Tuesday, March 30, 2010

100 Species Challenge #10: Cymbidium Orchids

Back when I worked in a florist (many, many years ago) cymbidiums were one of my favorite flowers in the shop. I still love them. And I couldn't resist snapping this beautiful photo at the conservatory the other day, where the creamy white blooms seem particularly elegant and lovely next to the variegated leaves behind them.

Cymbidium orchids, it turns out, are fairly hardy. They apparently can make good houseplants (leading me to want to try!) and can survive fairly cold temperatures, unlike some of their more fragile orchid cousins. They come in stunning varieties and colors too.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Reader Polls: Chapter Books and Classic Poems

One reader's poll I've been following is winding down, while another is gearing up to start just in time for Poetry Month!

The poll winding down is Fuse #8's Top 100 Children's Novels. She's been counting down 100 favorite chapter books for 8-12 year olds, and a wonderful list it's been. She posted #11 today (Ellen Raskin's The Westing Game) so tomorrow we move into top ten territory. Since she's counting down only one per day at this point, and is taking weekend breaks, we've still got a couple of weeks to anticipate, enjoy and discuss! You can find the whole list posted in one streamlined and regularly updated list at Six Boxes of Books.

Of the ten I voted for, some have showed up already and one won't (it was a series book from the middle of a series; the series has been represented already by its first book). I was a bit flummoxed to see a couple of books I almost assumed would be in the top ten show up in the second tier of the top twenty, namely Bridge to Terebithia and The Hobbit. (The Hobbit came in at #12, a pleasant post to see on my birthday last Friday...made even nicer by the fact that I was quoted in the post!)

So far the list has been an interesting mix of classic and contemporary, and there's no reason to assume the top ten won't follow suit. Still I would fall down in an astonished faint if we don't see Charlotte's Web, A Wrinkle in Time, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, and Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone all in the final ten. Those four are the ones I'm considering (fingers crossed!) as shoo-ins. The other six are up for grabs, in my humble opinion, and I've got at least a dozen possible contenders scribbled in my journal as I try to think through what might show up. I'm guessing at least one book I'm not thinking of at all will make the list: either something new that children voted for in droves, or a classic I'm either forgetting or wrongly assuming not enough people will remember.

The other reader's poll is hosted by Sherry over at her blog Semicolon. She asked readers to submit their ten favorite "classic poems" -- meaning poetry in the public domain. I had a great time coming up with my list, though I pretty much gave up trying to pick my favorite ten poems of all time (just too hard!) and just went with ten poems I have loved and returned to again and again over the years. Given the fact that we've just moved into spring, I tended to gravitate toward spring-time poems. The poems are being tallied now, and the countdown begins Thursday, April 1, a fitting beginning to poetry month. I'm looking forwarding to checking in regularly to see the poems that others chose.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

John Donne: Annunciation

In honor of the day.


Salvation to all that will is nigh,
That All, which always is All everywhere,
Which cannot sin, and yet all sins must bear,
Which cannot die, yet cannot choose but die,
Loe, faithful Virgin, yields himself to lie
In prison, in thy womb; and though he there
Can take no sin, nor thou give, yet he'will wear
Taken from thence, flesh, which death's force may try.
Ere by the spheres time was created, thou
Wast in his mind, who is thy Son, and Brother,
Whom thou conceiv'st, conceiv'd; yea thou art now
Thy maker's maker, and thy Father's mother,
Thou hast light in dark; and shutst in little room,
Immensity cloistered in thy dear womb.

~John Donne

You can find Donne's Sonnets here.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Priming the Pump for Poetry Month

There's just a tad bit over a week to go until poetry month, and I'm getting very excited! I've been looking over some of last year's online resources and am thrilled to see that many of the websites that celebrated in such creative fashion last year are planning to do it again. Here's what I plan to do for poetry month, both on and off this blog:

1) Post links, in the coming week, to some of the wonderful resources out there that celebrate the reading, writing and all-around enjoyment of poetry. Stay tuned!

2) Read poetry every day. Both with my seven year old, and on my own, I want April to be a month drenched in word-play. It's such a beautiful month for it too, beginning with the end of Holy Week and Easter and moving ever deeper into spring.

3) Write some poetry. I won't say every day because I need to be realistic, but some of the websites I'll be pointing to over the next few days have good creative prompts to get the creative juices flowing. With the sap flowing in the trees outside, it seems like a natural time of year to follow suit...

4) Post some of my own reflections on the importance of reading poetry with children, and some creative ways to help engage children in that kind of reading.

5) Ask a couple of my literature loving friends to talk me with about their favorite poems, and posting those Q&A interviews here.

So get ready for a loving onslaught of poetry posts!

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Happy Spring!

I've not been posting this week because I've been sick. The last days of winter, though they didn't look or feel very wintry outside (where it's turned wonderfully spring-like suddenly) still managed to slam me. On Wednesday night I came down with either a very nasty virus or the flu -- not sure which. And I'm still recovering.

There's nothing like two days of fever/chills, aches and countless bathroom trips, to make one grateful for ordinary days of health. For the better part of two days, I literally slept, in huge crashing washes of sleep, that left me feeling like I'd been underneath the ocean. I've almost never had an illness wipe me so completely of energy. The fact that I've only managed gatorade, dry toast, a couple of saltines and a bit of broth in all that time (most of that since yesterday afternoon) has also left me feeling pretty weak.

But...so much to be thankful for. My husband, though absolutely swamped at the office and not able to be home much, has pitched in to do the absolute essentials that I simply couldn't make myself do in the midst of hours of nausea (like meals). The sweet girl has been on her absolute best behavior, realizing that this wasn't a simple case of Mommy not feeling well, but rather Mommy being truly sick. She's actually kept herself on a routine, doing her chores without complaint, doing extra things to help out, even doing her schoolwork pretty much on her own, only bringing me some things to check over once in a while (I would have just cancelled everything!). She's fetched me things and stroked my head and been so flexible about changes in routine (always her biggest challenge) that I'm just feeling amazed. What a lovely gift, in the midst of being so sick, to have one of those beautiful parental "oh my, she's really growing up...and hey, she's doing it so well!" moments.

Then there's the sunshine -- which I've not had a chance to go out and actually feel, but it's glorious to see it pouring through the windows.

And today is my parents' 56th wedding anniversary, with my mom's 78th birthday tomorrow. I so wish I could be with them to celebrate both milestones, but regardless, I am just filled with gratitude that they're well and healthy and vibrant and so good at loving the Lord, loving each other, and loving all their kids, grand-kids and great-grands.

I hope to get back to more regular posting soon (though trying not to feel overwhelmed by how behind I feel with work after these few days!). In the meantime, if you're reading this, know I'd appreciate prayer for a full recovery of energy.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

You Say Conjunction, I Say Interjections!

One of my favorite things about Facebook are the spontaneous little conversations that erupt in the comment boxes under status updates. Sure, people can post all sorts of notes to tell you about themselves, but you really learn things about your friends in these casual, chatty asides!

Yesterday, for my status update, I posted a line from the old grammar rock song about unpacking our adjectives. Remember that one? "He was a hairy bear, he was a scary bear, we beat a hasty retreat from his lair..." This has caused a totally friendly disagreement between two of my dear friends (one of them my husband!) about their favorite grammar rock song of all time. It cracks me up. And I can't even cast a deciding vote because I love both Conjunction Junction and Interjections! (Hooray! Eeek! Aw, rats...)

We have the whole Schoolhouse Rock collection on DVD and have been playing it lately as the sweet girl is learning about the kinds of things that get a lot of airtime in the songs. Adjectives, adverbs, the multiplication table and gravity have been big hits at our house this month.

If you're a person of a certain age (come on, you know who you are!) you grew up with these little gems singing through your brain. If you saw them enough on Saturday mornings, it's possible you still wake up with some of them singing through your brain from time to time. "Lolly Lolly Lolly get your adverbs here!" "Three is a magic number, yes it is, it's a magic number!" "Take your powder, take your gun, report to General Washington..."

So if you loved Schoolhouse Rock, what are you favorites? Inquiring minds what to know. If you can't remember all the lyrics, you can go here to find them. And once you're done telling me some of your favorites, you can actually head over here to cast your official vote on the Schoolhouse Rock website. Who knew?

And hey, did anyone else ever have to take an American civics quiz on the preamble to the Constitution? At some point in high school I did, and I'm pretty sure the whole class was singing under their breaths as they wrote. Oh go on...you still know it by heart...you know you do!

And just for the record, though it's really hard to choose favorites, I'm partial to "A Noun is a Person, Place or Thing," "Electricity" (though "Victim of Gravity" is also wonderful), "I'm Just a Bill," and "Figure Eight." Though I must confess "Sufferin' Till Suffrage" does buzz through my brain more often than you might guess. Yes indeed, I am a child of the 70s!

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Amazing Grace and Benjamin Linus

"Maybe I am!" Harry bellowed, and he flung his arms over his head, hardly knowing whether he was trying to hold in his anger or protect himself from the weight of his own disillusionment. "Look what he asked from me, Hermione! Risk your life, Harry! And again! And again! And don't expect me to explain everything, just trust me blindly, trust that I know what I'm doing, trust me even though I don't trust you! Never the whole truth! Never!...I don't know who he loved, Hermione, but it was never me. This isn't love, the mess he's left me in..."

~"The Life and Lies of Albus Dumbledore," Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

Raise your hand if this passage flashed through your mind while you were watching "Dr. Linus" episode 6 of the final season of LOST. "Dr Linus," which wins my vote for the most gut-wrenching, tear-inducing episode of the entire series thus far, gave us three people, three followers/disciples of Jacob, who might have said words quite similar to Harry's in the nadir of their despair. Ilana was in tears much of the night; Richard was headed for the nearest bridge (or stick of dynamite) actually heading back to the place where we think he was once a slave (shades of John Newton's Amazing Grace anyone, in the slave ship references?). Jack didn't have that kind of Harry moment this week, but he had a big one in "The Lighthouse" when his angry mirror-smashing reminded me forcefully of young Harry smashing things all over Dumbledore's office.

And then of course, there was Ben.

Jacob is dead, killed at Ben Linus' hand, and no one who has followed Jacob -- or been touched by him -- seems to know what to do next. But in this episode a number of our castaways (now significantly a blend of castaways and others) seemed to take small fumbling steps out of the pit and toward the light -- or in the case of Ben Linus, a giant leap out of his own grave and into the arms of amazing grace.

Besides the brilliant writing that wove together the sideways plot with the island plot, I was just overjoyed to see the LOST writers take this leap, to offer such a damaged and broken character a real chance at forgiveness, love and acceptance. Ben has been one of the strangest, most convoluted characters on the show -- easy to pity, easy to fear, easy to hate, hard to love (well, at least for some of us!) and never, ever easy to trust.

So much I could write about here, but lots of folks have recapped the episode brilliantly already (check out Doc Jensen, Erin's Lost Reflections, or Arabella at the Hog's Head) so let me just pen a couple of quick reflections.

~First, how powerful was this picture of forgiveness? Ben was shackled, digging his own grave, literally on the brink of death. Ilana was about to kill him in vindication for the murder of Jacob, a man they both loved (but neither understands). Suddenly Smokey/Flocke appears from out of nowhere, offering Ben a chance at supposed freedom. He has enough power to literally unloose Ben from those shackles, but we quickly realize that a physical unchaining is not what Ben needs. If he takes Smocke's offer, he will only be exchanging physical bondage for far worse, ongoing (deepening) spiritual bondage. It's only when he hears Ilana's words of forgiveness and acceptance, later in the jungle (as he holds her at gunpoint and confesses his worst sins, and as she weeps) that Ben is truly freed. That's when the shackles fall, not from his ankles, but from his soul.

~Second, how long has Ben been on this path to redemption? I'm going to venture to say that some of the most important milestones on that path happened when he came face to face with evil. The unknitting of Ben's damaged and ravaged self got worse when he had a hand in Alex's death (a death for which he sought judgment) and the sweater of his soul really started unravelling after he killed Jacob, the supernatural mentor/father figure he has believed himself to be following and listening to for all these years. But when we *really* began to see Ben unhinge was when he faced Flocke in the temple, seeing Smokey for what he was (no matter the disguise he was wearing) and realizing, perhaps for the first time, that there was an evil force opposed to the good, opposed to Jacob and Jacob's side, and that such a terrible evil had manipulated Ben (himself the master manipulator) into doing something horrifying.

In other words, Ben was undone when he was truly faced by evil -- saw it for what it was -- and realized it was also within him.

Think about it. Twice now, before his second encounter last night with Flocke, we have seen Ben Linus face to face with evil: first when he recognized Smokey in the guise of Locke in the temple, and then when he saw Sayid turned murderer in the temple (how interesting that both encounters were in the temple). The look on his face when he saw Sayid was truly unnerving -- he looked like he might be physically sick. Why?

After all, Ben Linus has seen Sayid kill before. He's asked him to. Ben knows all about evil, doesn't he? Ben Linus has done awful things. He has murdered, he has manipulated, he has treated people terribly. In fact, one could argue that the two people he has treated the worst, of all the original castaways, are Locke and Sayid. More than once he attempted to murder John, and finally succeeded in that hotel room in LA. And he manipulated Sayid's grief for his own ends, playing on the worst characteristics of Sayid's nature and prompting Sayid to return to a life of violence that Sayid had been trying to escape.

But although Ben has done these terrible things, he hasn't seemed to realize how terrible they are. He has justified them in the name of good, or in the name of what he thought was good (I'm banking on the fact that much of what Ben has done in the name of Jacob were not things Jacob wanted him to do at all, and that Ben has been deceived and played by Smokey for years). It's only now, when looking into the face of evil, evil shown to him in the faces of two men he has manipulated and terribly wronged, that Ben comes face to face -- not only with the reality of evil, but with the reality of how far it has pervaded his own soul.

Small wonder he looked sick, abandoned, unhinged, and well...dare I say it?...lost.

But that's precisely where grace has a chance to reach us, isn't it? When we get to the end of who we are and realize that what's inside us is all twisted and wrong, when we're not even sure where to turn to for help (and convinced, perhaps, that no one good will ever "have us" -- for "who could ever love a beast?") then forgiveness or love has the chance to speak its word and pierces through the darkness. When Ben heard Ilana's words "I'll have you" he looked stunned, like a man caught in the headlights. And so he was, really, because the same light that showed him his worse self also showed him the only way out of the grave. Ilana spoke a word of grace, the kind of grace that God speaks into our lives. Charles Wesley understood that radical kind of grace when he wrote "And Can It Be" -- "My chains fell off, my heart set free, I rose, went forth, and followed Thee."

~And could it be...that Ben's not through with his journey yet? Could it be possible that Ben might have love and grace to offer others ("he who has been forgiven much, loves much" says Jesus) perhaps even those whose lives he most seriously wounded? It may be too late for him to make any sort of restitution toward John (since the real Locke is dead) but could he have a part in liberating Sayid from his bondage to Smokey, if the real Sayid is still in there somewhere?

Friday, March 12, 2010

Which Harry Potter Would Make Your Top Ten?

One of the most interesting things I've noted, as I've been reading and enjoying Fuse #8 (Betsy Bird) count down the 100 Top 100 Children's Novels, is just how deeply attached readers are to series books. Perhaps it's not surprising since series provide room for stories to obtain epic or multi-generational dimensions. They also give us more page-time with characters, making them feel like beloved friends we've seen not once, but on many return visits.

My own top ten, which I submitted, contained 4 clear series with 3 more that aren't always billed heavily as a series but have sequels that continue with the same characters...hence, they're series! My 7 out of 10 seems to be running just about exactly with the percentage of series books being listed in the overall poll results.

And it was hard to decide which book from the series to choose, something that's been discussed a good bit in the comments at Betsy's blog. If you can only choose one, which one do you choose? Do you go for the first book in the series (which she says she defaulted to if someone listed an entire series as their choice, or said they couldn't possibly choose only one) since that's where characters, setting and story are all introduced? Do you go for the final book of the series, where stories often come to a powerful and cathartic ending? Do you choose the book that drew you most deeply into the series in the first place, or hooked you so you knew you were definitely going to keep reading to the end? Or do you simply choose the one book in the series you ended up loving the most, the one you tend to go back to more than any other? (You know, the one whose binding fell apart first...)

It's a hard call. I found myself defaulting most often to the first book in the series, in part because it was "where it all started" but also sometimes because it was really my favorite. In one case only did I find myself going with the third book in a series.

Of course I've been especially fascinated to watch the poll for Harry Potter. It's interesting to note which books are coming in as "most beloved" and why ~ and there's an interesting mix of people, including teachers, parents, librarians, and yes, kids, who voted. With only the top 25 books left to count down, 3 HPs have made it so far, and comment speculation is keen regarding which of the others will make it or whether or not all 7 might. Care to guess which 3 have made it?

Chamber of Secrets came in at #86, Order of the Phoenix at #38, and Goblet of Fire at #35.

So what do you think? Will the other 4 Harry Potters show up in the top 25? I think Sorcerer's Stone and Azkaban definitely will; I'm less sure about Half-Blood Prince and Deathly Hallows, which seem to work better in tandem than each on their own.

And if you were ranking your top 10 children's novels (defined here as mid-grade books for 8-12 year olds) of all time, would Harry make your list? And if so, which Harry?

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Spring Song

Dogwood buds, birdsong, and nineteen crocuses.
One wonders, in spring, how anyone focuses.

~EMP, 3/11/10

I know it's technically not spring yet, but the weather certainly seems like it! And so the snippets of spring poetry have begun to bloom in my journal...

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Emily Dickinson Month

It's been Emily Dickinson month at our house. This wasn't intentionally planned, but it turned out to be one of those happy "coincidences" of a love-of-learning life.

Although we generally study/appreciate one new musical composer and one new visual artist every month (or every four-five weeks) we've not yet really gotten into a rhythm with studying poetry. Maybe because we read a lot of it in a casual, almost every day kind of way (well, if not every day, than at least often). Word play and poetry are a big part of our family's life, whether or not we're consciously "studying" poetry. And I like that it's such a seamless part of our learning environment.

But in recent months it began dawning on me that I wanted to make sure to begin introducing my seven year old to certain poets. Not just children's poets ~ though I mean that term in no way disparagingly, as I love certain poets who write almost exclusively for children ~ Mary Ann Hoberman springs to mind immediately. I decided to start with a classic poet who did write a lot for children, the poet who probably influenced my childhood more than any other (save the apostle John or the psalmists) Robert Louis Stevenson.

The sweet girl was familiar with a few of Stevenson's poems already, the much anthologized ones like "The Swing." But last fall we read together the Robert Louis Stevenson volume from the "Poetry for Young People" series, which is fast becoming a favorite around here. I like this series for all sorts of reasons (which you'll see if you click through links to my reviews) including the fact that each book provides a well-written biography of the poet, geared to a child's interest and understanding (but not dumbed down) and because the books are beautifully illustrated, a plus for drawing in my very visual little learner. The poems themselves are also well-selected and just a joy to read.

Well, that was last fall. We didn't rush our way through Stevenson, but spent time savoring the poems and enjoying learning about his life. I wasn't sure who I wanted to turn to this spring, but I went back to the series and ended up choosing Emily Dickinson. I'm not sure why I've had Dickinson on my mind so much, but clearly I have...around the time I was trying to decide what poet to read next with my daughter, I signed up to receive a Dickinson poem a day through DailyLit. Thus it was that I was reading Dickinson myself, with my morning tea, as I began reading with the sweet girl...and it's just turned into a wonderful month for Emily!

I wonder if I didn't think of Dickinson because the world is beginning to wake (oh so slowly and gently, despite snow piles) to spring. It just seems like the right time to read words like this:

The grass so little has to do,
A sphere of simple green
With only butterflies to brood
And bees to entertain.

And stir all day to pretty tunes
The breezes fetch along
And hold the sunshine in its lap
And bow to everything.

I know we're not quite to the carefree greenness of this poem yet, but we will be! We will be!

More soon, I hope, on Emily's poetry and on reading poetry with children. I find I've got all sorts of thoughts pushing up through the soil.

Wednesday, March 03, 2010

Press on to Know

"Let us know; let us press on to know the LORD; his going out is sure as the dawn; he will come to us as the showers, as the spring rains that water the earth." (Hosea 6:3, ESV)

Monday, March 01, 2010

Grateful Monday

Monday again! I thought the beginning of a new school/work week, combined with the beginning of a new month, seemed like a great time for a gratitude post.

Right now I'm grateful for:

38. An insight, and some sabbath time yesterday (including a nap). The insight was spoken a couple of weeks ago by my pastor in his Sunday sermon. He was speaking of rest and talked of the importance of working from rest, not merely resting from work. It's helped me rethink through how I look at Sundays as the first day of the week, a day to find rest and refreshment and renewal and to look ahead, not just a day to recuperate.

39. The Olympics. Given all our t.v. "issues" we didn't think we'd get to watch them, but we managed to get a hiccupy NBC and were so glad we did. I've always loved the Olympics and have some wonderful childhood memories of watching them with my family. The sweet girl's seven year old imagination was entirely seized by the wonderful athletes and events, not to mention the sheer spectacle of the ceremonies and the fun things she got to learn about Canada (where dear friends recently moved, which made the information and scenes seem all the more pertinent). She's been drawing bobsledders and "skating" around the kitchen for days (to "Swan Lake" -- what's even more fun is she makes her Dad skate around too, as her partner!) and has even created a neat set of multi-colored Olympic rings from construction paper, currently taped to a kitchen drawer. We'll miss Vancouver!

40. Lessons that flow so naturally from watching the Olympics. Like "someone has to finish in 18th place." And "18th place still means you're 18th best in the world at your sport." And the difference between events that require speed and those that require endurance. And on and on.

41. Library sales. We only picked up a few things at this last sale, but some of them were gold, including a beautiful recording, from 1940, of Beethoven's 9th symphony on CD. It's a piece of music I've often wished I owned, so to find such a lovely rendition for $2 (pricey for a sale, but still a bargain!) was wonderful.

42. March! Oh yes, March! We've still got literal piles of snow on the ground, and I'm sure we'll get more, but turning the corner on March makes me feel we're really gaining ground on spring now. And oh I love spring!

43. The return of LOST. The final season is shaping up to be one of the most interesting bits of story-telling I could have imagined, and I'm loving all the good conversations with fellow LOST enthusiasts. And I am most grateful for Erin, who has been recording the show for us each week (our t.v. reception doesn't extend to ABC) providing me and D. with a standing Friday evening date. We don't mind at all that we're three days behind as we watch. It makes us feel like we're flashing around in time, just like they did on the island last year...

44. Lenten scriptures. About which I hope to post more this week.