Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Snippets of Sense, Bits of Beauty

I came across this quote by Teddy Roosevelt earlier today:

"But life is a great adventure, and the worst of all fears is the fear of living. There are many forms of success, many forms of triumph. But there is no other success that in any shape or way approaches that which is open to most of the many, many men and women who have the right ideals. These are the men and the women who see that it is the intimate and homely things that count most."

The beginning of the quote reminded me of the film Tuck Everlasting which we just watched a few nights ago, and which I reviewed on Epinions yesterday. But the part of the quote that especially grabbed me today was the last part: "it is the intimate and homely things that count most."

I'm not sure what Teddy had in mind when he wrote that, but I was realizing how much I appreciate "intimate and homely things" in my own life, and hearing about those kinds of simple, beautiful moments in the lives of others. I think it's one reason I enjoy reading blogs!

With that in mind, I thought I'd post a link to a marvelous looking little tea company, called Wellspring Tea. I discovered it the other day while blog-hopping. You have to check out their products here, which show a wonderful combination of tea-loving and literature-loving sensibilities. How I would love to try some of these teas, which sound delicious...and have such great names! My favorite tea-names in their catalog (hands-down) are "Anne Shirely's Almond Black," "Caramel for Hobbits," "Mr. Darcy's Ceylon," and "Chocolate for Jo."

I can't think of anything more intimate and homely than drinking a warm cup of tea while curled up with a good book!

To keep the storehouse brimming, from time to time I think I will post small resources here: ideas for simpler living, creative exercises, pieces of art, and yes, "intimate and homely" things like literary teas. I plan to tag them "snippets of sense, bits of beauty."

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

New Words in the Family Lexicon

We love word play! In the past few days, we've come up with two new words for our family's playful lexicon...

Pajameter: device used to measure how many steps you take when you're sleep-walking.

Crockapottamus: hippo who likes to eat food cooked in a slow-cooker.

Monday, March 26, 2007

Happy Birthday, Robert Lee Frost

Robert Frost was born 133 years ago today: March 26, 1874. I've always loved that I get to share a birthday with Frost. Plus it keeps me feeling young!

I couldn't decide what poem to put up in honor of the occasion. It's still a bit too early for "Nothing Gold Can Stay" which I always quote every year when the tree buds have just unfurled and covered the landscape in tender, new green. We're not there, and we're not yet to the buterflied April skies of "Blue-Butterfly Day." I guess I will go with standard Frost spring fare -- and such a lovely standard it is. I can remember trying to imitate this poem with one of my own when I was in 10th grade. Frost's work has always been an inspiration.

A Prayer in Spring

Oh, give us pleasure in the flowers today;
And give us not to think so far away
As the uncertain harvest; keep us here
All simply in the springing of the year.

Oh, give us pleasure in the orchard white,
Like nothing else by day, like ghosts by night;
And make us happy in the happy bees,
The swarm dilating round the perfect trees.

And make us happy in the darting bird
That suddenly above the bees is heard,
The meteor that thrusts in with needle bill,
And off a blossom in mid air stands still.

For this is love and nothing else is love,
To which it is reserved for God above
To sanctify to what far ends he will,
But which it only needs that we fulfill.

-- Robert Frost

Sunday, March 25, 2007

On the Eve of 39...

Yes, I turn 39 tomorrow. And what movie did we rent and watch tonight? Tuck Everlasting. Essentially a poetic fairy-tale that, at least in some senses, lauds growing old and reflects on how the knowledge that we'll one day die helps us value and live each moment fully. Hmmm! Interesting movie choice!

I was realizing tonight that we've lived in our little "post-industrial town that time forgot" for almost a decade now. The first birthday I ever celebrated here was my 30th. Feels like a very long time ago!

Saturday, March 24, 2007

Flexible Penguins

Well, this Saturday is almost over...and I'm pretty tuckered out, so I'm glad of that. D. had to do some work for the church this morning (a very early meeting, followed by some neighborhood visits) and so we didn't have our usual "whole family all together" Saturday that we usually have. Given the kinds of work we do, especially D's ministry work, those Saturdays aren't always possible, but we try to have them whenever we can.

The sweet girl struggled mightily with her daddy not being home all morning. She's been having a rough time again lately with changes in routine...any changes. Needing to have things a certain way, and doing certain things at certain times -- this has always been a big part of her temperament. It has its gifts as well as its drawbacks; she's always responded well to traditions and liturgy and structure. The challenge comes when she can get obsessive about routine, and overwrought over even small changes. We've been working on it for a long time, and she's much more relaxed and flexible than she used to be, but she has certain seasons where this particular challenge rears its head again. We're in one now.

Which is why I'm exhausted, because for most of the day she was fretting over the fact that we weren't doing "what we usually do" and "when we usually do it." She asked for a reading lesson today, which we don't usually do on Saturdays -- I was surprised by that, but I think she was feeling thrown off by today not feeling like a typical Saturday. So of course I told her we could do the reading lesson, but that we would need to do it in the morning when we had time. She threw an absolute fit because we "USUALLY do it in the AFTERNOON!" and wept copiously over the fact that I said we'd have to do it another time today if she wanted to do it at all.

We had a long talk then...once I could get her to calm down enough to listen to me. We talked again about "flexibility." We've discussed this many times before, but I think she's still getting the hang of the concept. One reason I introduced her to the word a while ago (besides the fact that she needs to learn how to live it sometime) is because I know how fascinated she is with language. Sometimes you can get her to think through important things by first letting her play with the words. Today I got out one of her hard plastic bunnies and a soft rubber band, and we talked about how one was flexible and the other wasn't. We stretched the rubber band and talked about learning to be peaceful and OK with things in our schedule when we sometimes had to do them out of order, or in ways that weren't our favorite ways. Stretching the rubber band made her giggle a little bit through her tears. I asked her if she thought she could try to be flexible, and at first she tearfully told me she couldn't. We didn't seem to be getting anywhere, until she suddenly asked "are penguins flexible?"

She's been pretending to be a penguin off and on for months now; her fascination with these birds seems to know no end (as the continued pile of library books about penguins attests!). I thought about it and said yes, I thought penguins must be flexible because they must bend their legs when they waddle. So she started waddling around the room exclaiming "I'm a flexible penguin!" which made me laugh.

And a few minutes later she came into the kitchen where I was doing dishes and said, in a quiet little voice, "I'd like to do a reading lesson now." I looked at her. "You mean right now? In the morning?" "Yes." And I knew she was trying to be a flexible penguin, bless her little heart.

"The radiancy of joyful sacrifice"

A lot of ink has been spilled in recent days, since the Episcopal House of Bishops (here in the U.S.) issued a "mind of the house" statement in response to the recent recommendations/request of the primates in the worldwide Anglican Communion. This isn't the place to get into church politics, but suffice it to say that the statement from the U.S. bishops was...I sigh to say...stereotypically "American" in attitude. Essentially they said: "sure, we'd like to be part of your global church...but only on our own terms." Since those terms consist of continuing departure from historic and classical Christian orthodoxy, we've got a big problem.

The statement also seems to say (and here's an interesting oxymoron) "we'd like to be part of your communion, but only if we can be completely independent and autonomous." They even harkened back to revolutionary days and talked about the life of the Episcopal Church being free and independent from the Church of England! And they essentially called the worldwide primates "a distant and unaccountable group of prelates." !! This, about our worldwide, global church leaders who are doing exactly what they should be doing in trying to call our leaders to accountability in the light of the gospel!

I really don't understand how one can claim independence and autonomy as the chief tenets of the life of a church. Of course we're "independent" in the sense that we're a unique province in the worldwide communion, and each province has its own location, governance structures, cultural influences, etc. One of the wonderful things about the Christian gospel, in fact, is its translatability into all kinds of languages and contexts and cultures. That doesn't mean the gospel changes, but it does mean it can and should be communicated in different contexts. That's the diversity within unity, but the unity part (when you're part of a global family of churches) matters. And the unity can only come when people hold, at the heart, the same center, the same foundation.

But how can we claim to be both a part of a global family, and "autonomous"? Look up autonomous in the dictionary sometime, and you'll find definitions like "freedom from all external constraints." How can that be? Look at the context of your own family...the daily, everyday family you're part of...and think how long you could function -- and LOVE EACH OTHER! -- if every member in the family insisted on autonomy! Even if you insisted on it, it's impossible! Because for one person to have complete freedom to do what he or she wanted to do or thought was best, will of necessity conflict with what another member needs at any given time. If I was perfectly autonomous, I would often choose to do things a lot differently than I do. I don't do a lot of things I'd like to do, and I stop doing some things I'd rather do...out of love, out of deference for the needs and wants of another, out of respect, out of the deeper desire to build a strong family. I am compelled, and yes, "externally constrained" by the facts of my relationship with others. Those are limits I chose to live within when I made the decision to help create and be a part of a family.

How do you keep loving members of your family who are determined to do their own thing, regardless of the consequences for others? It's hard. We need to find ways to prayerfully do this in the days and weeks and months ahead, as the Anglican Communion finds ways to "realign" (and it's going to get messy).

One of the best things I've read about all this in recent days came from a reflection written by Ephraim Radner, a priest in Colorado. He was counseling that faithful Anglicans in the U.S. stay out of litigation as much as possible (in the matter of property disputes, some of which have already started). And he wrote this:
"But there is no point struggling for the truth if the struggle leaves one bitter and hostile, aimed against adversaries instead of praying for them in love. If one is not called to the radiancy of joyful sacrifice, it is better to leave. And hope is radiant and ready."

The "radiancy of joyful sacrifice." That's what a family, any family, especially a church family, should be marked by. If all of us in the communion asked the Lord's help to live such graceful, humble and radiant sacrificial lives before the watching world, perhaps we'd really be the church God calls us to be.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Bauer's New Book

In a neat bit of synchronicity, Susan Wise Bauer's new book The History of the Ancient World: From the Earliest Accounts to the Fall of Rome has its official publication date next Monday, my birthday. Sounds like a great book, and her usual wonderful work. It's actually already available from booksellers, which I don't quite understand since the official publication date isn't until Monday, but that's okay. I can still claim it as a cool thing that happens to be happening on my birthday! (which also happens to be the birthdate of Robert Frost...more synchronicity.)

Susan Wise Bauer is the author of The Well-Trained Mind, the book probably more than any other that cemented my desire to homeschool. I read it years ago, before the sweet girl was born. And while I don't think I am going the completely classical route in our homeschool venture, I've learned much by contemplating the classical pattern of the "trivium" (grammar, logic, rhetoric...for more, see here) as a way of approaching educational foundations.

I'm debating whether I want to read Bauer's new book first, or backtrack and read her History of the World series (written for 9-12 year olds) which came out several years ago. Hmm...time to go poking around on inter-county loan at the library and see what's available.

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Card Art

I used to create a lot of cards...I love making collages from beautiful paper scraps. It's been a while since I've had a chance to make any, so I was happy to spend an hour or so tonight working on some cards. I think my mother's birthday card turned out pretty nicely...I thought I'd share it here. (Mom doesn't have a computer, so this won't be giving her a sneak peek!)

My paper scraps come from all kinds of places...I've collected a lot over the past few years. Card stock, clipped words and images from catalogs, textured papers. Half the fun is just going through the scraps themselves and seeing where my fancy leads me. Shapes, lines, colors...cutting them, sketching them, putting them together in unique ways reminds me a little bit of choosing the right words to create a poem.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Spring Detectives

It turned beautifully warm here today -- in the 70s! We're supposed to take another dive into cold (and possibly snow) over the weekend, but how wonderful to walk outdoors in shorter sleeves and light jackets.

The sweet girl and I decided to take a walk and be "spring detectives." I explained to her how that meant we'd be on the lookout for clues and signs of spring.

Here's what we sighted:

--purple crocuses (purple, six petals each, beautiful yellow pollen centers)
--bees (two of them, alighting on the patch of crocuses)
--bird's nests
--old brown oak leaves on the ground
--warm weather!
--buds on the forsythia bushes (still bare)
--buds on the sycamore trees (tiny, pointed and dark red buds)
--a man washing his car
--another man vaccuming the inside of his car
--silver wind chimes on a porch, with a little metal butterfly
--yellow crocuses in the front yard of Miss Shoshana's house (a dear friend who moved away to Australia last year -- their house isn't sold yet)
--a bench that needs repainting
--two girls and their little brother (friends of the sweet girl) coloring with sidewalk chalk

What signs of spring do you see in your neighborhood?

Monday, March 12, 2007

Getting Organized

Last week's illness has finally given this week's illness. I managed to recover from the awful intestinal bug only to get whammed by sinus congestion and a nasty cough. So I've been dragging around now for the better part of seven days! I guess winter is going out with a bang!

Speaking of seasons "going out" or "coming in," the sweet girl's preschool class has been talking about the expression "March comes in like a lion and goes out like a lamb." S. thinks this is a very fun expression and she's been trying out various variations. The other day she informed me that "we've had three warm, sunny lamb days in a row." But then yesterday she announced "I like lion weather better!"

Missing a couple of days of work recently has made me feel a little overwhelmed -- both at the office, where I'm behind, and here at home, where I've had more time to notice the general clutter and mess. I'm trying to get myself somewhat organized here at home. The spring light and at least some spots of spring weather have given me the urge to spring clean, despite the fact that I've not had much energy to tackle the piles of clutter. I'm trying to set myself a small organizing task each day, with a couple of larger projects each week. That makes for slow progress, but slow progress is better than no progress.

I'm also trying to organize my thoughts for this Friday's upcoming meeting at S's school -- our annual evaluation meeting with the added twist of being the 'transition to kindergarten' meeting. Pray for us. We're going to be explaining our desire to homeschool, and since my daughter has an IEP and we'll be in a room full of education professionals (including a rep. from the school district) I'm trying hard not to expect the worst. I keep reminding myself that her teachers have always been helpful, supportive and encouraging, and that there's no reason why they shouldn't continue to be, but given the odd looks we've been given by supervisors/evaluators in the past when we've brought up homeschooling, we're prepared to have to defend the decision. I want to do it graciously and confidently and not at all defensively. We are grateful beyond words for the help S. has been given at the preschool, especially with speech therapy and in learning new socialization skills, but we also feel like the time has come for us to transition to this new season. I'm not sure if our case will be helped or hindered by the excellent scores on her recent evaluation. I am still feeling so amazed and thankful for that report.

As I think about organizing for more formal homeschooling, I've begun poking around for some ideas about record-keeping during the kindergarten year -- ways to keep track of the things that S. is learning and doing, her projects and activities. I found a wonderful website called Small Meadow Press. The woman who runs the site makes gorgeous papers and journals, and I downloaded a set of what she calls "Home Learning Notes." These are simple and lovely -- well-designed sheets for organizing weekly pages, monthly pages, thoughts & plans, projects, books read, community/contact list, outings and field trips, activities & classes, and general memorandum. A homeschooler's dream (at least my dream!) and I think probably quite useful even for folks who aren't homeschooling but who still want to have some beautiful pages on which to organize their thoughts. I printed a set on regular white paper but will likely make copies on slightly heavier paper (she suggests recycled, an earth-friendly idea) and put them in a binder. Just finding them made me feel more organized. Imagine how I'll feel when I actually begin using them!

Thursday, March 08, 2007

You Know It's Been Winter A Long Time When...

Last summer when the sweet girl was totally enamored of every pine tree in sight, we explained the word "evergreen" to her. "We call them evergreens," we explained, "because they stay green forever. They're always green, even in winter." She has repeated it numerous times.

Her Daddy informed me of her new, creative twist on the concept this morning. They were getting into the car -- our dirty, salt encrusted car that has seen plenty of snowy, icy, dirty roads this winter. S. looked at the car and announced, "It's everdirt, because the dirt stays there forever!"

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

I Can Get Stranded on a Desert Island Now...

We felt a little deflated when my sister left Sunday. Because of the time her plane left, we happened to be at the airport around the time S. usually takes her nap, and we knew that by the time we got home, we would have missed the best napping opportunity. Since we happened to be pretty near our favorite used bookstore...

We shopped for a while, and I found some amazing bargains on the children's clearance shelves. Then Dana came over, grinning, carrying a huge burgundy-jacketed tome. It was -- I kid you not -- Jane Austen's complete works, all six of her completed novels in one huge volume with gold-edged pages, an edition printed a few years ago in England. And the asking price was under 10 dollars! The dust jacket was a bit beat up, but the book itself was in excellent shape and the sweet girl immediately noticed and marvelled over the gilt edges.

"Happy Early Birthday!" my husband said to me. And who could resist it? Not I. Granted I can barely lift the book, so it's hard to imagine ever finding a way to comfortably read it (stretched out on my belly, perhaps, with the book laid flat in front of me on the floor?) but it's really kind of amazing to have so much richness between the covers of one book. And I suppose if I'm ever packing for a desert island or a spaceship flight, it will come in mighty handy.

My sister also delivered a lovely late Christmas present to me when she was here. She'd actually bought it for me in time for Christmas and then forgot to mail it. I loved the timing though. It's the 2007 Jane Austen desk calendar put out by the Jane Austen Society of North America. Chock full of beautifully patterned papers and quotes from Austen's novels. I'm sensing a theme here!

So, let's see...I could actually schedule a trip to a desert island (in my Jane Austen calendar) and then pack my complete novels of Jane Austen to take with me. A "happy thought indeed!"

"That rat is sad."

It's been a slow week for blogging...or for anything else. At the end of last week I was busy finishing my essay and attempting to clean my house (note I said attempting) before my sister came in to visit. It was a lovely visit, though too short! She left Sunday, I worked Monday, then got sick (some kind of intestinal bug) and have had two hazy days at home. I think I turned the corner this afternoon, which means back to work tomorrow -- and I'm now way behind on office tasks and extra tired.

I've had to take it easy the past couple of days, but one thing I have done is get back into the routine with the Sweet Girl's reading lessons. We had a couple of weeks where we were only doing the lessons sporadically. I've tried not to be a slave to doing it "every day" especially since she tends to balk if the lessons get too long or too challenging right now. I don't want to force the issue if she's not ready. But I also don't want her to have so much time between lessons that she forgets what we've already gone over. As a result, I've kept the lessons as relaxed as I can, given her breaks on the days it seems like she needs breaks (or when I do!), and sometimes spent time reviewing parts of old lessons before going into new ones. It's worked pretty well.

Today we went over lesson 17 and she read an entire sentence/story: "That rat is sad." This was momentous because it was the first time the words she was reading had spilled over onto a second line (two words on one line, two words on the next) so we were practicing reading left to right on one line, then getting to the end of that line and knowing to go back around to the left for the next line. I think that concept went over fairly well. She likes that these little "stories" (so far only two-four words) have pictures next to them too. We do the sounding out of the words first, and then we look at the pictures and talk about them.

She was able to read the entire sentence on her own except for "that." I just introduced the "th" sound in yesterday's lesson, and she's struggling mightily to say it. I know she often has trouble with consonant blends at the beginning of words ("sp" has always been a huge challenge) but I hadn't realized that she was essentially saying an "f" sound instead of a "th" sound. I've been trying to get her to watch how I hold my tongue, but she's mostly in her "I can't do it!" phase.

In general, she's been so enthusiastic about learning to read, and today was no exception. We celebrated that we finished lesson 17 and she was in a happy mood. Until she realized (looking at the book cover and the size of the book) that there are 100 lessons. Hmmm...the blessings and drawbacks of having an observant child! She got a bit despairing then and told me that she didn't think she really wanted to learn to read after all. I took this with the gigantic shaker of salt that I knew I should -- she's just feeling a bit daunted -- and simply said "But you ARE learning to read...and you did such a good job today! That rat sure looked sad in the rain, didn't he?" And suddenly she was all smiles again.

I'm learning to navigate my daughter's learning weathers. It's an exciting and challenging aspect of my learning learning to be a better, more patient teacher.

Monday, March 05, 2007

Reading Round-Up As We Turn the Corner Toward Spring

Devotional reading: Recently finished Mudhouse Sabbath (Lauren Winner) which I guess ended up being my Epiphany reading!

For Lenten reading, I'm working on two books by Eugene Peterson, one old and one new (well, to me, at least). The "old" one is A Long Obedience in the Same Direction (a series of meditations on the Psalms of Ascent) which I first read about twenty years ago. The second is Eat This Book (reflections on ways we read the Scriptures).

Literary Reading: I'm currently enjoying Tony Tanner's book Jane Austen, especially his chapter on Pride and Prejudice.

Books recently finished: The Children's Blizzard (David Laskin); The Blizzard Voices (poems by Ted Kooser); The Irresistible Revolution (Shane Claiborne)

Children/Young Adult Books recently finished: Hattie Big Sky (Newbery Honor book by Kirby Larsen) and also Mercy Watson Goes For A Ride (Kate DiCamillo).

Some Current Favorites on the Sweet Girl's Shelf: Robins, Songbirds of Spring; Amazing Ants; Honey Rabbit

Fluffy reads: I recently finished books 3 and 4 in the Joanne Fluke "Hannah Swensen" murder mystery series: Strawberry Shortcake Murder and Lemon Meringue Pie Murder. Either Fluke is getting worse at plotting or I'm figuring out her formula, but I guessed the murderer's identity both times -- well before the end of the book. Still fun reads though -- the characters are especially amusing!

Educational/Homeschooling Resources: Currently perusing, from the Core Knowledge series, What Your Kindergartner Needs to Know.

I must be forgetting titles....I've read more than this since my last reading round-up! If I think of others, I'll update.