Wednesday, December 26, 2012

A Tragic Christmas Worth Remembering

On Friday, December 21, the Stewart family moved into our new residence.  We were pretty sure that we wouldn't be in before Christmas, but through tireless efforts from our realtor and our lender, and through the providence of a caring Father, we did.  The home is beautiful and far beyond what we hoped for.  A ranch style spread sitting on 1.5 acres--with trees!  Hardwood flooring throughout.  An attached garage with an almost finished out attic.  A plot for a garden.  Lots of stuff, and we love it.

On Saturday, December 22, we spent the entire day unloading boxes and putting stuff up and together.  A long day, but not unpleasant.  Many thanks to all those who were able to help.

On Sunday, December 23, we heard a sermon on the birth of Jesus.  How His birth, His life, His death, and His resurrection--the Gospel, His gift of grace--is the ultimate present to unwrap on Christmas.  How so much God loves the world that He extends to us grace and redemption when we don't deserve it.  And that night, as every year on December 23, the entire extended family gathered together in Bremen to enjoy one each other's company.  This has always been so as long as I can remember.  Coming together as a family.  It's a unique experience, as I come from a family where love is apparent and obvious, where people honestly care about one another, where the backbiting and gossiping is relatively minuscule and non-existent.  My family may not have much in the realm of materialism, but we're over-abundant when it comes to love.  That's how we are. 

After the get-together was over we stopped by Mamaw's house to pick up Stella and to check on her.  She left the gathering early.  She hadn't been feeling to good.  So we stopped and spent a good hour-and-a-half there, just talking and chiding Mamaw's stubbornness.  She didn't want to spend Christmas in the hospital, she said.  She'd go after Christmas.  So I took her trash outside for her and Keisha offered to take some of the food home with us and prepare it so she wouldn't have to.  Mostly we just sat around and talked and watched Avonlea play with Mamaw's water bottle and eyeglasses.  Hilarious stuff, really. 

Mom spent the night with Mamaw and we left to go to our new home.

At 3:54am on December 24, Mom called and told me that Mamaw didn't have a pulse.  She passed away not long after.

On Monday, December 24, we went to the funeral home and went through all the routine stuff.  Questions, answers, coffin room.  We were all stunned.  Christmas at Keisha's grandmothers that night to try normalcy, but my heart and mind were elsewhere.  All I can think about is how fulfilled my relationship was with Mamaw, how much I loved her and how much she loved me.  I spent the formative years of my life living with Mamaw, and my relationship was incredibly deep.  Many nights I spent down her house and she'd wake up early to take me and Jake home before going to work.  How I always opened her fridge and freezer just to see what she had available or if the ice box needed seeing to.  How I called her each week just to talk on the phone and see what was up.  How funny Avonlea looked playing with Mamaw's glasses, how Mamaw laughed. 

I think of the few unfinished things in my life that Mamaw missed: she won't get to see my new house, she won't get to meet the new baby when he comes around, and a few others.  But mostly I think about how full her life was, how much love was there between us.  All four of us grandkids loved her intensely, and her love was reciprocated.  She was without a doubt the best grandmother I could have hoped for, and I miss her very much.

On Tuesday, Christmas Day, December 25, we all gathered at Mamaw's house that night as planned.  We didn't get to eat her delicious cheese dip or sausage balls or barbecue, nor did anyone feel too much like eating, but we managed.  We sat around the tree and looked through photo albums, each of us quietly reflecting in our own way.  We passed out the gifts we had for one another.  My heart lurched at opening the ones from Mamaw.  Her absence was so noticed, and yet her presence was felt.  Love never ends, even if this life is temporary.

So I grieve and miss my Mamaw, but I think only happy thoughts on her memory.  I have the assurance that I will see her again, and until that day I'll go on living my life knowing that she has helped shape me into the person that I am today.

I love you, Mamaw.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Six Mini-Reviews

Between packing a house, driving extra distance to work, playing with a toddler, searching (and finding) a new home, dealing with a six-month-pregnant bride, and sundried other things, I’ve not had much time for reading, let alone writing reviews.  However, I have read a few things and am offering some short, concise reviews/impressions.


The Great Hunt, by Robert Jordan (Wheel of Time #2) – I read this book a year ago and mocked it the whole time.  It was trite and uninteresting and I abandoned the WoT series for naught.  On a whim while perusing the audio section at the library I decided to pick up the book and try again.  And wouldn’t you know that the thing captured me this time.  The two narrators did a great job and helped make my commute time much more enjoyable.  I actually found myself wondering about the world when I wasn’t in the vehicle.  Still clich├ęd and somewhat juvenile, but there is plenty within to enjoy.

The Dragon Reborn, by Robert Jordan (Wheel of Time #3) – After enjoying the audio of The Great Hunt, I happily picked up the third book in the massive WoT series.  The audio was still working for me, and the plot was still keeping me interested.  Rand, Mat, Perrin,  Egwene, and Nynaeve all are woven into the pattern for different purposes, and The Dragon Reborn continues exploring the world when an ancient darkness is threatening to spill out and blot the light.  I'll definitely be moving to the next book.

The Walking Dead Volumes 14 - 16, by Robert Kirkman – I’ve grown rather tired of this series.  The story has stalled and I feel like certain plots are being rehashed over and over again.  I’m ready for something more than what I’m getting.  Volume 16 takes the Reader up through Issue #96 of the series.  If Volume 17 does nothing absolutely brilliant and game changing, then I might just quit.

Batman: Arkham Asylum, by Grant Morrison – Dave McKean illustrated this.  My first exposure to him was through Gaiman’s Sandman series.  Because of that, I can’t help but feel like I’m reading a Vertigo imprint of the Bat as opposed to DC.  The dark themes also seem more Vertigo than DC.  Regardless, Arkham Asylum is like looking inside the mind of someone who’s gone crazy.   The panels, text, drawings, colors, and fonts all add to the illusion.  The story is jumbled and largely left up for interpretation.  Loosely, all the inmates of Arkham Asylum have escaped their cells and are holding the place captive, demanding Batman come in and join them.  I found the book readable, but mostly as a work of art as opposed to a coherent story.  This is apparently a landmark Batman title, but it’s just another Batman book to me.

Celebration of Discipline, by Richard Foster – I read Foster’s Celebration of Discipline as part of the weekly Coffee Talk group read.  Foster, a Quaker, writes with passion and eloquence.  His words are challenging, and his practical advice for living a life as Jesus’s disciple is very applicable.  This book is a great read for those wanting to grow in their faith through discipleship and following Christ.

The Cost of Discipleship, by Dietrich Bonhoeffer - This is another Coffee Talk book.  Written by the famous Bonhoeffer, a German Lutheran who stood up to Hitler during the height of the dictator's power, Bonhoeffer's words read almost as if they were written this year.  His examples and illustrations are perfectly applicable, and his insight was particularly beneficial to me.  The book is definitely not for the faint of heart, nor the feeble minded, as Bonhoeffer was a professor as a German seminary and writes like one.  While I theologically disagreed on some of his teachings (i.e., the sacrament chapters towards the end), I very much enjoyed the challenge of this book. 

The Complete Works of H.P. Lovecraft, by H.P. Lovecraft – This book is available for free from  Collecting all the works of Lovecraft in chronological order, I started this book during RIP.  I read the first nine stories and enjoyed two – “The Tomb” and “Beyond the Wall of Sleep.”  The problem is that Lovecraft uses the exact same structure for nearly every one of these stories.  A guy is retelling a story about some horror he witnessed and is now going crazy.  The POV needs to change occasionally, or the passive verbs need to capture my attention more or something.  I abandoned the book and may or may not try it again down the road.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

The Twelve, a (Spoiler-Free) Review

Justin Cronin’s The Passage (my review here) was a tour de force. (I just wanted to use that phrase.) It was incredibly fast-paced, horrific in all the right places, and had a cast of characters that I could really get behind. There was no doubt that I would be reading the follow-up, and when the library informed me that I could check it out, I happily obliged.

The Twelve picks up a few years after the events in The Passage. Well, after the majority of the events, in any case, since that book was told in three separate eras. The Twelve continues with the three eras, still choosing to focus primarily on the year 97 A.V. and the people there. There is a hefty chunk of exposition beforehand, just like The Passage spent several hundred pages building up Wolgast and the virus.

Peter, Amy, and Alicia are the major POVs for The Twelve, but Cronin gives us more insights when the occasion warrants it. The Twelve introduces several new characters to the mix, many of whom made this Reader’s skin crawl. Post-apocalyptic America is a tough place in which to live, and Cronin does not hold anything back.

I devoured The Twelve (I had to; I couldn’t renew it.) and am already waiting for the concluding volume to hit the shelves. There were parts of this book that seemed without purpose, but I trust that Cronin is simply focusing on the journey and not the End Game. This book was a bit more gruesome than The Passage, but nothing too shocking.

If you’ve read (and enjoyed) The Passage then you’ll read (and enjoy) The Twelve. If not, and you want to read a very entertaining and deeply thought-provoking speculative fiction novel, I definitely recommend picking up The Passage. Cronin is a heck of a story teller. He’s able to make the Reader actually care about the characters and their choices, even after the pages run out.