Friday, December 29, 2006

O Holy Night (revisited)

When I posted the lyrics to the first stanza of O Holy Night the other evening, I quickly checked an online source and listed the author of the stanza as Adolphe Adams. In fact, that was not correct.

According to (a great site, and one far more thorough than whatever I checked originally) Adams actually composed the music to the carol. He was a French born Jewish composer best known for his ballet Giselle in 1841.

The words were penned by another Frenchman, Placide Cappeau (1808-1877) and then translated into English by John Sullivan Dwight (1813-1893), an American whose strong anti-slavery perspective shines forth in the later stanza: "Truly He taught us to love one another/His law is love and His gospel is peace/Chains shall He break, for the slave is our brother,/And in His name all oppression shall cease."

Happily it sounds as though Cappeau was also against slavery; it would be interesting to compare the translation to the original and see if Dwight's rendering is fairly literal or if his own feelings were just more passionately expressed. I wonder if either or both was influenced at all by the evangelical fervor of the Clapham Sect in England that worked so hard to abolish slavery in Great Britain. The Slavery Abolition Act passed in Britain in 1833 (after William Wilberforce's tireless and repeated efforts to get it passed) a good thirty years before the Emancipation Proclamation here in the U.S.

Cappeau, who wrote the song originally, was a wine merchant. The story goes that his parish priest asked him to write a Christmas poem, and this is what he came up with. Would that more priests would challenge their parishoners with such a creative task!

There's another story that "O Holy Night" was sung during a truce in the Franco-Prussian War, much as "Silent Night" was sung during the impromptu Christmas truce in the trenches called by the soliders in WWI. I knew the latter story (and it almost always moves me to tears) but not the first.

Thursday, December 28, 2006

Of Presents and Paperclips...

It's sometimes a good thing that our four year old has what I call a "narrow focus." When she's thinking about or concentrating on something, she is really and completely "all there" -- her attention fully focused on whatever it is she's trying to do.

Take yesterday, for example. Her Daddy was calling for her, trying to figure out where she was, and she called back from the study. Now I use the term "study" loosely. We've not really had a study since we moved a desk and hundreds of books out of the room that used to be the study and is now the sweet girl's bedroom. Almost five years ago we crammed them all into a little cave made of bookcases that takes up half our bedroom and is one of the most cluttered unusable spaces you've ever seen. (Someday, yes, we will manage to make it functional...but let's save those thoughts for another day.)

Anyway, the sweet girl doesn't often trek into the study area. It's not officially and utterly off-limits, but it's so crowded with rather boring looking "grown-up junk" that it doesn't usually entice her in. Which is why we've put most of her unwrapped Christmas presents there.

Yes, it's true...we've not yet wrapped or opened presents. We took a couple with us to Virginia, where the sweet girl also received some lovely things from Grandma and her cousins, but we save our official family "Christmas morning" until we're home from travels. We always have that time sometime within the 12 days between Christmas Day and Epiphany. Although this tradition has taken some getting used to, we do enjoy it. (And we can also wait until after Christmas to do most of our shopping for one another, which is so relaxing -- the stores are so much emptier and the prices are almost always discounted!)

But back to yesterday. When D. realized that S. was in the study, he hurried in there, realizing of course that there are a handful of bags and boxes (most of them loosely closed at best) containing her yet-to-be-wrapped presents. I think he rightly expected that she would be getting into them, or at least looking at them and wanting to get into them.

Instead she was busy with the case of paperclips, completely focused on getting some out. "I just need a couple of these," she told her Daddy, who gave her some paperclips of course, and then casually guided our one-track girl out of the room, still totally oblivious to the gifts that surrounded her!

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Bishop Duncan Reflecting on Christmas Carols

After my tired ramblings about Christmas carols and how much I am loving the passing on of them to my daughter, I was blessed to find these reflections from my Bishop, Robert Duncan, in his Christmas sermon (posted on the diocese of Pittsburgh's website):

The hymns and carols of Christmas are one of the greatest treasures of Christian theology – simply stated – anywhere to be found. Over and over they capture the whole truth about Jesus and about us, about the stunning redemption God has worked through His one and only Son, and about the present and the future that God has opened to all of us willing to accept this unmerited gift.

In the culture in which I was raised I was blessed in a manner that few children are today. Over and over again I heard the carols, even the obscure ones, with all their verses and stanzas, and I came to know many of them by heart. They are my rudimentary theological foundation. When I went off to college and to life they went with me as much a part of me as my physical frame or emotional make-up, a spiritual grounding that has proved unshakeable through all the trials and challenges of human life in this world. A pastoral question that haunts me is this: How might we re-immerse ourselves and our children and our society in these carols? But that matter is for another sermon. Today – tonight – I would have us just focus on the “good news of great joy” of which the angel to the shepherds speaks. (Luke 2:10)

The rest of this brief sermon is also wonderful: he meditates on merriment and joy, the true joy of this season and the joy that only the Lord can bring to our hearts, even in the midst of real suffering. If you'd like to read it in its entirety, it can be found here: "God Rest You Merry". This is a sermon that really resonates with my own heart this season!

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

The Second Day of Christmas

The sweet girl is enchanted that there are actually 12 days of Christmas. Me too.

Last night as she was finally getting into her little cot bed at Grandma's -- very late, after a long day with Grandma, Aunts, Uncle, and numerous cousins -- her Daddy gave her a kiss and said "sleep well...Merry Christmas." He slipped out of the room, leaving me to sit by her bed and sing a few Christmas carols, as has been our recent tradition.

Before I could begin singing though, she announced: "I want Daddy to say Merry Christmas again in the morning when he wakes me up, and I'll say it back." "Okay," I agreed. "I'll make sure to tell him to say it." And then she added enthusiastically, "And I want him to say it to me every morning for all twelve days!"

We're home again, a bit road-weary after such a whirlwind trip but grateful to have spent some time with the extended family. Every year I'm grateful we do it, even though I know it's exhausting, especially years like this one when we barely had any time off from work and have to go immediately back into the rush and busyness of our offices and schedules tomorrow. I hope I can still find time to rejoice and reflect over the next ten days of Christmas. That's my plan!

Some of my most joyous and meditative times this Advent and Christmas have been those nightly carol singing sessions with my little girl. It's only been in the past several months that she's begun to try to sing. I think because she began to talk so late, singing just didn't occur to her for a long time, though she has always loved and responded to music.

I've always sung carols to her at this time of year -- and admittedly sometimes at other times of the year too. When she was a baby, I must have sung "Silent Night" as as a lullaby in the evening for a few months in a row. It's one of the most lovely and quieting songs I know, and she has always "rested" in it, as a little bird might snuggle down under a mother's wing in a round, warm nest.

But it's been a particular joy this month to hear her begin to sing along with me. She tends to warble and not always quite catch the tune (though sometimes she does!) but she has a wonderful sense of rhythm and meter, knowing when to hold a note and when to keep it short. Her joyous staccato sounds on "heaven and nature sing" are terrific but my heart has really melted when I hear her soft, tiny voice winding its way determindedly through lines like "God and sinners rec-on-ciled." I've been amazed at how many of the carol lyrics she knows, if not word for word, then very close. Clearly she's been paying attention to the words all these years, even if she's just now beginning to sing them. I know she doesn't fully understand what they all mean yet, but how grateful I am that they're there in her heart and mind, like the Bible verses she has begun to learn.

The words of verses, hymns and carols were given to me when I was very little, and I am still so grateful that they are there for me to call upon in times of joy and sorrow.

And there have been sorrowful times of late too. On this second day of Christmas, I got word about a dear friend in New England whose ninety-two year old father passed away this morning, almost nine years to the day since the death of her thirteen year old son (who was named for her father).

And while we were in Virginia, we saw television news for the first time in months. It made me grateful for no t.v. as a general rule; it was a strange time of year to suddenly find oneself bombarded by news reports (whose frenzied and dramatized tenor is so different than reading the news in the paper or online...and admittedly I've been so busy lately I've not done much of that). So much of the news was hard and painful. One story in particular, about the mother of two teenaged autistic sons, had me in tears. (One of the boys had accidentally set a fire and the other died.) Seeing the raw grief of that mother and seeing the news of other hard things -- killings and accidents and fires -- made me want to fall on my knees in recognition of our world's continuing deep need for a Savior, and in gratitude that Jesus came and continues to come in this world.

It rained most of the trip back, as well as the trip down. Early this evening, the Christmas lights through the fog and rain, especially as we came over the mountains, were stark and beautiful and almost somber. I'm glad I'm home...glad to journal here...glad to rest.

Sunday, December 24, 2006

O Holy Night!

Oh holy night! The stars are brightly shining,
It is the night of the dear Savior's birth.
Long lay the world in sin and error pining,
Till He appear'd and the soul felt its worth.
A thrill of hope the weary world rejoices,
For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn.
Fall on your knees! Oh, hear the angel voices!
Oh night divine, Oh night when Christ was born;
Oh night, Oh night divine, Oh night Divine.

(Adolphe Adam, 1847)

A blessed Christmastide to all.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

HP 7: Wait, I Don't Have to Call it That Anymore!

Yes, it's true! The long-awaited title of Harry Potter 7 has been released. Hat tip to faithful-blog-reader Erin for letting me know the big news. I scurried over to some HP sites to check out the official word.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

What does it mean? And will the acronym used in discussion boards simply be DH? (which will always make me think of "designated hitter...")

I'd about given up thinking we might get a book title this Christmas. I remembered that JKR gave that as a "present" with Half-Blood Prince a couple of years ago, but the last we'd heard, she was still debating between three potential titles on this one. Plus I thought the tid-bit about her writing process (on her blog the other evening) might turn out to be the only nugget she tossed to fans this season. Glad I was wrong!

I find the use of "hallows" as a noun quite interesting. The most usual uses that come to my mind are "hallowed" or "hallows'" (posessive). My first thought was the "saints who have gone before" who showed up at the end of GOF in the graveyard scene to help Harry. But I could be way off.

And why are they deathly? And are we supposed to make a connection with the word "Hollow" -- as in Godric's hollow?

Maybe it's a place! The Deathly Hallows! Like a dude ranch for ghosts....

Um. Okay. Now I'm getting silly. I'm curious though. Mighty curious.

Does it worry me that deathly is in the title? A wee bit, yes.

Questions, questions....

Edited to add: this may be a weird coincidence, but when I went looking online for etymology (and other information) on the word "hallows" (as I'm sure many people are tonight) I found a reference to Tolkien. Apparently there is a place called the "Hallows" in Minas Tirith, a burial place. I need to go straight to Tolkien to confirm this (and who know when I'll have time) but it's interesting, isn't it?

All earlier joking aside, perhaps Hallows are not primarily referring to people here, but to a place. Specifically a graveyard or a burial ground. "The Deathly Hallows." Makes sense, doesn't it? And "Hallows" gives it a sense of being a holy place.

We've seen the death and resurrection motif in Harry Potter so many times. It's part of the enduring power of the books. Methinks we shall be seeing it again (and that bodes well).

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

HP 7 Update: JKR hard at work

Hooray! An update from author JK Rowling at her official website yesterday assures all HP fans that she's hard at work on book 7. I think most of us had a feeling that was the case...

The long lack of updates has been due to some very hard work. I'm now writing scenes that have been planned, in some cases, for a dozen years or even more. I don't think anyone who has not been in a similar situation can possibly know how this feels: I am alternately elated and overwrought. I both want, and don't want, to finish this book (don't worry, I will.)

She then goes on to relate a funny, somewhat bizarre dream she had -- the first (she claims) that she's ever had in "Harry's world." In the dream she was both Harry and the narrator, and was hunting for a horcrux. Very interesting....

Luci Shaw on the Annunciation

Luci Shaw has visited and re-visited the annunciation and the incarnation in her poems over the years.

I love these final lines from her poem "The Announcement."

The teen head tilted in light, the hand
trembling a little at the throat, the candid
eyes, wide with acquiescence to shame and glory –
“Be it unto me as you have said.”

Trying to still myself in the wonder of this moment. Christmas is almost here.

Monday, December 18, 2006

A Radical Idea

I'm considering a radical idea for next Christmas -- sending old-fashioned Christmas cards via the post office.

A few years ago, we still did that, even though we usually included a family letter as well. Gradually we stopped sending the card and just sent the letter, and in the past couple of years, we've usually sent the letter via e-mail only (except for the few people on our list who don't have email).

Part of my original reason for switching to email letter only was time. It took so much time, I reasoned, to hand address cards. E-mail is much faster and more efficient.

But tonight, as I struggled to format photos in our annual letter, only to discover (non-tech me) that I've somehow not compressed them enough and the letter's too big to be sent easily, it occurred to me that I'm probably spending just as much time creating and formatting and sending a letter by email as I ever did hand-addressing envelopes. And it's a whole lot less personal feeling.

There's something magical about Christmas cards. The bright colors, the shiny pictures, the beautiful green or red or creamy or even gold-foil lined envelopes. I used to use green or red pens to address them. And when you address a card to someone, you can add a note that's just for them -- and you can pray for the person/ family while you address the card as well. And then there's the beautiful Christmas stamp.

I miss Christmas cards, sending them as well as receiving them. Like us, many people have dropped the card-sending habit entirely. We used to receive lots -- I still have the cards we've received during each year of our marriage (though I've been going through some of the oldest ones and pulling out some to use for craft/ornament projects with the sweet reason I kept them all those years ago, for just such a time as this!). I remember how my parents used to tape the Christmas cards we got on the stair railings. I've had years when I put them up on the wall. But now, each year, we seem to receive fewer and fewer of them. We still get a number of Christmas letters, often by email, and we've even gotten some Christmas e-cards. But we've only gotten a very few in the mail.

I miss the expectancy of opening the mailbox during advent and looking eagerly for green and red envelopes. I miss the slow care it takes to write someone's address and to think about them while I write it. I miss Christmas cards.

Remind me of this next year...around the first of November!

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Happy Birthday, dear Jane!

Yes, it's Jane Austen's birthday, though I've blogged so much about her recently that I wasn't quite sure what I should post in honor of the day. I decided on this wonderful quote, which made me realize how much I need to re-read Mansfield Park.

If any one faculty of our nature may be called more wonderful than the rest, I do think it is memory. There seems something more speakingly incomprehensible in the powers, the failures, the inequalities of memory, than in any other of our intelligences. The memory is sometimes so retentive, so serviceable, so obedient; at others, so bewildered and so weak; and at others again, so tyrannic, so beyond control! We are, to be sure, a miracle every way; but our powers of recollecting and of forgetting do seem peculiarly past finding out.

Jane Austen was born in 1775, the seventh child and second daughter of George Austen and Cassandra Leigh Austen.

In honor of the day, I've begun reading Josephine Ross' Jane Austen: A Companion.

'Tis the season to read Austen! Happy Birthday, dear Jane!

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Chesterton on Austen

Love this.

"Jane Austen was born before those bonds which (we are told) protected women from the truth were burst by the Brontes or elaborately untied by George Eliot...Jane Austen may have been protected from truth; but it was precious little of truth that was protected from her."
~G.K. Chesterton

This is quoted in the book of essays I've been reading on Austen, but I've yet to find exactly where Chesterton says it. Will keep looking. Wonderful quote!

Poetic Challenges

This year's advent poem is coming very slowly and painfully. Maybe it seems strange to use a word like "painful" when describing poetic/creative process, but this year at least it seems apt.

I'm not sure I would term this "writer's block" exactly...a phrase I've never quite thought captures the dryest moments in the wilderness of writing. But certainly I am struggling to write my annual offering in ways I can't quite recall before. When I'm honest about it, I realize that it's probably a culmination of several things (plus more I haven't been able to name).

It's been a prosaic kind of year. I don't mean that badly, it's just a fact. We've had to work a lot of hours this year to keep food on the table and bill-collecting-wolves at the door. I seem to spend most of my days succumbing to the tyranny of the urgent -- and that *is* a problem. There's always laundry to fold and sort, a dishwasher to unload, books to read, papers to grade, junk mail to sort, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches to make, ballet class to get to, a little girl to bathe, e-mails to answer, meetings to attend, etc, etc. I know...that's just life! And we all do this kind of thing all the time! I'm not complaining as much as I am realizing and commenting that this year, more than any other I can remember, has just felt *crammed* with details and daily-ness. Perhaps because this has really been the first time since my little one was born that I've combined so many work-outside-and-inside the home hours with parenting. I don't know. All I know is that I'm tired, a lot, and that I'm not sure how to better order my days and my living space in order to find more time to be. To listen. Among other things, to sit (without panic) in front of a blank page.

Because when it comes down to it, writing is not just about writing. Poems and stories especially start by incubating in a deep place inside, a place of quiet and stillness and openness. If I'm too cluttered to be still, too revved inside with loud lists of detailed things to do, then when I finally manage to scrape together fifteen minutes to sit down with pen and paper, why am I surprised when nothing comes quickly? Without time to formatively, read thoughtfully, read for the love of words and reading...without more time in prayer, open to God and open to what he has to say and to teach me...well, if I don't actively cultivate that kind of quiet, listening stance, then my own responsive voice in the conversation is not going to be a very deep voice.

Maybe it doesn't work this way for everybody. I suspect it doesn't -- creative process, writing process, seems like one those mysterious gifts that are given to each person a little bit differently. I'm just pretty sure that it's how it works for me. If I'm going to be able to tap into a well of images, words, sounds, love, life -- then I need to make sure that I am plugged into the source of all those things. If I'm going to be able to write (and not at all incidentally: pray, love and live) with more fullness, then I need to make the time to sit still, to listen and contemplate. To not be afraid of stillness. To keep my ears tuned for what I've usually called the "gift lines" -- those words that just fall on you like a sudden rainshower, unexpected and completely outside the realm of your own power, or like feathers or milkweed seeds, drift down past your cheek with the lightest of brushes. Sometimes I almost feel like I heard the gift words whispered. Sometimes when they're given I have no clue what to do with them yet -- how to connect them to the next line, whether they're to be the first words of a poem, or the last, or somewhere in the middle. But when the gift words come, I know I am in the right place, a place of openness to receive.

I do have a rough poem more or less complete. I'm letting it sit, and trying to decide if it's really two poems or one poem that switches tone and style somewhat abruptly toward the end. I'm trying to not get hung up on notions of goodness: as in, "this is not a good poem." I'd rather write a true, honest poem (awkward and clunky though it may be because of my lack of poetic practice and rhythm right now) than a poem devoid of any of the struggle I'm feeling.

It's not just the advent poem. I've been attempting some other poems during this time as well, and none is coming easily, which I'll confess has caused a few tears. I feel a little bit like a singer who's got laryngitis, or a painter with a broken arm. This frustrating feeling that the words won't come reminds me forcefully of how I felt during all those hours of pushing in labor when the sweet girl was born. The exhaustion, the feeling of failure, the difficulty I had staying focused when that phase before birth turned unexpectedly long. The blessed relief of surrender and joy when at last, after so many hours, she was delivered (even though the delivery came in a way I'd never wanted or expected, via c-section).

For now, I'm feeling grateful that at least I've made some time to reflect on the whole process, and to realize the kind of contemplative attitude I'd love to nourish in myself in the coming year.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Austen Names

I've had Jane Austen on the brain (per usual as we move into winter) so naturally that's the first thing I thought of when I recently saw the name "Emma" at the very top of the listing of the 2006 "most popular baby names."

I confess I usually check these lists out when I become aware of them. Sometimes it's because there's still a little part of me (broke, tired and with that biological clock ticking) dreaming about what we would name a second child, should we ever be so blessed. Other times I mostly look the list over out of curiosity, and to get a feel for potential character names. The lists need to be taken with a grain of salt, of course. I'm pretty sure the list I saw was only for the U.S.

Still, with "Emma" coming in at #1 in girls' names, I couldn't help but cast an eye out for other Austen character names, good Janeite that I am. Here's what I found:

Emma #1

Anna #32 (I figure Anna is close enough to Anne, as in Anne Elliot of Persuasion, to count)

Elizabeth #33 (spelled the way Elizabeth Bennet spells it, not the way I spell it)

Katherine #44 (which I'm fairly certain must be the full name of Kitty Bennet -- is that confirmed in the text anywhere? Kitty's not a very common nickname anymore!)

Caroline #68 (the snarky Miss Bingley!)

Charlotte #75 (I found that very has a very old-fashioned feel to it. I've always liked Charlotte Lucas from P&P)

Lucy #83 (as in Lucy Steele in S&S, another snarky gal)

What's more interesting, perhaps, than what's on the list is what's left off: no Jane, Mary, Lydia, Elinor, Marianne, or Harriet. And (hmmm...) no Fanny. Perhaps not too surprising, that one.

The boys' side of the column wasn't quite as interesting. A lot of mens' names seem to stay in fashion for a long time (John's at #42, Robert #71, Henry #86 -- although no Edward or George, I noticed). No Fitzwilliam, of course, but yes indeed, Colin came in at #58!

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Sheep or Angel....Decisions, Decisions

Well, we've survived two ballet performances and one preschool holiday program. The latter was last night and was great fun. Especially fun seeing sweet girl, front and center on the stage, looking oh so confident in her creamy skirt, red tights and red sweater, sparkly Christmas barrette, and oh yes, reindeer antlers! They sang several songs but we especially liked the "reindeer pokey." ("You put your antlers in, you take your antlers out...") We didn't get pictures but we did get some great video.

Next up, the church Christmas pageant. It almost didn't come together at all this year -- I think the season snuk up on the church school volunteers just like it did everyone else -- but in the end, there will be some brief tableaux with narrations from the Scriptures. D. has been helping the kids pull this together, so has been able to report on rehearsals.

The big decision for the sweet girl came when she was asked whether she wanted to be an angel or a sheep. Can you guess what she chose?

Baaaa baaa baaa....

I wasn't at all surprised. She loves angels, especially the beautiful ones in the creche, but when it comes to playing pretend or dress-up, she'd always rather pretend to be an animal than, say, a princess. Wings are exciting, but fluffy sheep ears even moreso.

Then again, she might have been a tad bit influenced by our recent reading of the chapter "Ramona and the Three Wisepersons" from Beverly Cleary's wonderful book Ramona and Her Father. I hadn't planned to do any Christmas readings from Cleary -- in fact, hadn't thought of this scene in a while (though I love it). But at a library sale a few weeks ago I picked up an amazing $2 find called "The Family Read-Aloud Christmas Treasury," a great collection of poems, stories, folktales and chapters from longer works. Ramona makes a terrific sheep, and I'm sure my little girl will too -- even if we don't put mascara on her nose!

Monday, December 11, 2006

A Post About Books...What a Novel Concept!

I've been so busy during the past couple of weeks that I've hardly had time to take a deep breath and write...anywhere, including here. It's finals for my class, which means papers to grade. It's advent, which means more time in prayer and more time with family. It's moving toward Christmas, which means extra work in my morning job at church.

To cap everything off, the website I write book and movie reviews for ( has decided that in lieu of a end-of-year bonus this year, they are having a huge holiday write-off sweepstakes. Anything I review that is a first review (has not been reviewed by anyone else on the site) can be registered in the sweepstakes and has a chance to be drawn. I was really hoping for a bonus this year (could use it!) so I'm a bit disappointed that it's a write-off instead. December is a generally so full of other more important things (see paragraph above) that review-writing takes a deserved back seat. Still, we need the income and I have won something in two sweepstakes with epinions before, so it seems silly not to give this a go, especially by writing several children's book reviews which don't take a huge amount of time to be done well. The prizes are generous. Winning any of them would be a real encouragement. So a few late nights of reading and writing reviews have been (and will continue to be) in order. Though I think I may have to give myself some down time in January on that front.

Despite the fact that I began this blog almost a year ago with the express intent of writing about books I was reading, I realized the other day that it's been a while since I've done a "bookish" post. This rambling catch-up post isn't going to be much of one, but I thought I would at least provide a brief list of "current" and "recent" reads, since I haven't for a while. I've been scrolling back through my archives here in the interest of compiling a list of what I've read/commented on all through 2006 (and if I get a chance, I plan to post my personal "best of..." or favorites list before year's end). One thing that's jumped out at me is that I was much better at keeping track of books I was reading in the first few months of the year. Then this lapsed into a more general journal and place of reflection. I don't think there's anything wrong with fact, I've really enjoyed using the space for reflections on a variety of topics, including motherhood. But I'd like to try to be more intentional about reflecting on books here, especially as we round the corner toward 2007.

Currently reading....

Orthodoxy by G.K. Chesterton
Flirting With Pride and Prejudice Essays edited by Jennifer Crusie

Recently finished reading...
Engaging God's World by Cornelius Plantinga
Suspense and Sensibility: A Mr. and Mrs. Darcy Mystery by Carrie Bebris
I Shouldn't Even Be Doing This, a memoir by Bob Newhart (that one was my husband's fault...he was reading it and it kept on just sitting there in the bathroom!) :-)
Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons by Siegfried Engelmann
The Films of Kenneth Branagh by Simon Crowl

And on the children's book front:
Little House in the Highlands by Melissa Wiley
Cassie Loves Beethoven by Alan Arkin (yes, the actor)
Countless Christmas pictures books
Ditto lots of picture and encyclopedic books about penguins (the sweet girl's current obsession)

I'm sure I'm forgetting something, but it's the best I can come up with for now. Running on tired fumes this evening!

Friday, December 08, 2006

Beautiful Tears

For a long time, we've been trying to help our little girl understand the difference between what we simply call "sad tears" and "happy tears." She's got a very sensitive heart, and it always distresses her when she sees someone crying. She usually assumes (understandably) that it means they're sad. So we've tried to explain the concept of being happy enough to cry for joy. She's tried to comprehend it, but you can tell that one's still a learning curve for her, which is just fine. :-)

The other evening I unintentionally nuanced the whole discussion even further. D. had to work late so it was just me and the sweet girl at advent devotions. We were praying together at the end, and as I prayed and thanked God for the gift of Jesus, I found myself getting really choked up. When I finished, the sweet girl looked at me with a little alarm and asked, "Mommy, why did you sound like that?" I explained that sometimes when I think about how good God is and how Jesus came as a tiny baby to show us how much he loved us, that it's just so beautiful that I end up crying some happy tears. "Sometimes beautiful things can move us and make us have tears," I think was how I said it.

Last night I realized how much those words had sunk in when we got to prayer time again. We were just about to start when I looked over and saw how my daughter had arranged the creche while we were singing and reading. She's been allowed to get out two new figures each night, so the little stable is getting quite crowded. Last night she finally had to move some of the figures outside rather than crowding them all in. But she made sure that baby Jesus in the manger was in the corner, and the rest of the figures, every single one, was turned toward him. She pointed this out to me so I wouldn't miss it. "Look Mommy, I turned them all this way so they can all see Jesus."

Guess what? More tears sprang to my eyes. I couldn't help it. I looked at that crowd of little creche figures, all bunched up together and all turned toward the baby and my heart just felt so touched and warmed. I didn't sniffle or anything, but I think the sweet girl could hear the catch in my voice when I responded. She cast me a suspicious look and then glanced more closely at my eyes and saw the tears. "Mommy, why do you look beautiful?" she asked suddenly. "Because of Jesus?"

Thursday, December 07, 2006

The Snow is Snowing All Around

The snow is snowing all around,
It's in the air, it's on the ground.
The snow is snowing everywhere!
It's on the ground, it's in the air.

See those flakes flutter and fly,
See them falling from the sky.
They look like angels bright,
dancing in the morning light.
Or like frosty fireflies,
here to brighten winter skies.

I wrote this little snow song during the sweet girl's very first winter, and we've sung it every snow since. It will always have a special place in my heart because I remember writing it as I held her, just a tiny baby, cradled against me, while I looked out the window at a gently falling snow.

I'm so glad she still likes this song! At one point it did have other verses (and I'm sure I could dig them up somewhere, as I did put it all down on paper) but it's this first verse that's really stuck. Now here we are singing it at the almost-beginning of her fifth winter. The time is flying about as fast as the snowflakes outside...

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

"No Crib for a Bed..."

For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich. 2 Corinthians 8:9

"Mommy, why didn't Jesus have a crib?" asked my daughter just the other day.

She asked it from the confines of her own warm and comfy bed, where she was resting on two pillows and covered with several blankets, most of them made with love by family and friends.

We'd been singing Christmas carols, and she'd clued into the line from "Away in a Manger" -- "No crib for a bed/The little Lord Jesus/lay down his sweet head..."

"Well," I said slowly. "Mary and Joseph, Jesus' Mommy and Daddy, were very poor. And remember they were travelling and couldn't find any room in the inn the night Jesus was born. So Jesus was born in a stable, and there aren't any cribs in a stable. That's why they used a manger for his bed. A manger is like a wooden box for animal food. Mary and Joseph filled it with hay and used that for Jesus' bed."

"But why were they poor?" she persisted.

A good question. From any perspective, not just the perspective of a four year old who has been learning, her whole young life, that Jesus is God's Son, the King of the world, the "King of everything!" (as she likes to say).

I can't recall exactly how I answered the question right now. But I've been reflecting on it since, and it seems to me the best answer comes in 2 Corinthians. Jesus willingly gave up glory to come live here, and to live as a poor man who would grow up to still have no place to lay his head.

Jesus chose to come in the time and place and way he did. God the Father could have sent him to a different kind of family. But he gave him to Mary and Joseph, a young lady and her espoused husband, a carpenter, from a small, rural village. A young exhausted couple that couldn't find a bed for him the night he was born, so managed with what they had.

He was rich, but for our sakes he became poor. For our sakes.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Those Days Before Christmas...

One of my favorite books to read during the Advent season is Madeleine L'Engle's The Twenty-Four Days Before Christmas. I can't remember the first time I read it, but I think I must have been in college. For many years, I had a tradition of reading it sometime before Christmas, often on Christmas Eve (when the climax of the story takes place).

I used to tell myself that when I "grew up" :-) and had a family of my own, I would attempt my own version of the Austin family Advent tradition of doing "one special thing for each day of December." Of course, little did I know how much creativity and energy such a commitment takes!

This year I'm actually trying it, but quietly. In other words, I'm not announcing to my hubby (though I may mention it soon...he loves the book too) or to my four year old that we're trying to do something special and different each day. The sweet girl tends to have something of an obsessive nature at this point, partly her age and partly her temperament, and I don't want her hung up on the concept. But without fanfare, I'm trying to make sure that we do at least something small each day that marks the movement of our hearts toward the celebration of Christmas. It's actually been a help to me, since I've been having a hard time finding time to slow down and reflect this year.

On the 1st, we put up our Christmas stockings. I didn't plan to do that so early, but the sweet girl saw them in one of the boxes I'd taken down from the closet and she got so excited!

On the 2nd, we made our usual Saturday trek to the library, but we checked out Christmas books. One of them is an annual tradition for us: Nikki Grimes' beautiful poetry collection Under the Christmas Tree. We also went to the mall, not really to Christmas shop, but because the sweet girl and I both needed socks! She was more excited about "sock-shopping" than you can imagine. I hope she will always stay so enthused and grateful for necessities! (And yes, we went to the candy store and bought some things for her Daddy's stocking too...with a special Hershey's kiss treat for the sweet girl.)

Yesterday, the 3rd, really could count for several days of "special things." It was the first day of Advent, so we brought out our Advent wreath. We had a special Advent devotional and songs. And all of that was after we went to our county's festival of Christmas trees. We went for the first time last year and loved it; we just barely made it this year as yesterday was the last day of the exhibit. (They auction off the trees and use the proceeds for youth and childrens' programs in the county.) This year was really exciting because the sweet girl really got into picking "her favorite" tree.

Today, the 4th, is Monday...and a busy one at that. I had to work in the morning, D. had to work in the afternoon, and this evening I'm proctoring an exam (which is why I have computer time this early in the evening). The only thing I managed today was to hang the Christmas wreath on our front door.

I'm enjoying this practice though! It reminds me that each day can be festive and beautiful, even in small ways.

She's Onto Me...!

I've been struggling a lot with losing things lately. I think because life has been so rushed and hurried, and I am getting very little time to keep our little home space organized. Thus it gets cluttered; and the outward clutter unfortunately sometimes seems to reflect (or exacerbate) an inward clutter.

Whatever the deeper problem, the immediate outward problem is that I keep misplacing things. Often. It seems as though I spend an inordinate amount of time looking for things when I thought I knew "right where they were."

Thankfully, I've now found all the Christmas music. I won't tell you how long it took me to find the tapes, nor how snarly I got at one point when I couldn't (I'm embarrassed to say that Scrooge sometimes has nothing on me!). But I did feel properly humbled and grateful to finally find the beloved music, after all my frustrated attempts. And yes, it wasn't at all far from where I was sure I'd put it. Now if I will just heed the beautiful message of much of this music, and really find the space and time and energy to prepare and keep preparing my heart for the coming King!

Then there was Saturday morning, when I was gathering all the library books that were due. Our library schedule is usually like clockwork, but we made one unusual mid-week visit not long before our Thanksgiving travels. I checked out Beatrix Potter's Peter Rabbit that day, because the sweet girl (who was, as you might remember, very sick) had been sad that she couldn't keep on "being a bunny" if she was sick and in bed. I had the inspired memory that Peter Rabbit himself had to spend some time in bed, and then went to our shelves only to discover, to my astonishment, that we didn't own this classic tale. So we got it from the library and enjoyed it over and over.

It's due mid-week this week, but rather than make a special library trip, I planned to take it back early with the regular Saturday load. And wouldn't you know it? I couldn't find it. It's a tiny book (one from the miniature jacketed set of Beatrix Potter books, which I would so love to own!) and easy to misplace. I spent a few minutes looking on Saturday morning, and the sweet girl finally heard my various sighings and mutterings because she came in and asked what I was doing.

"Mommy can't find a book we need to take back to the library," I said. "Have you seen it? It's Peter Rabbit."

She didn't know where it was either, but I couldn't help but laugh when she trailed out of the room a few minutes later, calling back "If you can't find the book, Mommy, just renew it a lot of times!"

Zing! She's onto me!

The good news...I found Peter Rabbit too. Safe and sound. Still tucked up in bed with his chamomile tea. And nowhere near the Christmas music.

Friday, December 01, 2006

December and the Dance

It's ten minutes past three and I'm just sitting down to have some lunch. That's fairly indicative of how this day, and my whole week, has gone!

In fact, last night I never really ate dinner at all. My dear husband had to work, so around five o'clock, the Sweet Girl and I headed over the seminary's annual Christmas party for faculty, students and spouses.

Back when I was on staff, and before that, when I was a student, this party used to be a looked-forward to event at the end of each semester. One year, D. and I were even instrumental in planning the evening entertainment. But it's been a few years since we've been to one of these. Technically, since I teach online for the seminary, I am considered adjunct faculty, but (even though it's just three blocks away) I am rarely on campus anymore except for an ocassional run into the library or to take sweet girl to her ballet class at the family center.

That's the whole reason I went last night: the ballet class was going to perform the dance number they've been practicing for several weeks. My little one got a new red sweater and yes, some silky dance shoes just for the event. She was excited...until we got there, and she realized how many people were in the room and how loud it all was. Stage fright struck and she refused, absolutely and point blank, to go up front to do the dance. So of course I said that was OK (and so did her very understanding teacher) and I held her on my lap about ten yards away from the dance space. I know how prone she is to change her mind, so I checked with her several more times, in a kind and understanding voice: "Honey, are you sure you don't want to go up there? Do you want to, or not?" etc. and she kept saying emphatically "I do NOT" as if her life depended on it.

And then of course half way through the dance she began to sob because she wasn't doing it. I had to hustle her out of the room so she wouldn't completely disrupt things. Poor boo-boo!

I can empathize, really, not only because I've always gotten terrible stage fright whenever I've had to do anything in public. I can also emphathize with the desire to do something at war with a desire not to. It's sort of how I felt about going to the party actually. Being at the seminary is never an easy thing for me because it feels like it's a place that belongs to a completely different season of my life. I always miss people who aren't there -- friends who have graduated, teachers who have retired -- and as the years wear on, I know fewer and fewer of the people in the room. So there's one sadness. There are other personal factors that also make such times difficult (too hard to go into here) but those came into play last night too.

So...between the stress of a little girl freaking out about a dance recital, and the stress I felt about being there in the first place, and the fact that I haven't eaten red meat in almost 20 years and the main course was beef brisket...well, you get the idea. I had a couple of bites of cole slaw and a few Christmas cookies. And when D. got home from work around 11, we sat down and had pop tarts.

And right now I'm enjoying a bowl of broccoli soup and just trying to catch my breath. It's been a long week, especially with work at church. I managed to finish up a Sunday bulletin with something like seven inserts today, AND the first ever issue of newly-revitalized-and-produced church newsletter (it's been a long time since we've had one). I was up till 1 a.m. last night editing newsletter articles, writing checks for our family's first of the month bills, and trying to work out what I need to do still with the class I'm teaching as we head quickly into finals. My house is a wreck and I STILL can't find the rest of the Christmas music, which is frustrating me no end.

Ready for December? Ready for Advent? :-) But here it comes, and in spite of myself, I'm glad. And I will try to throw myself into the dance, though I think I need to keep the dance very simple this year...perhaps as simple as the 2 minute performance by my daughter's young ballet class. I don't want to find, half-way through, that I'm crying on the sidelines wishing I'd gotten up and joined in!

Oh...and don't worry. Sweet Girl will have another chance to join her dance too. They're scheduled to do it again several days from now for the local nursing home residents right across the street. She's been there before, and I'm hoping the smaller and quieter environment, plus the idea of doing something kind for others, will give her the courage and impetus to try again.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

The Literary Day of Days

I sometimes mark the birthdays of favorite authors or poets here. But today, November 29, there is an embarrassment of riches. For me, this is the day of all literary days to celebrate each year!

Today we mark the birthdays of:

Louisa May Alcott (1832)
Clive Staples Lewis (1898)
Madeleine L'Engle (1918)

It just doesn't get much better than this.

If I were hard pressed to choose ten, and only ten, of my all-time favorite authors, the authors of my heart who have done the most to help shape my imagination and my thinking, these three would all be on the list.

I've loved them at different seasons of my life. I probably discovered Alcott first. I read many of her books during my childhood and adolescence, but particularly "inhabited" Little Women, visiting its pages over and over again. I read it so many times that I had certain portions of it memorized, and certainly random lines of it still come back to me even now.

I loved the world of Little Women so much that when D. and I made an unexpected trip to Concord one autumn a number of years ago (while looking into seminaries in the Massachusetts area) and turned onto the street where Orchard House is located, I caught my breath in wonder before I even realized what house I was looking at. Orchard House was the house where Alcott wrote Little Women, and in many ways was her model for the March home where Meg, Jo, Beth and Amy grew up.

She must have captured it brilliantly. I have never before had such a strange sense of homecoming to a house I'd never even seen.

It's hard for me to recall whether I began reading Lewis or L'Engle first. I'm pretty sure it was Lewis...I think I read at least The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe and Prince Caspian the year I was ten, with the other Chronicles coming not long after. Certainly I'd read them all by the time I'd gotten through the junior high years, some of them several times each. For my sixteenth birthday, I got a hardback copy of Paul Ford's Companion to Narnia and an electric typewriter. That might give you some idea of how Lewis influenced my story-loving, story-writing life.

But Lewis has remained a huge influence, not only through his wonderful Chronicles (though they're still dearest to my heart of all his work, I think) but through his other fiction and through many of his non-fiction books. I go to Lewis so often that I sometimes feel as though he and I are friends; we can just sit down together, or more likely, I can sit on the floor right next to the chair where he sits and puffs on his pipe. I admire him not only as a story-teller, but as a Christian theologian: for me, Lewis remains one of the sanest, healthiest voices of the 20th century.

And then there's Madeleine. She's the only one of the three that I feel comfortable calling by her first name, perhaps because she is still a living author, perhaps because I've actually written her letters several times over the years and received wonderful, warm and personal replies with her extravagant "Madeleine L'Engle" signature scrawled at the bottom of the page. (I even invited her to our wedding, because her book Two-Part Invention had shaped so many of my early thoughts about marriage. She wasn't able to come, but she sent a beautiful note of thanks and blessing.) It was probably Madeleine who made me realize how much I wanted to be a writer in the first place. Her characters -- especially Vicky Austin and Katherine Vigneras -- retain huge places of honor in my personal literary canon. I can always go back to a Madeleine book, fiction or non-fiction, assured that I will find, like a tune I've heard a thousand times, repeated notes of beauty: about the ordered purpose of lives lived under the sustaining care of a good Creator God; about the richness of names and naming; about the importance of our ordinary, every-day actions.

Alcott, Lewis, L'Engle. A trio of literary saints, if you will. Near and dear to my heart. Happy birthday to all three!

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

I Need to Write an Advent Poem!

Yikes! Consider this a virtual post-it. Reminder to self: write annual advent poem!

I've written an advent poem every year since 1992, the year D. and I got married. I always send it out to family and friends along with our Christmas card or letter (depending on the year).

It's a tradition I never expected to love so much, nor to keep so faithfully. But in recent years, it seems as though the advent season is arriving so much more quickly than it used to. I keep finding myself fretting that maybe this year, inspiration will not strike and I'll have no poem to send...or that I'll have to go into my poetic archives and send an old one.

I spent part of my morning at the office working on Advent/Christmas worship service schedules at church and it dawned on me anew that Advent really does begin this Sunday, December 3. So I'm now in my usual pleasurable flutter of creative panic, feeling completely "idea-less" and wondering when the gift idea or the gift line will arrive to start me off.

That's part of the joy and excitement...waiting... waiting and staying open to whatever creativity God sends this year.

My Thankful Tree...One Week Later

I'm feeling glad that I didn't get to my "thankful tree" posting before I left. Not that I didn't have a tremendous amount to be thankful for then, but after the wonderful few days spent in Virginia with our families, I feel like I've got even more to be thankful for now...or am just that much more aware of my blessings!

Some of the leaves for my virtual thankful tree would have to be large indeed...

here are just a few of the highlights.


I'm thankful for my terrific parents. They were so relaxed, flexible and hospitable this past week, with so much going on. At 74, they both model a joy in life and an openness to change that I find remarkable.

I'm thankful for our newest family member, my dear oldest sister's husband (they got married in September). Celebrating their marriage was the impetus that got us all together for the first time in five years, and seeing the ways they treasure one another was indeed cause for celebration.

I'm thankful for the time that the sweet girl got to spend with grandparents, uncles, aunts and cousins. It was so much fun seeing her play with H (age 10) and L (age 3). The two littlest girls were especially funny and sweet together, in part because they're so different in personality. Yet they played together pretty harmoniously!

What great food! How can I not be thankful for good food at thanksgiving? Mom's sweet potato casserole...a tender turkey...mashed potatoes...the best cole slaw I think I'd ever tasted...olives and pickles...chocolate pie (in addition to pumpkin...I think I am going to have to learn to make chocolate pie and make this a new family tradition for our little family of three) pumpkin-butterscotch cookies (which were a hit...hooray!) and a really interesting and yummy Armenian green bean casserole made with Italian beans. Oh and bread of course, with plenty of butter. My Mom outdid herself this year.

Watching my dear niece H. (the ten year old) climb a very tall tree to get her little sister's red balloon -- she did it! Watching that same dear niece set up a "poitret (portrait) studio" at the back booth in the room at our parents' favorite Mexican restaurant where on Saturday night we celebrated M & P's marriage. H. is a blossoming artist -- her drawings of family members really captured peoples' features and personalities! -- and she's also a bit of an entrepeneur (I think she made almost $2 drawing those pictures!). I love how she would ask us questions about our favorite things as she drew; I think the answers helped inspire her artistic vision!

My two beautiful grown-up nieces who were able to attend, M (age 17) and N (age 24). They're not only beautiful, but warm-hearted and such an important part of our family.

Realizing how much my Dad and brother look alike. They were bending over the congratulations sign my dad had made for the party at the restaurant, and you know, I had a hard time telling those gray and balding heads apart! :-)

That "congratulations" sign itself brought back so many memories. It was my dad's special artistic touch -- the letters cut out from construction papers -- that evoked so many of the handmade lettered signs he made for our home movies for so many of our growing up years.

Watching some of the old home movies that had been converted to video. Epsecially fun to hear the younger generation asking questions about who everybody was. We all kept talking a mile a minute, offering a running, laughing commentary to the movies. At one point, one of the little girls wanted to know why there was no sound, and my middle sister M. laughed and said "we're the soundtrack for these movies ourselves!"

Watching my dear sister-in-law R. walking hand in hand through the leaves with my little girl. Feeling so grateful that my little one finally got to meet my brother and his wife.

Seeing my brother G. again...five years is a long time, especially when I think of all that he's been through (and all we've been through too). Knowing some of those hardships just made time with him, and with everyone, even more precious.

The impromptu sibling get-together at the hotel on the last night of our visit. It was amazing. The four of us sat (first in the bar/dining room, until they kicked us out at eleven, and then in the lobby by the Christmas tree) talking, laughing and remembering. It was the first time in our entire grown-up lives that we'd ever had two plus hours, just the four of us, to relax and be together and I think it will long remain in my memory as one of the most special evenings of my life. I have loved many good friends in my life, but there is something deep and special about the bond between siblings. And mine are some of the most interesting, kind, generous, funny, and intelligent people I've ever been privileged to know.

Seeing how God has been at work in our family as a whole, even (especially?) through some difficulties in recent years past. In all of us, myself included, I glimpsed old bitternesses or wounds that have healed, things let go of, deeper gratitude, more seasoned maturity, more ability to rest and relax and just be. It made the entire visit the most special one we've ever had.

Good food...did I mention good food? Hmm...yes, I did, but that was thanksgiving food. Saturday was the Mexican repast. Quesidillas, burritos, spanish rice, guacamole salad....yum, yum, yum.

The gorgeous hotel. Thanks to my sister and her newlywed hubby, we stayed in what felt like regal splendor at the Embassy Suites. That meant the sweet girl had her own pull-out couch bed in the living room, and we had a door we could close after she went to bed. So my dear husband and I could relax and watch t.v. and cuddle and giggle and just enjoy being together, even though it was past "lights out" for the little one!

And of course, there was good food at the hotel breakfast bar too. I sense a theme here. Wonder how much weight I gained!?

Dear friends L and M, my oldest sister's closest friend and her husband (and dear friends of our's as well, from days I lived in CT and visits in the years of our early marriage) came through VA on their travels up from Florida. L. has felt like a extended sister/member of the family for years, and it just seemed so fitting to finally have her meet everyone and vice versa.

Time spent in the "curtain house" that my daughter created at the hotel. This was the name she came up with for the little space created by the floor length drapes in front of the large picture window. She and I spent lots of time cuddled there in the evenings before bed and in the mornings (we did our morning prayers and Bible reading in the curtain house). She was enthralled with everything we could see from the windows, especially at night...the line of pine trees in the hotel parking lot, lit by street lights, the nearby restaraunts, and especially the blinking red lights of three nearby radio towers. I'm fairly certain that the blinking red light on the tallest one was the one that we could see from our house, and that my sister M. used to insist was "Rudolph" on Christmas Eve. If not, it certainly brought back that fun memory!

Time spent at my husband's mother's house on the way down and back. The sweet girl loved her "little bed" there (the cot they'd fixed up for her in the dining room) and had a wonderful time riding on the rocking horse and dancing to Patty Loveless songs with Grandma!

As you can see, my thankful tree is large and has many leaves!

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Thanksgivings Past

I had hoped to do a kind of "thankful tree" of my own tonight, complete with list of things I'm thankful for, but frankly I'm just too tired to attempt it. I know tomorrow will be hectic since we're travelling and I think I'd probably better get some rest. (One thing I will soon be thankful for, I hope, is SLEEP!)

One thing I do want to reflect on briefly thankfulness for thanksgivings past. I've always loved this season and day. Christmas is near and dear to my heart for so many deep reasons, but thanksgiving has its own special place in part because within my family it's always been the one time of year we usually spent with extended family. When I was growing up, it usually meant a trip from Richmond to Asheville, North Carolina, the city where both my parents grew up. We spent thanksgiving day most often with my Aunts, Myrtle and Janet (Lulu), both of whom have now passed away.

There was a period of time where we didn't travel much at thanksgiving or any other time, because my grandmother (who was ill) lived with us. But those thanksgivings are special in my memory too, because she was with us -- and because during that time the number of places at the table were beginning to grow in other ways, as my older siblings got married and started families of their own. Then after my grandmother passed away, in 1982, we began doing the thanksgiving trek to Asheville again. Some of my fondest fall memories during my high school years are of thanksgiving trips when we stayed at my aunt's apartment on the campus of Asheville school. In fact tonight, while taking a batch of pumpkin-butterscotch cookies out of the oven, I had a sudden flash on a very clear memory from thanksgiving 1985 -- sitting on the big, beautiful porch overlooking the green playing fields surrounded by the hazy, blue mountains, enjoying early morning bird calls and a moist chill in the air, curled up in sweatshirt, reading (of all things!) Madame Bovary for my senior high school world literature class. Can that still, precious morning really have been 21 years ago?

I miss my aunts. They were wonderful women -- southern to the core, stubborn, passionate, interesting. I knew Aunt Myrtle best, probably because we stayed at her place. I still recall her warm southern voice, her grin, the beautiful blue glass she collected on her shelves (I think my own small green glass collection had its genesis in my admiration for my aunt's unabashed love of beautiful glass), her eclectic music collection, and the marvelous window seats in the big windows in the living room of her school apartment. (She was the school nurse, so lived on campus for many years.) When I was very little, I used to think to myself that one day I would grow up and live in a big house in the mountains with lots of window seats. I still like the idea!

Myrtle used to make mayonaise muffins on thanksgiving. These are marvelous little muffins made mostly from white flour and mayonaise. They probably don't sound very apetizing, and they're really not that healthy, but oh my, that warm bready smell...they were so good with melted butter!

My thoughts are obviously tired and meandering. I could write more, but think I'll stop for now. I am grateful for these memories, and grateful for the memories yet to be made, especially this coming week during my family's "reunion" gathering. All four of us siblings, our spouses, and the children still at my parents. The largest gathering we've managed in five years. It will be very good to be home for thanksgiving!

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

The Thankful Tree

Yesterday afternoon the sweet girl and I did a very nice thanksgiving craft project. It was sent home by her Sunday School teacher (since she was too sick to attend church on Sunday) and I was most thankful for this lovely little project!

It's called a "thankful tree". Our family has done variations on this before, but usually just with paper. This is a very cool tree because both the trunk and the branches are made from foam pieces, and once you glue and tab everything together (very easy to do!) it actually stands up and makes a great table centerpiece. (If interested, this particular project can be ordered from the Oriental Trading Company.)

There were 20 foam leaves in all, in varying fall colors. We got out the markers and the sweet girl let me know...with a little bit of prompting and some thoughtful questioning from mom to help inspire...just what she's most thankful for.

And here's the list. I present these in no particular order of importance; this just happens to be how they got glued onto the branches!

--Trumpkin (her stuffed bear)
--our house
--Uncle P.
--the A. family (family she stays with on Wed. mornings)
--Aunt M.

If I have time late tonight, I think I might try to post my own virtual "thankful tree," the list of things I'm most thankful for as we head into this beautiful time of thanksgiving.

We travel tomorrow and I'll be computerless for six days. I will try to remember to journal by hand (now that's a novel concept nowadays!) and bring back plenty of good tid-bits for the blog next week.

Just how much is a "biggle"?

The sweet girl has been sick for almost a full week. She's had a sore throat and a terrible, deep cough. We had to take her to the doctor a few days ago, who thought she might have strep. Thankfully, that turned out not to be the case, but she's still been feeling miserable, especially because the bad cough is often making her sleep quite restless or broken (and her mom's too!).

Her fever broke a few days ago, and her energy is improving, but her appetite still leaves much to be desired. So I was pleased tonight when she wanted a second helping of applesauce, sprinkled liberally (of course) with cinnamon-sugar.

And it turns out that she'd coined her own word for the big heaping mouthfuls of cinamonny applesauce she was enjoying: her daddy informed me, laughing, that she'd told him she'd eaten a "biggle" of it. "A what?" I asked blankly (having missed the initial exchange while I was in the bathroom). "A biggle," my husband explained patiently, while the sweet girl sat there, grinning at me while she continued to eat. "She says a biggle is a big spoonful."

Ah, but of course!

Sunday, November 19, 2006



In geography class,
we study maps,
learn longitude and latitude.

In the school of our hearts,
the maps are marked
by fortitude and gratitude.

.....a little poem I wrote several months ago.....

My dear husband provided me with the title after I first read the poem to him. I've never been very good at titles, but he's quite clever at it!

I remembered this one tonight and thought it was very appropriate for the thanksgiving season.

Friday, November 17, 2006

Time to Break Out the Christmas Music

Yes, I did it...just today! I confess I've not yet found the cassette tapes (they're in a case buried somewhere on a closet shelf) but I got the Christmas CDs out early this evening and began playing Christmas music while cleaning up the kitchen after dinner.

I always feel a kind of need to justify myself in this practice of listening to Christmas music even prior to Advent. My slight guilt is due to a combination of factors. The first is that my mom had a "rule" when I was growing up, or at least during the years of my adolescence (perhaps as a result of me dragging out the Christmas albums too early in preceding years) that I couldn't get the Christmas music out until we'd finished washing the Thanksgiving dishes. Maybe this was her way of making sure I helped with the dishes! Or maybe she was trying to teach me a lesson in delayed gratification. Or perhaps she just wasn't ready to grit her teeth through numerous play-throughs of the old Firestone Christmas albums, which were my favorites. One of these days, I should probably ask her...though it might take the mystery out of the question.

At any rate, for years I had an ingrained habit of not playing Christmas music until Thanksgiving night. Then in my 20s, I joined the Anglican tradition and became a much more "liturgically minded" Christian. Suddenly I was worshipping in churches that didn't play Christmas music at all -- until Christmas day itself. Talk about delayed gratification! Of course what that opened up for me was a whole new world of music as I began learning advent hymnody and appreciating the glories of that beautiful season of waiting and expectancy. Some of the music I now get out in November is advent music.

So there you have it. By training and by adopted tradition, there is much in me that says "you shouldn't do this yet." And I get older, as I get wiser (?let's hope!) there is a part of me that grows more child-like. That's deepened even more since I've become a mother. I love the sheer joys of Christmas music. The exuberance and simplicity of the hymnody. I even love the simple frivolities of some secular (especially more traditional songs) the ones that celebrate the beauties of family and winter.

I feel like I am growing more simple and less sophisticated the older I get. And the child-like part of me longs to squeeze out every drop of light and joy I can from this beautiful season. That's deepened since I've lived in a part of the country that has cold, dark, long winters -- I need this kind of light and joy, starting now and often lasting long into the winter days, well past the time when I used to put the music away. My longing to celebrate Christmas has also deepened as my understanding of the import of the incarnation has deepened -- truly this is the turning point of all human history, the moment when God took on flesh and entered fully into the life of humanity. Everything that comes after it -- the cross, his rising -- is dependent on this moment, when heaven and earth meet and earth is caught up in God's redemptive plan. It is rich, it is deep, it is mystery, and it needs to be celebrated...not just one day of the year, but every day. ("I will keep Christmas in my heart!")

So there you have it. The Christmas music is playing; it's ready for me to pack to take with us on our Thanksgiving trip. And I am smiling with the joy of hearing.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Walden Media Celebrating Charlotte's Web

File this under intriguing: Walden Media, the company releasing a live-action film version of the classic Charlotte's Web this holiday season, is calling on teachers, librarians and other educators to celebrate the book on December 13. In a unique twist, they're asking everyone who plans such celebrations to read the same passage from the book at 12:00 noon (EST).

They're attempting to break the Guiness Book of World Records for "most people reading aloud simultaneously." Apparently (according to their website) the current record "is held by 155,528 students from 737 schools in the United Kingdom who read William Wordsworth’s poem, “Daffodils,” on March 19, 2004."

You can go here if you're interested in finding out more information about how your local schoools and libraries can register. There are several PDF forms at the site that need to be downloaded and read by anyone organizing a celebration. Apparently the registration and record-keeping processes for such a record-breaking attempt are a bit complicated!

One has to hand it to Walden Media. I know...the cynical part of me says this is probably a really clever marketing ploy to get more people to watch their movie. I think it is that, truth be told, but that doesn't mean that's all it is. Thus far I have been very impressed by their commitment to making good movies about good books, and they've made some excellent choices of source materials. While I struggled mightily with certain aspects of their adaptation of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, especially from a theological perspective, I still think they lavished a lot of care on that film and it's likely that their efforts resulted in more children reading the books. And frankly, I think they stand a good chance of getting Charlotte's Web just right...if they do it well and with integrity, this is a book that could be winningly adapted to film.

And hey, who can resist the idea of thousands of people in different locations all across the country stopping at the same moment and saying "Salutations!" (They've chosen a two page passage that begins with Charlotte's greeting to Wilbur.) I find it a rather fun and lovely thought!

So let's pass the word along to our local libraries. December 13 is Charlotte's Web day!

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

What Part of Thanksgiving Are You?

You Are Mashed Potatoes

Oridnary, comforting, and more than a little predictable
You're the glue that holds everyone together.

Yes indeed, that would be me! How about you?

Monday, November 13, 2006

"...And on the ships at sea..."

The rain is raining all around,
It falls on field and tree,
It rains on the umbrellas here,
And on the ships at sea.

Happy Birthday to Robert Louis Stevenson (November 13, 1850 to December 3, much richness for only forty-four years!)

Sixty-Seven Years...Sixty-Seven Ministries

Today is the feast day of St. Frances Xavier Cabrini, or Mother Cabrini as she is affectionately called by many, including her sisters and daughters in the missionary institute she founded.

Mother Cabrini was born in Italy in 1850, but came to the United States at the request of the Pope. This was not an easy task for her, since her heart's desire had long been to go to China to serve God as a missionary. She responded to the call "not to the east, but to the west," and came to the U.S. where she served the poor and immigrants. She became the first naturalized American citizen to be canonized by the Catholic Church.

I love Mother Cabrini for many reasons -- not least her obedience, her courage to cross the ocean numerous times despite a fear of water, her real humility and her tireless efforts to love and serve all whom the Lord placed within her path. Although I'm not Roman Catholic, I count myself blessed to have spent five years working with the Missionary Sisters of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, the order which she founded. From them I learned much about this amazing woman of God and her special charism of love and service. I am so grateful that Mother Cabrini is part of the great cloud of witnesses talked about in Hebrews, that cloud of witnesses that encourages us as we try to walk with our eyes fixed on Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith.

She died in Chicago in 1917. I was just spending a few minutes over at, revisiting some of the details of her life. What struck me anew was that in her sixty-seven years of life, she founded 67 ministries, many of them schools and hospitals for people most in need. These were ministries founded in eight different countries. It's almost hard to conceive of a life so fruitful, until one realizes that the fruit was borne out of her abiding in the loving heart of her Lord.

I love this prayer which she prayed in her journal in November 1892:

Spread wide, loving Jesus, the fibers of my soul and make me come to you. Make me work much for you; make me lead many souls to your divine heart. Thank you, Jesus, for all the help you have granted me until now, especially during this last year of mission in which you have made me see so clearly that you are the one at work!

You do everything—I’m not even, as others say an instrument in your hands. You’re the One who does it all—I’m only the spectator of the great and wonderful works you perform. Jesus, if you were not God, but merely human, I would have to say you are one great missionary! As it is, I can’t praise you enough. I can only offer you this prayer:
let me learn from you how to be a good missionary. This prayer I will renew with every beat of my heart.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Bedtime prayer

My dear little daughter has been praying more out loud recently, wanting to be the one to say grace or insisting that we all pray a short prayer at bedtime (taking turns).

She started the bedtime prayers off this evening, and I found my own heart smiling over her heartfelt litany, which went something like this.

"Dear Jesus, thank you for everything you've made. Thank you for lots of stuff like the sun and the moon and the stars. And thank you for sea anemones also. Amen."

(Yes, in case you're wondering, we've been reading a book with sea anemones in it... Swimmy, by Leo Lionni.)

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Janet Batchler's Book: What Will Harry Do?

It's published! Janet Batchler, who blogs at Quoth the Maven, has published her "Unofficial Guide to Payoffs and Possibilities in Book 7." Most of the wonderful insights in this book, written from her screenwriterly perspective, were originally posted on her blog. But here she gathers them all together in one place for what promises to be a terrific read. I know it's good! I even had the privilege of proofreading three of its chapters.

I first "met" Janet in a Barnes & Noble's reading group for Half-Blood Prince, moderated by John Granger. She's got a terrific way of bringing storytelling expertise to her readings of the first six Harry Potter novels, providing clear insights into J.K. Rowling's story "set-ups" and then giving her own grounded speculations as to what we might see as pay-offs in the final installment.

The book will be sold at larger online retailers soon; for now, it's available for purchase here.

Friday, November 10, 2006

Song from the Sweet Girl

This original song brought to you courtesy of my lovely daughter, this evening, as she pulled on her Little Mermaid t-shirt before bedtime....

Mermaid in the ocean
Mermaid in the sea
Mermaid swimming to you
Mermaid swimming to me

Chesterton on Picture Books

This is the sort of book we like
(For you and I are very small)
With pictures stuck in anyhow
And hardly any words at all.

You will not understand a word
Of all the words, including mine;
Never you trouble; you can see --
And all directness is divine.

Stand up and keep your childishness.
Read all the pedants' screeds and strictures.
But don't believe in anything
That can't be told in coloured pictures.
-- G.K. Chesterton

I found this little gem of a poem ages ago. It's quoted in A Time to Read: Good Books for Growing Readers by Mary Ruth K. Wilkinson and Heidi Wilkinson Teel (Regent College Publishing). They don't note what Chesterton book it comes from, and I've not been able to find any attribution online.

I love this poem. It seems so simple on first reading, but stands up to repeated readings and repeated peeling back of layers. It also has the added bonus of one line that challenged me to look up three words (pedant, screeds and strictures). I think that must be a record. I thought I understood the line pretty well from context, and I did, but looking those words up was enlightening nonetheless.

It makes me think not only of picture books, but of stained glass windows...

I hope I will always be of good courage when it comes to standing up and keeping my childishness.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

I am officially old...

My 20th high school reunion was held last weekend. No, I didn't go -- I would have had to travel too far, and the cost of the various events was quite high. Added to the fact that I wasn't terribly happy in high school, and the few friends I had and would have liked to see again didn't seem to appear on the rsvp list.

I've been keeping up with the reunion news once in a while via a class blog that the reunion organizers set up. And just a little while ago, I accessed an online photo album of pictures of the weekend. Basically it was photo after photo of a huge room crowded with middle-aged people I didn't recognize. No kidding. Yikes.

Sigh. It's just been that kind of day. Among other things, I discovered that a stranger somehow got hold of one of our credit card numbers and charged almost $200 worth of merchandise to it -- from some overseas company I'd never heard of. The really odd thing is that the merchandise was shipped to us. You think if someone was going out of their way to fraudently use your c. card, they would at least ship the stuff to themselves.

I didn't feel quite as angry and violated as I did when our car got stolen a decade or more ago near Philadelphia, but it certainly does leave one feeling vulnerable. I lodged an official dispute of the charge with my c. card company, and tomorrow I think I need to call the Better Business Bureau about the company that sent the shipment.

Yep. Definitely tired tonight. A little discouraged. And feeling old.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Orson Scott Card: Defender of Harry!

I'm not a science fiction fan, but several years ago I began reading and enjoying some of the marvelous books by Orson Scott Card. I began with Ender's Game (probably his best known work) and ended up reading several more books by him. He's a first-class storyteller. In fact, I admired his storytelling so much that I went on to read some of his non-fiction work on crafting fiction, especially fantasy fiction.

Long about a year ago, I discovered Card's blog. For some reason (possibly because we had a major computer crash) I no longer had it bookmarked and hadn't checked in there for a while. But I did the other day, and enjoyed myself immensely. I certainly don't agree with everything Card writes, especially regarding politics. But I love his regular columns entitled "Uncle Orson Reviews Everything" where he does indeed review just about everything, or at least just about everything that strikes his fancy, from children's literature to movies water.

But here's the best part: he's a Harry Potter fan! Why does this surprise me? It shouldn't have. I should have known that one consummate storyteller would recognize the genius of another. I just hadn't "connected" them in any way. What's even more fun is how brilliantly and zestfully OSC defends Harry -- as good literature. Thank you, thank you!

So even though this piece was written almost exactly five years ago, I'm still recommending it as a ripping good read...not just for Card fans or Rowling fans, but for anyone who loves children's literature and respects the power of good storytelling. My favorite part is the way Card zings the literary "elite" and reminds us that we can trust children to spot good stories:

What infuriates the literati? Oh, they talk about how Harry Potter is just a fad, how children's books aren't "literature," how these books are proof that English-language readers are even dumber than they thought.

But the truth is, in fact, the opposite. Unlike Pokemon or the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, the Harry Potter movement is reader-driven. Kids who thought they hated to read because they had hated everything anybody tried to make them read in school suddenly became avid readers of big thick books that were extraordinarily demanding, not just in vocabulary and syntax and culture, but in moral reasoning and character development....

And then a little further on:

It is obvious that J.K. Rowling, the author of the Harry Potter books, has already earned a permanent place in world literature, alongside Louisa Mae Alcott, Robert Louis Stephenson, and Mark Twain, who also wrote books that children loved, and who also were phenomenally popular during their lifetimes despite the harsh criticism of literary elitists.

In fact, one can make a good case for the idea that children are often the guardians of the truly great literature of the world, for in their love of story and unconcern for stylistic fads and literary tricks, children unerringly gravitate toward truth and power.

The whole post is definitely worth reading. It got me all excited about good reading and good writing...again.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

The "Nice Little Girl in a Purple Bathrobe"

Sweet Girl's been longing for a bathrobe. Her Daddy got a new one a couple of months ago, which might have something to do with it. More than likely though, it was the number of times I'd said, as she shivered her way through the kitchen from the bathtub to her bedroom, clad only in her favorite green towel: "we really should get you a nice, warm bathrobe."

Well, we finally did today. We checked a couple of places out and finally decided on the soft, fleecy, dark purple one -- her choice. She and her Daddy went back to the store to buy it, leaving me right across the the bookstore with the "15% off, only today" coupon (slightly dangerous!).

Actually, I was very good with that coupon. I looked longingly at a couple of books I knew that either I or D. and I both, would enjoy. I reminded myself once again of our finances and of the fact that I could almost definitely find any of these things on inter-library loan. I almost scrapped the coupon completely, except that I found a lovely paperback copy of Arnold Lobel's Owl at Home which I knew the Sweet Girl would love. With the coupon, I got it for about $3 -- and was able to put it away for Christmas.

I was standing in line to buy it when I suddenly heard -- well, it's hard to describe, but it was a kind of happy squealing that I can almost always instantly identify as my daughter. I looked up. There she was, standing next to her Daddy in the mall proper, just a few yards away from the bookstore entrance. He was down on his guessed it...helping her into the new bathrobe.

Suddenly a tiny little girl wrapped, hooded and belted in warm purple fleece was hurtling toward me with the biggest grin on her face you can imagine. "Mommy! Mommy! Look at my new bathrobe!" she shrieked with glee, causing several heads to turn and several people to chuckle. I made all the appropriate exclamations, of course, and so did the very nice ladies behind the cash registers at the bookstore.

We managed to convince her that it wasn't really an outdoor kind of thing to wear, so she exchanged it for her jacket, but as soon as we got home, out came the robe again. I suspect I shall be seeing a lot if it this coming winter! She wore it for the rest of the day. At one point, when I was making dinner, she pelted into the kitchen to proclaim "I'm a nice little girl in a purple bathrobe!" and I had to laugh. We celebrated purple bathrobe day by putting on Tchaikovsky's Swan Lake Waltz and dancing around and around the kitchen with her bear Trumpkin and her small stuffed skunk (an old toy she's recently fallen in love with and has christened simply "Skunk").

It's funny that I chose the Tchaikovsky. It used to be one of her favorite pieces of music when she was a baby -- we danced to it almost every morning during the winter when she was between 6-9 months old, me holding her on my hip and waltzing her around her room, or zooming her up over my head during the fast, swishy parts. I told her about how we used to do that, and she just grinned. Later on, after she'd gone to bed (wearing the bathrobe, though that didn't last long because she got too hot and needed to take it off, as we'd told her would probably happen) it suddenly hit me that today is the 5 year anniversary of the day we found out we were pregnant with the Sweet Girl. Just 5 years ago! She's filled up so much of our days since then. It's sometimes hard to realize there was ever a time when I didn't know that happy squeal, ever a time when I didn't know and love my "nice little girl in a purple bathrobe."

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Character Assassination

A few weeks ago I wrote about my enjoyment in the hit television show LOST, and worried out loud that the show might be "losing me" as a viewer. I've been concerned for some time about the creative direction in which the writers are taking the show, but I've stuck with it, not least because that Wednesday night date to watch it (through our snowy, static-y television reception) has become one of the few relaxing, fun-together times my hubby and I can count on during the busy week.

After last night, we're wondering if we need to come up with a new date night.

We're still hanging in there...but just barely. There's one show to go in what ABC is now billing as the "fall season" (they're on a six show mini-season kick, followed by a really long hiatus, followed by a new mini-season starting again in January or February, I think) and we do plan to watch it next week. But my dear D., who has been a loyal fan from the first, and was the one who originally got me watching, isn't feeling too sure that he's going to care that much when the show rolls into hiatus. And I'm right there with him.

Last night, they killed off a fairly beloved character. This is not new -- at last count, at least prior to last night, I think they'd killed off at least four major or semi-major characters, not to mention a whole host of "red shirts" -- but what made us both look at one another in near comic-despair was what they did just prior to the killing off of this particular character.

By the way, in deference to FBRE (that's "faithful blog reader Erin") I'm trying not to get too specific about the plot details, because I know she's still catching up on previous seasons! But I think I can forage ahead in a general way and still get my complaints across.

What made both D. and me so frustrated was the fact that it felt like they killed this character twice: first they made him do something completely and utterly out of character, and then they killed him. They've done this before, but never quite so heinously as this time around. It makes it hard to grieve properly (yes, I know -- this is a TV show, not real life, but I still think one needs a little time to process character deaths) when they pull this kind of thing. To make matters worse, this particular little "character assassination," as I'm thinking of it, also showed once again (and this time with vigor!) their utter inability to deal decently or realistically with religious themes. They've struggled here before too, but it never felt so clear as last night. What frustrated us is that in changing the character we'd come to know and respect and feel interested in, they actually imperilled not only his life but his soul. Argh.

I still feel invested enough in Jack's character and storyline to want to give the show at least one more chance, but I confess I'm getting disappointed. And D. is a very loyal viewer of shows he enjoys, and usually far more patient than I...but even he said last night that he just might not tune in again next spring, depending on what happens next week. And then he chuckled and said, "but what will we watch instead?" which is a good question given the fact that we can barely get in just one station! Ah well, there's always episodes of Monk on DVD -- which we've been enjoying on occasion recently, courtesy of a friend. Back when we had time...and better reception...Monk was our favorite show. Right around the time we stopped watching, Sharona (one of our favorite characters) left the show. Sigh. We just can't win!

"For All the Saints..."

I didn't have a chance last night to post a brief commemoration of All Saints' Day. We'll be celebrating it this Sunday in our parish by focusing our minds and hearts on Christians around the world who are being persecuted for their faith.

It's really hard to choose which verses to share of William H. How's hymn, set to such amazing music by Ralph Vaughan Williams (1872-1958). Each verse seems important and helps the song to build to a powerful crescendo. I'm listening to a beautiful version of it as I type this, from the CD entitled A Vaughn Williams Hymnal, with the Choir of Trinity College, Cambridge singing. I love this arrangement, as sometimes the voices are acapella and at other times they're joined by rich swells of an organ. It makes me long (I must confess) to attend and participate in an elaborate festival eucharist in a cathedral. It's been a while since I've been at such a worship service.

Okay, I can't choose. I'm going to paste the whole thing below, and hope it's not infringing any copyright. To give full credit where credit is due, I'm pasting stanzas from

For all the saints, who from their labors rest,
Who Thee by faith before the world confessed,
Thy Name, O Jesus, be forever blessed.
Alleluia, Alleluia!

Thou wast their Rock, their Fortress and their Might;
Thou, Lord, their Captain in the well fought fight;
Thou, in the darkness drear, their one true Light.
Alleluia, Alleluia!

For the Apostles’ glorious company,
Who bearing forth the Cross o’er land and sea,
Shook all the mighty world, we sing to Thee:
Alleluia, Alleluia!

For the Evangelists, by whose blest word,
Like fourfold streams, the garden of the Lord,
Is fair and fruitful, be Thy Name adored.
Alleluia, Alleluia!

For Martyrs, who with rapture kindled eye,
Saw the bright crown descending from the sky,
And seeing, grasped it, Thee we glorify.
Alleluia, Alleluia!

O blest communion, fellowship divine!
We feebly struggle, they in glory shine;
All are one in Thee, for all are Thine.
Alleluia, Alleluia!

O may Thy soldiers, faithful, true and bold,
Fight as the saints who nobly fought of old,
And win with them the victor’s crown of gold.
Alleluia, Alleluia!

And when the strife is fierce, the warfare long,
Steals on the ear the distant triumph song,
And hearts are brave, again, and arms are strong.
Alleluia, Alleluia!

The golden evening brightens in the west;
Soon, soon to faithful warriors comes their rest;
Sweet is the calm of paradise the blessed.
Alleluia, Alleluia!

But lo! there breaks a yet more glorious day;
The saints triumphant rise in bright array;
The King of glory passes on His way.
Alleluia, Alleluia!

From earth’s wide bounds, from ocean’s farthest coast,
Through gates of pearl streams in the countless host,
And singing to Father, Son and Holy Ghost:
Alleluia, Alleluia!

Words: Will­iam W. How, in Hymns for Saint’s Days, and Other Hymns, by Earl Nel­son, 1864. Music: Sine Nomine, Ralph Vaugh­an Will­iams, in The Eng­lish Hymn­al (Lon­don: Ox­ford Un­i­ver­si­ty Press, 1906), num­ber 641

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Giving Thanks

Yes, I know. It's All Hallows' Eve, so I shouldn't be blogging on a Thanksgiving theme -- we've still got 24 days to go till that day (and yes, I'm counting!). I suppose I could blog on a Halloween theme, only I'm not sure what there is to say. The Sweet Girl's class did their Halloween party in the classroom this morning, and later this afternoon/evening, our church is putting on its big, annual "Fall Festival" bash where kids will play games, eat pizza and oodles of candy, and hear a funny skit (penned by my DH) and a talk (also given by my DH).

The Sweet Girl has already had way too much sugar for one day -- she's pretending to sleep her nap right now, but not doing a very good impression of sleep frankly. She's dressing up this year as a ladybug again -- same costume as last year. We asked her if she wanted to be something else, but she was firm in her decision to be a ladybug again. I can't say that I blame her. Princess dresses are fine, but wings are even better!

I've been wistfully wishing I could dress up as Harry Potter this evening. I confess that I bought a wand and glasses on major after-Halloween sale last year at K-Mart, while buying Thanksigiving napkins. My dear husband informs me that he doesn't think HP would be a wise choice, however, in our parish setting. I'm disappointed, because Harry is very much a hero of mine and sometimes one can't help but wish for some time to play dress-up.

Hmmm...this has turned into a Halloween post after all. But to get back to my original thought of giving thanks: we began looking for Thanksgiving books at the library on Saturday, and were slightly dismayed by the paucity of choices. Granted, savvier parents than us had begun checking some of the better looking ones out even earlier (and there we were congratulating ourselves to think to do it in late October!) but even so, some of the choices made me want to grit my teeth. LOTS of books about turkeys, a few historical attempts to share about the first Thanksgiving, and some nice stories about family gatherings (including one called The Memory Cupboard which I really like and hope to review). What I couldn't really seem to find was any book that dealt at all specifically with the idea of "giving thanks" -- at least not in any way I wanted to present it.

There was one book whose synopsis read: "While on a Thanksgiving Day errand for her mother, a little girl says thanks to all the things around her." I kind of blinked when I read that, and made myself read it again. Did it really say....? Yes, it did. She says "thanks to all the things around her."

Hmmm. I know we live in a post-Christian culture. I know our culture likes to flirt with paganism, and is often very uncomfortable with the notion of a personal God. All that makes my heart grieve, underneath the surface irritability I feel about children's books and children's t.v. programs that treat thankfulness either in some vague, warm and fuzzy sense (a generic "let's be thankful") or in this odd sense of "thanking things." This last understanding defies any sort of sense, as far as I can tell. Thankfulness is personal. We thank people -- for loving us, providing for us, giving us gifts. We don't thank things.

It would be like my dear husband giving me a beautiful sweater for Christmas, and me hugging it to me and exclaiming: "Oh, thank you, sweater! You're so warm and soft. Thank you for being a sweater and for being just the right color and size." The sweater frankly doesn't have much to do with it. It didn't make itself or choose itself. I thank my husband for the gift because it shows his love for me, it shows he was thinking about the colors I enjoy and my need for warmth. If I'm really trying to keep my heart in the right place, I might even spare a prayer of blessing and thanks for the unknown person who knitted the sweater.

I suppose if we don't understand God as a person, a personal being with personal attributes, most particularly the atrributes of creating and bountiful giving, then it would be hard to know exactly who to thank when we're overwhelmed by goodness or beauty. If we don't know who to thank, we turn I suppose to the gift instead of the Giver. But it doesn't make much sense. One can argue, yes, that animals and plants, rain and stars, are all more alive than, well, than a sweater, and certainly our relationships with animate creatures are more complex and alive than our relationship with inanimate things. They're our fellow creatures, yes, but like us they're still creatures. The sun shines because it was made to shine and it's doing its job, providing light, hence praising God as it does what it's created to do. I can feel grateful that there is sunshine, but there's no point in expressing gratitude to the sun, especially if we're not expressing gratitude to the One behind the sun.

I think St. Francis of Assisi had it right, in his "Canticle of the Sun" when he gave God all the praise for gifts that come through all that the Lord has made, and when he uses terms like "brother" and "sister" for the moon and sun, which highlights our shared creaturely status with those things.

Most high, all-powerful, all good, Lord!
All praise is yours, all glory, all honor
And all blessing.
To you alone, Most High, do they belong.
No mortal lips are worthy
To pronounce your name.

All praise be yours, my Lord, through all that you have made,
And first my lord Brother Sun,
Who brings the day; and light you give to us through him.
How beautiful is he, how radiant in all his splendor!
Of you, Most High, he bears the likeness.

I'm going to come back to this theme of thankfulness and gratitude during November. I really think it's worth thinking about, and not always easy in this world to keep our hearts in the proper attitude and stance.

P.S. Hey, I actually managed to mention Halloween, Thanksgiving and Christmas...all in one post!