Favorite Fairy Tale Retellings

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Recently I picked up The Sun, the Moon, and the Stars by Steven Brust. It’s one that’s probably been hanging out on my bookshelf for at least five years, waiting for me to dive into its pages. At just 210 pages, I don’t know why I’ve never read it. To-be-read-shelf-shock, I suppose.

I’ve always liked fairy tales, from the Disney movies to Shelly Duvall’s Faerie Tale Theatre. (THE BEST!) In college, Mr. V and I took our only class together (since otherwise he ONLY took Math, Science, and Computer Science courses): Children’s Literature. It was taught by one of my favorite professors and is a highlight of college for me. Not only was Mr. V in there, but also three of our other good friends. We sat in a corner and were perhaps a little bit of trouble. Oh, and four of us were English majors who didn’t need the class at all.

We read Little Women, Harry Potter, Where the Wild Things Are, The Snowy Day, and other wonderful children’s classics. A study on pictures in books using this Molly Bang book is really memorable, too. But I think my favorite section of the course was when we studied fairy tales. We looked at the originals: Perrault, Grimm, Andersen, Madame D’Aulnoy. Some of these tales are truly horrific compared to the mild, Disney-fied versions we see today. It was simply fascinating.

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I love reading fairy tale adaptations, too, and maybe someday I’ll actually write that children’s book from the viewpoint of the pumpkin in Cinderella. Here are some of my very favorite ones. (The Sun, the Moon, and the Stars does not fall into this category. It was OK, but not awesome.)

tamlinTam Lin by Pamela Dean – Maybe around the same time as that Children’s Lit class, my roommate Erin gave me a copy of Tam Lin to read. Now I don’t know the fairy tale of Tam Lin at all – and maybe the ending of the book would make better sense if I did. But the story of Janet, a bona fide English major nerd in college in the 70s, is a wonderful read, especially for any fellow bibliophiles. She and her friends are so smart they probably couldn’t exist, but I am sure those people are somewhere, right? The ending, again, is weird. But I think it ties in with the actual fairy tale.

The Lunar Chronicles Series – Cinder, Scarlet, Cress, Fairest, and (to come) Winter – I think I only gave this series a try because it was based on fairy tales; I am not a sci-fi reader. But the combination of a fun future setting, the fairy-tale elements, romance, adventure, and some brainy heroines makes this series killer. I didn’t love Fairest, but the other ones are phenomenal and I can’t wait to read Winter in November.

briarroseBriar Rose by Jane Yolen – I love that Jane Yolen writes stuff like How Do Dinosaurs Say Goodnight? and also this, a retelling of Sleeping Beauty set in the Holocaust. It’s been quite a few years since I read it, but I remember really loving the tale.

Wicked by Gregory Maguire – What would this list be without Wicked? Unlike the musical, Maguire’s book is heavily laced with Oz-ian politics and animal/Animal rights. It is long, dense, and fascinating. I’ve also read Maguire’s Mirror Mirror and Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister. They were good, but not great in my memory.

monstroudbeauty - EditedI guess Monstrous Beauty by Elizabeth Fama is kind of a Little Mermaid retelling. I’ll admit I know nothing about The Little Mermaid except the Disney movie. It is an amazing book with mermaids and other fantasy elements and I adored it (and read it in one sitting).

This site seems to have a pretty extensive list of fairy tale retellings, although I don’t agree with all the mini-reviews. It does make me feel like I am not the only person who loves these adaptations.

Do you have a favorite fairy tale or retelling?

Hit Me with Your Best Coconut

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Back in college, my husband and our friends played hour upon hour of Mario Kart – first for Nintendo 64, then the GameCube once it came out during our junior or senior year. (Yeah, we’re getting old!) I played, too, but not nearly as much as most of my friends, mainly because I was (and am) really, really bad at it. When playing in a big group, the loser of the race had to give up his or her controller to someone else … and I was almost always the loser.

There was a race for the Nintendo 64 version called DK’s Jungle Parkway. In certain parts of the race, when you went off course, monkeys threw coconuts at you, spinning your car out and slowing you down. (This Mario wiki says they are actually “natives” throwing rocks at you … but I’m pretty sure they are coconut-launching monkeys.)

I was praying last night and honestly asking God to give us speedbumps if our family is driving the wrong course. If we aren’t going where He wants us to be, I want to KNOW. And sometimes that knowing can be really painful. But without it, we can be driving off into nowhere, His glory fading into the background as we gun the engine.

It’s silly that this made me think of Mario Kart. But still, sometimes I wish God would just hit me on the head with a coconut rather than let me wander along my own path. I wish the turtle guy would flash the TURN AROUND arrow sign in front of my eyes when I’m aimless.

I’d rather run slowly and deliberately, learning lessons along the way, than be off in the jungle, hanging out with the “natives,” far away from God.

Direct me in the path of your commands,
for there I find delight.
Turn my heart toward your statutes
and not toward selfish gain.
Turn my eyes away from worthless things;
preserve my life according to your word.

Psalm 119:35-37, NIV

The Many Definitions of ‘Writer.’

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I’m fairly certain it was the college application essay for the school I ended up going to (University of Richmond) where I wrote a portrait of a future self. I envisioned a life where I was driving a smart car to work, dressed to the nines, prepped for the fast-paced environment of a newspaper or magazine. I was the hero of many of the chicklit novels I would read in my 20s.

I knew that I wanted to be a mother, too, and have no recollection of how I thought those things would mesh back then, at 17, when it all seemed so far off. Perhaps I’d write novels from home when I had small children scurrying around my feet, or poetry with my toes in the sand on vacation in the Bahamas with a nanny.

I thought I might meet a man from New England, one of the types loaded with cash who made a habit of coming to Richmond, and fulfill a dream of living in Boston or New York City – despite the fact that I’d never visited that part of the country at all. In my heart, I just knew I was a big-city girl. A woman full of posh style under her New York and Company duds and childhood chub that wouldn’t seem to disappear.

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Entering college I intended to major in Journalism with a minor in International Studies, perhaps. I’d taken coursework in French and Chinese in high school; and while French no longer enthralled me, everything about the Chinese culture was fascinating to me.

I got a C+ in my intro journalism course and found, well, it really didn’t suit me at all. Nothing about newspapers excited me. It was an election year, the fall of 2000, the first time I could vote at all, and I could not muster up the least bit of enthusiasm about it.

In time, I found my place as an English major, the major many of my close friends had chosen, and it was late enough in my college career I had to play a little bit of catch-up. My semesters were loaded with English courses, and I loved it. I loved the reading, writing, thinking, highlighting. I loved Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Shakespeare and Julian of Norwich and Salman Rushdie. I loved South Asian lit, children’s lit, Renaissance lit, fantasy, science fiction, religious texts … and basically everything except American literature in the 1860s. (Emerson. Thoreau. Melville. Dickinson. Blech.)

But it puzzled me, what kind of career path this would lead me on. For a while I thought I would go to divinity school and pursue collegiate ministry. Married and in Nashville, I performed a brief stint as a daycare worker before landing a job at a publishing house – but in customer service. I settled in editing, but still longed to do the writing side. I wrote leader’s guides and clarified for speakers-turned-authors. I found solace as a blogger, honing the craft of writing 300 words at a time.

In the years since I “retired” from my full-time job, I’ve muddled around, once again reclarifying what being a writer is at this point in my life. I get paid more for it, but write less than I ever did as a high-school student penning Hanson fan fiction with my sister, a college English major, or even a lowly copy editor working on others’ manuscripts.

I miss sitting down and letting words flow just for the enjoyment of it, to see syllables come together and dance. To see plots twist, romances bloom, and colors become scenery.

A mother’s life can be so filled with tedium it’s hard to lift yourself out of the everyday and see the divine. And what else is a writer but an artist, someone who sees differently, who can capture in words what others might only see through a paintbrush or in dreams or a passing thought?

My diary ATC

I’ve been a writer since I could spell simple words, penning poems on an ancient IBM in the basement of our house in Bristol, Indiana. I’ve written in locked diaries in Richmond, Virginia; in four dorm rooms and many computer labs at the university. I’ve tried to conquer National Novel Writing Month, caught my breath to see my name in tiny print alongside Angela Thomas’s and Priscilla Shirer’s and Kelly Minter’s. I’ve written articles about nutrition, ministries, friends, recipes, health, blogs, vitamin D, and lawn maintenance while kids run laps around three living rooms. I’ve blogged through 7 years of life and love, infertility and childbirth, recipes and dining hall fare, four homes and a foreclosure.

I’ve found that writer is such a broad word, encompassing much, surrounding me despite my phase, stage, city. Oh so much larger than a 17-year-old girl in her parents’ kitchen could have imagined.

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photo sources: Shannon Hauser, jimmiehomeschoolmom

Inspired by and added to Mary’s link-up answering the question: When you graduated from high school, what did you think you’d be doing now?

Class of 2004, Seven Years Later

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We were the ones who went to the Cellar and passed around a pint of Ben & Jerry’s Chunky Monkey, sang karaoke, listened to the band of the guy with the spikey hair.

We spent countless hours in each other’s rooms but this weekend had a difficult time remembering the names of roommates and mens’ dorms.

We dated each other, loved one another, played so many games of Euchre and Apples to Apples I couldn’t ever begin to imagine the numbers. We had 24-hour movie marathons with French onion dip and Fritos, chai tea and out-of-town guests.

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We had next-door on-campus apartments, a scary couch of death, Hamburger Helper in the tiny old kitchen, two beach houses, and a body-shaped dent in the wall.

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Me and my sweetie at the reception.

In August, Mr. V and I attended a wedding in Boston for one of our best friends from college. We joined up with my best friend Michelle, her fiance – one of our college gang, and another dear friend (both men lived with Mr. V our senior year, and Michelle and I lived next door).

We hadn’t seen the groom in two-and-a-half years, we didn’t even know how he met his bride, but it didn’t matter. He is our Sam, was one of the groomsmen in our wedding, and we needed to be there.

It’s been over seven years since we graduated from college; we’ve lived in two cities and are moving in our fourth home since that time. Seven years of marriage, death of Michelle’s mom, break-ups and get-togethers, several countries and even more states under our respective belts.

Post-college friendships are different. You don’t spend as much time together. You aren’t all removed from family and all former friends. You don’t spend time laying on green astroturf fields, staring at the stars, doing cartwheels, and sharing dreams. You don’t sing numerous duets with your best friend to Broadway songs (and always make her be the guy).

These people are etched so deeply in my heart I can’t unravel them from the rest of my heart’s joys and wants and passions. In an uncharacteristic sappy moment, I hugged the neck of my sweet Michelle, who is moving thousands of miles away, and told her, “My life is better because I met you.”

Maybe we do still sing Broadway songs together. Just not in the same way.

best girlfriends

Do you have songs, places, foods that define your college experience? I’d love to hear your reminiscing.
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Why I Studied Chinese

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Beijing Tiananmen Square

 

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You should see the look on people’s faces when I tell them I took seven years of Chinese, studied abroad in China, and was a Chinese minor. Obviously that’s not what you expect to hear from someone who spends most of her time changing two kids’ dirty diapers and wiping spit-up off her shirt.

It’s not something I bring up a lot, because I am afraid someone might force me to try to speak Chinese. After seven years of not using the language, I’m afraid my level is right up there with Ni Hao Kai Lan – if not lower. Mostly I only divulge my studies if I am talking about travel with someone. It makes me feel pretty cool (something I am not) to say, “Oh, well, I’ve been to China, Thailand, Brazil, and Taiwan.”

(Strangely, I’ve never been to New England, although that will be remedied this summer! I’ve also never been farther West in the US than Montana, unless you count airports.)

So why did I take Chinese? It was simple: I was scared of confusion.

I went to a magnet school for government and international studies for high school, and we had to have a total of six years of language studies for graduation—at least four years of one language and at least two years of another. I started French in eighth grade, and that was my four-year language. I was worried if I picked another Latin-based language I would confuse the two.

That left me Russian, Japanese, Chinese, and sign language as choices. I probably would have picked Japanese, except the teacher was also the woman who taught Chinese and was from China herself. Supposedly her Japanese class consisted mostly of, “Now the Chinese created this and then the Japanese stole it!”

Although my Chinese teacher in high-school was a little bit of a nut job, she introduced the Chinese culture to me in a way I found fascinating. We visited Chinese grocery stores, sang children’s songs, made sushi, and learned characters with flourish. The lei I wore around my neck on graduation day was LaoShi’s contribution to making sure the whole school knew Chinese students were different and special.

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Three years of high-school Chinese allowed me to skip … the first semester of college Chinese I. Yes, ONE semester. But in the next three-and-a-half years, I grew to love the crazy people in my class. I went to China for six weeks to study the language (and shop … and learn how to berate taxi drivers in Chinese).

No, I haven’t used it since I graduated. But I still feel like God put a love for all things China in my heart for a reason. Like many things in life, I will just wait and see how it works itself out.

So for now: zaijian, pengyoumen.

Tiananmen Square entrance to the Forbidden City.

 

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[Other possible answers to why I studied Chinese include: Lottie Moon, I really like Chinese take-out food, and I wanted to marry an Asian guy and have cute Asian babies.]
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Want to join in the “Why I” fun? Add your link here. The only rules are that your post title must start with “Why I” and you must link back to Vanderbilt Wife by link or by the button.

 

Why I...

 

Five Minutes: Graduation

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I told a friend last night that the day I graduated high school was one of the happiest days of my life. And thinking over it again, I wasn’t kidding.

I know nearly everyone is awkward at one point in time, but I feel like I was socially inadept to the point where it was painful. I had friends, although going to a magnet school many of them lived an hour or even more away from me. My dearest refrigerator friend, Jen, is the only one I’ve really hung onto since high school. My other friends were all from church. They all went to local high schools. Even there, I stuck out like a sore thumb.

I never knew the right way to do things. I am, and always was, a bit of an old soul. I got along better with adults than with my peers.

I remember being in the room under the Landmark Theater, where my high-school graduation was held. I hugged nearly everyone in my class of 120 graduates. And I breathed a sigh of relief that many of them I would only have to see sparingly in the future.

In college, I found my confidence. I found friends who adored me and that boosted me up. I found my voice through poetry and English essays.

I’ve always thought maybe there are high-school people and college people. Those who hit their stride in high school may not remember their college experience as fondly. And for those of us who can’t think of high school without shuddering a little, college was blissful.

What do you think?

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Rather than go back and clarify everything I’d like to, I will leave it at that. This is part of The Gypsy Mama’s What Can You Write in 5 Minutes? experiment. Let me know if you join in!