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!

Saturday, October 28, 2006

Another Jane Austen Quiz

I seem to be hunkering down into my usual wintertime Austen reading/viewing early this year. I think it's the unexpectedly cold weather for late October...

At any rate, I found a new quiz on "which Jane Austen herione are you?" and took it, just for fun. It was a longer one (and I tried to be honest!) and I suspect these results are more accurate than the last one I took, when I came out as Elizabeth Bennett.

Just for fun, I posted my full results (with percentages attached)!

table border='0' cellpadding='5' cellspacing='0' width='600'> You scored as Elinor Dashwood. As Marianne's older sister, Elinor lives at the other end of the emotional spectrum. She rarely reveals her intense feelings and is more concerned with being honest and loyal than having what she deserves. Even though her intentions are pure, she sets herself up for loss by constantly placing other people before her own needs. Overall, Elinor is gentle and rational but is just as capable of radical emotions (despite her withholding them) as her sister.

Elinor Dashwood


Jane Bennet


Elizabeth Bennet


Emma Woodhouse


Marianne Dashwood


Charlotte Lucas


Lady Catherine


Which Jane Austen Character are You? (For Females) Long Quiz!!!
created with QuizFarm.com

How about you?

Friday, October 27, 2006

Listening to Lyrics....

Well, it's happened. At the age of four, the Sweet Girl is finally beginning to really "tune in" to song lyrics.

I'm not saying that she hasn't listened to the words of songs before. But by and large, at least when it's been "Mommy and Daddy's music" playing, I've gathered that it's mostly seemed like background sound. But she's getting older now, and she's definitely taking an interest in what those words are saying. Which means I need to be careful what I play and when, especially when listening to country music. :-)

Not that I feel like I listen to music with "bad" lyrics, but some songs contain language or imagery she's not going to understand (and that can be hard to explain). Those topics and expressions are quite "grown-up."

A case in point came at dinner last night. D. had to work, and I'd put on Johnny Cash while I was cooking. Well, OK, I'd put on the soundtrack to Walk the Line, which is Joaquin Phoenix singing Johnny Cash songs. Sweet Girl loves to dance to Johnny Cash. In fact, the other day she'd come jigging into the kitchen and announced "Mommy, this is my favorite song!" when I was playing Get Rhythm. Good taste!

So we were at dinner and the Cash songs were still playing and suddenly she looked up at me, with a thoughtful look on her face, and asked "Mommy, why does he walk the line both day and night?"


So there I was, trying to explain the poetic idea behind someone "walking the line" (being faithful and true and steady all the time, was how I tried to explain it). I don't know whether she got it, though she did announce cheerfully that sometimes she walked the wall on her favorite street. Which made me smile.

The conversation flowed on from there, and everything seemed fine, but in the back of my mind I kept pondering whether or not I should keep playing Johnny Cash. Especially when I realized Folsom Prison had just come on. I talked really, really loudly to cover the line "shot a man in Reno just to watch him die." And then I surreptiously turned the music down...

I still think we can enjoy jigging together to Get Rhythm. But it turns out I think certain Johnny Cash songs are not quite appropriate for the pre-school set. Not surprising really, but it did make me do some good, hard thinking about what kinds of things I want that little mind and heart focused on.

Printable Maps

In case you're ever in need of this information, here are a few tips for how to find good printable maps (online) that can be colored in.

I didn't think this would be a difficult task. I'm coordinating the kids' portion of our church's mission event this evening, and the womaan I'm working with suggested that, as part of our craft, we use maps. The kind that just give the outline of the country in question, and can be colored in.

I kept thinking of these as "coloring maps" and since I've had a lot of success in finding good, free coloring pages for children online, I went looking with that phrase in mind. Turns out that was not a smart idea. I keep expecting internet search engines to be more intuitive than they are. Various attempts at searching on "maps to color" and "coloring maps" or "maps for kids to color" yielded nothing anywhere close to what I was driving at. I forget how much search engines disregard words like "to" or "ing" endings. All the search engine picked up on was the word "color" and the word "map" apparently -- so it kept giving me full-color maps, exactly the opposite of what I was after!

I finally got smart and tried the word "outline." As in "Madagascar map outline." And bingo! A plethora of useful, educational sites with the graphics I needed. I ended up using the geography sections at about.com (geography.about.com) but when I have time, I hope to go back and take a look at a few other good geography sites this searching turned up.

When I have time....hmm...that would not be now. Must go and finish getting the things together for the craft project. We're making mini-photo-albums, by the way, of the missionaries our church sponsors, so each child can have their own "missionary book" which they can look at at home and use during prayer time. We've done this with the Sweet Girl for almost a year now, I think, and it's been great. Our missionary book at home includes a number of our church missionaries, but also some other friends on the mission field. It's been a good reminder for me and D. to pray for them as well.

I've still got some photocopies to make, and lots of cutting to do, so I'd best get to it!

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Out of the Mouths of...Four Year Olds

A few weeks ago I ordered a cassette tape (yes, they still exist) from the clearance bin in the online store of "Great Commission Publications." GCP is the publishing arm of the Presbyterian Church in America/Orthodox Presbyterian Church. I turned to the Presbyterians in search of a shorter catechism I could use to do some catechetical work with my preschooler. (I know it's hard to believe, but apparently Anglicans have no such shorter catechism developed for younger children!) :-)

While I was ordering the little catechism booklet, I came across this tape called "Scripture Songs." It's volume 2 of a series of tapes where young children sing short verses from the Bible. And it's fantastic. We've been using it now for about three weeks, introducing a new verse about once a week. The music is catchy (but not treacly) and beautifully produced, and Sweet Girl loves hearing other little girls and boys sing the words.

Thus far she's learned Psalm 119:105, Psalm 119:11, and Romans 6:23. When we got to the verse from Romans, I decided to play it through the first night without any commentary at all. So we just listened to it together: "For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord." The second night, I made a few brief comments about the verse and what it meant. I wasn't sure how much of that she listened to and absorbed, so I was prepared to do it again the following night.

The third night, I put the tape in and hit play. We sang our way through the two verses from Psalms. Then came the verse from Romans. The children began to sing, repeating the lines as they did so (a great way to aid memorization):

"For the wages of sin is death, for the wages of sin is death --"

In the pause that came between this line and the ensuing good news, my little girl drew herself up and said, loudly and emphatically, "No! I'm sorry, but we've got grace!"

It's interesting how emphatic even a four year old can already be in the face of the reality of death. But I was so grateful that her "No" was not just denial. It was grounded in the big "Yes!" that followed, in the real hope we have in Christ. We ended up having a great discussion -- that night and some other nights after, along with her Daddy --about the truths in that verse. We can't skip the first part, hard as it may seem to have to unpack it (for ourselves, as well as for our four year old). Sin does lead to death. That's the way it works. But thank God we're not left there. And thank God for the grace he has offered which we can receive. It IS grace that we've been offered God's free gift of eternal life, and it's good news that we don't have to face death without Jesus.

I don't think I'll ever be able to read that verse from now on without hearing that little voice, echoing with such assurance, that we've got grace.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Happy Birthday, Barbara Robinson!

It's the 79th birthday of author Barbara Robinson. I had a chance to hear her speak, a number of years ago now, at Cabrini College. I was in the back of a packed auditorium and honestly remember little about the event except for the fact that I was very happy to be in a room listening to the warm and creative woman who had given the world the character of Imogene Herdman.

Imogene was the lead brat in a pack of bratty brothers and sisters featured in Robinson's sure-to-someday-be-a-classic The Best Christmas Pageant Ever, published in 1972. It's an amazing book, managing to be both really funny and yet poignant at the same time, especially in its endearing ending. I almost defy anyone who reads this book with an open heart not to laugh when Leroy Herdman brings his family's Christmas ham as a gift to the manger, or not to cry when the wonder of Christ's birth finally breaks over irreverent Imogene Herdman, who's connived her way into playing Mary in the local church pageant.

I think it's one of my favorite moments in any Christmas story -- and I love a lot of Christmas stories.

Imogene Herdman was crying.

In the candlelight her face was all shiny with tears and she didn't even bother to wipe them away. She just sat there -- awful old Imogene -- in her crookedy veil, crying and crying and crying.

Well. It was the best Christmas pageant we ever had.

What's so wonderful about this scene, aside from its good storytelling sense, is that I think most of us have some Imogene Herdman in us. If we're honest, some of us have Imogene Herdman moments -- or days -- or perhaps even years. We know what it's like to be clumsy and broken, to not fit in anywhere, to have to take care of other people when sometimes we'd love if it people would take care of us for a change. We hide our insecurities behind bravado, sometimes irreverence, maybe even a touch of bullying.

And then comes that moment -- sometimes in the footlights, sometimes in the covers of a story, sometimes just in the quiet of our own heart -- when the wonder of God's love for us alights on our head like a beautiful bird. It comes home to us how much God loves us, awful old us, dressed up in our crookedy costumes, pretending to be someone we know we're not. That love washes over us like a flood, and in that moment we know who we are because we finally know whose we are.

And that's grace.

Thank you, Barbara Robinson, for giving us that wonderful moment in your wonderful story!

Sunday, October 22, 2006

The Riches of Inter-Library Loan

A few weeks ago, I requested a couple of books through our library's inter-library loan (ILL) system. I don't usually use ILL because most of the books I want to get can be found via the county loan system -- they don't have to travel very far to get here. But ocassionally I will want a book that can't be found at any library in the county, so will request that they find it elsewhere.

I was told it would probably take 4-6 weeks to get the books, and I imagined that they would come at different times so that I could stagger my reading pleasure. So imagine my surprise when I was notified that I had three books waiting for me on the hold shelf this weekend -- the two I requested via ILL and one I'd asked for via the county!

It's an embarrassment of reading riches, and leaves me a bit breathless as I try to find ways to dig through a busy schedule to tackle some books I wasn't expecting to get till closer to Thanksgiving time (when I will, oh blessed thought! have several days off).

The question of "what to read first?" was instantly answered for me by the fact that one of the books, Samuel Crowl's The Films of Kenneth Branagh, is actually due back in slightly over a week. Apparently certain libraries loan for more limited amounts of total time, and the fact that it took me two or three days to pick the books up meant I got less time with the book overall. I really don't think, given my current schedule, that I can read this marvelous book of essays on Branagh's eight major films (films he directed from 1989 - 2000) in eight days -- though I certainly am giving it a mighty try. I'm hoping I can get an extension/renewal and maybe keep it for another week or two, as I'd love to review this one for Epinions.

The other great excitement is Peter Leithart's book Miniatures and Morals: The Christian Novels of Jane Austen. I've been wanting to read this book for almost a year and I'm so excited to finally have it in hand. I've got till November 10th on this one though, so I'm trying to exercise major self-discipline and not open it yet until I've made my way through more of the Branagh book.

The book I got through the county is one I'm looking forward to as well. It's a children's book, Little House in the Highlands, the first in a series of books written by Melissa Wiley about Laura Ingalls Wilder's great-grandmother, Martha. I remember hearing that some books had been written about Laura's ancestors, and I inwardly frowned upon such a notion, thinking perhaps the publishers were just trying to cash in on a wonderful literary series. But lately I've changed my mind. Oddly enough, it's because I stumbled across author Melissa Wiley's blogs. I've been reading her musings about life and art off and on for a few months now, and she's quickly becoming one of my favorite blog-writers. Recently I read over a posting she wrote regarding how she began writing the series, the research she did, and how she wrote this first book during long nights sitting up with one of her own beloved children who was very ill at the time (and now thankfully recovered). She writes with such love and care about her own life that I have to believe she brought that same love and care to imaginatively re-creating the life and times of a favorite author's ancestors. Add to all that the simple fact that I also had a great-grandma Martha (and most of my family on that side came from Scotland and Wales) and you'll see my fascination.

The riches of reading! As it gets colder and wetter outdoors, my inner bear rears its fuzzy, furry head and longs to hibernate -- with a good book or two or three. Yes, I'm a bear -- but a bear who's a bibliophile. My ideal winter habitat would be a warm cave with a toasty fire like the one in Karma Wilson's picture book Bear Snores On, and plenty of bookshelves stuffed with books I love. A pot of tea, plenty of bread, potatoes and butter (okay and some cheese and chocolate) and a few flower bulbs so I could have blooming flowers during the winter. Give me a hobbit hole, perhaps, or Mr. Tumnus' cave, and I would be perfectly content.

Friday, October 20, 2006

Autumn Reading Challenge Re-Visited

I glanced over my "autumn reading list" to see how I was doing so far. As I sort of suspected, I've wandered far afield of the original list. Hey, it happens!

My late summer/early autumn James Herriot kick seems to have worn off for now. I really couldn't seem to get into Jim Wight's biography of his famous father, though I read (and liked) the first chapter or so. I have a feeling both that book and James Herriot's Yorkshire will be books to go back to when it gets colder. I thoroughly enjoyed the first hundred pages or so of Yorkshire, with Herriot's beautiful ramblings alongside some excellent photographs. But I seemed to need a break from it. Wait till the snow flies, and I will likely curl up with it again.

Incidentally, one of the places in Yorkshire I was most intrigued with was the town of Richmond. It's gorgeous, complete with Norman-era castle and a flowing river. I would really like to find out more about it, not least because I grew up in a Richmond (the one in Virginia, which doesn't have any castles, at least as far as I know!).

I'm on the third chapter of Oliver Twist. I actually tried signing up for a section of the book a day at the DailyLit website. It's a clever online service, where you can sign up to receive a portion of a literary classic (it has to be in the public domain) in your email inbox. The service works really well, but I've discovered a truth I already suspected about myself -- when it comes to reading fiction, I don't do it well online. Give me a real book any day, preferably a stout hardback with slightly creamy colored (even yellowed is all right) pages. If the pages are a bit unevenly cut, so much the better. I like the feel and even the smell of a book in my hand; I like being able to curl up on a couch or in a bathtub to read; I love the physical act of turning pages. The internet is a wonderful resource for so many things, and I enjoy reading articles and blogs there, but when I want to follow a written story, I don't want to do it on a screen.

I'm struggling a bit with Oliver Twist, even though I found a nice, old hardback copy at the public library. That's probably because (true confessions) I only know the story as a musical. Don't laugh! My fifth grade music teacher, bless her (I wish I could remember her name) thought nine and ten year olds were up to the task of performing a musical, and I was in the chorus. It was an amazing experience, and 28 years later I still remember a lot of the lyrics to songs we sang, or that were sung as solos on stage by our more talented fellow students. It's almost bizarre what gets into your head and stays there.

So I'm reading along, following Dickens' nearly-immortal prose, and when I get to the scene where Oliver creeps forward, egged on by other hungry orphans, and dares to ask for more gruel, what do I have playing in my head? A mental soundtrack of dozens of fourth and fifth graders, myself included, doing our best to sound British as we chirp out: "Oli-ver! Oli-ver! Never before has a boy wanted more!"

What's really struck me as difficult, besides the mental soundtrack, is how depressing this book is. Perhaps because I first learned of the story so young, and because it has a child as a protaganist, I'd somehow gotten the mistaken notion that this story might be appropriate for children. But this is Dickens, who isn't afraid to write about the dark and oppressive underbelly of industrial society. As a mother, I honestly had a hard time getting through the early scenes, when Oliver was an infant and young child in a workhouse. Could even a fraction of this be true? Have there been children in the world who have been treated like this? It breaks my heart that the answer is yes.

As for the other books on my autumn reading list, we'll see. I think I'm going to forego the Marva Dawn title for now, in favor of finishing up Cornelius Plantinga's Engaging God's World. Also unexpectedly decided to read David Wells' God in the Wasteland: The Reality of Truth in a World of Fading Dreams. More on that last title soon.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

The Sweet Girl's Artistic View of Autumn

My photo doesn't do it justice, but here's the Sweet Girl's recent creative rendition of an autumn day.

"Mommy, winter and fall are my favorite seasons," she told me this morning. "Winter because it's snowy, and fall because all the leaves turn colors!"

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

"Re-Reading Frost"

My autumn re-reading of Robert Frost stalled out a couple of weeks ago and has yet to get back on track. It's been a busy October!

I hope to do better in the coming weeks, but in the meantime, I had to smile when I saw this lovely little poem by Linda Pastan, entitled "Re-Reading Frost." It begins:

Sometimes I think all the best poems
have been written already,
and no one has time to read them,
so why try to write more?

I'd quote the rest, but it's under copyright. You can find it at yesterday's Writer's Almanac, Garrison Keillor's wonderful "poem and writer's notes of the day."

Pastan's poem goes on to celebrate her own writing moments, to affirm her desire to write even if her creative efforts seem as small as one triangle note played within a grand orchestra. I think great writing -- and even just really, really good writing -- does this for me too. It humbles me, makes me feel grateful, but also inspires me to want to step into the conversation myself. After all, why should we feel diminished by beautiful language, by careful vision?

As Pastan finishes up:
And I decide not to stop trying,

at least not for a while, though in truth
I'd rather just sit here reading
how someone else has been acquainted
with the night already, and perfectly.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Yea, My Sisters Have Got Me Covered

I ended up walking part of the way to work this morning in a pouring (and I do mean pouring!) rain. It's a long story, but suffice it to say that we had some schedule shifts. My dear husband had an out of town meeting and had to leave early, so he dropped me and the Sweet Girl off at the home of friends. Sweet Girl would get to stay the morning, enjoying time with those good friends, curled up with quilts by a fireplace, enjoying poetry and Veggie Tales videos. Sigh. I would have liked to stay for that myself but had to slog onward to work.

The rain was really pouring down. And I really do love rain. Even after nine years in the "post-industrial town that time forgot" as my oldest sister calls our little corner of the world. We get what feels like more than our fair share of rain here, and even in autumn, the rain has very little "color" to it. It's just grey, grey, gray. (There, two spellings of gray, just to cover the varieties of greyness.) This morning the rain pooled into little lakes all over the broken, uneven sidewalks. It was hard to maneuver around all of them; I had to just wade through some of them. As I got closer to church, I got nearer some warehouses that have industrial size gutters too. The rain just kept pouring -- from the sky, from the roofs and eaves, from the gutters, from the trees, splashing up from puddles on the street and by the curb. I was getting soaked.

But not nearly as much as I expected. Yes, intermittently, the wind blew somewhat briskly, spattering my denim skirt and black tights with raindrops, but you know what? I wasn't getting all that wet. I realized with gratitude that this had to do with my excellent shoes (grey water-proof all-weather mocs from Lands End) and my umbrella (a really big, lovely green one with pictures of William Shakespeare silkscreened onto it).

As you might guess, I can't afford beautiful umbrellas and really nice shoes very easily these days. But I have wonderful sisters. As I reveled in my blessings, I realized that these had been gifts from them. ML had given me a gift certificate for my birthday last spring, which had bought the all-weather mocs. And MM had given me the beautiful umbrella birthday before last.

So it dawned on me that, in the truest sense of the words, my sisters had me covered. It's humbling and lovely to realize that sometimes one really is clothed, from head to toe, in love and blessings provided by others. Sometimes those are literal blessings -- weatherproof shoes, shelter from the rain. Sometimes they're less tangible, perhaps, but nonetheless real. I wonder how many times we're cloaked in someone else's generosity and kindness and don't even give it a second thought?

My rainy walk became a three-block benediction. Thank you, Lord, for sisters. Thank you for love that cherishes, shelters and protects. Thank you for dry feet. Thank you that even early morning greyness, dripping down and glimpsed from under a green umbrella, can cover the day with beauty.

More Good Questions

Sweet Girl was intrigued by the music we heard yesterday. Mandolin, fiddle, banjo and guitars!

Tonight she asked: "Why do they call it bluegrass music instead of greengrass music?"

How does one explain the color of the mountains?


And on the theology front: we were discussing the anniversary of a friend's baptism, and as usual, Sweet Girl wanted to hear all about what was done at her own baptism (she looks often at the photos from that day) as well as at her friend's. I always tell her that it was the day she joined the family of God, and it was a day that Mommy and Daddy stood up in front of our church and promised that we would teach her about Jesus and how much he loves her. I also explained that water was poured over her, and that she was marked with a sign of the cross. Thinking about all of this happening to her friend, she asked: "Is she still marked?"

Oh yes. Yes she is. And so is the Sweet Girl. And so are her Daddy and I. Not physically perhaps, but marked inwardly and forever with that sign of suffering and redemptive love. As the prayer book says, "marked as Christ's own forever."

Monday, October 16, 2006

And Then There's Yummy Autumn Food

In addition to making me want to drink warm tea, autumn brings out my cooking and baking impulses more than almost any other season. And certain foods always beckon this time of year. Two favorites (and just the right color to celebrate fall!) are pumpkin and sweet potatoes.

There's something about squashes and root vegetables, especially when they're orange or orangey-brown, that just make me feel connected to the earth. These are good, filling foods. They seem to soak up spices. They clamor for spices, for butter, for crust.

On Saturday evening I decided I would make sweeet potato "fries." Couldn't be hard, I thought, and nope, it wasn't. I remember going through a phase a year or two ago when we would buy these fancy frozen sweet potato "french fries" in packages at the grocery store. No longer! They taste better when made from scratch, it's cheaper, and there's something really satisfying about making your own.

Here's how I did them: take one big sweet potato (which was plenty for our little family of three for one meal, though of course you can do more as needed), wash, scrub and peel. I think peeling helps to get rid of any of those "woody places" that sweet potatoes are prone to. I wasn't particularly fastidious about peeling, however, choosing to leave on a bit of peel here and there since I knew it would be nutritious.

Cut the potato into thin sticks. I halved it, then cut lengthwise down the half, then did it again a few times. With the smaller chunks that didn't seem to want to be cut that thinly, I did slices, more like chips.

Put the pieces in a bowl and toss with olive oil till they're well coated. Sprinkle on a bit of salt and pepper and toss again. Then put on a big baking sheet coated lightly with veggie oil spray. If they seem a bit too oily (mine did) then pat with a clean paper towel to take up any excess oil.

Bake at 400 degrees for about twenty minutes (though keep a watch toward the end so they don't burn) turning at least twice.

Enjoy them warm from the oven! Yummy!

I was amazed by how good these were. On Sunday we went to nearby Ohio for a fall festival we've gone to just about every year since the year before Sweet Girl was born. It's called "Christmas in the Woods" and is one of the Shaker Festivals. Craft booths, wonderful bluegrass music, clog-dancing, good food -- all in a beautiful autumnal woods. Doesn't get much nicer than that. When it came time for lunch, I suddenly realized that one reason I'd probably been craving sweet potato fries the night before was that I usually eat some from one of the booths there. So I got some more. Were they good? Yep. But not as good as the one's I'd made for supper!

Pumpkin-butterscotch cookie recipe coming soon...I think they've become our family's new favorite cookie.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

I've Found My Autumn Tea

Sweet Girl has been asking for fruit leather (just about her favorite snack) so yesterday we set off to run some errands and ended up at our town's little health food store, about five blocks away. While I was poking among all the good and yummy things in the back aisle, I came across a kind of Celestial Seasonings tea that I'd never seen before. I don't think it's new, but it's new to me. "Can we get it, Mommy?" asked S., to which I usually reply "not this time." But I was in the mood to splurge, and I'm so glad I did!

"Black Cherry Berry" tastes just like it sounds...a sweet, dark, juicy cherry with just a hint of tart berry. It smells like cobbler warm from the oven. You don't have to add any sweetner to it and it tastes just wonderful. It's caffeine free, and the longer you steep it, the better it tastes.

A great tea for autumn!

Friday, October 13, 2006

Flowers in the Wintertime

We had to turn our heat on today, for the first time -- both at the office and here at home. It's not terribly cold yet, but even the 40s (especially with a biting wind) sure feels cold when you're not used to it anymore!

I love autumn, but I find myself starting to work up to an "inner fret" about the oncoming onslaught of cold grayness that will wrap our little corner of the world as it always surely does between November and March (or April).

So I was happy beyond words to find this excellent post over at the Wittingshire blog: Planning for Paperwhites I've often wanted to try this: forcing narcissus or crocus bulbs to bloom indoors during the winter months. I remember reading a little sidebar article about it in a glossy magazine a few years back and thinking "I should try that." But the article made it seem intimidating and hard, especially for someone like me who doesn't have much of a green thumb.

In contrast, the instructions here are well-written and make the project seem easy and doable. I really think I'm going to try it this year. Wouldn't it be something to have beautiful paperwhite flowers blooming inside when the paperwhite snow is blowing around outside?

HP7: Well, It Wasn't Snape Under That Cloak

A few weeks ago I posted a long, rambling reflection, speculating on the importance of the invisibility cloak in Harry Potter 7. I've been remiss in noting here that J.K. Rowling debunked as "rumour" one of the ideas that I happened to muse on in my blog post -- I hadn't claimed it as completely original thought (I converse with so many HP lovers I often have no idea where some ideas started) and apparently lots of other people had the same idea!

In late September, she posted the following to the "Rumours" section on her website:

Snape was hiding under the Invisibility Cloak on the night the Potters died
No, he wasn't.

Well, that, as they say, is that. I say it cheerfully, because I wasn't totally invested in the "Snape under the cloak" theory, though I thought it should be raised. I raised questions then about the plausibility of such a scenario, and I guess it turns out it was even less plausible than I thought.

So we're back to the original question of the invisibility cloak's importance to the plot, and especially (potentially) to the night of Harry's parents' death. I think I'm going to stick by the possibility that Hagrid may have used the cloak in some fashion, on Dumbledore's orders.

Just watch: that one will show up debunked in Rowling's Rumours next! ;-)

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Has LOST lost me?

No-oo-oo. Not quite yet at any rate.

After what I felt was a really disappointing season 3 opening episode, a week ago Wednesday, I'm happy to say that LOST had me on the edge of my seat again last night, clutching my husband's hand and happily watching through the static-y haze of our awful television reception.

LOST is actually the only television show we watch anymore. Without cable, a luxury we've not been able to afford for a while (time or money wise) we can get almost no reception in our area. Yet we've discovered that if we wiggle the knobs and adjust the rabbit ears on the old t.v. set in the bedroom, we can, wonder of wonders, get in a mostly discernable ABC. Sometimes when the weather outside is stormy, like it was last night, the images flicker once in a while as well as appearing in a snow-like static. Of couse, all of this just increases the fun of watching a show that thrives on dark jungle scenes and mysterious nano-second glimpses of creatures or monsters that reeeallly shouldn't be on a tropical island at all.

Either our reception is improving or I'm just getting used to it, but sometimes I hardly remember that we're challenged viewers...until there's an emergency in the hatch or it starts raining buckets in the jungle, at which points we both find ourselves moving several feet closer to the set and muttering things to each other like "Did I just see what I think I saw?" and "What did you see?" "No, wait -- I'll tell you what I thought I saw at the commercial!"

So oddly enough, the bad t.v. reception is part of the fun for us now. We're grateful to my oldest sister and her husband, who actually tape the shows and send them to us now and again (it's great! We can catch up on weeks' worth, and actually see action that we could only guess at before!) but Wednesday night at 9 has become a standing "date" for us. So I'm relieved beyond measure that season 3 looks to be shaping up after a shaky beginning.

Maybe it was just me though. I've had my doubts and perplexities from the beginning of season 2 onward, as to whether or not the writers of the show really know where they're going with this story or are just winging it as they go. What makes me stick with it is the characters, whom I've actually begun to care about (in that vicarious compassion we all feel for fictional characters from time to time...for me, usually far more intensely in books than in movies or television).

From a writing point of view, this show is a dream. You've got a fairly intense but ordinary situation to start out with: plane crash, survivors needing to cope on a deserted (or so they think) island. The characters are very definite "types": the doctor, the con man, the soldier, the spoiled rich girl, the struggling married couple, the addict, the ex-convict, the pregnant woman, the overweight guy who likes to play the class clown... and as time progressed, a few other tried and true type characters emerged as well, like the ex-cop and the priest. But because each week gives the writers a chance to discover more layers of one of the character's story through flashbacks (see what I mean about it being a writer's dream!) none of these characters feel typical or "stock" at all. In fact, most of them have rather complex back stories...which is probably true of most of us in real life if you stop to think about it. And the situation of being on a mysterious island, an island that turns out to be inhabited after all (though we're still not entirely sure by how many people, how many groups, and who they all are/what they're doing there) and dangerous, brings out the best and worst in these characters. They find surprising strengths when the need arises, but they also find themselves stumbling into their worst weaknesses and fears.

The writers have played all that brilliantly: how the struggle to survive on the island brings out the dominant traits and engrained habits in these people, for better or for worse. Everything gets magnified: Jack's ardent need for control; Kate's tendency to run; Sawyer's instinct to con; Locke's hunger for mystery and meaning; Sayid's war-time training, and on and on.

If I were writing this show, or writing this as a novel, I know I would have taken it a far more theological direction. What struck me as interesting from the start was how the dangers and mysteries they encountered on the island forced these people to deal with their inner struggles, their sins, their weaknesses, to come face to face with losses and deferred dreams in their lives. And since the writers have made much of some of the seemingly strange "coincidences" that brought some of them to be on the plane in the first place, and even some odd connections between the characters (or between people the characters knew) in "real life" off the island, it all just had the scent of Providence. These characters were on the plane because they were supposed to be, and because they needed to be in this particular time and place to work out their lives, perhaps for some of them even their salvation (in fear and trembling).

Well, that's how I'd write it, anyway. It's not how it's being written, which I guess is pretty much to be expected. When the show does try to tackle issues with any spiritual depth, they often stumble. But I had hoped they would at least retain more of a sense of the mystery of the island. Instead, as time goes on, it's become more science-fiction-like, with "rational" or "scientific" explanations for almost everything (though with lots still to be explained). Welcome to the reductionist, materialist world of the 21st century (she says with a sigh).

Still, it's a good and creative show. Despite the fact that I kept thinking intelligent, talking apes or possibly storm troopers might show up in this season's first episode, I'm going to hang with it. It's interesting storytelling, and it keeps me thinking about what makes written characters really work and not work -- what makes us care about the fate of "fictional people." For now, LOST hasn't lost me -- even when I have to watch it through the snow!

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Sisters, Daughters, Cousins

It's wonderful to have a chance to be with extended family, especially when you haven't been able to do that for a while. Yesterday my sister and her husband and four of their six children (the other two married now with children of their own) came to be with us for the day. They're travelling and seeing family and friends -- a marathon of travel! -- while they await news of a new job.

It was so much fun to be with all them. My four nieces and nephews who were here range in age from 3 to 24 (my sister's family really stretches out!) and the house was full of laughter and lots of other fun noises, especially when their three year old and our four year old both got ahold of recorders and began tootling all over the house.

It was the first time my Sweet Girl had really had a chance to play with her only younger cousin. She has oodles of cousins -- 18 of them to be precise -- but with the exception of this one little cousin, all the rest are older, most of them much older. That's what comes of having a Mommy who was both the youngest in her family, and a late bloomer to boot!

I admit to a strange sensation watching these two precious little girls playing together. My daughter. My sister's daughter. It doesn't seem that long ago that my sister and I were playing, when I was about the age of my daughter now, and my sister was -- well, looking remarkably like her ten year old daughter, the one who was curled up in our living room rocker reading Encyclopedia Brown.

On most days, I've come to some sense of peace that our Sweet Girl will likely be our only child...if the Lord seems to be calling us to what he's calling us to, and if other circumstances don't change. Most of the time, I'm just fine with that. It's only once in a while, when I see these sisters together, these cousins together, when I think of all my sisters and my brother have meant and still mean to me -- that I get a little wistful.

Still, I'm not really feeling that pensive today. Mostly just very grateful!

Friday, October 06, 2006

Intimations of my mortality

Not that I'm likely to ever forget that I'm getting older, but just in case, my daughter (currently fascinated with the whole notion of age) provides me friendly little reminders from time to time.

Like this conversation last night, as I was making dinner.

Sweet Girl: Mommy, when will you be 39?

Mommy: Next March.

SG: Why?

M: Because that's when my birthday is.

SG: (thoughtfully...) 40 comes after 39...

M: (sighing...) Yes, it does.

SG: Mommy, why doesn't 100 come after 39?

M: (laughing!) Because it doesn't. 100 comes after 99.


SG: Will you live to be 100?

M: I don't know.

SG: Why don't you know?

M: Because none of us knows how old we'll get to be.

Hmmm...takes "teach us to number our days and so gain a heart of wisdom" to a whole new level!

"Saving love is in the heart of everything..."

Brian McLaren has written a really beautiful and interesting tribute to Steve Irwin, the Australian "crocodile hunter" of television fame who died in early September of a stingray sting. McLaren calls the audacious conservationist an "unlikely missionary."

I confess I've never really watched Irwin. For several years, we've either had no television reception or (when we briefly did have cable) our lives were very full as we had an infant at the time. Still, I know many people found his program on "Animal Planet" fascinating and fun, and many people were shocked and grieved by his death. My attention was brought to it by my good friend (and faithful blog-reader!) Erin.

And now that I've read McLaren, I find myself wanting to go watch one of Irwin's shows. They must be available somewhere on video...?

McLaren (theologian and author) was a fan of Irwin's. Here's the heart of his piece, for me:

I know this might sound strange, but I think the man was a kind of missionary. He knew why he was put here on this planet; he knew his mission, and he knew it was more than a job. It was a vocation, a truly spiritual calling, an invitation and solemn duty to join in the care of God’s sacred creation.

What characterized Steve’s mission? Saving love – and especially for the creatures that are often misunderstood, despised and hated - crocs, sharks, snakes, spiders, and their kin.

Saving love, I’ve noticed, is at the heart of most good things in the world – musicians with a saving love for an almost forgotten genre of music, archeologists with a saving love for the artifacts of ancient civilizations, citizens with a saving love for their city, doctors with saving love for at-risk patients, teachers with saving love for at-risk students, social workers with saving love for at-risk families, pastors with saving love for at-risk sinners.

There seems to be a clue there, perhaps even a revelation, that saving love is in the heart of everything.

The whole piece is worth reading. It can be found here: McLaren tribute

Saving love for creatures that most need love. This does indeed sound like a resounding echo of the gospel!

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Prepared Hearts

I've been trying to wrap my mind around the lead in a NY Times article on the recent tragedy in the Amish community. Here it is:

The Amish whose children were executed by a milk deliveryman in their rural Pennsylvania schoolhouse had, until Monday, lived in a world where they were largely insulated from violence and singularly unprepared to respond to it.

But their strong faith and community ties may prepare them unusually well to cope with it, experts on the Amish say.

Here's what I'm grappling with. It's true that within such a close-knit, rural community, a community that has chosen to not "keep step with" the times, violence of this sudden and ravaging nature is thankfully rare. I think it probably makes sense to say that the community is "largely insulated" from violence. But "singularly unprepared" to respond to it?

Um, no. With all due respect, that's just what this community was not. They were neither singular nor unprepared. In fact, you might say that in their forgiving, loving and communal response, what they're modeling for all the rest of us is how we can be "corporately prepared" to respond to violence. And I actually think that the rest of the Times article mostly gets that, as you can see from the sentence that follows immediately after the "singularly unprepared" line.

Maybe what's confusing to the secular world is that such a quiet response, a communal coming together to weep and hold one another, to take food to one another's homes (and to the home of the widow and children of the shooter), to quietly but actively forgive, doesn't look like a "response" as we're conditioned to understand response. (I think we tend to confuse "response" with "react.") Note that "act" is a big part of the word "react." We don't always understand what can look like passivity (but note that "passivity" and "passion" are connected words too).

But I think this community is acting. Not hastily, not out of the heat of the moment, but slowly and groundedly out of a deep rooted understanding of life and God. They are living out their response to horrifying tragedy based on hearts that are prepared: prepared to yield, to trust, to mourn, to forgive.

It's amazing to see the marvelling going on as people try to grasp how someone could be willing and able to forgive in a circumstance like this. One Amish woman explained simply that she could not do it if she didn't have Christ in her heart. I'm glad people are marvelling, because what we're witnessing is the supernatural action of the Holy Spirit on hearts that are willing and yielded, and that is indeed a beautiful thing. And perhaps more rare than it should be in our world.

There's also something that seems fundamentally sound, sane and healthy about the fact that these people really are mourning. The mothers who lost children in this attack will wear black for a year, according to one story I read. That may seem old-fashioned and odd to those of us who are slaves more to fashion sense than to heart sense, but one has to wonder if that outward, visible sign of what's going on inside will not be a real help to those grieving mothers. Among other things, it makes their lives signs for the whole community, reminding them of the fragility of life and the necessity to grieve. I know we don't know even a fraction of the story of the man who killed these children, but from all accounts at least one small part of his spiritual and emotional breakdown came about because he once lost a child himself. One wonders if he was ever able to properly grieve the loss of that little one. One wonders if he had ever been taught to grieve. So many of us are just taught to stuff it down, or to acknowledge it only fleetingly or with some embarrassment or guilt if we go on too long without "getting on" with life.

There is a time to weep and mourn, as Eccelesiastes reminds us. And yes, time for comfort and laughter too. I would imagine the Amish community will be more ready to comfort and to find joy in the weeks and months ahead because of their ability to grieve and forgive today.

Ah, for a Day in Monet's Garden...

I was glad to finally have this confirmed... :-)

You Are Impressionism

You think the world is quite beautiful, especially if you look at it in new and interesting ways.
You tend to focus on color and movement in art.
For you, seeing the big picture is much more important than recording every little detail.
You can find inspiration anywhere... especially from nature.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

"Our Heart is Restless..."

There's a cynical part of me that keeps wondering if some journalist will come up with the headline "trouble in paradise" regarding the terrible tragedy at the Amish school-house in Paradise, Pennsylvania yesterday. There does seem to be a terrible, twisted irony that death and destruction can wreak their well-known havoc in a small town with such a beautifully innocent name.

I am grieving every time I hear or read about this story. Five young girls dead, several others wounded. A man who loved his own wife and children suddenly jumping off a precipice of despair when no one even realized he was anywhere near the edge, and taking all those young and beloved lives with him.

I'm feeling grateful that we don't have a television. I don't think I could bear to hear the heartbreak in the voices of the people of the Amish community and their near-by neighbors, people who thought they had given their children a safe and secure and beautiful place and way to grow up, only to see violence slam its way into even that "refuge."

All of which leads one to the sobering realization that there is no physical refuge anywhere on earth. We can plan, we can protect, we can try as hard as we can to bring up our children wisely and to build a loving community. We can do those things and we must keep doing them because frankly it's the only way to live here in the land of now and not yet, when the kingdom of God gets glimpsed only in glimmers but hasn't yet come in its fullness.

But we fool ourselves if we think there is any "safety" even in the most idyllic and ideal seeming circumstances, like a one-room Amish schoolhouse. The only safety we can really know is that our ultimate refuge lies in God, in Christ our "solid rock."

The Enemy is crafty. He can pervert the real, deep longings of the human heart (see posting below). He can deepen the void that someone already feels. He can take grief and pain and anger, all of which the killer apparently felt deeply, and twist them inside someone until they're a total mess. Until they can't tell truth from lies. Until they're ready to kill others and themselves.

The only thing that can give us hope in times like these is not a thing but a Person. "Greater is He who is in you than he who is in the world." (1 John 4:4) Come, Holy Spirit, and rule this broken, disobedient world. We cry out for your mercy.

"Our heart is restless until it rests in you." (Augustine) I'm not sure I ever realized until today that the phrase is "our heart" -- plural but singular -- just as it is in the prayer book confession, when we confess "We have not loved you with our whole heart..."

"When You Taste It For Real..."

In his book Engaging God's World, Cornelius Plantinga writes:

"In several of his writings the Christian author C.S. Lewis explores this phenomenon of human longing or yearning -- what the Germans call Sehnsucht (ZANE-zoocht)...Lewis observes that when we have it, we are seeking union with something from which we are separated. For example, we want to be reunited with a happy time or a lovely place or a good friend...What's remarkable is that these longings are unfulfillable. We cannot merge with the music we love. We cannot climb inside nature...We may want a good career or a family or a particular kind of life, and these things may come to us. But if so, they will not fill all our niches because we want more than these things can give...something in us keeps saying "not this" or "still beyond..."

The truth is that nothing in this earth can finally satisfy us. Much can make us content for a time, but nothiing can fill us to the brim. The reason is that our final joy lies "beyond the walls of the world," as J.R.R. Tolkien put it. Ultimate beauty comes not from a lover or a landscape or a home, but only through them. These earthly things are solid goods, and we naturally relish them. But they are not our final good...

God has made us for himself. Our sense of God runs in us like a stream, even though we divert it toward other objects. We human beings want God even when we think that what we really want is a green valley, or a good time from our past, or a loved one. Of course we do want these things and persons, but we also want what lies behind them.

(--Cornelius Plantinga, Engaging God's World)

Look there's the world. What a luscious sight, what a candy dream. I want my fill. Let me have a piece, let me take a dive....Every day is the same, I choose life in the flames. And it seems that I can't escape. When I eat of this world I'm left hungry again.

You can take a sip, but you'll be thirsty again. You can drink with your tongue, you can taste with your lies. You can take a sip but you'll be thirsty again. When you drink with your heart, when you see with your eyes, All your casual talk, all your glorious lives. When you taste it for real then He will quench it away.

--Derrick Harris, "Cup of Life"

Monday, October 02, 2006

Literary Dates to Celebrate (from Late September)

I've been remiss in posting some important literary anniversaries and birthdays -- I was much better about doing so in the earlier months of the year!

And the last week of September had several dates worth noting and celebrating. September 26 was the birthday of both T.S. Eliot (b. 1888) and George Gershwin (b. 1898). I often remember that date because almost twenty years ago, when I lived with my oldest sister in Connecticut, she and I celebrated it with a candle, and a reading from Prufrock while listening to Rhapsody in Blue! I keep meaning to try to repeat the fun of that afternoon, but have yet to do it! Maybe some year when she and I are together together (I say wistfully...)

September 30th also marked the "first edition" anniversary of Louisa May Alcott (published 1868). I've been re-watching the 1994 film version of Little Women in honor of that (though I didn't realize the date at first...autumn just always feels "Alcott-ish" to me) and enjoying it immensely, though I am having to watch it in snippets of time.

A very 19th century/early 20th century feel to the last week of September!

Celebrating God's Goodness

The final weekend in September brought some wonderful moments to celebrate the gift and beauty of life. First, late Thursday night there was the birth of my great-nephew Peter, the second child of my very dear niece Rachel. Welcome to the world, precious one!

Then on Saturday we had an opportunity to be at the 2nd birthday party of Lydia, the youngest daughter of a dear family that has done a wonderful job taking care of our own daughter one morning each week for the past several months (since I had to go back to work in the mornings). Lydia is one of the loveliest little people we know, a tiny little girl with bright eyes and a smile that lights a room. She was gravely ill when just a few weeks old, and so each time I see her, I see not just beautiful Lydia but the beautiful God who shines through her -- a sure and certain sign of God's grace and power to heal. Watching her bat at a butterfly balloon, smear yellow icing all over her face, and climb happily into the big tub of uncooked rice that some of the other kids were playing with (including my own Sweet Girl, who must've spent an hour or more funneling rice into a cup!) was a privilege and a joy.

There are days when you really do remember how precious each moment of life is, when your heart lifts and you rest in love, aware of God's goodness and the fragile but awesome beauty all around. I think our whole family was a bit giddy with autumn this evening. We took a walk and Sweet Girl, perched up on her Daddy's shoulders, positively beamed up at the changing colors of the leaves and the blue and white expanse stretched like a tent above them. And she asked us: "What would you need to sit on to touch the sky?"

Later this evening we took a picnic to the park where I got about twenty precious minutes of alone time to walk, marvel at the setting sun, and even stand briefly beneath one of my favorite tree for miles around -- an oak tree on a hill with branches that bend so low to the ground you can hide under them and peer out as though through a curtain. Early autumn colors have their own distinct beauty, even though they've not flamed into the brighter "peak" colors. When we think of autumn we think of brilliant red, gold, orange...but tonight I saw greyish-lavendar, mauve, saffron, pale burgundy, pink, cantelope (the setting sun behind the clouds!) and everywhere, dots of white weeds on the roadside -- wild daises, queen anne's lace, dandelions gone to seed.

"Thank you, God, for most this amazing day...."