Saturday, April 30, 2011

Dressing Up Like a Princess

My eight year old woke up yesterday wanting to see pictures of the royal wedding between Prince William and Kate Middleton. She especially wanted to know...did the bride have a train? (And how!) And so it goes, another day with imaginations captured by the world of princesses.

Yesterday my friend Don posted some musings about why even independent Americans are so highly fascinated with royal goings-on. Among other ideas, he posited one that I particularly like...human beings love to watch things like royal weddings because we deeply long for a king. In other words, at least some of our love of pageantry and fairy-tale stems from deep spiritual longing.

As a reader and writer of such tales, this is something I've suspected for a long time. It made me think again of George MacDonald's wonderful words at the beginning of The Princess and the Goblin:

THERE was once a little princess who—

"But Mr. Author, why do you always write about princesses?"

"Because every little girl is a princess."

"You will make them vain if you tell them that."

"Not if they understand what I mean."

"Then what do you mean?"

"What do you mean by a princess?"

"The daughter of a king."

"Very well, then every little girl is a princess, and there would be no need to say anything about it, except that she is always in danger of forgetting her rank, and behaving as if she had grown out of the mud. I have seen little princesses behave like children of thieves and lying beggars, and that is why they need to be told they are princesses. And that is why when I tell a story of this kind, I like to tell it about a princess. Then I can say better what I mean, because I can then give her every beautiful thing I want her to have."

"Please go on."


We are, each and every one of us, made by a king. And not just any king, but the King of the universe, the King of love, who longs to adopt us and make us children and heirs in his royal family. Doesn't that take your breath?

I confess this has been on my mind again this week because we're in the midst of a family re-read of A Little Princess. When we traveled last weekend, I let the sweet girl choose which books she'd like us to take for reading in the car, and this is one she especially wanted again. It's my favorite (by far) of Frances Hodgson Burnett's books, and I love to read it aloud. And despite some moments of old-fashioned sentimentality that ring a bit oddly to our contemporary ears, or maybe because of them, there are moments in the story that move me to tears. When Sara is banished to the lonely attic and finds her life degraded and impoverished, it is by continuing to imagine that she is a princess that she finds the strength to be brave, kind, and generous, even to those who treat her terribly.

It reminds me of how C.S. Lewis encourages us to "pretend" to be what we're not -- not hypocritically, but as practice to become what we most want and long to be. He calls it "dressing up as Christ." As he writes in Mere Christianity:

Why? What is the good of pretending to be what you are not? Well, even on the human level, you know, there are two kinds of pretending. There is a bad kind, where the pretence is there instead of the real thing; as when a man pretends he is going to help you instead of really helping you. But there is also a good kind, where the pretence leads up to the real thing. When you are not feeling particularly friendly but know you ought to be, the best thing you can do, very often, is to put on a friendly manner and behave as if you were a nicer person than you actually are. And in a few minutes, as we have all noticed, you will be really feeling friendlier than you were. Very often the only way to get a quality in reality is to start behaving as if you had it already. That is why children’s games are so important. They are always pretending to be grownups—playing soldiers, playing shop. But all the time, they are hardening their muscles and sharpening their wits so that the pretence of being grown-up helps them to grow up in earnest.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Gratitude Tuesday (the post-Easter version)

We traveled back from Virginia yesterday, not getting in until pretty late. I was too tired to do a Monday gratitude post, though there was much to be thankful for at the end of a long, hard and stressful week.

We spent Easter weekend with my mother-in-law and stepfather-in-law. His alzheimer's has worsened greatly, and they are on the cusp of a very big move which is involving the selling of both their houses, including my husband's childhood home. We also went to the lot where developers recently bulldozed my husband's grandparents' beautiful little house to make room for the cookie cutter mansion now planted on the former lawn. Lots of stress and emotions over those few days, and much tiredness. And yet good to be together, good to love one another in the midst of it all.

The sweet girl has had a very hard week. Her anxiety struggles, which wax and wane, and which recently had seemed so very much better, kicked into high gear about a week ago. Our travels seemed to exacerbate them, and that was hard on this mama bear, who is feeling pretty worn out and in need of a fresh jolt of grace, gentleness, Jesus peace.

In the midst of it all: Easter! He is risen!
And yesterday, traveling our tired way home, our nineteenth wedding anniversary.

So.....the gratitude is poured out from a weary but deeply thankful heart.

127. Christ is risen! The Lord is risen indeed! Hallelujah!

128. 19 years with my beloved husband. The grace to be able to smile our way through an anniversary day/evening which felt, by necessity, so prosaic and ordinary...and yet the joy of realizing how many prosaic and ordinary days we've been blessed with, as well as moments that sparkle and shine. And the knowledge that we're held together, through both, by God's great love and the love he's built between us, like a beautiful bridge.

129. The opportunity to just be present to D's family right now, especially his mom.

130. Safe travels to and from Virginia, especially knowing how tired we are and how old our car is.

131. A new windshield for our car.

132. An unexpected blessing of a gift from friends. The Lord continues to help us put aside some provision for the very lean months coming.

133. No answers yet on vocational/job questions, which loom so large. And yet more peace than we've expected in the midst of not having those answers.

134. The beautiful flowering dogwoods in Virginia, pink and white.

135. Time for the sweet girl to play in Grandma's yard and tree. The precious way she ran all around the house, hugging each corner of it to say good-bye, when we left.

136. As we "lose" yet one more home, one more green space (that feel so rare and precious in our lives) the opportunity to lean deeper still into Jesus, who is truly our home and truly our green space.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Belated Birthday Greetings to Beverly Cleary

We are some of the biggest Beverly Cleary fans on the planet, so I don't quite know how we missed hearing that she celebrated her 95th birthday last week (on April 12). I've been catching up with tributes, and so far I think this New York Times article is my favorite. Here are five reasons why:

1) The great Louis Darling illustration of Ramona. I know other people have drawn her since, but Darling's Ramona will forever be Ramona for me.

2) New quotes from Cleary, who spoke with the reporter on the phone. And the blessing of knowing she is still well and able enough to speak so cogently with reporters!

3) The delight of knowing one of her own kids asked the Mike Mulligan question.

4) The article quotes Elizabeth Bird, one of our favorite librarians. And Leonard Marcus, wonderful children's lit historian.

5) The children's book editor who wrote the piece evoked the names Haywood, Estes, and Lovelace in the same sentence. Which is almost like reading a "who's who" of my daughter's favorite authors.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Reviews of Bad Motels

So we're contemplating taking a brief family trip in honor of Easter, our upcoming 19th anniversary, and my husband's upcoming 50th birthday. We're feeling worn out (to put it mildly) and in need of a definite break. The only problem, of course, is that we really can't afford to swing for a hotel. The more we've looked, the more we've been appalled by prices, and by the fact that so many places don't even serve breakfast anymore even though prices are so high.

So we began looking for "motels" within a certain area, and found one that seemed very reasonably priced. Anything is too high for our budget, but this seemed at least somewhere in the realm of doable. Until my husband said, "why don't you check out some reviews of the place?" I found 38 reviews and we started reading...

And suddenly found ourselves laughing so hard I thought I might fall off my chair. It's a good thing I wasn't drinking milk!

Reading bad motel reviews could become something of a new favorite past-time, I think. Or perhaps I should say reading reviews of bad motels, which is a nicer and more accurate description (the reviews themselves were written just fine). The reviews on this particular motel (I will spare the chain by not saying its name, or the town this particular motel was located in...I think they've got enough trouble with these 38 reviews!) were just hysterical. The more we read, the harder we laughed. You might expect a handful of reviews to note a handful of problems. But these reviews read "worst place I've ever stayed in my whole life!" and "never again!" and the problems piled on so high that we were practically gasping and clutching our sides.

Bed bugs. Roaches. Ill-fitting sheets. No stoppers in the bath-tub. No fridge or microwave as promised. Fleas! Traffic noise. And...I kid you not...and this one made me howl (not that it's really funny, but it was just like one more thing on top of this tottering mountain of awfulness) one review said someone on the hotel staff had stolen their iPod!

I don't think you could invent this much misery if you tried! I think my favorite was the line "all the rotten reviews you read here are real..."

Anyway, we needed the laugh. Who needs a vacation? Reading reviews of bad motels is a wonderful stress-buster!

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Bright Wings and Morning Laughter

This morning at the breakfast table I was perusing my library copy of Bright Wings. It's an illustrated anthology of poems about birds, edited by Billy Collins, with paintings done by David Allen Sibley (described as "America's foremost bird illustrator.") I haven't known Sibley's work before, but the paintings are beautiful, and I found myself making little admiring sounds as I turned the pages.

At one point I murmured "oh, lovely..." and the sweet girl, finishing her bagel, perked up.

"What's lovely?" she asked.

"This pelican," I said, holding the book out so she could see the picture.

She cocked her head. "Is that painted by Audubon?" she asked.

"No," I said. "By someone else, someone painting today. It does remind you a bit of Audubon though, doesn't it?"

She nodded. "I think," she declared, "if Audubon was still alive, he might say: COPYCAT!" And then added, as though she wanted to be completely fair, "And then this guy could say -- excuse me, but that's my job."

Wednesday, April 06, 2011

Okay For Now

If I was into fan girl kinds of squealing, you would likely have heard me from miles away yesterday.

I was skim reading an advertisement from Barnes & Noble and saw mention of what they termed "a very special young reader's pick." Mildly curious, I looked...and looked again. It was a book by Gary D. Schmidt. A book I'd never heard of. A NEW book.

Cue squealing.

And then I read the publisher's description and skimmed a little bit of the early reviews and still my heart...that I knew some of the characters. That this book, titled Okay for Now, is a sequel of sorts (or at least a "companion novel") to The Wednesday Wars, which in my humble opinion is one of the best mid-grade/young adult novels written in the past few years.

Cue whooping!

I'm seeing words like "poignant" and "heartbreaking" scattered in early reviews. And phrases like "instant classic." The kind of raves that must make an author's heart palpitate.

I have a copy on hold at the library and can hardly wait to get my hands on it. Of course I do have to wait because the book's release date (officially yesterday) means all new copies are still in process. And there's already a wait.

Clearly lots of squealing and whooping going on amidst Schmidt's readers yesterday.

I don't know how I missed hearing this was coming out, but what a delight to get the news yesterday...on a rainy/snowy April morning. It brightened my whole day!

Monday, April 04, 2011

Poetry Month

I can't quite believe this, but I'm three for three with the poetry prompts at Poetic Asides this month.

This feels highly ironic. Last year, I was so excited going into Poetry Month -- I set goals (reading, writing, blogging)! I set goals -- and I met very few of them. This year, scrambling as I am in what I'm beginning to think of as "the never ending busy season called my life" my only unstated-to-anyone but myself goal was simply to enjoy more poetry this month. Read more (myself, and with the family), visit poetry blogs as I can, maybe write a bit from time to time.

So the fact that I have actually written a rough poem for each of the first three days of the daily prompts at Poetic Asides is a wonder to me. I'm actually not posting them there (that would feel too much like pressure) just playing with them in my journal. A few of them may wend there way here at some point! I just picked up the fourth prompt, which I shall mull over as I cook dinner...

I am just plain having fun with poetry this month. The sweet girl is enjoying our daily visits to Gotta Book's 30 Poets/30 Days. We've been enjoying some poetry books picked up from the library hold shelf on Saturday. I even launched my first ever write-off at Epinions in honor of Poetry Month.

Not bad for a lady who hasn't finished her taxes, is behind in every imaginable way with teaching and writing deadlines, is swamped with church commitments, can't possibly catch up on laundry (maybe ever again), and doesn't even want to think about all the record-keeping she needs to do for homeschool.

I have a feeling that writing poems right now is my way of taking deep breaths.