Thursday, April 30, 2009

Poem in Your Pocket Day!

National Poetry Month comes to an end today with the celebration of "Poem in Your Pocket" day. When the sweet girl and I celebrated this day together last year, she carried "Eletelephony" and I carried "Nothing Gold Can Stay."

This year she decided to carry Rebecca Kai Dotlich's "Midnight Stray" (far and away our favorite poem published in the Gotta Book 30 Poets in 30 Days series this April...we have loved that series!). I also wanted to carry a poem that we had read together during the month and chose Jane Yolen's "Grandpa Bear's Lullaby" (you'll need to scroll about half-way down the page to find it). It speaks to me on profound heart levels beyond its immediate tender and cozy associations. I love a poem that can work when it's whispered to a very small child, and yet still packs a wallop for the heart of a parent.

What a great month this has been. We're definitely going to make April a poetic month from here on out in our family. Not that poetry can't be celebrated in other months too -- it will be! But it's been wonderful to set aside some specific time to celebrate and play with language.

I also posted two reviews of poetry books for children on Epinions this month. You can check them out at these links: Prelutsky's "Pizza the Size of the Sun" Feeds Our Poetry Hunger and If Those Socks Could Speak -- "Dirty Pile of Laundry: Poems In Different Voices."

Happy end of Poetry Month!

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Reading Round-Up: Post Easter Edition

I always have good intentions about posting on my reading for each quarter, but then the months fly by. So I'll arbitrarily pick Easter as my cut-off date for this batch of reading reflections.

It's been a slow start to my reading year in some ways. I'm plowing ahead, bit by bit, in Susan Wise Bauer's A History of the Ancient World (yes, faithful readers of this blog are allowed to chuckle over how long it's taking me to wend my way through this book). I've made it up to the 600s BC which gives you some indication of how far I've got to go. It's truly a good read, but it's become my bedside book, the one I pick up and dive back into when I need a break from other things or for when I'm in between books. I'm hoping by the time I finish it, she'll have volume 2 ready for me to read in just the same way!

I'm also still reading Travis Prinzi's Harry Potter & Imagination, and David Adam's Aidan, Bede and Cuthbert.

My current re-reading -- and re-reading is a beloved and necessary feature of my reading life -- is the Harry Potter series. More on that in another post.

I hadn't realized how steeped in mysteries my reading has been this year. That's almost all due to the fact that I've been re-reading Dorothy Sayers' Wimsey-Vane novels, with a brief detour into the work of contemporary author Jill Paton Walsh (who finished Sayers' last unfinished novel). Here's my complete list of mystery novels read since January:

The Wyndham Case (Jill Paton Walsh)
Gaudy Night (Dorothy Sayers)
Busman's Honeymoon (Dorothy Sayers)
Debts of Dishonor (Jill Paton Walsh)
A Rare Benedictine (short stories by Ellis Peters)
Cream Puff Murder (Joanne Fluke)
Thrones, Dominations (Dorothy Sayers & Jill Paton Walsh)

I've also read parts of the first Sayers biography Such a Strange Lady by Janet Hitchman. It didn't manage to retain my interest the whole way. I fared better with the excellent Conundrums for the Long Week-End: England, Dorothy L. Sayers, and Lord Peter Wimsey by Robert Kuhn McGregor with Ethan Lewis. It managed to be not only a biography of Sayers but also a fine literary analysis of the Wimsey novels and a cultural analysis of England between the wars, as illumined by the development of Wimsey's character. Good reading.

Also read in this quarter:


The Mysterious Benedict Society and the Perilous Journey by Trenton Lee Stewart
The Tales of Beedle the Bard by J.K. Rowling
The Enchanted Castle by E. Nesbit
The Magic Half by Annie Barrows


The Snowflake Man by Duncan C. Blanchard
Keeping House by Margaret Kim Peterson

Links, where provided, are to my reviews on Epinions.

I don't usually post about our family read-alouds but am thinking I may start. You can usually see a list with our current book and the past several we've read on the sidebar on the bottom left.

Monday, April 27, 2009

100 Species Challenge #3: Lily of the Valley

I've been slow as a tortoise posting anything on the 100 Species Challenge we started last summer. I've taken a number of pictures of plants and flowers, and even identified some of them! but have been remiss about posting anything. Given my slowness and our urban environment, I still think it will likely take me several years to actually manage 100 postings, but I'm enjoying myself anyway! Don't be surprised to see a few more posts than usual this spring...

# 3 on our list is Lily of the Valley. I took this photo in the beautiful gardens at Old Economy last Thursday. The technical name for this particular variety is Convallaria majalis var. montana. The green tint on the bell-like flowers shows it's the US variety.

The sweet girl thought these needed water since they were drooping, but droop is part of their distinctiveness. Some people think they look like tear drops, and one legend says that they were formed by Eve's tears when she left the garden. I like that: wouldn't it be like God to turn even those tears into something beautiful?

"You're Not Listening, Marian."

I grew up loving Meredith Wilson's musical "The Music Man." The story's wonderful, the songs singable, and Robert Preston as the reprehensible (yet endearing!) and ultimately redeemable con man Professor Harold Hill has got to be one of my favorite musical movie performances of all time. I think I can safely say he's the only slick talking salesman I ever fell in love with!

A librarian at our local library mentioned "Marian the Librarian" in passing the other day, and the sweet girl was instantly intrigued. She wants to be a librarian (that's been her firm answer to "what do you want to be when you grow up?" since she was four!) and she loves rhymes. When she asked me what the librarian meant, I told her about the movie. Then of course I put the DVD on hold.

"The Music Man" debuted before her wondering eyes yesterday. She hasn't seen the whole film yet (it's long...) but she's already in love with the music and dancing. And she begged to watch "Marian the Librarian" first, and then again...and again and again and again. Yes, five times. I let her do it mostly because I had never, ever heard her laugh so hard. The idea of people singing and dancing in a library completely tickled her funny bone, and she thinks Professor Hill's antics to try to get Marian's attention are a riot. Especially when he threatens to drop a bag of marbles on the floor!

Throw in Shirley Jones' exaggerated consternation, clever lyrics she's still working to figure out, a room full of whirling, twirling girls in beautifully colored dresses, the literally toe-tapping choreography, and the scene where Harold Hill slides down a banister on a spiral staircase, and you've got one riveting musical number. I caught her trying some of the dance moves with her bears last night before bed. I suspect we will be singing Marian the Librarian around here for a long time!

Friday, April 24, 2009

Seventeen Years

If you'd been taking a walk with me and the sweet girl yesterday, you would likely have overheard this conversation:

Me: Do you know what Saturday is?
Sweet Girl: No, what?
M: It's the 25th. Do you know what we celebrate on the 25th?
S: Christmas?
(No, she doesn't really think it's Christmas time, she's just very literal. Please note that I didn't specify which 25th I was referring to!
M: (laughing) No, I meant APRIL 25th. It's Mommy and Daddy's anniversary. We're celebrating 17 years since we got married.
S: (with a squeal) HAPPY ANNIVERSARY! (a pause, then...) Wow, 17 years is very impressive. I'm proud of you and want to give you a kiss!

I couldn't help but laugh she planted a kiss on my cheek. I think that's one of the nicest anniversary greetings I've ever had.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Literary Birthdays & Poetry Month: William Shakespeare

Today is the day traditionally celebrated as William Shakespeare's birthday (we know he was baptized on April 26).

In honor of the day, I'm hoping to have a chance to read a bit in Leon Garfield's Shakespeare Stories II. The sweet girl and I recently studied Cleopatra and Marc Antony, and she was very interested to learn a famous play had been written about them. I've heard Garfield's re-tellings of Shakespeare for children are quite good so I checked this volume (which includes his retelling of Antony and Cleopatra) out of the library. I've just not had time to read any yet, and I'd like to before I attempt it out loud.

Combining birthday celebrations with the ongoing celebration of poetry month, I'm posting what is probably my favorite Shakespearean sonnet, number 116.

Let me not to the marriage of true minds
Admit impediments. Love is not love
Which alters when it alteration finds,
Or bends with the remover to remove:
O no! it is an ever-fixed mark
That looks on tempests and is never shaken;
It is the star to every wandering bark,
Whose worth's unknown, although his height be taken.
Love's not Time's fool, though rosy lips and cheeks
Within his bending sickle's compass come:
Love alters not with his brief hours and weeks,
But bears it out even to the edge of doom.
If this be error and upon me proved,
I never writ, nor no man ever loved.

I love this reflection on the durable nature of real love: its deep, unchanging quality even in the face of change, hardship, danger, decay. "...bears it out even to the edge of doom" is a remarkable phrase that rings so deeply true of all the best love stories, whether those be ones imagined on the page (that fortify us for the journey) or lived out in real life.

Thank you, Will, that you did indeed write. And love too.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Revisiting Amazing Grace

I'm up way too late (past midnight) trying to get some work done, both teaching and writing. It's been a long, full week with very little time for thinking or reading, and tired as I am, I just feel in need of some quiet space to do both.

This Friday evening found us at church for the monthly movie night, which my husband and a current seminarian began hosting a few months ago. This evening's film was "Amazing Grace," the 2006 film inspired by the life of William Wilberforce.

D. and I originally saw the movie back in the fall of 2007. I loved it then, as you can see from my review here, but I loved it even more the second time around. Perhaps this time I wasn't so focused on seeing whether or not they were historically accurate in the way they portrayed one of my favorite heroes of the faith. This time I just sat back and soaked in the wonderful performances. All of them were excellent, but Ioan Gruffudd was really masterful as Wilberforce. I remembered how well he captured his passion and drive; I hadn't remembered so vividly how he captured his frailty and exhaustion.

That's what really got to me tonight: how terribly in need of grace we all are, even those saints (like Wilberforce and Newton) whose lives we look back on with gratitude and sometimes awe. Wilberforce nearly burned himself out for God. There were clearly times (many times) when he couldn't see what God was doing, when he was worn out and at the end of his rope, and when he felt like a complete failure. Of course we the audience know, even as we watch those darkest moments, that grace will prevail. Wilberforce will succeed (did succeed) in getting his bills passed in parliament. The British slave trade was abolished in 1807 and slavery itself was abolished in 1833. His life's work was blessed and countless people freed and blessed through it.

But Wilberforce didn't know that while he lived it. He couldn't see the very good end, though he prayed for it fervently, dreamed it, imagined it, hoped for it. But what Gruffudd captures so brilliantly about Wilberforce is the truth that, in the midst of the very long fight, there were simply times when it just felt like a long, lonely, bitter slog. And there were times when only the grace of God, especially manifested through the love and encouragement of people around him, carried Wilberforce through.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Poetry Month: Robert Louis Stevenson

If there was poetry I cut my teeth on, besides the poetry of the King James translation of the Bible, it was the poetry of Robert Louis Stevenson. I think one or both of my parents must have known and loved his work when they were children, because we always seemed to have at least one copy of A Child’s Garden of Verses lying on the shelves. I’m pretty sure we had more than one copy because no one set of illustrations springs to mind when I think about some of the poems I loved best.

Of course, that might also be due to the fact I’ve seen still more versions of his poetry in my adulthood. A number of his poems appear in almost every good anthology or collection of poetry favorites for children, including quite a few we’ve read to the sweet girl in the past six plus years since she was born. His poem The Swing has been anthologized over and over...I still remember the sweet girl, at the age of only about three and a half, figuring out that there were two copies of this poem in two different books on her shelves. She loved to take them out and compare the very different pictures; most of all, she loved to hear the poem read again and again.

I still love “The Swing.” No matter how many times I read it, it never seems to lose its simple magic:

How do you like o go up in a swing,
Up in the air so blue?
Oh, I do think it the pleasantest thing
Ever a child can do!

Up in the air and over the wall,
Till I can see so wide,
Rivers and trees and cattle and all
Over the countryside –

Till I look down on the garden green,
Down on the roof so brown –
Up in the air I go flying again,
Up in the air and down!

I never lose my appreciation for the music of this lovely poem, its back and forth, up and down cadence that does indeed seem to mimic the rhythm of swinging.

And I never lose my appreciation for the way it manages to evoke the memories of the sheer joy I felt when I would swing, which was often…first on our backyard swingset when I was little, and then (when I’d gotten older and the swingset had long since been taken down) on a wooden swing my Dad built for me in a backyard maple. How I loved that swing, which had good, long ropes so I could really pump up and feel like I was flying, and a wide, comfortable seat that I could laze in, one toe merely dragging on the ground, if I just felt like rocking back and forth a bit while I read a good book on a sunny day.

This poem manages to capture all of that feeling for me, and it does it in just a handful of cheerful, rhyming words. Doesn’t it make you happy just to savor those phrases: “pleasantest thing,” “cattle and all,” “garden green,” and “roof so brown”?

There are other Robert Louis Stevenson poems I love: “The Land of Counterpane,” “Bed in Summer,” “Where Go the Boats,” “The Seaside,” and perhaps especially “Rain” (just to name a few) but “The Swing” holds a special place in my heart.

Poetry months posts from 2008: Wendell Berry; William Butler Yeats

Monday, April 13, 2009

Alleluia! Christ is Risen!

Soar we now where Christ has led, Alleluia!
Following our exalted Head, Alleluia!
Made like him, like him we rise, Alleluia!
Ours the cross, the grave, the skies, Alleluia!

There are moments in the Easter liturgy where my heart always soars. That first moment when the congregation seems to rise up like a tidal wave of joy to shout "He is risen indeed! Alleluia!" And the moment when the first notes of "Christ the Lord is Risen Today" launch us into praise.

I know that the singing of that hymn is not always a part of every Easter service or liturgy, but within Anglican churches at least, it's almost definite that we'll sing it at some point. And I am so grateful. The words of that hymn have become a huge part of the celebration of Jesus' resurrection for me: his rising, his defeating of death once and for all time, our praise, our joy, our sure and certain hope that because he rose we also shall rise. Alleluia!

When I teach English church history, I remind my students that Anglicanism really has no primary founding theologian in the way that the Presbyterians have Calvin and the Lutherans have Luther. We have a founding liturgist in Thomas Cranmer, but he wasn't a theologian in the sense of the others...not a great systematizer or revolutionary thinker. The richness of Cranmer is the way he deeply inhabited the Biblical story and let the Scriptures enrich his prayers.

It strikes me more and more the the best and most deeply influential Anglican theologians have primarily been poets and hymn-writers (which may be one of the reasons I was drawn into this tradition in the first place!) and that Charles Wesley is certainly one of the most important. We may not think of C.W. primarily as a theologian but if you consider a theologian someone who speaks truth about God in ways that enrich the lives and understanding of the community of God's people (and I do) then Charles Wesley is one of the best we've ever had.

This is the man who penned Hark the Herald Angels Sing as well as Christ the Lord is Risen Today, but his prolific and profound poetry didn't touch only on the great feasts of Christmas and Easter but on every part of our journey in Christ. Love Divine All Loves Excelling (sung by the congregation at our wedding), O For a Thousand Tongues to Sing (my favorite hymn as a child), Jesus Lover of My Soul, And Can It Be, Lo How He Comes With Clouds Descending. These are not merely some of the most beautiful and singable congregational hymns ever written; they speak profoundly and truly about who God is, how he loves us, and who he calls us to be.

I love both the Wesley brothers, and though I'm fond of reminding my students of the many thousands of miles that John rode on horseback during his preaching tours (remember the world was his parish!) I love that he wasn't the only Wesley who composed while riding. There's a marvelous story of Charles arriving at a chapel one evening and springing from his horse with a cry of "a pen! a pen!" They say he wouldn't talk to anyone until he had written down whatever words had been given to him as he journeyed along. I'm so grateful for all the words God gave Charles Wesley over the years as well as for Charles' faithfulness in receiving them and using his God-given talents to shape those words into such deep praise and poetry.

Thursday, April 09, 2009

Little Ray of Sunshine

We had a delightful Betsy-Ray-like moment yesterday. The sweet girl had decided to pen "love notes" to me and her Dad (her newest craze) and trailed after me with marker in hand. "How do you spell 'you're a sweetie?'" she wanted to know.

Of course that made me laugh. I was remembering the delightful moment in the Betsy-Tacy books when Mrs. Ray says that Betsy has been making up stories for years. She used to follow me around asking 'how do you spell "going down the street?"

I wonder if I ever trailed after my Mom asking similar questions...

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

The Cross on My Desk

On Sunday, the sweet girl came over to my desk and taped this lovely paper cross to my desk. "There," she said, "now during Holy Week you can think about the death of Jesus, even when you're busy working."


Monday, April 06, 2009

Trust the Good News That God Is Doing Something New

"...The call to repent is part of the announcement that this is the time for the great moment of freedom, of God's rescue.

That's why it goes with the call to believe. Jesus' contemporaries trusted all sorts of things: their ancestry, their land, their Temple, their laws. Even their God -- provided that this God did what they expected him to do. Jesus was now calling them to trust the good news that their God was doing something new. To get in on the act, they had to cut loose from other ties and trust him and his message. That wasn't easy then and isn't easy now. But it's what Peter, Andrew, James and John did, and it's what all Christians are called to do today, tomorrow, and on into God's future."

~Tom Wright, Mark for Everyone (from commentary on Mark 1:14-20, the calling of the disciples)

This resonated deep in my heart when I read it yesterday during some quiet time on Palm Sunday. How often do I trust in all sorts of things...even good things...including God as long as he does what I expect him to do? How often do I lack courage to follow God's call when he is doing something new that I don't entirely see or understand?

Peter, Andrew, James and John could have had no clue, absolutely none, as to what Jesus was calling them to. They went because it was Jesus who did the calling, not because of any promises or understanding of what they were getting into. I want that kind of courage and that kind of love: to hear his voice, to know without a doubt that following his voice is the most important thing I can do, and to follow him with all my heart.

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

Happy Poetry Month!

The blogosphere is buzzing with poetic energy as National Poetry Month kicks off today. I'm especially impressed at the number of sites dedicated to celebrating children's poetry.

You can find round-ups in many places, but I especially want to point you to Karen Edmisten's post here, which has links to Gotta Book's 30 Poets in 30 Days and The April Poem-a-Day Challenge at the blog Poetic Asides. The 30 Poets in 30 Days will present a brand new poem each day from a wonderful children's poet...Jack Prelutsky gets things started today! The Poem-a-Day Challenge presents creative prompts to get your poetry-writing sap flowing each day.

Miss Rumphius Effect is also presenting Poetry Makers, a daily series of interviews with children's poets during the month of April. She already introduced me to a poet I didn't know (just on day 1) and a brand new book that I know my little girl would absolutely love.

As I did last year, I hope to blog this month about some of my favorite poems old and new and why they've lodged in my heart.

Happy Poetry Month!