Friday, October 31, 2008

A Break for Poetry

October gave a party;
The leaves by hundreds came -
The Chestnuts, Oaks, and Maples,
And leaves of every name.
The Sunshine spread a carpet,
And everything was grand,
Miss Weather led the dancing,
Professor Wind the band.

~~George Cooper

I've been meaning to post this all month. Happy end of October!
(And happy Halloween, and happy eve of All Saints!)

Worth Noting, Worth Quoting

"A bad day of parenting is better than a good day of not parenting."

Tip of the hat to Antique Mommy. Was I ever grateful for this reminder today!

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Young Mozart

During this first grade year I'm using Harmony Fine Art's Arts and Music Appreciation program. One of the many things I appreciate about the program is that it provides various options for picture and music study. Although some require use or purchase of various books and materials, there are plenty of options available so that even the most budget-conscious (read: budget-strapped!) parent/teacher can find all sorts of ideas. In the arts appreciation area, the program offers one option that relies almost exclusively on picture study online. They provide links to websites where you can find pictures and artist biographies as needed. We've utilized these extensively, along with materials we've found at our library to supplement what we're learning.

One of the things I've enjoyed is finding picture books to accompany our studies. We're a picture book loving family, and picture books provide yet another creative entrance into thinking about the lives of artists and musicians. There have been some lovely ones published in recent years, though I've been amused to see that we have a good selection to choose from for some artists (perhaps those considered more "kid-appropriate" or fascinating) and almost no choices for others. Case in point: finding any picture books or biographies of Manet for a first grader seems to be a nigh unto impossible task. But writers and illustrators for young children LOVE Mary Cassatt!

This month we're learning about Cassatt in art and Mozart in music. I thought I would briefly review the picture book Young Mozart, written and illustrated by Rachel Isadora.

We've known some of Isadora's other picture books about the ballet, and have always been impressed by her artwork. The pictures here are beautiful, as you can probably tell from the cover. I'm guessing they're watercolor: at any rate, she appears to use washes of color, a very light, almost pastel palette. The visual details of clothes, hairstyles, rooms and instruments do a wonderful job of evoking Mozart's time period (the latter half of the 18th century: 1756-1791).

The text is also well-written. What I like most about this as a book for young children (say, 4-8 years old) is how much the text concentrates on Mozart's early childhood. Of course it continues the story into his adulthood and shares about how great a composer he becomes, but the emphasis stays consistently on details that would interest a young child. Isadora highlights how Mozart learned to write music before he could write words (a concept that fascinated my daughter) and how he and his father would play singing games at night before bedtime. She relays a wonderful scene in which little Mozart, with his child-sized violin, wants to join in and play with his father and some of his father's friends, who are making music on harpsichord and violin. Since Wolfgang had not yet taken any violin lessons, his father discouraged him, but one of the other adults, moved by the little boy's tears, invited him to go on and play. And of course he shocked them all by being able to play beautifully. He'd taught himself how to play the violin!

Since Mozart was a child prodigy, composing and performing before audiences (even royal ones!) before he was seven, his story lends itself well to a children's biography. Not that most children will be able to relate personally to Mozart's genius, but they can relate to his growing love of music and to his desire to play it and write it. Most children have at least one special thing they too love to do (for my daughter right now, it's drawing). This book gave me an opportunity to introduce the words "prodigy" and "genius" to my six year old, but also to talk about giftedness in general...and how gifts are meant to be developed and shared.

Anyone who has ever watched the film Amadeus knows that Mozart's personal life, as he grew older, was quite troubled and troubling. Isadora doesn't gloss over the fact that Mozart struggled with personal discipline (she mentions that he spends too much money, hence his need to keep teaching, giving concerts and composing) but she doesn't keep our focus there or on anything that would be inappropriate for young children. I don't see this as revising history as much as knowing one's audience. There will be time enough later for children to grow in their understanding that not all artists, even those endowed with tremendous gifts, are always morally upright or mistake free. My daughter already knows that all of us are sinners; she's beginning to learn that even people (and characters in stories) that we admire are not always perfect or necessarily good role models. Human struggles don't have to negate someone's gifts or our appreciation for how those gifts have touched us. And thankfully Mozart's gift of beautiful music has lasted long -- long after his very short life (he died at 35) came to an end.

Young Mozart is a thoughtful book to help a young child get to know more about Mozart's life and work. It's also a book that can open up fruitful conversations about gifts and giftedness.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Just Curious...

but can anyone out there NOT see my regular sidebars? For some reason the last couple of times I've clicked to my blog via the standard URL, without actually signing into blogspot, I'm seeing posts but no sidebars...not my profile blurb, archives, blog roll, list of read-alouds, lunar calendar or anything else. The only way I can view sidebars is by signing in, which makes me really curious to know if visitors are unable to see my regular lay-out.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Vocabulary Builders

I've been enjoying the Free Rice website a lot lately. Lots of fun brain-teasers, but I especially like the vocabulary quizzes. Check it out: you can learn new words, and for every answer you get right, they donate 20 grains of rice to the United Nations World Food Program! (Note: the vocabulary quiz is somewhat addictive. As you answer more questions correctly, your "level" increases and the words get harder. If you miss a word, pay attention to the correct answer they give you, as you'll get a second chance on down the line when that word recirculates back to your quiz!)

On the topic of vocabulary building: I just found this enjoyable vocabulary quiz created from C.S. Lewis' The Horse and His Boy. The author of the article hasn't provided answers yet, but I'm guessing you can check back to find them later. Or maybe he just wants us to look up the ones we're not sure about. I'm fairly certain I got most of these, but it made me many of them did I actually learn from context, and from reading Lewis? A great vocabulary builder for a young Lewis fan.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Shannon Hale on Story

Shannon Hale is becoming one of my favorite writers. The YA fantasy writer (who has also written one book for adults, Austenland) continues to delight me with courageous coming-of-age tales. They're deeply satisfying stories and also contain beautifully crafted prose. I reviewed her 2006 Newbery award winning Princess Academy last year, and just recently finished reading and reviewing The Goose Girl, her first novel published in 2003.

I've also become a visitor to Hale's blog Squeetus, a refreshing place to visit. She not only shares with great enthusiasm about her life as a published author, but generously offers peeks into her creative process.

This week she posted a link to a piece she wrote for School Library Journal. Called "How Reader Girl Got Her Groove Back", it's an autobiographical essay in which she reflects on how being force fed the classics, then taught a completely analytical approach to studying literature in college, then taught how to write literary fiction in grad school, almost killed her love of reading. She speaks candidly of how she rediscovered the joyful "reader girl" inside her, the one that used to read with a light under the covers until her eyes gave out, and then fell asleep splayed over a book. (Been there, done that!)

I mention it here not only because it's worth reading in full, but because I found myself needing/wanting to muse aloud about some of what she wrote.

I resonated with much of what she says. I went through a long period of time where I felt like the reading and writing I loved most was always considered "secondary" or somehow less than profound, primarily because much of it could be found on children's or young adult's shelves. I got over that a while ago, especially after trying and failing to read (with any real engagement or passion) a number of contemporary "adult" novelists. I'm not saying that I couldn't find any contemporary novelists writing stories that gripped me, but the ones I usually loved either wrote some form of genre fiction (read: 'non-serious' or 'non-literary') or else straddled the worlds of adult and young adult or children's fiction -- writers like Madeleine L'Engle or Jon Hassler. In the case of the latter two, there were other red flags showing they wouldn't pass muster as "serious literature" in many colleges -- they were both steeped in faith-based worldviews and, in Madeleine's case at least, dabbled in fantasy.

For a long time I had difficulty putting my finger on why I didn't "fit in" with the MFA program I attended for two weeks the year I turned 24 (just several months before I got married). I had been accepted as a potential candidate: in other words, I was there on trial. And what a trial. Fresh out of college, at least a handful of years younger than the other students in the program, I went thinking I'd spend two weeks writing and reading and getting excited about stories with other people who loved stories too. There were pockets of that passion there, and I did learn, but mostly what I found were rather jaded literary type folks who liked to smoke, sip cocktails, network with published authors, write depressing stories, and talk about postmodernism, a concept that I had barely even heard of at the time (which is funny to think about now)! I still remember sitting dumbfounded through a workshop in which we analyzed a short story made up entirely of one sentence (one very, very long, rambling sentence). My faith life and the fact that I sometimes wrote stories with child protagonists didn't get me very far either. The mentor assigned to me seemed bored with my child-likeness. In my closing meeting with her, she simply urged me to find "my voice" and handed me a pre-printed list of all the things I should read if I ever seriously wanted to be a writer. I'd hardly read any of them.

I do think there can be a place for what's termed literary fiction. It can even be written well. But beautiful words that don't lead anywhere are, in the end, just beautiful words, no matter how nicely put together. I long ago realized those are not usually the stories that set my heart pounding, make me laugh or cry, or keep me turning pages, the kind of story worth reading again and again and again the way I kept returning to Alcott, Lewis, Lovelace and L'Engle as a child, the way I began to return also to Tolkien, Austen and others in my young adulthood.

Today I've simply come to accept the fact that most of the best contemporary literature is being written for children and young adults. Perhaps because the writers for those audiences know that the audiences still care deeply about story (take a look at my Epinions profile sometime if you want to see more of my musings on the subject) and expect a good one. And I'm profoundly grateful for writers like Hale who care passionately about delivering a good, cathartic story with a beginning, middle and end and yet also care passionately about beautiful language.

And YET...there always has to be an "and yet" doesn't there?

I am not ready to give up on classical literature. I believe passionately in the value of reading old books as well as new ones (I've imbibed too much Lewisian thought not to value that!). Although I'm sure that my daughter will gobble up many good, contemporary books on the children's and YA shelves as she grows older (and I'm compiling a list now of some of the best ones...Hale's on it) I don't want that to be her only fare. We need a good diet of old and new to nourish our hearts, minds and imaginations.

I think it's very true that being force-fed books you aren't ready for, or being taught to read classics primarily as a lesson in how to analyze and tear apart a story for symbols and themes can kill a love of reading. I don't want that to happen to my daughter: I want her "reader girl" personality to still be shining through at 10, 13, and 16, just as it shines through now at 6 when she trips excitedly into the kitchen to read me a Richard Scarry story while I'm loading the dishwasher. But I don't think it necessarily follows that being given the classics, even some of the so-called great books of the western canon, must dampen a reader's enthusiasm. (It's one reason I'm excited about John Granger's work with the English literary tradition and its influence/connection to JK Rowling's Harry Potter stories...John is truly excited about the idea that with Harry Potter as a "shared text," this generation has a unique and wonderful springboard into understanding and appreciating the great books in a new way.)

Of course I'm not saying Hale doesn't value old stories. That would be silly indeed, given the fact that her novel The Goose Girl, for instance, is based on the Grimm fairytale of the same name. What excites me no end is the way the best stories draw on the stories that come before them, continuing a conversation or engaging in a dance that started long before. So let's give our daughters Hale's marvelous novel, and then let's turn them loose (if they haven't encountered it already) with Andrew Lang's The Blue Fairy Book. Old and new, together.

No, in this thoughtful essay, Hale is simply relating her own experiences regarding what helped bring her back to a passionate love of reading. I resonate with those experiences: in fact, they feel so familiar to me that I found myself inwardly nodding. But I would say that teachers and teaching methodology are often more at fault than the books any of us were given. Classics are, by definition, old, books that have stood the test of time. Most of them have stood the test of time for a reason, but the very fact of their age means that most of us don't find them easy reading, we need keys to help us unlock their joys. Not all classics are created equal (if it's true now that not every writer writes good stories, it's certainly always been true). But there are plenty of "old stories" that we can give to our children in ways that will help nourish that "reader girl" (or "reader boy") inside them. At least that's my hope!

Monday, October 20, 2008

Flower Art

The sweet girl and I went walking and photo-taking on this beautiful autumn day. I snapped a picture of some purple flowers and then came home and played with the image with my rudimentary photo software. I actually have some lovelier ones than this -- I tried it in regular color, grayscale, and this "solarized effect" -- but they're too high resolution to upload on my ancient computer. Thus the tiny postage stamp size (I needed to save it in a much lower resolution and then also crop for the close-up.) Some days I long for a better camera and computer, but mostly I'm just grateful for all that we have, including transient and tiny beauties like roadside flowers.

And I thought this was a rather nice effect, even in miniature! For me, looking at flowers in such detail is an exercise in contemplation and awe. I realize anew the intricate and amazing amount of design included in even very small living things. What an artist our God is!

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Good Listening

We're grateful for our public library. We've been mining its riches (especially the children's library) for years now, but we always seem to find new treasures.

This month we've been getting into audio books. They've turned into an enjoyable listening opportunity during the sweet girl's afternoon rest time...which once in a great while is my rest time too, but most likely turns into lesson planning or reading or writing time!

The favorite two thus far, and ones I highly recommend:

The original Winnie the Pooh by A.A. Milne, unabridged, read by Jim Broadbent. I especially like his Piglet voice.

Green Eggs and Ham and Other Servings of Dr. Seuss, read by Michael McKean, Jason Alexander, and David Hyde Pierce. They're all good readers, but my very favorite is Fox in Socks as read by David Hyde Pierce.

I've also been very much enjoying a lovely CD my husband found for me at the library last week: Joshua Bell playing the West Side Story Suite based on Leonard Bernstein's wonderful West Side Story music. For some reason, I'm not finding a link to this anywhere online (it's late and I'm tired) but I still recommend it if you can find it or borrow it. I've always loved the West Side Story music, and this suite is filled with heart-rending and creative riffs on the West Side musical themes. The CD also includes some of Bernstein's concert work and music from On the Town and Candide.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

100 Species Challenge (#2): Mophead Hydrangeas

2. Hydrangea Macrophylla: also known as "Mophead Hydrangeas." We see these in a lot of yards in the summer here; I especially love the rich blue ones.

These always fascinated me as a child because they change color depending on the soil composition (the amount of aluminum in the soil determines the color). Even though I know it has to do with soil composition, I still find myself thinking of these flowers as ladies who like to change the color of their dress depending on their moods (and the "mophead" designation for some varieties makes me think of ladies with curly hair!). Sometimes you see shades of both pink and blue on the same plant.

Note: I didn't get off to a roaring start with my cataloged list of 100 local species this past summer. I took a lot of photos but haven't had time to identify and/or write about most of them. Hoping to have some time to take some autumnal photos soon, but thought I would add this one culled from pictures I took in July.

Who Do You Write For?

Or perhaps that should actually be "For Whom Do You Write..." my choice of title might change depending on my intended audience!

I've been thinking about this question a good bit lately, without even realizing at first that I was thinking about it. I'm in one of those seasons where I find creativity sneaking up on me when I least expect it: I keep stumbling onto stories that want to be written, and (thankfully!) am locating the time to sit down and actually do some of the writing. Not a whole lot yet, but some.

But as always, creative seasons surprise me. I have a lot of stories in the mental garage that I've been ready to pull out and work on for ages, including some already written that I long to rework. Instead, I find myself writing some things I didn't expect, stories that are "calling out to me" at this particular moment.

One story I began working on last night is a real surprise: it's a story (for children, I think?) about a cheetah. The sweet girl and I have been studying mammals during the first eight weeks of school, and during our "feline" studies, I found myself absolutely fascinated by cheetahs. The bare outline of an African legend was mentioned in one of the books we were reading: it intersected in my head with some of the fascinating facts we were reading and then intersected again with Kipling, and suddenly I found myself starting a story. I love the mysterious ways stories come to us; it's really impossible to track the full path they travel!

But I am curious to know about others' approaches to story-writing. For me, my respect for the mysterious process of how a story-idea (or perhaps it would be better to call it a story-seed) gets born (or blows into my consciousness like a milkweed seed) means that I find myself thinking less about any intended hearers when I first sit down to write. I think I am so busy listening myself to what this particular story is trying to say that I'm not yet thinking too far ahead about who else might ever hear it. My consciousness of crafting it for other people does hover somewhere pretty close by: often I think about how certain lines would sound when read aloud, and sometimes the very way a story starts to come to me gives me an indication of who the audience might be. Hence my deep feeling as I began to write last night that the story I was writing was quite probably one "for children" (which isn't to say that adults might not enjoy it too).

I've heard a number of authors say, in various ways, that they primarily write "for themselves." If the story doesn't please them, keep them interested, or make sense to them -- how will it do any of those things for someone else? I think that makes more intuitive sense to me than the kinds of writing advice you sometimes see that you ask you to picture a very specific audience: say, seven year old girls or ten year old boys. I am shaped by more specific thoughts of audience when I set out to revise, but in the opening draft, I am primarily just trying to listen well and get down, as truly as I can, what I'm hearing and imagining.

Maybe the more true answer is that I write stories because I love stories, and I write stories in the hopes that one day those stories might find their way to other people who love them too. As Madeleine L'Engle used to say, when asked who her stories were for, "they're for people."

All of this is somehow tied up for me in the "where does the meaning of a story reside" question as well. But that's probably a post for another day.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Reading Harry With 20/20 Hindsight

When the final Harry Potter book was published last year, I knew I'd be in for a bit of a let-down once I finished reading it. I actually read it twice in a row, as I've done with all the HP books: first to myself, then out loud to my husband. In the case of Deathly Hallows, I kept the book out for a while longer so I could continue to follow along with some book discussions online, though I found myself needing to quietly lurk rather than diving in head-first the way I had after Half-Blood Prince was published. (The online discussions following that book were just golden: some of the best literary talk I've ever enjoyed.) It wasn't that I didn't have anything to say, but I just found myself needing some space to think it all through and assimilate the ending.

I put DH aside at the end of last year, and somehow I've mostly resisted the occasional urge to pick it back up. I just kept sensing that it wasn't time to read the final book again, and that when I got around to it, I'd probably want to start at the beginning and read the whole series: a huge time investment. I sensed I needed a breather from Harry, even though I continued to check in with discussions from time to time.

And I've not regretted the break. It's been a terrific reading year filled with lots of other books (I'm already getting excited about writing my end of the year "favorites" list, and it's only October!).

Still, just lately I've found myself pulled back, oh so gently, to Harry. I'm in the midst of reading John Granger's Deathly Hallow Lectures (great read so far!) and I also recently began to re-read Sorcerer's Stone, in celebration of the 10th anniversary of the first U.S. edition.

I've been reading along slowly, savoring and enjoying those first few chapters of Sorcerer's Stone that introduce us to Harry and his worlds, both muggle and magical. It's been a delight for all the reasons it was originally a delight (what a good story!) but it's been extra fun because I suddenly find myself having "a-ha" moments every few pages. I feel like a cartoon character with light bulbs going off overhead.

How delicious to see the seeds of so many important parts of the story planted right here in the very beginning. One of the elements I enjoyed most about DH was that terrific sense of coming "full circle" -- all the echoes from the early books (especially book 1) resounding through book 7. But it's fun to pick up on them as I read along in the opening. Some of those seeds are so obvious, and others are tiny, barely noticeable.

And it all makes me wonder about Rowling's creative process, especially the fascinating question of how her story's beginning shaped its ending, or how its ending shaped its beginning (I know, it sounds a bit like "which came first, the chicken or the egg?"). But one does have to wonder, noticing all these marvelous seeds in the first book, if Rowling had any clue what a garden she'd planted. We know she plotted all seven books from the start, but it's also clear (from things she said and just from common sense knowledge of human creativity) that the overall epic changed and grew, staying fresh for her as she wrote -- there were moments when characters surprised her, or when she veered away from one path and chose another. So how many of these seeds were purposefully planted, ones she knew would bloom into important moments later? How many of them just flowed out as she wrote that first draft (and what an imaginative rush that first draft must have been!) and then jumped out at her later as moments she knew she could dig down deeper and draw attention to?

There are all the important "artifacts" of course, that make their first appearances here, like Dumbledore's deluminator and Sirius' motorbike. But what I love are the sentences that leap out at you from the page as though you're wearing magical post-seventh-book glasses:

"You-Know-Who killed 'em. An' then -- and this is the real myst'ry of the thing -- he tried to kill you too." (Hagrid to Harry, when telling him about his parents' deaths)

"But what happened to Vol-, sorry, I mean, You-Know-Who?" (Harry, asking Hagrid an important question, and already showing a penchant for just saying Voldemort's name right out!)

"Some say he died. Codswallop, in my opinion. Dunno if he had enough human left in him to die." (Good on you, Hagrid. You're smarter than you look!)

"Never mess with goblins, Harry...Like I said, yeh'd be mad ter try an' rob it..." (Hagrid, telling Harry about Gringotts, right before they go there the first time. Little does Harry know he's actually going to be mad enough to try it someday! And isn't it fun that right here in the opening chapters of book 1 we see dragon fire in the tunnels, and it's Griphook who opens the vaults for them!)

"I really don't think they should let the other sort in, do you?...I think they should keep it in the old wizarding families..." (Draco, telling Harry about Hogwarts at Madame Malkin's robe shop, before they've been properly introduced.)

"Well, I say your father favored's really the wand that chooses the wizard, of course...And of course, you will never get such good results with another wizard's wand." (Ollivander to Harry, when Harry goes into his shop to buy his wand. These lines just feel fraught with weight now, don't they?)

All bolds are mine, of course! I'll stop for now, as Ollivander's is about as far as I've gotten. But I'm thoroughly enjoying my read-through of Sorcerer's Stone, aided by the magic of 20/20 hindsight.

Thursday, October 09, 2008

Mary Ann Hoberman, New Children's Poet Laureate

Exciting news! Mary Ann Hoberman, one of our family's very favorite poets, has been named the new children's poet laureate.

We love Mary Ann Hoberman's writing. Especially The Seven Silly Eaters, Whose Garden Is It?, and The Llama Who Had No Pajama. That last is an anthology of 100 wonderful poems; the title one is the sweet girl's favorite poem and is also the main reason why she declared last year that Mary Ann Hoberman was her favorite writer. Last spring, we took an opportunity to write to Ms. Hoberman and tell her that; I posted about the lovely reply we received here.

What a great day for children's poetry. We're so excited! Congratulations, Mary Ann Hoberman!

"Coming Home"

An article I recently wrote for our diocesan newsletter, entitled Coming Home, is up on their website (the title will link you to the article). I hope this reflection will offer blessing and hope to others about the deep communion of the church worldwide, no matter what your church tradition happens to be. These thoughts were born out of my reflections on the recent realignment of our diocese with the Anglican Province of the Southern Cone. I know there's still a long way to go, but I'm grateful we've taken this very important step.

And if anyone who reads this blog has been praying for the Episcopal Church, the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh and the Anglican Communion in the past months, thank you.

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Generational Perspectives

My wise husband made a very interesting observation the other evening, following the second of the more "traditional" (i.e. non town-hall style) debates.

Have you noticed that the pundits afterwards are always swift to point out which debater was best at looking into the camera (meaning "into the faces of the American people") and which spent too much time looking down at the moderator? At least, that's how it always sounds to me, as though all the brownie points and gold stars go the ones who look straight into the camera.

My husband's careful observation is that, in both debates, at least at the beginning, the candidates who most naturally talked to the camera were the younger ones, the 40-something candidates. And in both debates, the older candidates were the ones whose natural, first tendency was to look at the moderator, the actual living human being in the room with them, the one asking the questions.

We got to talking about this and we agreed that it seems like a big difference in generational perspective. And in many ways, we empathized with the older candidates (despite the fact that we're closer in age to the younger ones). Yes, I know in the age of televised debates how one looks means a lot, and I know that it's important that potential presidents and vice presidents of the United States understand how to use visual mediums and technology. But it still seems a shame that we can't take a moment to reflect on the fact that it's not necessarily a character flaw or a mark of stupidity that one's first response is to actually look at the real person who is speaking to you, rather than into a camera lens that represents a general group of unseen people "out there."

Of course, I say all this by way of a blog. Hmm.

I think there's an obvious reason, beyond all the other obvious reasons given, why an older candidate would pick a younger or a younger candidate would pick an older one. It's not just about the older candidate needing someone with vitality and energy and hip-ness (for lack of a better term) and the older candidate needing someone with gravitas and experience. It's the blending of two whole different perspectives. Youth and age both have their advantages and even wisdom, but they're very different kinds. And they need each other. Maybe that's one reason so many families are struggling today to stay healthy and whole, because so many times the generations are isolated from one another when they need to live and work together.

Monday, October 06, 2008


Have I mentioned that I love fall?

Despite the melancholy feeling I get in my bones knowing that autumn signals the approach of winter, I still love this season.

The maple in the gazebo park is turning orange from the top down again.

The smell of baking apples mixed with brown sugar and cinnamon...and the way that apple crisp bubbles and browns.

Pumpkins and mums on the sidewalk by the grocery store.

Warm jackets.

A walk in the woods with my beloved husband yesterday. Just the two of us. Holding hands, watching the sun dapple down through the leaves. Remembering the autumn eighteen years ago when we first realized our friendship had moved to an even deeper kind of love.

And tonight, not long past twilight, my daughter running in joyous circles on the seminary lawn. An almost perfect half-moon (waxing) and one very bright star in a field of almost royal blue. Blue, silver and white. A beautiful night.

Friday, October 03, 2008

Laughter Is The Best Medicine

For about the past five weeks, we've been reading through Genesis during morning Bible reading. The sweet girl has been intrigued by the longevity of some of the people we've read about.

Earlier this week we finished Genesis by reading about the deaths of Jacob and then Joseph. Jacob lived "only" to the age of 147, and Joseph only made it to 110! Impressive, but not nearly as long-lived as their ancestors like Noah and Methuselah.

This morning I was making breakfast when the sweet girl popped up with a question.

"Mommy, why didn't Jacob live as long as his ancestors?"

I pondered for a moment, then replied in much the same vein I had yesterday. "Well, we don't really know. But some people think it's because when the earth was very young, there was less pollution and fewer germs, so perhaps people lived longer."

She seemed to find no fault with this, but added wisely: "Or maybe Abraham and Sarah lived longer...because they liked to laugh A LOT!"

Hmm...makes sense to me! Can you imagine the patriarch and matriarch being interviewed for some senior magazine? "And what's the secret to your long life, Mr. and Mrs. Abraham?...Oh, well, we long ago learned that it's important to laugh a lot. Even at ourselves. We even named our kid laughter!"

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Reading Roundup (Overdue End of Summer Edition!)

Happy October!

It would have made much more sense to post this before I posted my reading list for fall, but I got eager to look ahead!

My "third quarter" reading this year was surprisingly good. Though I must admit, some of it was unplanned. I did read a few gems I'd been planning to read, but I also stumbled onto some excellent books I hadn't even heard about.

Here's the list. Where appropriate, links are to my longer reviews on Epinions.

~~Betsy-Tacy in Deep Valley by Caroline Frisch ~~
A tiny book with more pictures than words, more a scrap-book of photos from Maud Hart Lovelace's life than anything else. I also read "at" a number of other essays and books about Lovelace this summer, most of them courtesy of ILL. I still harbor hopes of being able to write a companion book based on the Betsy-Tacy series someday.

~~Planet Narnia by Michael Ward~~
The most elegant book of literary criticism and engagement I have perhaps ever read. Just brilliant.

~~ A Visit to Highbury (Another View of Emma ~~ by Joan Austen-Leigh
What summer would be complete with a good dose of Austen sequel-izing? I took this one to the beach, and found (much to my delight) that it was one of the best such things I've ever read. A very plausible take-off on Emma, from a completely minor point of view. A pleasure. I'm pretty sure it's out of print...

~~Out of the Wild~~ by Sarah Beth Durst
A mostly satisfying sequel to the original, though I struggled with some of the underlying story choices.

~~Heidi by Johanna Spyri~~
How wonderful to finally read a classic and discover it deserves to be one!

~~Heresies and How to Avoid Them: Why It Matters What Christians Believe edited by Michael Ward and Ben Quash~~
Very fine collection of essays on orthodoxy and heresy. Like any such collection, a bit uneven in places, but the first four essays on Christological heresies in the early church are especially solid...I'd like to use them sometime in a theology class. Great epilogue by Ward.

~~March by Geraldine Brooks~~
This one blew me away. Not for the fainthearted. But Little Women fans should rejoice over the intelligence of this novel. I blogged about it in September.

~~Water My Soul~~ by Luci Shaw
A lovely devotional book from one of my favorite poets. She spends most of the time unpacking the metaphor of gardening/growing things as she looks out our spiritual lives and growth.

~~ The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Fiery Shaffer and Annie Barrows~~
What a delight, just an utter delight. I needed to find this novel right when I did. I'm reading it again, aloud to my husband. Always a mark of a book I love.