Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Just Clicked on "Send"'s done. For better or for worse, I did it. I think I wore myself out, and my family a little bit too, mining the past two days for writing hours that weren't really there for the taking. But the essay is finished.

I had to post a little shout-out here because I just feel so relieved that I accomplished this! Nothing may come of it -- in fact, probably won't (and I certainly won't count on it being accepted for publication) but I managed to finally pull together, shape and re-shape this essay that's been percolating in my head since December. That feels marvelous.

I liked the essay too. That in itself is a bit weird -- I often feel so numb by the end of a long writing session that I don't know how I feel about a piece when it's time to submit it somewhere. This time around I didn't feel that way. I enjoyed the writing (even though I wish I'd done it in a more balanced fashion instead of having to really push here at the end) and I think I said what I wanted to say.

And if nothing else, I gained a lovely copy of The Oxford Illustrated Jane Austen volume of Pride and Prejudice, Chapman's third edition published by Oxford University Press, a quality hardback copy with a smooth and richly colored dust jacket. Our place is filled with books, but they're almost always books we can pick up on the cheap at library sales and used bookstores. When I went on my first Austen reading frenzy several years ago, I bought just about all my copies of her books in used paperbacks from our favorite used bookstore Half-Price Books. In fact, I blush to say it, but I'm pretty sure the order in which I read Austen's books was at least somewhat determined by what I could find used and when.

So splurging on a beautiful copy of a book I love so much feels like a real treat. I will give it a place of honor on my bookshelves, and let it always remind me of the essay I enjoyed writing this week.

And hey, I've now officially met one of my writing goals for the first quarter of 2007! I think I deserve to go to bed now....!

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

The Race to Revise

Sigh. I've procrastinated...again.

Toward the end of last year/beginning of this one, I sat down and tried to pull together some writing goals for the year. OK, that sounds more grandiose than the reality...I tried to pull together some writing goals for the first quarter of the year, specifically some essays, poems, and short stories I wanted to work on to submit to various publications. Some of those publications had submission deadlines, either regular ones or contest-related, so I conscientiously jotted down the projects I wanted to attempt and the order in which I needed to tackle them if I wanted to submit them on time.

That's pretty organized for me. But then the hard part came. I had to actually sit down and write.

I don't know why that's been so hard lately. I know I get great joy from it when I actually do it, so why can't I make more time in my life to do one of the things I love most? I have all sorts of "busy-excuses" -- a few of which are even real and almost justifiable -- but most of it comes down to tiredness and a feeling that right now, with my limited energy, it's just hard -- the few precious minutes I can snatch each day for creative work, often not even connected minutes, are not enough. So I don't do it, at least not as often as I want to.

Thus far a deadline or two has floated past without me even coming close. But there's one deadline coming up for an online magazine looking for essay submissions (the Jane Austen Society of North America's online version of their journal Persuasions) and I really, really want to make this one. It's a March 1 deadline, and because February does that sneaky 28 day thing, the first of March has snuck up on me unbelievably quickly. Added to which, our February has just been nuts -- D. has been working unbelievably long hours at both jobs, I've been working regular hours plus trying to do more at home, we've had computer problems, and on and on. I've been working on the essay -- one I think could be really good -- in fits and starts for weeks. But it just hasn't come together.

Two days ago I was about to give up. I still didn't have a whole rough draft. I needed two books for reference purposes. One I'd managed to get again (via inter-library loan) this past Saturday. The other one I had actually *ordered* (that's how much I wanted to finish this essay) because I didn't own the edition of Pride and Prejudice they wanted writers to cite, and I couldn't find it anywhere loanable. Two days ago that copy hadn't yet come in the mail, and I was despairing.

"Tell me to stop," I said to Dana. "Honestly, just tell me to give it up, because otherwise I'm going to have to stay up really late trying to get this done. I don't even know if the book will come in time for me to get the right citations anyway. And my sister's coming this weekend and I need to clean the house. "

My husband, wise and precious person that he is, basically stayed silent. He's good at that, much better than I am at knowing when not to say something. He knew I was wrestling this out in my own head, trying to talk myself out of it. I said some more desparing things and waited for him to tell me that yes, if I was smart I'd just throw in the towel on this thing and go vacuum.

But of course he didn't say that. And of course the book arrived today.

So. I spent the hour or so of S's nap feverishly finishing a first draft. It's done, but raggedly shaped. I need to reshape it, then give a big editing, then give it at least one finetuned editing. And then I need to get it emailed by Thursday.

Can it be done? I don't know, but I can tell by the way my blood was pumping this afternoon that I've given up the idea of giving up. The race to revise is on. Stay tuned!

Monday, February 26, 2007

Hooray! I'm back!

I tried to think of a snazzy name for this post, but couldn't really think of anything beyond a yelp of glee. Our computer is functioning solidly again -- in fact, functioning better than it has in a while. Various people kept telling us we should simply change our browser over to Mozilla Firefox, and lo and behold, after Dana did that evening, everything that hadn't been working suddenly started working again...almost like magic. Hooray!

I will try to do some serious posting soon -- I've really missed writing here for the past few days. For now, two wonderfully fun moments with the sweet girl this afternoon/evening.

One came when we were headed to the living room, after her nap (actually slept) and snack (fresh honeydew...yum) to work on a reading lesson. We've been averaging probably three lessons a week, but with one thing and another hadn't gotten to one for a few days. S. practically danced her way over to the couch and announced with enthusiasm, "Mommy, my TOES are ready for a reading lesson!"

Then at dinner this evening she wanted seconds on bread and butter and as usual, we were working on the polite way to ask. Suddenly she said with great thoughtfulness, "How do you spell May-I-Have-A-Piece-Of-Bread-Please? It's a REALLY long word!"

Thanks to all who prayed for a solution to our computer problems (and for our patience in dealing with them). So glad to be back!

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

We Interrupt This Blogging...

I'm doing something I never do, and snitching a couple of minutes at the office to post something. That's because I cannot (yes, you read that correctly) CANNOT post anything to my blog from home right now. We're having major technical difficulties with our computer and I don't know if it's fixable. At the moment, things are so kablooey that we can't enter information on any websites at all -- this means I can't blog here, I can't blog at "Re-Reading Harry" (the marvelously fun team blog Erin and I are contributing to as we re-read the Harry Potter books). I can't post reviews or even submit rates on other reviews at Epinions. I'm not even sure I can renew my library books! I can access websites and read information (usually) but not always. It's all very weird...and everything more or less hit the fan when we changed our anti-virus software the other day. Please pray for a swift resolution to our computer problems. We rely on that home computer for lots of work -- and lots of creative outlets too!

Sunday, February 18, 2007

"Cheer Up Church"

I've not written here much about the ongoing -- crisis? saga? mess? -- in the Anglican Communion at large, though since this is the church tradition I've been connected to the longest, the place where I made my theological home 12 years ago, I have been grieved and concerned.

In the midst of a challenging and tiring week for me personally, I've been trying to follow some of the news of the meeting of the global primates (archbishops) of the Anglican Communion. They have been meeting in Tanzania to make some decisions that will affect the life of the global church. Not much has formally been said yet (the meetings officially end tomorrow) but according to some of what I've read, some things I had hoped might happen (and that I thought needed to happen) aren't happening. I'm tempted to discouragement. As always, I need to pray and to trust that God is guiding his church -- in us, through us, in spite of us, over us and around us.

Just to keep a bit of perspective (and some humor, which I really need this week!) I thought I'd quote here from the song "Cheer Up Church" by marvelous singer/songwriter Charlie Peacock. This is from his 1999 CD "Kingdom Come."

It's just like God
to make a hero from a sinner
It's just like God
to choose the loser not the winner
It's just like God
to tell a story through the weak
To let the gospel speak
through the life of a man
Who'd be the first to say...
Cheer up church
You're worse off than you think
Cheer up church
You're standing at the brink
Don't despair, do not fear, grace is near

I love the songs on this CD. I may have to quote a few more songs from it here sometime...

Thursday, February 15, 2007

"...what our world is desperately in need of..."

"Just as 'believers' are a dime a dozen in the church, so are 'activists' in social justice circles nowadays. But lovers are hard to come by. And I think that's what our world is desperately in need of -- lovers, people who are building deep, genuine relationships with fellow strugglers along the way, and who actually know the faces of the people behind the issues they are concerned about."

-- Shane Claiborne, The Irresistible Revolution (p. 295)

I like how Shane talks about the revolution he is part of -- a group of people falling "desperately in love" with God and with people who are suffering, and who allow that love to change their own hearts.

It seems to me that our believing and our action -- both so important -- need to be steeped in and shaped by that kind of love if they're to have any staying power. It's a kind of love that echoes and reflects God's lavish, deep, suffering and transformative love for us, his people.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Having Patience

I write a lot of parenting posts here that celebrate the small, every-day triumphs and breakthroughs and just ordinary wonderments of guiding my wonderful four year old daughter. But in the interest of reporting reality, and because I'm feeling a deep need to emote today, I thought I'd mention at least one case of seeming failure and total frustration.

How do we teach our children when they don't want to be taught? My little girl is struggling right now, struggling to do something that she should have learned to do a long time ago, and she is convinced she cannot do it. I'm talking about potty training. Without going into awful details, I will say that she's not completely untrained, not by a long shot. For the most part, I would say she's been about 80% trained more than a year. We started late due to her speech delay, but once she started, things seemed to be going pretty well, if a little bit slower than I would have liked. In fact, around Christmastime I was realizing with a sense of great joy that she would likely be fully and finally trained by spring because she was doing so incredibly well.

That was then. In the past couple of weeks she has regressed in certain pottying areas. And again, without going into details no one wants to read, I will say that I am completely and utterly depleted from the potty wars. Completely exhausted from hearing my daughter, in tears, telling me -- not "I won't!" (which would be more of a willful problem, and one that I could deal with a bit better) but a despairing "I can't." And realizing that she has really convinced herself on this one.

How do we teach our children when they don't want to be taught? My daughter is bright, capable, and usually a persevering learner. Even when she thinks something is hard: balllet class last semester, a couple of our recent reading lessons (which are going very well, by the way) -- she can usually be encouraged to keep on, and she will keep on. I am very proud of her in that.

I've tried to tell her that: tried to tell her I believe she can do this, that she's capable, that it can be done. I've tried to tell her that what she's doing is not only not big girl behavior, but it's hurting her (because she's been getting terrible rashes, which is excaberating the problem). I've also resorted to some very stupid things: I've totally lost my cool and shouted (especially when she's not following the simplest rules I've laid down this week to try to help her remember to do what she needs to and what she has exhibited hundreds of times that she *can* do); I've cajoled; I've lectured in ways that even I am realizing are not getting through to her; and earlier this afternoon I actually found myself in tears about it in front of her. None of that is helpful.

At this point, I don't know who I am more impatient with: myself? or the sweet girl? Actually, I think if I'm honest I will admit that I far more impatient with myself.

So much of this can get tied into feelings of inadquacy and failure. All those lies we listen to in our heads sometimes about what it means to be a "success" and what it means for our child to be a "success." I realize sometimes I feel more sensitive about this, perhaps, because S. is my only child and because she has always had developmental challenges. She is an odd mixture of way ahead of the curve in certain areas and way behind in certain others, and that's just always been who she is.

I can accept that; in fact, I love her for who she is. I love her so much I want to help her learn and change and grow.

Being patient with myself and loving myself is far harder. Why? I'm not sure. I'm tired right now; I do realize that. Winter is long and cold and icy in our neck of the woods, and D. and I have been working far too many hours and juggling far too many things. We haven't had a really refreshing break in I don't know how long. When I get depleted like this, I am more susceptible to letting myself be shaped by discouragement and untruths. I need to stop doing that, because that kind of behavior hurts me. (Sounds familiar -- sounds like the kinds of things I say to S.!)

So I will try not to listen to the lie that I am a bad parent, and a failure as a mom and a teacher. My daughter is struggling with something that she needs to overcome; I need to find creative ways to be patient enough with myself and with her to help her overcome it. This isn't the first hill we've faced together, and it won't be the last. Grounded in prayer, we're going to keep on climbing.

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Charting the Seasons

I had one of those very happy parenting moments earlier today. We'd gone to the Dollar Store to buy Valentine cards for the Sweet Girl to give out to her pre-school classmates next week when they have their party. The Dollar Store was Saturday-crowded and lots of other parents and young children seemed to have the same idea about shopping for Valentines because the aisle with the cards was the most crowded of all. We decided to duck into the aisle next door and try to approach the cards from the other direction, which was fine except that we were assailed immediately by an aisle full guessed it...Easter things.

Later, after making our purchases and getting back into the car, the Sweet Girl began musing in the back seat. "Excuse me, Mommy," she said politely, in her "my-wheels-are-turning-and-I-have-something-important-to-tell-you" voice. "Halloween comes first," she announced, "and then Thanksgiving." Then without missing a beat, she added, "And then comes Advent, and then Christmas." I was inwardly rejoicing over the fact that she'd thought to put Advent on her list, showing that our efforts have paid off and she moves to the rhythm of different and deeper seasons than those defined by retailers. But before I could say anything, her Daddy prompted, "then what comes next?" I assumed she'd say Valentines Day, especially considering where we'd just been, so my heart did a wonderful little flip-flop of joy when she announced, without a moment's hesitation and with great enthusiasm: "Epiphany!"

Once in a while, you get a tiny affirmation that you're doing something right.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

I'm With Owl

"Owl opened his door very wide. 'Come in, Winter,' said Owl. 'Come in and warm yourself for awhile.' Winter came into the house. It came in very fast. A cold wind pushed Owl against the wall. Winter ran around the room. It blew out the fire in the fireplace. The snow whirled up the stairs and whooshed down the hallway. 'Winter!' cried Owl. 'You are my guest! That is no way to behave!' But Winter did not listen. It made the windowshades flap and shiver." -- From "The Guest" in Owl at Home by Arnold Lobel

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

The New Jane Eyre...What Would My Grandmother Think?

Oh my. Last night D. and I finished watching the newest BBC version of Jane Eyre. A four hour version, it aired on Masterpiece Theater on PBS recently. Since we have no television reception, my kind and thoughtful parents agreed to tape it for me. This turned out to be a labor of love indeed since they'd recently gotten a new DVD/VCR player and hadn't figured out how to record things on it yet. I am grateful they were willing to sit down with the owner's manual to tape this wonderful film for their literary movie-loving youngest daughter!

I say "oh my" because I thought this film was astonishingly well done -- beautifully acted and creatively adapted. And romantic. Was it ever romantic. Gaspingly, beautifully, erotically, gothically romantic.

I will confess I am not a huge Bronte fan, at least in most things. I like some of the Bronte sisters' poetry, but their novels have never had that place of honor in my heart occupied by the earlier Jane Austen. Some of this, I think, has to do with my temperament. Austen is calmer, cooler and funnier. The Brontes tend to be more highly-charged, more tinged with near-tragedy, to wear their romantic hearts on their sleeves. When I read Wuthering Heights, I felt like I slogged through the rain-soaked pages. The Brontes are far more about atmosphere for the sake of atmosphere than Austen ever was.

With all that said, I really do love the novel Jane Eyre. Charlotte Bronte's masterpiece is so beautifully rendered. My love of the book came over me gradually; it didn't hit me on the first reading. That may be because I first read it in high school, in a class with a tired, burned-out teacher who had a knack of turning me off to great literature. (I know she didn't do it on purpose, and as I look back I actually wince when I realize how challenging it must have been to teach 30-some mostly ungrateful students, some of whom caused constant disruptions...but I digress). I tried hard to like the novel. I wrote a theme on the book that was even more tired than my poor teacher. And I remember feeling disappointed in myself for not "getting" Jane Eyre at a deeper level.

My expectations were high because my grandmother, whom I called Mamaw, had read and re-read the novel for years. When she moved in with my family when I was nine years old, she brought only a handful of books with her from her huge library (the rest was auctioned off for a about tragedy!) but Jane Eyre was one of them. She read it at least once a year. I wanted to love it, if for no other reason than the fact that my beloved grandmother, who by then had passed away, loved it.

I went back to it with some trepidation in a college Victorian Lit. class a few years later. The professor was gifted at opening the world of books to eager students. That helped enormously. But I think it was just also "the right time" for me to read it. In my early 20s, I identified with Jane in ways that I never could have at 16. I fell into the music of the prose and suddenly, I "got it." I felt the depths of emotions, the power of the scenes. Like a million women before me (Mamaw no doubt included) I fell under the spell of Mr. Rochester.

I've seen bits of film versions before, but never (I don't think) an entire adaptation. I suppose I should see some of the older ones now, just for comparison, but I have a hard time believing anyone is going to top this. Ruth Wilson, a very young and relatively untried English actress, embodies Jane Eyre -- her fierce reserve and propriety, her ardent love -- better than I imagined anyone could. And Toby Stephens is astonishing in the role of Mr. Rochester -- just the right mix of tantalizing, moody, intimidating, despicable, and virile. No wonder Jane trembles in his presence in the scene when they're reunited (and yes, they even captured the trembling water glass! wow!). The chemistry between the actors was so thick you could cut it with a knife. You really believed these two were soul-mates.

I have some criticism of the adaptation which I'll not go into until I can really review it, but overall, this was just a gorgeous film. I'm guessing the passion in the love scenes was more intense than in any earlier adapatation -- would that make Mamaw blush? Maybe. But maybe not. The book is intensely passionate; the obstacles that hold these two people apart feel unbearably insurmountable. I have a feeling the beauty and passion were part of what drew my grandmother to the book again and again.

Seeing the film has made me go back to the book, of course. And what a treat it is that I have Mamaw's copy. Her name is on the fly-leaf, along with the year she bought it (1947). It's a beautiful leather-bound copy and the spine is in tatters from all the times she read it. I never want to fix that broken binding -- because it binds me to the past, to my memories of my wonderful bookish grandmother and her love for good literature. A love she happily passed on to me.

Saturday, February 03, 2007

The Clothing Size Conundrum

My four year old daughter has finally discovered one of the puzzles of femininity: odd clothing sizes.

This is driving her slightly crazy already. The crux of the issue for her right now centers around two pairs of pajamas, her favorite winter pj's. There are the Elmo footie pajamas from Christmas before last, size 4T. And then there are the snowman footie pajamas, from this Christmas, size 5T.

It drives her batty that she can wear them both. They both fit. The 4T is smaller and tighter than it was last year (she can remember when the Elmo pjs were slightly loose and they aren't any more) and the 5T is still loose and a bit long in the leg, but they both work just fine. Tonight she launched into the topic again while standing on tiptoe by the bathroom sink and drinking her little paper cup of water.

S: Mommy, why do I have pajamas that are four and pajamas that are five?

M: Because we got the 4s last year when you were smaller. And we got the 5s this year because you've grown.

S: Why don't I wear pajamas that are size 4 and a half?

M: (as patiently as possible) Because they don't make four and a half.

S: Why not? I'm four and a half!

M: Yes, but they don't make clothes in half sizes. Shoes, but not clothes.

S: (stubbornly) Shoes are clothes.

M: Well, sort of. Like clothes for your feet.

S: Pajamas aren't clothes either!

M: Yes they are. They're....

S & M: (in unison) Night clothes!

M: Right.

S: But why do my 4s still fit?

M: They just do. You still wear some of your 4s.

S: Why don't ALL my 4s fit still?

M: (sighing) Because different companies make the clothes, and they all make them differently. Each one has a different idea about how big most four year olds are. So some make the clothes bigger, and some a little smaller.

....Warning...not the time to discuss that our cheap-one-temperature-only clothes dryer tends to shrink things too....

S: So why did you get me 5s?

M: Because you were starting to outgrow the 4s. It's better to buy clothes a little bit too big, because then you can still grow into them. They last longer.

Sigh. Poor girl. She doesn't know that this is just the beginning. Wait till she figures out that clothing size will not always correspond to her age! And that the clothing company's idea of what sizes fit certain women will always be bizarre and somehow just a little bit disconnected from reality. Wait till she discovers juniors, petites, misses, women's, plus, maternity and the seventeen other different words one can find to describe various cuts and sizes of womens' clothing. Wait until she's standing in the fitting room of a shopping mall department store one day, staring at the price tag of a petite blouse and trying to figure out why it costs twelve dollars more than the larger misses size blouse, because someone out there decided that it's a specialty size, even though it actually took less material to make.

Perhaps she should learn to sew? (And I should too!)

Ah just wait, my beautiful little girl. The fun is only beginning!

Prairie Love

My keen interest in all things prairie continues...sparked by my recent reading of David Laskin's The Children's Blizzard.

Today's library treasures: from county loan system -- Ted Kooser's The Prairie Voices (poems inspired by stories of the 1888 schoolchildren's blizzard, the same blizzard detailed in Laskin's book). Kooser is Nebraska's premier poet and used to be U.S. poet laureate. I discovered word of this book when I went looking for more information on the schoolchildren's blizzard; it will be the first time I've read any of Kooser's poetry. Also Hattie Big Sky, recent Newbery honor winner. It looks terrific.

And the cherry on my prairie sundae, the totally unexpected gift of finding the Little House on the Prairie DVD on the children's shelves at the library this afternoon. Not the television series but the much more recent film version which I missed when it aired on t.v. a year or two ago. I've heard that's it far more true to Wilder's books, so I'm hopeful.

Stay tuned for more prairie musings!

Thursday, February 01, 2007

HP7: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows to be Released July 21!

Just had to give the official shout-out here: the final Harry Potter book, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, will be released on July 21!

As in, THIS July 21st! Put those pre-orders in now! Bloomsbury's stock is already up just a few hours after the announcement. :-)

I was so excited when I saw the news report this morning that it was all I could do not to shriek. Of course, the initial excitment was almost immediately followed by an odd sense of...sadness? This will be our last outing with dear Harry, and it promises to be a wonderful one. Yet there's a part of me that knows, now matter how the series ends (and I trust it will end in a deeply satisfying way) I will miss these marvelous books, and miss the fun so many of us have had for years anticipating the next release. No other generation will ever have to "wait" between installments, and however the books end, that ending will likely become part of our cultural lore.

Well, in a few more years I will have the pleasure of introducing these fine literary works to the sweet girl. That's some consolation -- getting to enjoy them all over again in that way!

And for now, almost six months to imagine, speculate and anticipate...