Tuesday, November 24, 2009


On Sunday we celebrated Christ the King, which always falls on the final Sunday before Advent. When I turn to the readings in the Prayer Book these days, I am very near the back of the book as we've moved into the final "proper" before the readings beginning anew with Advent 1.

The older I get, the more I'm finding myself much more deeply attuned to the rhythms of the church year than to the actual calendar year. I'm realizing that it's this time of year when I'm getting truly excited about newness and fresh starts, much more than when we turn the calendar to January 1, although that's enjoyable too.

It's combination of things: the approach of Thanksgiving, a holiday near to my heart because it reminds me to be grateful and because it's the most time we get to spend with extended family each year, the approach of the prayerful, watchful season of Advent, which of course leads us to the dazzling light of Christmas. It's knowing that no matter how short and dark days seem right now, we're about to turn the corner and begin to bask in just a bit more light each day, a glorious reflection of the Light whose birth we're about to celebrate.

I love the month of October and have long called it my favorite. From a purely seasonal point of view, that's still true -- I love the bright blue days, the colored leaves, apples, pumpkin, corn, the still-longer amounts of daylight, the not-quite-so-cold as it's going to get. But from a heart perspective, I'm beginning to realize how much I love November. All Saints, Christ the King, Thanksgiving, the very tip of Advent.

And from a literary point of view (and those literary days are a deep part of my heart's journey) the November 22 Feast Day of C.S. "Jack" Lewis, and the commemoration of birthdays: Robert Louis Stevenson on November 13, Jack, Madeleine and Louisa (Lewis, L'Engle and Alcott) on November 29. And on the family calender, several extended family members' birthdays and also November 16, my late (paternal) grandparents' anniversary. 80 years since their wedding this year; I still keep a picture of their beautiful wedding day up on my bookshelf.

We're heading out for family visits soon, and I likely won't have much computer access for a few days. If you're reading this, know how many blessings I am wishing your way during this thanksgiving season, this beautiful November.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Dear Governor...

You've made my daughter cry. How does it feel to make a second grader cry?

Yes, that's right. Thanks to your recent $15 million budget cuts to the state historical and museum commission, our local historic site, a wonderful place that has provided us (not to mention thousands of other people) hours of learning and enjoyment, is being forced to shut its doors. It's a unique place, a place many towns across America would love to have in their midst. It's a place that provides an oasis of beauty in the midst of rusted urban decay and historic pride in a tiny town that has seen better days and doesn't always feel like it's got a lot to brag about anymore.

Frankly, we think you've made a mistake.

What good does it do to promise to maintain the buildings if you're not going to help maintain a staff there that can keep the place open to the public and provide educational tours for the public and for schoolchildren?

We're all aware these are difficult economic times, but oh, how I would love to get a look at the state budget and see what was prioritized ahead of the historical commission. I'll bet you some very smart moms and dads and schoolteachers and yes, schoolchildren could help you figure out other things that could be trimmed from that budget.

I'm endeavoring to at least teach my daughter a lesson in civics and in the potential for positive change if people come together and work hard enough. Today I explained to her what petitions are (since I was busy signing one). I've also suggested that she write you a letter. I don't know if she'll do it or not. She was busy wiping away tears and feeling unsure that a letter from a second grader could really make a difference.

So...civics lesson another day. Today we just needed some time and space to feel sad.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Grateful Heart: Thankful Monday

I've not been posting my gratitude list every Monday, but I have really been enjoying the exercise of reflecting on my blessings each Sunday, at the beginning of each new week. Here are a few to add to my ongoing list:

16. My husband is home! He had good, refreshing time away in South Carolina (and that's a blessing too) but now he is home, and I'm so delighted. Between his work hours and travel schedule, we've not had much time together this month, so the bits we've gotten in the past few days feel precious.

17. Time for creativity and shared imagination.
I started working on a story during the days D. was away. Unexpectedly, it's a fantasy/fairy-tale type story (though perhaps that's not surprising given my reading fare in recent months). I really liked the characters, places, and political intrigues that were coming to me. When I started bouncing my ideas around with D., he immediately got into it, and now we're spending some time each evening creating more details together about this fictional world. We've even drawn a map! It's great fun to be working on a creative project together. I especially love how his great questions help spark my imagination.

18. Beautiful autumn weather. After that deep cold spell we had in October, November has turned unseasonably warm. That's not only a blessing for our utility bill, but gives us extra time to enjoy the outdoors before winter settles in to stay.

19. Time with a dear friend I'd not seen in several months. My friend Sandy moved to British Columbia in June, but is back to visit her precious first grandbaby. Yesterday we got a couple of hours together to walk and talk in the beautiful autumn weather I just mentioned.

20. My folks are OK from Hurricane Ida. They weren't in the worst of it down in Virginia, but they got a ton of rain and wind as the hurricane moved on. Lots of standing water in the yard, but no flooding in the house, no downed trees (like they suffered several years ago in the wake of Hurricane Isabel -- their roof took a real beating then!) and no power outages.

21. Some time to read and note-take on some good church history reads. I don't get/make enough time for that kind of continuing ed. but I find I am always blessed when I do -- and it strengthens my teaching in both the short-and-long term.

22. Recent assurance from the Lord that he loves me no matter what, and that my "adequacy" has nothing to do with it.

23. The sweet girl and I are reading a new Ramona book together. They're some of her favorite books in the world, and I parcel them out like chocolates!

So many more I could list, but I'll stop for now...

Friday, November 13, 2009

Literary Birthdays: Robert Louis Stevenson, November 13, 1850

This morning the sweet girl and I celebrated Robert Louis Stevenson's birthday with muffins and poetry reading. In a wonderful "coincidence," we just happened to be reading a book of his poems this month (before I remembered that November was his birth month).

Next perhaps to some hymn writers and the apostle John, Robert Louis Stevenson was probably the first poetic voice to speak to my heart. I shared his poems early with my daughter, and have continued to share them as she grows. She loves his work too.

There are so many repeated images and themes in his poetry that I love: dreams; rain; birds; ships at sea. I love that he is such a liminal poet. He seems to walk boundaries -- day/night, dark/light, sun/shadow, childhood/adulthood, waking/sleeping -- with the gracefulness of a tightrope walker.

We read a brief biography of him this morning, from the Robert Louis Stevenson volume in the "Poetry for Young People" series. A few of the facts we gleaned:

He came from a long line of lighthouse builders; he built poems.

He was ill during much of his childhood and spent a lot of time in bed; his weak lungs often meant he'd spend long nights coughing and longing for the dawn. Small wonder he explored the things he did.

His lungs never did get better. He ended up living in Samoa in his later years, searching for warm climates where he could breathe more easily. He died there of tuberculosis at the incredibly young age of 44. On his gravestone are etched these words, which he himself penned:

Under the wide and starry sky,
Dig the grave and let me lie.
Glad did I live and gladly die,
And I laid me down with a will.

This be the verse you grave for me;
Here he lies where he longed to be,
Home is the sailor, home from the sea,
And the hunter home from the hill.

The Scottish Stevenson as painted by Sargent

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Dragon PR

Earlier this week I finished Michelle Knudsen's The Dragon of Trelian (my full review at the link). For any of you scratching your heads and trying to come up with why the author's name sounds familiar, yes, she's the author of Library Lion, one of my seven year old's favorite picture books of all time (and it's pretty high on her dad's and my lists too). I picked the book up because it was penned by Knudsen -- I love her story-telling, and I'm always curious to know how someone known for good crafting in one genre tackles another. The answer here is: well, and quite creatively. It's a solid mid-grade fantasy.

Of course, it got me to thinking about dragons again. They do keep popping up. Remember this post from a few months back, when I found myself musing about the different ways in which dragons were presented in Tolkien and Rowling? Since then I've read three more dragon tales: this one, Rosemary Sutcliff's The Minstrel and the Dragon Pup, and a re-read of Margaret Hodges' picture book version of St. George and the Dragon.

It does seem as though dragons are getting a major make-over in fantasy literature today. While the more traditional tales (either older stories, or ones based on older stories, like Hodges') keep dragons in traditional roles, the newer tales, while maintaining many of the things we love about dragons -- their fierceness, scaliness, and fire-breathing capabilities -- have softened their image considerably. I keep thinking of those "soft lenses" that get used on Hollywood starlets, the ones that made their features look slightly blurred and dreamy and a bit more beautiful than they might look in harsher light.

The title dragon in Knudsen's story gets this softer treatment. His name is Jakl and he's an orphan. A young princess named Meglynne finds him, adopts him and cares for him, and ends up sharing a strange, mystical connection with him (think Vulcan mind link, only cross-species).

That seems to be part of the new package: it seems like lots of people have secretly wanted dragons for pets/companions, and these days those kinds of stories abound. I know this isn't a precisely new element to dragon stories (Kenneth Grahame and Ruth Stiles come to mind, as earlier representatives) but it does seem to be making a comeback. I suspect that may be due almost entirely to Hagrid, the Hogwarts gamekeeper who gave Norbert his own teddy bear...

The other recurring elements I'm seeing in this trend: viewing dragons as somehow misunderstood or mistreated, and seeing them ultimately fight on the "right" side. Part of the fun in Trelian is seeing the dragon fight with and for the princess. Indeed, there's a heart-stopping moment where you realize, once the major battle against the baddies has been won, that the dragon might be brought down by unobservant good guys who just aren't used to seeing a dragon fighting to protect the castle and its inhabitants. My favorite line in the whole book, uttered by the magician Serek: "The dragon is, ah, on our side."

Almost makes you wish you could steal an imaginative page from a dragon PR agent. I suspect it would read something like this. "Baby, the days of type-casting are so over! I know you're tired of breathing fire and looking like a bad guy, but you don't have to limit yourself to those kinds of scenes. Remember Norbert! Remember Jakl! Be subversive! Hold out for the ground-breaking roles!"

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Everybody's a Critic: The "New" Winnie the Pooh

I finally picked up my library hold shelf copy of Return to the Hundred Acre Wood, the authorized "sequel" to A.A. Milne's original Pooh classics. I've only read the introduction and the first story, but so far am cautiously optimistic. David Benedictus mostly seems to "get" Milne's voice and rhythm, and the illustrations by Mark Burgess gently mimic E.H. Shepard's original illustrations. They're also colored with lovely, light washes of color.

I know my friend Erin, Pooh devotee extraordinaire, enjoyed it, but I hear it's not getting very good reviews overall. When my husband picked the book up at the library, the librarian basically told him to tell me not to get my hopes up because the early reviews have been dreadful.

The sweet girl was curious about the book, so I explained to her that this author and artist have been given permission by the people who own the rights to the original Pooh stories, to write and draw more stories like them. I tried to explain the notion of similar styles, and I explained how long ago the original Pooh books were written because I wasn't sure she realized just how old they were (we do love them!).

When she was getting ready for her bath this evening she paused to look at the cover of the book, then said, in a rather disapproving voice, "Why is Piglet's sweater green?"

"What?" I asked, having (I must confess) not noticed this detail of the cover art.

"Why is Piglet's sweater green? It should be pink." And then she added, in a resigned tone, "Maybe the man who drew the new pictures for this new book just didn't know what color Piglet's sweater should be."

I guess everyone's a critic, even my seven year old. That Pooh bar is set pretty high!

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

The Cost of a Lighted World

A few years ago I jotted down this story from the book Aquachurch by Leonard Sweet:

"As a child in the 1950s, I heard a story at a holiness revival meeting in New York. It seems a certain missionary, home on leave, was shopping for a globe of the world to take back to her mission station. The clerk showed her a reasonably priced globe and another one with a light bulb inside. 'This is nicer,' the clerk said, pointing to the illuminated globe, 'but of course, a lighted world costs more.'

What has lighting our world cost you lately?"

I thought of that story yesterday evening when the sweet girl called me into her room after dinner. The early darkness (courtesy of daylight savings) means she is getting more dark-evening playtime after dinner, and she's taken full advantage of it the past few nights. She dresses in dance skirt and shoes, pulls the shades, douses every light in her room, brings out flashlights, and then hits the play button on the CD player. Her favorite right now is Vivaldi's The Four Seasons and she'll dance away to it, beaming her flashlights around to make spotlights. (If anyone on the hill happens to be watching the windows of our building, they probably think we're signaling some urgent message...)

But last night she came running out her room, insisting I come back and see something neat. Her inflatable globe -- not the globe on a stand we bought from mission-going friends at their recent yard sale -- would light up if she positioned her flashlight on one of the light blue ocean areas. The light wouldn't shine through the darker colored plastic of the continents, but when she pushed her little flashlight against one of the oceans, the entire world did indeed light up.

It sounds so simple, a little plastic globe lit by a flashlight, but can I tell you something? It was breathtaking. We both just stood there in awe, looking at that brightly lit sphere in the midst of her dark room. It was a bit of magic, a small, softly glowing planet seeming to hover in the dark but familiar space of her room. There was something fragile and lovely about it, like a Christmas ornament. We slowly turned it, letting it revolve as the music played. Beauty discovered. Beauty shared. I realized later that it was one of those moments that I think will stand out indelibly in my mind in years to come, as I look back on my little girl's growing up years.

Hours later, I thought of the Sweet quote. I've always liked it, not only because it's a terrific illustration ("that'll preach," as one of my seminary profs used to say) but because that final question seems so challenging. "What has lighting our world cost you lately?" helps me to think about my actions, whether or not what I'm doing or not doing helps to shed some light in dark places. And sometimes, yes, light-filled actions are costly.

But that night I found myself thinking of something different. In one sense, a lighted world costs a great deal. In another sense, for we children of God it's utterly free, a gift, the kind of gift you're not at all expecting, like when your seven year old runs toward you, her face eager and alight, to tell you she wants to show you something beautiful.

Because we don't light the world, do we? At least not in the sense that God does. God, the one who said "let there be light," the one who himself is called "the light," the one who shined light on the people who had walked in great darkness, he is the one who truly bears light to this dark world. He is the one who promised his people, when they were languishing in despairing darkness, that he would not leave them there, that he would come and rescue them, even if it cost him everything.

And it did. So in a very deep sense, you can truly say that a lighted world costs everything. It cost Jesus everything. And yet, as grateful receivers of that light that illumines our hearts, we know it is also utterly and beautifully free.

I know, of course, that we too are called to be lights, to not hide our lamps under a bushel, to let our lights so shine before others that God is glorified and so those who see our lesser lights find themselves looking to the source of light and life we reflect. Small wonder we creatures of this world love the moon, that "lesser light to rule the night," because in a deep sense, we relate to a waxing and waning satellite that has no true light of its own but can only reflect the greater light. Of course, it is still the moon's task to shine. And so it is our's. But we need to be in the right position to do so, our face turned towards the source of all radiance.

Oh Lord, make us radiant. Make your face to shine upon us so that we reflect your glory. Help us remember that you have lit the world at great, dear cost. Help us to take your light (like a small flashlight in the hand of an eager child) into those corners and heart spaces where your light has not been fully comprehended, into places where the darkness battles bitterly to try to take back ground. Help us, Lord, to do battle with courage, and not to cede an inch to the dark. For this world is so beautiful when it's fully lit by your love.

Monday, November 02, 2009

Thankful Monday

Another Monday zipping by, and I've not had time to post my gratitude list. Right now I'm especially thankful for:

11. Time this past weekend to cook, bake and clean. Now if I could only wiggle some writing time in there!

12. The fact that my seven year old truly enjoys (yes, ENJOYS!) scrubbing the bathtub. Cleaning the bathroom has always been my least favorite chore, and it's so much more fun with an enthusiastic little girl right beside me, chipping in and marveling over the fun of scrubbing sponges and soap.

13. That we have not yet succumbed to illness. There are a lot of germs floating around out there, seemingly everywhere we turn. Neither D nor I has been getting the sleep we need, and we've all battled some congestion/sore throats, but not one of us has really fallen badly ill.

14. For the opportunity to reconnect with a couple of old friends this week via Facebook. I know FB can be a bit of a mixed blessing, but sometimes it's a real gift.

15. For the Lord's continued provision for our family. We're able to pay the bills this month again, always a "thank you." And thanks to extra work projects and some timely gifts from loving friends and ministry partners, we've been able to buy groceries for the past few weeks without resorting to credit and without huge levels of anxiety in the grocery store. I can't tell you how good that feels. Even better, the delight of relaxing and being able to give a bit more ourselves.

Sunday, November 01, 2009

For All the Saints, Who From Their Labor Rest

I so love this hymn.

You can hear it here, with a full choir and organ.

The text is by William How, the glorious music by Ralph Vaughn Williams (whose music I've listened to for much of this day). God's gift of music through Ralph Vaughn Williams is yet one more reason I am thankful for the Anglican tradition.

O blest communion, fellowship divine!/We feebly struggle/they in glory shine/all are one in Thee/for all are Thine./Alleluia! Alleluia!

A blessed All Saints Day to you!

The Continuing Adventures of Betsy, Tacy and Tib

Although I thought the sweet girl was relating most to Tib in our recent read-aloud of Maud Hart Lovelace's first two Betsy-Tacy books, she has recently declared herself Betsy. She's named two of her dolls Tacy and Tib, and this afternoon they've been very busy. In fact, everywhere I turn, that trio is up to something!

Today's adventures....Betsy, Tacy and Tib have played with Lego's, given each other fun hairstyles, and gone to dancing class. That would be the sweet girl's darkened room, with music playing and a big flashlight to use as a spotlight.

Although I cracked up over the idea of Betsy, Tacy and Tib (those playmates of the late 1890s) playing with Lego's, it did dawn on me that they would probably have loved them if they'd been invented back then. Tib's brother Hobbie would have too. In fact, one could almost imagine Hobbie growing up to invent them. Think about what great fun they had building a playhouse with the wood in the Mueller's basement!

I must confess that seeing the sweet girl so enthusiastically making up stories for the terrific trio makes me wish that she had a) sisters; b) nearby cousins, both in age and geography; or c) neighbors with bookworm kids.

But I will count my blessings that she is blessed with a lovely, vivid imagination!

I wonder if we could start a girl's book group?