollar bills printed all over it? I bought it in, (punctuated by a loud clearing of the throat and a significant lift of the eyebrows), Paris.” Well, I had a good inward chuckle over that. M— called it, “Pay per poo.” I didn’t buy any toilet paper.

May 12, 2010
Time to pack up and leave. Sniff. I was up early, getting all my things stuffed in my suit case. We ate breakfast in a hurry and took taxis to the airport. I was sad to leave, but happy to be going back home at the same time. While we waited at the gate, we saw that Spanish and Morocco airports were shut down due to ash. Phew! Glad we left when we did.

Well, nothing terribly exciting happened. We boarded the plane, slept a lot, arrived in Chicago in the early evening, took the bus back to school, and went home from there. I had a lot of nice conversation, though, which made the traveling process more interesting. That’s about all. Back to work the next day, with lots of fun stories to tell and snapshots to show off. The best part was unpacking the things I brought back for my family and friends and thinking about my favorite moments.

I’m so glad I could go. Who knows, it may be the only international trip I ever make. I wanted to write all this down so I could remember it, and I also wrote it with Kristen, Constance, Katie, Forrest, Lydia, Miles, Elise, Adrianne, Levi, and Benjamin in mind. I thought about you all the time when I was over there. Someday, when you’re all grown up, if not before, I hope you can see some of the things I saw.

I love you guys,
Aunt Amanda

Tell Me About God

   I had two older siblings, growing up. The difference in age was significant. I was born when my brother was ten and my sister was twelve. So, it was a little like having two sets of parents. The majority of the time I loved having two sets, especially when the younger one wasn’t too bossy. My sister went off to college when I was pretty young, but my brother was still finishing up high school and so I got to have him around for a few more years. I ended up spending a lot of time with him, watching him work out with weights in the basement. (Once he was all sweaty and disgusting, he liked chasing me around the basement, threatening me with slimy hugs.) He was also pretty good at imitating our acquaintances’ funny quirks and mannerisms, getting them down to such perfection, that I laughed until my head hurt. Sometimes he’d baby sit me and my younger brother when Mom and Dad went out on a date or something. That was always fun. We ended up goofing around a lot before Jeremy sent us off to get ready for bed.  It was when Justin and I were in our pajamas, a little too wound up and hyper to go to sleep quite yet, that I begged the usual topic.

“Tell me about God!”

It wasn’t that I wanted a story about God. I was looking for specific information. Once before, during one of these bedtime theological discussions, Jeremy dropped the bomb on me. He had said, “God has never had a beginning and He doesn’t have an end. He has always just been.” Well, to a seasoned student of theology, that concept is mind-boggling enough. You can only imagine what a thunderbolt descends upon the mind of a six-year-old at the same piece of information. It floored me. Everything has a beginning! How can you exist if you never began? But my brother assured me that this was the reality of the situation. From then on, I wanted to talk about God’s infinity with Jeremy before bedtime.

I used to sit on the bed after Jeremy had repeated this doctrinal truth to me once again and just grin. What does a person say to that anyway? My mind would go on a historical regression. “God existed before me, before Mom and Dad, before George Washington, before creation, before…well, what happened before creation?” It always stopped there in my mind, but there was something rather thrilling about the fact that lots of things must have happened before creation since God was there. After a while I couldn’t think about it anymore. Whenever I tried to make sense of it, I felt like I was trying to take in the whole universe and my brain was in danger of bursting. And it was such a good feeling, knowing that God was so huge—big enough to bust my brain. I didn’t even have the wherewithal to be afraid of God’s immensity. I can only describe the way I felt about it by describing my first take-off experience on an airplane. I felt the roar and vibrations of the engines underneath me as the plane picked up speed, rushing up into the sky. I sat back in my chair and grinned. In that moment, I knew it was entirely possible that something could malfunction and we’d all get blown to smitherines in the next fifteen seconds, but I was taken away by the power of it and I didn’t care. Only to think that God’s power is worth far more than millions of airplane engines and He doesn’t malfunction.

When I was little there was nothing bigger than God’s immensity, nothing else that could send me into an awe-inspired trance than His infinity. I should mention that I was hardly a model child. I was plenty naughty and got my fair share of spankings and thinking sessions with my nose in the corner. I got mad and cried often enough when things didn’t go my way. Still, and probably because children have much better imaginations than adults, I was always floored by the topic of God. Then I grew up. In some ways, my knowledge of God increased and I grew to know more of His characteristics. In other ways, my knowledge decreased, or maybe the better way to put it was that the knowledge got shoved aside to a more manageable corner of my mind to make room for adult cares, concerns, hopes, worries, ambitions, desires and the all-consuming responsibilities of living. (After all, I couldn’t get much done if I spent the live-long day thinking about how God went on and on and on and on…) I didn’t stop loving God, it’s just that I didn’t find myself as amazed at Him as I used to. I had accepted God’s infinity and His love and His justice as a matter of course and put it to rest. I put His enormity into finite terms and made an end of it.

But then curious things began to happen. The cloud of concerns and bustling activity would suddenly become dry and lifeless all of a sudden. None of them looked appealing or hopeful. Even the best and most useful things. It was as if they all died and fell around me leaving a choking vapor of smoke that closed me in. I was overcome with restlessness for no particular reason, and how unhappy I was when I tried to look up at God. I had accepted and dimly remembered that He was good, but now I couldn’t see Him through the grime.  My mode of operation in times like these was to spend more time reading the Bible and praying, praying to a God who gave very little indication that He was still there. The haze had cut off my line of communication to Him, that clear view of Himself that used to delight me. So, I had to rely on the communications He had already sent through His Word and muddle through the best I could. And then, after a long time of waiting, there He was almost as mind-bogglingly beautiful as He had been when I was a little girl, come to help me when I least expected Him. I say almost as beautiful because just as soon as I saw Him again, I began to think that things were put to rights and the cloud of distractions began to resurrect and bombard me. Already, my mind began filling up with the cares of the world. I’d had my dose of God, and now I was ready for something else.

If you’re at all honest, you must admit that this sounds quite familiar. It is not that we do not genuinely desire to love God, even in the middle of all the distractions and incessant battles to overcome our sin. It isn’t that we don’t cry out to God while we run from pillar to post, in distracted activity. It isn’t even that all those things we’re doing are unnecessary or wrong. So, what is it? Why does our first breathtaking glimpse of God always fade away behind a blinding fog of who knows what? How can we so quickly forget what we hold in our hands–the gift that God has made of Himself for us to keep for all of eternity—that this infinite God has promised to be our God and that we are His people?  

 Quite honestly, I’m not sure. At least in my case, I think it’s because I stopped saying a very simple thing, “Tell me about God!” Lately, meaning in the last few years, I feel like I’ve been wading through just such a fog of forgetfulness. My life has consisted of completing one goal after another—get the book finished, get the next school assignment done, get the book published, get this piece of music learned, figure out your schedule, register for this class, figure out if you have enough money for the aforementioned class. It never ends. Often, my solution to the problems and frustrations is to think about them some more and try to work harder. Sitting down, stopping everything and putting everything else out of my mind to hear about God has become increasingly more difficult as I’ve grown older.

I’ve also noticed another thing. If I do not choose to do put everything aside before things get out of hand, God tends to arrange it for me. Sometimes He makes life flavorless. Sometimes He makes me notice that I’ve gone whole days without giving Him anything more than my peripheral thoughts and attention. Sometimes He makes me so depressed I don’t want to get out of bed in the morning. Sometimes He takes away my sleep at night (as He did just a few nights ago) until I can say like little Samuel in the Old Testament, “Speak Lord, for your servant hears.” It’s in the middle of crushing loads like these, that I look up once again and notice what I’ve been missing for such a long time. I wish I weren’t so forgetful. I wish I could sit like a little child at His feet all day long, while I’m working or playing, bowled over by His goodness.

Well, I don’t live with Jeremy anymore. I don’t always have someone handy who would respond enthusiastically if I abruptly shouted, “Tell me about God!” So, I must do the next best thing. I have to tell someone else about God which is precisely what I’m doing now. Because, oftentimes, it is in telling someone about God that I’m really talking to myself. I cannot afford to forget.