Friday, October 29, 2010

The Art of the Circular Conversation

A little while ago...

Me: When we got out this afternoon we need to dress warmly. Your dad says it's gotten quite cold.

Sweet Girl: (indignant) COLD! No! You mean it's gotten chilly.

Me: Well, it's in the 40s.

S: (in total I heart winter/native Pittsburgher fashion) I don't consider it cold until it gets down to 30 or below.

Me: (shrugging) OK. So I guess you could say it's gotten very chilly.

S: (heads over to front window and touches palm to glass) BRR-RRR! The glass is freezing!

Me: Well, I told you it's gotten quite chilly.

S: No, it's cold.

Yes!! We have finally perfected the art of the circular conversation at our house.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Can Facebook Help You Write a Poem?


The other day I posted, as my status update, that I was wrestling with the week's poetry stretch. Write a poem about the moon. And I asked my Facebook friends this question: "what do you love about the moon?"

I loved the answers. Stories, songs, nursery rhymes, associations with the moonwalk, memories of a grandfather. It got me thinking (one of those delightful side benefits of FB from time to time) about all the different ways we delight in the moon.

So I wrote this.

Multiple Moons

The one outside
the window
is real,
rock hard,
reflecting the sunlight--
sometimes golden hued,
sometimes even
blue or rose,
or pearl in
a silver setting--

though wait,
now I am approaching
the metaphor moon,
the one that peeps
a friendly face
through tattered cloud curtains,
sits cool and serene,
a scoop of vanilla ice cream
in its dark sky bowl,
or grins a lopsided smile
on a young girl
and her silver-haired grandfather--

but hey,
I'm edging now
toward the story moon,
the one that followed Owl home,
the moon that got poked
in the eye by the rocket
that brought the picnickers
who loved cheese,
the revelers who sat
and warbled homesick songs
but then
when they saw the cow
leap right over them,
flying who knows where.

EMP 10-28-10

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Book Notes: Children's Lit Version

I've been swamped, overwhelmed, tired...and my writing rhythm (here as elsewhere) has been ragged at best.

But yes, I do still read!

And on a blog called Endless Books, I do still love to talk about books. So here are a few (very) random musings on reading from the past week or two. For this post, I'll stick to children's literature I've read, and also family read-alouds. Grown-up fare coming in another post soon.

* Erin was right. I loved The Mother-Daughter Book Club, a mid-grade novel (first in a series) by Heather Vogel Frederick. It's light, fun fare for the middle school girl crowd, a book that pays loving homage to Louisa May Alcott's Little Women, one of the books of my heart. It might even possibly inspire a contemporary girl to read LW, if she's not normally too excited about 19th century literature, but my guess is that this book and the subsequent ones in the series, which pay tribute to other classic books, will fare best with girls who already love reading those kinds of books. Not to mention their moms. And of course, it made me long to start a mother-daughter book club, except that we know hardly any moms with girls anywhere remotely near the sweet girl's age right now.

* The Little House weeks appear to have drawn to a close. We read Long Winter followed immediately by Little Town on the Prairie, mostly because the sweet girl begged to. We usually take a break in between series books, but she's been on such a Laura Ingalls Wilder kick, I didn't have the heart to say it was too much fun to resist. Little Town is not my favorite book in the series, but it is an important bridge between two books that are: Long Winter and These Happy Golden Years. I am thinking the latter might make a good Christmas present for the sweet girl, since (oddly) it appears to be the only Little House book we don't own a copy of. We most usually have multiple copies, or at least doubles, but I seem to have misplaced my childhood copy of Golden Years and I guess we never picked up a newer copy at Half-Price books.

* While on the Little House kick, we had fun looking at some Laura Ingalls Wilder websites. I also thought it might be fun for the sweet girl to watch an episode or two of the Little House television series from my childhood, so I put the first season DVD set on hold. It arrived, and she immediately squelched that idea: "I don't think it will be anything like the books." Well, she's right about that, so I didn't push it, but D. and I had fun watching the first regular season episode last night, despite neither of us having any time to watch anything lately. We didn't know whether to laugh or cry: the series brought back such sweet memories (well, for me, at least) but the characters are so *not* the characters we know and love from the books. Michael Landon is charming, but he's just not Pa, is he? (Does he ever play the fiddle on the show? I can't recall...) We also found ourselves falling into fits of laughter over the California landscape (rugged hills and lots of old trees) trying to masquerade as Minnesota prairie. The sheer sentimentality of the show I had almost forgotten, though I did find myself almost tearing up at the end when the Ingalls realized the strength of their new community. But that probably has more to do with my own longing for deeper community right now than it does with the show's script or acting.

* "I need to find lots of things!" the sweet girl announced plaintively the other evening. She's been on the lookout for things she can "borrow" for the small dollhouse doll she has recently renamed Arriety. Yes, we're reading Mary Norton's The Borrowers for family read-aloud. I'd forgotten what a delight it is!

* Melissa Wiley went to Mankato. Isn't that awesome? I've been longing to go there for years, and it was such fun to see it through her eyes. The new issues of Carney's House Party/Winona's Pony Cart (with Melissa's foreword) and Emily of Deep Valley were released a few weeks ago. I especially love Emily and Carney, and hope to add these beautiful new editions to my collection soon.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Bits of Beauty in Autumn

Our little town is not exactly known for its beauty. In fact, sometimes you have to dig deep to find it.

But find it you can, from time to time, in small pockets. Here were a couple of those pockets we discovered last week on a autumnal walk.

Isn't the light here particularly stunning? It makes the rose so luminous and makes the fountain behind it look like glass. And the curly green moss on the side so differently textured from the sheet of falling water.

Thank the Lord for the maple trees by the town gazebo. The late afternoon sun glinting through the leaves just about melted my heart.

As did the sweet girl's heartfelt address to the treetops, when she lifted up her head and gave this impromptu oration: "Dear Leaves, please don't worry about dying. You will become dirt, and more things will grow from you."

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Vermeer Reviews

I've posted two reviews recently on books that creatively engage the wonderful art of Jan Vermeer (1632-1675).

The first is Bob Raczka's The Vermeer Interviews: Conversations With Seven Works of Art, perhaps my favorite "art appreciation" kind of book for children ever.

The second is In Quiet Light: Poems on Vermeer's Women by Marilyn Chandler McEntyre, a poet I only recently discovered. It felt like such serendipity to come across and enjoy her poems, only to find that she'd done a whole collection centered around and inspired by Vermeer's artwork, which I've also been enjoying so much this autumn.

While the first book is good for all ages (especially appropriate and helpful for eight and up) the second is probably more suited for adults and young adults (though the music of the poems may entrance younger listeners, even if they don't grasp some of the themes).

Another book that creatively engages Vermeer is, of course, Blue Balliett's delightfully different mid-grade novel Chasing Vermeer. I'd post a review except that apparently, I never got around to writing one...hmm. I did however review both its sequels, The Wright Three and The Calder Game. Apparently both of these reviews are buried/lost in the Epinions database right now (which continues to have problems) so if you're interested in them, I'd love it if you'd click through directly from here so you can actually access them.

I'd also love to hear about any other good books and resources you'd recommend on the life and work of Jan Vermeer.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

The Scriptures: Light, Food, Fire

I'm up too late again, but wrestling through some good reading, thinking and praying. These days I am often up late reading church history and responding to student papers (my seminary students and also the diocesan students I'm working with this term). Tonight I'm mainly reading, but finding it hard to concentrate on the academic side of things because I keep getting stopped in my tracks by thoughts from theologians and writers of the past. I find myself wrestling with what they're saying on a personal, heart level, as I consider my own journey with Jesus. And I find myself thinking a lot about the kids we're teaching in catechesis class each week.

I don't know if I've written anything about that here (my blogging has been so sporadic this fall) but my husband and I are co-teaching catechesis for 6 young people, ages 13-18, in our parish. Actually my husband is doing the bulk of the teaching and coordinating, and I'm there for as much of the meeting as I can be (some weeks I have other meetings I have to do first) to help spur discussion, teach a bit of church history, and pray with them. The purpose of our weekly meeting is mostly informational, in that we're providing a lot of teaching content for the kids to chew on -- material about the story of the Scriptures, the story of the church, the creeds and the Lord's prayer. We're basically the classroom while the kids' work with their mentors, outside of the class, is like their lab. It's there where they're supposed to try their wings, attempt some spiritual stretches, engage in inner and outer spiritual disciplines, wrestle with the daily stuff, though hopefully we're helping provide framework and context for all that.

I confess I have never felt as inept as a teacher as I have with this group, except perhaps for how inept I'm currently feeling on Thursday nights where we're working with a group of highly rambunctious K-4th graders, mostly unchurched, who are having a really hard time sitting still. But that's a post for another time.

I know I'm tired, and it's easy (oh so easy) to get discouraged when I'm this tired. It's also easy to fall into the trap of thinking: if we could just come up with teaching methods more creative, more interesting, more relevant, more _______ (fill in the blank) the kids would be more responsive. But I've been wrestling through that tonight and have come to the conclusion that maybe the best thing we can be right now is just faithful. Faithful to pray for these kids, faithful to try to engage them, faithful to prod them or challenge them when necessary, faithful to let them ask questions, faithful to listen.

One thing that's particularly flummoxing me is how to share with them, in ways that are real and authentic, what the Bible can mean in a person's life (and what it means in mine). We've been challenged by the fact that they are not doing the weekly Bible reading we've assigned (or at least not willing to admit they're doing it). We've been surprised by how difficult it is for them to sustain attention or even pay attention when we read passages in class (no matter how we've tried approaching the reading). We've been stumped by how much they're struggling to see this class as something life-giving and real, an opportunity to grow with God, as opposed to a series of things they need to check off if they want to get confirmed. I wonder how much of that isn't just the way our culture sets us up to learn. How many of us are taught to think, from an early age, that we only have to put forth effort to do something if there will be a concrete kind of "pay off" -- will there be a pop quiz? is this on the test? if I don't do it, are there immediate consequences? Instead of learning that it's good to put forth effort, and to build habits, simply because the doing of something is good in and of itself, and is good for us.

Why do you read the Bible? What does it mean to you? I've had all sorts of thoughts about those questions, and all sorts of images swimming 'round my brain this evening. I've been reading Thomas Cranmer's Preface to the Great Bible from 1540, and I actually found myself chuckling a bit because the things he's addressing are almost *exactly* the challenges we're facing. He talks about how people say they don't have time to read the Scriptures because their lives are too full. Or their lives are too complex and messy. Or because they don't understand them. And he addresses all of those in ways that are both simple and helpful.

And then there's this from Cranmer, a description of the Scriptures that really arrested my attention:

…I would marvel much that any man should be so mad, as to refuse in darkness, light; in hunger, food; in cold, fire. For the word of God is light: Lucerna pedibus meis, verbum tuum. (See Psalm 119) Thy word is a lantern unto my feet. It is food: Non in solo pane viuit homo, sed in omni verbo dei. (See Matthew 4) Man shall not live by bread only, but by every word of God. It is fire: Ignem veni mittere in tertam, & quid volo nisi vt ardeat? (See Luke 12) I am come to send fire on the earth, and what is my desire but that it be kindled?

And that's what I wish I could find a way to get across to our teenagers: how the Scriptures are light in our darkness, food for our hunger, and fire in our cold.

Living in the Present Moment

I always seem drawn to quotes about living in the present moment. Perhaps it's because I struggle to live that way, but am always blessed when I'm able to open myself to that kind of moment-to-moment living in God.

Friends who are currently fundraising to move to Singapore as missionaries wrote this in their prayer letter (received today) as they worked through the fact that they're probably not going to meet their original fundraising "deadline":

"Though God is known for working miracles, he is also known to include a 40-year detour. What we have been coming to terms with this month is how to accept either option in the future while still living our lives in the present."

I loved this, and wanted to pass it on. How true it is that often God's "time-table" isn't quite what we expect, but he stretches us, shapes and forms us through the time that he chooses for us to walk through a certain season or place. (13 plus years here in this little town we thought we'd moved to for 2 years. Becoming immersed in mission and ministry in this little town! Really. Who knew?)

And again, from these wise friends: "...I think God has us (here) for a purpose. Personally, this gives me the confidence to live in his moment today instead of my imaginary future."

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Maybe They Migrated

I love autumn. The leaves here in western Pennsylvania are truly beginning to turn. Yesterday, when I walked to the post office, I was almost stunned by the beauty of the locust tree in the town park, right next to the p.o.'s flagpole. The sky was that lovely shade of blue you hardly ever see except in September/October, and the small leaves on the tree shimmered like golden coins.

The maple by the town gazebo is also blushing from the top down. A carrot top! There are several maples bunched together there, but one of them almost always turns first, and it's currently a blaze of rich, mellowy orange.

One of the advantages of living in so small a town is that you get to know the individual trees so well they fell like old friends. That's why I was shocked to realize the other day that the beautiful ginkgo trees by the public library are gone.

I don't know how I missed this fact. There were three (I think!) lovely ginkgos there for years, their skinny, knobby trunks rising like church spires. The fan-shaped leaves are beautiful when green, but especially noticeable in fall when they turn a perfectly pale yellow. They make wonderful leaf piles to play in, soft and slippery. The sweet girl played in those piles more times than I can count when she was a toddler/preschooler, and we always brought yellow ginkgo leaves home for the table.

We came out of the back door of the library last week and headed for the sidewalk. I had just opened my mouth to say "let's see if the ginkgos have started turning yellow yet" when I stopped, my mouth practically still open, and stared at the spaces where ginkgo trees used to be. Someone must have cut them down in spring or summer (though how we failed to notice this is beyond me) and really rooted them out, stumps and all. We were able to find the still slightly bare patches where the stumps used to be, but just barely.

"Where did they go?" I found myself asking stupidly, and after a thoughtful minute, the sweet girl replied, with a giggle, "Maybe they migrated!"

We had fun amusing ourselves the rest of the way home, imagining the skinny ginkgos stalking around like long-legged storks (I can't wait till we get to Tolkien and the sweet girl becomes acquainted with Ents) but I must confess I'm still in mourning. I wish now that I'd taken photos of those beautiful trees. I miss the delicate yellow fans that used to decorate our fall table.

I feel sad to think of them being cut down. I'd rather imagine them winging their way through October blue skies headed who knows where for the winter.

Wednesday, October 06, 2010

Patchwork Post

Just a few patches from the crazy quilt of recent days...


If you were a little flummoxed by yesterday's brief post, or if you've been wondering where the heck I've been, it can all be summed up in one word: SICK.

And what an odd round of sickness it's been. It started almost a week ago when I discovered I'd done a mysterious something to my back. Terrible muscle spasms, not being able to bend or walk without real pain, and it felt worst while sitting in (or getting up from) my desk chair at the computer.

It got so bad late Thursday-into-Friday that I really couldn't walk or lie down without terrible spasms radiating from my lower back into my right hip. In desperation, I strayed from my normal natural homeopathic path (a good path, by the way) and slathered myself in the menthol Icy Hot ointment. And then (in a haze of pain) completely disregarded package directions and put moist heat on top of it, which must have made the stuff absorb into my skin incredibly deeply.

Note, if you think you might have the slightest allergy to salicylates, don't do what I did.

So the result was several days of some of the worst hives I've ever had, and believe me, I've had some doozies.

Then the weather turned chilly and it started pouring rain, and I started my annual autumn bout of congestion/cough. And the cough seemed to strain my starting-to-heal back, which gave me a couple more bad days (though not quite as bad) with my back.

And then yesterday I couldn't bear the hives anymore...they didn't seem to be responding to the homeopathic remedy I was I switched to another remedy and also gave in and took Benadryl.

Which proceeded to knock me flat for most of the day. SoI was either sleeping, fighting sleep, or wishing I was sleeping...

Hence my post about not teaching while under the influence!


That was the sweet girl's enthusiastic greeting to me the other day. Yes, we've been studying the first few lessons in Prima Latina.

I'm glad we decided to take the gentle route with Latin this year. It's been a good, slow beginning for us, just what we needed. I'm having a hard time getting in all the things we want to do, but including one PL lesson per week has been easy peasy and such an enjoyment for all of us. We couldn't afford the DVDs, but we like the audio CD. The woman who narrates the vocabulary has such a sweet southern inflection.

One of the nice things about Prima Latina is its inclusion of Latin prayers. We've been working on memorizing the Sanctus. The sweet girl's favorite word from her lessons so far is "Oremus" -- "let us pray." She often uses it as our call to prayer at dinner time or candles!


Being sick has at least afforded me some opportunity to read, and read I must if I'm going to keep ahead of the curve as I help teach the Early Church course for the seminary. It's been so good to dive back into the apostolic and sub-apostolic periods (the course runs from NT church up through Chalcedon). So I'm spending a lot of waking hours in the company of folks like Clement of Rome, Ignatius of Antioch, Irenaeus and Justin Martyr.

Good company...probably some quotes/posts forthcoming.

"FASCINATING," said Mr. Spock, with his eyebrow raised.

Although we've had almost no time to breathe, much less watch movies, Dana and I continue our meander through the Netflix provided season 1 of the original Star Trek. What a great show...and what memories it brings back (mostly of watching them in re-runs in the 70s, along with my big brother).

I've always been fond of Bones (given my maiden name, probably understandable) but I'm really finding myself drawn to Spock lately. Hmm...


I have fallen in love with this cookbook by Andrea Chesman, which I found recently on the "just-in" shelves at our library. It's subtitled "270 Fresh Ways to Enjoy Winter Vegetables" and although I've only tried 2 of the recipes so far, I feel game to try as many as I can from the other 268. I LOVE winter vegetables, and this book has offered some wonderful ideas for using them. Full of yummy ideas using potatoes, squashes, dark greens, carrots and other root veggies (not to mention apples).

So far I've made the Italian Wedding Soup with kale (really good, though I'd like to try it with a veggie chicken broth next time...all I had on hand was regular veggie broth) and Rumbledethump (fell in love with the name!) a casserole dish based on a recipe for Scottish colcannon.


I joked that cooking up such a hearty Scottish dish (made with potatoes, onions, and cabbage) made me feel a little like Ma Ingalls. But I've got Ma and all the rest of the Ingalls on the brain anyway, since we have been having a Little House festival of reading this fall. Unplanned, but delightful...we finished Long Winter the other day and launched immediately into Little Town. We've been saving the reading for bedtime so, Daddy...can join the fun.


Oh, do I miss writing book reviews. It's funny that a writing pastime that began on a whim several years ago has become such a delight of my heart, but I do loving writing book reviews. And I'm currently in a major review writing drought -- not for lack of books, but serious lack of time (busiest schedule ever this fall, compounded by health stuff lately...)

In addition to all the books I've read recently that are piling up on my desk (and beckoning me to write about them) yesterday I got a package of books to review from Greenwillow Press, imprint of Harper Collins. It's only the second time I've had a publisher directly send me books to review, and I have to confess, though it sounds silly, that I felt like a real reviewer as I oohed and aahed my way through these beautiful books I get to read, share about and keep. You would think almost 900 written and posted reviews online would make me feel like a real book reviewer already, wouldn't you? But we writers are funny creatures...

Many more patches I could share, but dinner calls.

Tuesday, October 05, 2010


Dear Benadryl, might I humbly suggest that you add "Do not attempt to teach your third grader her math lesson while taking this drug" to your warning label?

One tired teacher