Thursday, March 29, 2018

Annie's Lists :: Kristin Mahoney :: blog & review

Annie /Andromeda

Annie's Life in Lists by Kristin Mahoney on Amazon

Annie's Life in Lists book cover
Usually my blog post replicates my Amazon book review; this time my blog is longer and includes material not appropriate {I consider inappropriate} for a review.

I chose Annie's Life in Lists the book because:

1. I love middle school novels
2. I like the name Annie
3. I can be quite the list-maker

In Annie's story I discovered:

1. complex, real-life family dynamics
2. real and ideal
3. lack of human control over many aspects of life
4. making the best of circumstances
5. friendship anxieties
6. friendship resolutions
7. uncertain futures


Not long into the narrative, Annie – whose full name is the star-struck Andromeda – and her family move seven hours' drive north of Brooklyn to the town of Clover Gap, population around 8,000. Annie's highway engineer dad lost his job because of lack of contracts mostly caused by the fed's diminishing funding for all aspects of transportation, so they relocated because of lack of nearby jobs in his professional field. Although I do my best severely to limit my use of the word "should," in an ideal world, highway engineers should be constantly hired rather than frequently fired; as conduits of communication and connection, streets and roads should be expanding and improving, with older freeways and thoroughfares getting repairs and environmental impact enhancements as often as needed. None of those "shoulds" have been happening! I often ponder how roads in my Previous City of San Diego never freeze or thaw, yet statistically their condition ranks among the worst in all first world countries combined (only slight exaggeration). The trouble's their extreme age and near-total lack of maintenance.

Some Backstory

How much information can anyone of any age handle? By not telling Annie and her brother Ted their dad had lost his job, their parents made a major mistake. Due to Annie's exceptional memory of his brother the dry cleaner and his cat, her school principal discovers Annie's family had moved out of that school district but continued getting mail elsewhere than their new apartment so she and her brother could remain at that school. Brooklyn's tightly circumscribed school boundaries meant she'd need to attend a different school for her last year of elementary; after that, Annie began obsessively imagining they were moving to another part of the state because of her innocent revelation to the principal. Almost without a doubt the kids had attained enough years and (especially as a girl Annie had insight and sensitivity) could have understood and compensated with their own behaviors to help the entire family deal with circumstances and move onto the next phase.


As soon as I began to read Annie's Life in Lists I felt anxiety and expectation. I'm a city lover and city dweller; I love that I need to Mind the Gap between door and platform when I ride the subway or light rail. I wouldn't have life any other way than amongst LA's truly incredible ethnic and cultural panorama—by many estimates the most diverse human settlement that ever has existed anywhere. Except for its unfortunate east coast weather, Brooklyn borough sounds every bit as wonderful as LA in terms of culture, diversity, and opportunities—maybe more exciting in terms of allover energy and excitement. In Southern California, the second-largest USA city knows how to doze off and snooze whenever it feels convenient. Because of my passion for the city and cities, I didn't want Annie to leave Brooklyn, or if she had to, I wanted her to go back there to live, or at least to another densely populated urban place. I completely agree with my late mom that cities in general are the best places to raise kids, which also partly accounts for my desire to have Annie and family return to Brooklyn or some major metropolitan area. But especially in a compromised economy, our desires often cannot happen, at least not right now at this very moment.


"Lack of human control over many aspects of life" is #3 in my second numbered list at the beginning of this post. Lack of human control, yet there still are many things a person can do to increase their chances of achieving a desired outcome: get as much education as possible; become friends with kind people, even if they're not in high places; schedule at least a little time for recreation and working out; follow your dreams, however remote they may appear from here.

Annie's fam arrives in Clover Gap, where Dad will be working on a road construction project of uncertain length and they'll be living in an older house with lots more space than they had in their city apartment had. Almost from the start everyone begins rationalizing why Clover Gap will be a good place; a big kitchen where they have room to creatively cook will be especially great for engineer dad who loves claiming his creative side as a chef—mom will like the kitchen, too. Mom the graphic designer now will have her own dedicated workspace that's so much better than staking out a small corner in their Brooklyn flat. She grew up in a less urban place, though Dad's pretty much city to the core—just as I am. The tension and expectation I felt when I started reading quickly radiated into concern for Annie's friendship with Brooklyn classmate and very close friend Millie. Upstate in Clover Gap, Annie wondered if lack of communication meant lack of continuing friendship will Millie. Close to the book's conclusion I learned it was anything but, yet real life friendships fade, change, and sometimes end, and real people need to deal with and grieve those realities.

No one reaches any age at all before realizing we need to put the best construction on people's behavior along with making the best of our own circumstances. "Bloom where you're planted" the adage reminds us; scripture counsels us to contribute to the well-being of wherever we find ourselves, because the welfare of our neighbors becomes our health and bounty, too. By book's end that's exactly what Annie's family does, even fancying themselves true residents of Clover Gap, at least for a while.

And Now?

Brooklyn to Clover Gap is my story; is it your story, too? I've spent incalculable energy, time, hope, and sorrow affirming what's okay; current kitchen doesn't have enough space for comfortable dicing and slicing, but this month's weather happens to be perfect for walking from here to there and getting a necessary dose of sunshine. This is not a hunter-gatherer society, nor is it a third world country, yet part of my plans and desires remain stuck because it's not what you know, it's not who you know, it's who knows you. This next thing will work, this next thing, this next... yet none of them have. I've done my best to acknowledge the tangled circumstance that got me to the year 2018 and Current City, with a few humanly necessary "if only" and "no one knows what might have happened" observations thrown into my analysis every so often. Current overall everything may not excel at providing opportunities to teach art I crave and need, but like Annie's mom {who, like me, works from wherever she is at the moment as a graphic designer with physical location not a major consideration, and {like myself} may have been working in industry before the crash of the economy and housing market sent jobs overseas, with internet growth contributing to the situation}, I've gradually been getting design gigs not only online, but also because of Current City. When does rationalization stop? Where do excuses end? When do dreams reawaken? Hope rebound? I need to write contextual liturgy again, yet no one is stopping me from putting together a few more prayers that may never be heard in public. No one is stopping me, but like most of this blog except for my recent monthly "What I Learned," writing prayers and liturgy pieces just for the exercise would be more of the talking to myself that pervades this blog. I tell myself that's no longer enough; in fact it never was, but like practicing music in private, like hours spent sketching into results that never will see light of day or screened online, the practice remains essential.

The doors only can be opened from the other side. How do I find face-to-face direct service opps I expected always would be there?

More Review Notes

Annie's Life in Lists is Kristin Mahoney's first ever published book. She develops the story's characters and describes physical settings extremely well. Illustrator Rebecca Crane's cover portrait of Annie could be a fifth grader in almost Any Town or Any City in North America. I wish Crane's black and white sketches scattered throughout the book could have been full color, but production and selling costs likely made that not realistically possible. BTW, Rebecca Crane illustrated My Very Own Space a young kids' book I ordered from Amazon Vine because of the wonderful art! This chronologically mature adult who loves middle school novels will be on the lookout for Mahoney's next book.

My Amazon Review: Annie, Family, Friends

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Porch Stories :: March 2018 So Far

porch stories March 2018 so far


Again this month Kristin Taylor's Stories from the Porch comes in categories! The month of March on the Left Coast also had variety, mostly featuring renewal and restoration. At the start of the month the church's year of grace was about one-third into the slowed-down season of Lent with its focus on repentance, spring cleaning all aspects of our lives (the word lent means slow, and is an old word for spring derived from days getting longer or lengthening in the northern hemisphere), Jesus' relentless journey to Jerusalem and the cross... and the indescribable surprise of resurrection we never truly expect. Today, Wednesday of Holy Week is the last day of Lent! The Triduum or Three Day liturgy of Maundy Thursday – Good Friday – Easter (Vigil, Sunrise, Day) begins tomorrow.

RecycLA rally 07 March RecyLA rally 07 March
RecyLA rally 07 March RecyLA rally 07 March


Mist permeated the air outside City Hall on the morning of Wednesday 07 March, but many of us delighted to brave the {dramatic?} southern California weather – partly to demonstrate, majorly to celebrate – that multi-unit residential dwellings finally having an easy recycling option as a result of the public/ private partnership of RecycLA known en espaƱol as RecycLA.

World Water Day 2018

Due to my being bone-weary, heavily into discernment and letting go, I won't post more pictures or another description, but also related to redeeming planet earth, you can read about World Water Day 2018 by the Los Angeles River and maybe imagine the river that owns this city that owns that river being sufficiently cleaned-up and free-flowing year round for churches to begin regularly celebrating baptisms in the river! At our August Green Team meeting illustrated in my August & Summer 2017 Porch Story Chronicle, Lisa Dahill, one of our guests whose university classes usually don't allow her to attend our meetings, talked about being baptized (or renewing your baptism) in your local river, and then owning again those particular waters every day as you pray and work toward justice, renewal, and resurrection for all creation that emphatically includes the well-being of that city, its river, its headwaters, and its watersheds. Many times, as in Los Angeles' situation, the city and the river even claim the same name! A couple weeks ago I finished reading the book about Eco-Reformation Lisa Dahill joint-edited and contributed a chapter to, and hope to review it in a week or to. So please watch this space!


Lent ends today. On Palm-Passion Sunday, the Sunday school hour was disorganized and a bit chaotic with regular participants coming and going back and forth from here to there. Originally I'd hoped to pull together and print a few key scriptures to discuss but didn't because I simply couldn't. Instead, in my intro I mentioned the church over the centuries has brought many interpretations to Jesus' trial, conviction, crucifixion, and resurrection, some of them not very faithful human imaginings, some with scriptural grounding, but in essence Jesus died because that's what happens when a person acts like God. I suggested let's not even attempt to analyze or explain Holy Week or Easter: let it engulf us; let us embrace it.

This is the last day of Lent 2018. I'm not trying to explain or describe the mercy, grace, love, and hope Holy Week and Easter bring to all creation. I'm so tired all I can do is allow it to surround me. Amen? Amen!

porch stories button

Saturday, March 24, 2018

World Water Day 2018

United Nations World Water Day occurs a calendar month before Earth Day; for this year's 25th anniversary, The Answer Is In Nature – "How can we reduce floods, droughts, and water pollution? By using the solutions we already find in nature."

world water day 2018 Los Angeles Southwest California synod ELCA

As part of the denominational judicatory's Green Faith Team (committee), I helped plan this year's WWD event and I designed a save the date card, flyer/poster, and program for our outdoor gathering by the Los Angeles Riverside two days ago. It gloriously rained almost all day long! Overcast skies and the gift of heaven-sent water made our gathering with prayer, scripture, song, a history of the river, and a simply delicious lunch even more memorable. We heard the musical debut of the duo Bartlett & Herder, a subset of Water Is Sacred band that got its name faster than any other musical group in history.

This year I'm blogging a few of my photographs.

world water day 2018 stones along the way
world water day 2018 looking out at the river from the ramada
world water day 2018 setting up for the event world water day 2018 guitar, river graphic, umbrella world water day 2018 water print by John August Swanson

After the short program, everyone walked down to visit the river that was full of surging water for the first time ever in my limited experience. Besides freely flowing water, our river contained too much visible plastic pollution; End Plastic Pollution is this year's Earth Day theme. I'll mention we also need to reduce the production of paper that's a process indescribably toxic to waterways and all of Planet Earth, and uses too much water for the results we get.

world water day 2018 view of the Los Angeles River looking left
world water day 2018 view of the Los Angeles River looking right

Thursday, March 22, 2018

Wisdom Walking :: Gil Stafford

Wisdom Walking: Pilgrimage as a Way of Life by Gil Stafford on Amazon

Wisdom Walking by Gil Stafford book coverWell-worn hiking boots filling over half the front cover enticed me to order Wisdom Walking. I've long resonated with the concept of life as pilgrimage or peregrination, so the title also helped. From the start I knew I'd love to meet author Gil Stafford, converse over lunch with him and a few other kindred pilgrims. However, when I realized how much of the content focused on actual walking pilgrimages of days or weeks over vast distances, I knew that wasn't for me and wondered how useful the book would be. I'm more into trekking up an easy urban hill, exploring a nearby canyon, spending an afternoon along an ocean shore.

But I had enough wisdom to think beyond other aspects of the book I couldn't relate to:

(1) Stafford frequently refers to Paulo Coelho's The Alchemist that has become somewhat of a cult book in a positive way. At the strong suggestion of one of my first ever online friends I met long before Facebook was a reality in any format, I read The Alchemist, didn't get its message at all, and donated it to the library book sale.

(2) Gil references James Hillman many times. When I returned to the east coast at the end of the last century and temporarily was staying in extremely sparse circumstances, an acquaintance stopped by with a copy of one of Hillman's books so I'd have something to do. I read whatever book it was slowly and thoughtfully, didn't get what it said, and returned it to the owner with polite thanks.

(3) Carl Jung is a third author who's influenced Gil Stafford. I'm only barely familiar with his work, though I have a slight claim to fame with a paper I wrote on a chapter from Jung's The Tower for my school's version of a Varieties of Religious Experience course. The instructor liked my paper a (whole) lot, commented I hadn't developed a couple of points well enough, but then admitted I'd had a limit of "only 15 pages," since she'd specified maximum length in order to deal with many undergrads going on endlessly and aimlessly while in the end saying nothing at all.

The central idea of Wisdom Walking is similar to an alchemist's literal trials to convert base metal into gold; each person's trials, disappointments, struggles, and surprises during their years walking this earth help transmute more base, unhelpful characteristics into refined, polished, traits in service to all creation. I know I complained about the chapters including so much about people's experiences on their own formal pilgrimages, yet a reader can learn how trudging through nature alone or with a group transformed those individuals.

Gil Stafford is an Episcopal priest and therefore Christian. Like many in the general tradition of Anglicanism, he's far from doctrinally orthodox, but open, enquiring, and convinced no single spiritual or religious tradition or practice has the corner of every possible way to connect with the divine. Although I describe my theology as "reformational," I easily relate to paganism, Celtic spirituality, and other ways of being and living that at first glance appear to be more earth-oriented than Christianity does (at first glance). Yet Christianity envisions the possibility and the hope that encourage us to live as co-creators of a new creation. Martin Luther insisted the Divine Presence was everywhere—in, with, and under every blade of grass, each drop of water, grain of sand. I've been informed neither ubiquity nor panentheism quite describes Luther's position, but human words always have limits, and they're probably close enough.

Of necessity the 16th century Reformers emphasized redemption of human creatures, but in time probably would have moved on to emphasizing the integrity of all creation, as many within mainline Christianity now are doing in an urgent attempt to revitalize, reclaim, and resurrect planet earth, not for its utility to humanity, but to celebrate its inherent worthiness and worth. In baptism we participate in the first birth and the rebirth of creation; the Eucharist is a microcosm of all creation fully restored, completely redeemed.

Blog only note: Stafford more than suggests our daily lives need four anchors: prayer; exercise (not necessarily a major workout—walking is excellent); a spiritual companion. That makes three. The fourth might be a practice of yoga, kabbalah, tarot reading, herbs, essential oils... Why four and not the biblical number three? Four compass directions. Four earthly elements. Four arms of the cross. Four gates of the mandala.

My Wisdom Walking ratings: for relevance to where I find myself today, 3 stars. For possibilities I discovered after I got over my initial disappointment and opened my eyes, 5 stars. Average: 4 stars.

You might enjoy Gil Stafford's blog, Peregrini: for those on life's pilgrimage.

Notice of material connection: I received a copy of this book from The Speakeasy with no obligation to write a positive review. As always, my opinions are my very own and I wouldn't have it any other way.

My Amazon review: Living as Pilgrims

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

The Miracles of Jesus :: Jessica LaGrone

Miracles of Jesus Jessica LaGrone, book coverOriginally and/or (maybe) ideally intended for group study, this 6-weeks of weekdays consideration of Jesus of Nazareth's miracles in 30 short chapters was sheer excellence for my individual study at this stage of my journey. I spent about 3 weeks with The Miracles of Jesus; some days I'd study more than one chapter, occasionally skip over a day and not open the book at all.

Classic definition of a true miracle of God probably would be a suspension or even a reversal of humanly expected rules of nature, but trying to describe the divine and subsequently limit God's grace and activity with humanity and the rest of creation has led to far too many unfaithful expressions of biblical religion, so I'll leave it at that.

"Desperate moments" refers to physical, spiritual, social, and/or cultural situations of extreme need. "Cultural?" Yes, of course—had the hosts of the first of Jesus' signs we find in the gospel according to John, the Wedding at Cana, run out of wine, it would have been complete cultural embarrassment and true disaster that would have cascaded down through subsequent generations. (If you're familiar with differences between synoptic gospels Mark, Matthew, and Luke and the fourth canonical gospel, you probably remember John's community refers not to miracles but to signs human senses can perceive.) "Cultural" of course, because by definition Christianity always is incarnational, embodied within a particular culture. Including yours, including mine, including and encompassing theirs and ours. I love how the author brings in a few of her own experiences related to the miracle under discussion, but rather than making everything about her life and testimony she does it in a way that encourages readers to search their own daily lives, helps a reader trust God's paradoxical activity to meet their needs, as well. I also appreciate her intelligently referencing critical biblical scholarship in a manner that demonstrates the scriptural text itself comes to us in, with, and under the apparent accidentals of daily earthbound life.

Book size and layout is very attractive with plenty of room to write your own notes if you desire. This is part of a series of studies from the United Methodist Church's Abingdon Women, which is almost too bad and very sad, because nothing at all in The Miracles of Jesus is gender-specific, and that information might discourage a few guys from checking it out and benefiting from it. Though I'd be willing to loan out Jessica LaGrone's Miracles of Jesus, I plan to keep this book and work my way through it again. I'd also be open to participating in a group study focused on these chapters. What else? I'm curious about the content of the accompanying video.

my Amazon Review: Outstanding in Every Way