Wednesday, February 29, 2012

The Annual Crocus Poem

I woke this morning to a long, beautiful, spring-like rain and some lovely silver light. And to the happy knowledge that we had crocuses in a tiny green vase on the kitchen table.

Yes, we spotted our first crocuses yesterday (and the sweet girl found a patch that looked as though they were growing wild/belonging to no one, so I let her pick a few). The first crocus spotting is always cause for deep rejoicing in my soul. It's also cause for a crocus-sized poem. Here's this year's.

Happy leaping today!


Thirty-two crocuses dressed up for spring
are clumped in a chorus and ready to sing.
Their melodies burst from deep inside.
Their golden throats are open wide.

~EMP, 2/28/12


Tuesday, February 28, 2012

5 More Minutes With Jesus

I have never been a morning person. At least up through college, life let me (mostly) get away with that, though sleeping through (while simultaneously attending) some of my early morning classes was probably not the wisest investment of learning energy!

Once I began working full-time, and then later as a graduate student, and finally as a mother, I made compromises with my natural rhythms in order to do what I needed to do and serve whom I needed to serve. In other words, I became more physically, mentally, and emotionally capable of handling mornings and even learned to enjoy some early morning stillness.

But mornings have never been a natural fit, and I still often battle my alarm clock.

It's quite silly how I battle that alarm. It doesn't seem to matter when I set it for or what the "snooze" setting is, I just really struggle to get up the first time the alarm rings (and sometimes, especially lately, the fourth or fifth time). I seriously feel as though I'm pushing through an element like water, trying to swim to consciousness. I am often vaguely aware that I am half-way between sleeping and waking, but the sleeping part pulls me down like a mischievous elf trying to keep me from starting the day.

With the light suddenly changing as we make the turn from winter towards spring (oh yes!) mornings are getting a bit easier. Because I'm working a lot of late nights, I'm still struggling to get up the first time the alarm rings, but I'm managing to push through to at least a state of semi-wakefulness a little earlier, mostly because the light beckons.

But I still don't always want to get up right away. And lately, I'm letting that be okay. Instead of dragging myself up out of bed with a heavy sigh and a little groan (I've done that many mornings, believe me) I am letting myself settle back under the covers for a few minutes. Even when I know it's time to get up. Even if I still haven't turned the alarm off.

I used to think the words "5 more minutes" when I did this. (I used to say those words to my mother a lot when she tried to get me up when I was younger too.) These days I find myself adding two little words to that, and it's changing the way I'm thinking of those final precious minutes of rest. The words that play through my head on the mornings I allow myself to say put a little longer have become "5 More Minutes With Jesus."

I've often found that my prayers somehow feel deeper when my mind is still in that fuzzy, liminal place between total sleep and total wakefulness. That may seem strange, but it's just the way I seem to be wired. Maybe my rational mind hasn't had a chance to take hold quite yet. Maybe my heart is somehow closer to the surface. I know I often have people come to mind in the early morning, people I'm called to pray for. And I often have a deeper sense of nearness to God and his heart in those moments too, an awareness of his presence that has sustained me and upheld me during the night.

So these days I am spending five more minutes with Jesus. I am partly conscious of asking him, somewhere down deep, if I can come extra close to him and let him hold me for those few moments. He always says yes. Some days I spend that time moving into more wakeful prayers. Some days I fall back asleep until the alarm goes off, but it's a precious last few minutes of sleep, a kind of basking in his presence. And I always feel more ready to finally turn that alarm off, not in heavy-handed or startled way, but in a deliberate okay-I-think-I-am-finally-ready-to-face-this-brand-new-day-as-gift way.

Maybe he is making me into a morning person at last.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Re-Reading Wrinkle (Chapter 3, Mrs. Which)

Talk about an entrance! Mrs. Which doesn't arrive until the final page of the chapter that bears her name, but when she does, there can no longer be any doubt in the reader's mind that something unusual is going on. Even if you had been thinking these three ladies were just gentle eccentrics up until now, the fact that Mrs. Which has to materialize gives you a very big clue that we're dealing with non human beings. Not to mention that Madeleine slyly slips in a bit of information during Mrs. Whatsit and Mrs. Who's bickering -- to the effect that Mrs. Who is a few "paltry" billion years older than the "young" Mrs. Whatsit.

I'm pretty sure that scene is where I learned the word paltry.

Most of the chapter, however, belongs to Meg and Calvin and the sweet beginning of their blooming friendship. It moves quickly in the direction of romance, but somehow that element manages to feel utterly innocent. There's a delightful old-fashioned quality in Calvin that nourishes that sense in all their interactions. You get the feeling that these are two very bright, very lonely teenagers who almost immediately feel like best friends and possible soul-mates.

The beginning friendship also provides L'Engle with a natural way to provide some very necessary exposition. We've known from the earlier chapters that Meg's scientist father is away from home for some mysterious reason, but now the whole story comes spilling out in response to Calvin's gentle questions. Her father has been doing "Top Secret" (love the caps!) work for the government and has somehow disappeared whilst on a dangerous mission. We no sooner learn that then Charles Wallace interrupts the conversation in great excitement to let the older kids know he thinks it's time to go. When Meg asks him where, he says he's not sure, but he thinks it's to find their father. A good place for a dramatic music cue!

A lot of moments in this chapter move me. Charles asking Calvin to read to him, and then choosing Genesis for his bedtime reading. Meg's mother helping Calvin to realize just how bright Meg is in math -- but then letting it slip that Meg still likes to play with her doll's house. (Mother! Meg shrieked in agony...a line that always makes me grin.) Calvin encouraging Meg to cry and then telling her she has "dream-boat eyes." When I was twelve, that always made me swoon.

More lines I love: when Meg is worrying about Charles Wallace saying she's not really "one thing or the other" (see, I'm not the only person that worries about that one) and Calvin, in a totally pragmatic and affectionate way says "Oh, for crying out're Meg, aren't you? Come on and let's go for a walk." Another lovely bit comes when Calvin shares about his own rather messed-up family and then says, quite simply, "You don't know how lucky you are to be loved." Loving and being loved, as it turns out, are the underlying themes of this whole story.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

The Writing Bag, or A Bag of One's Own

Mama's got a brand new bag.

It's a spiffy blue tote bag with a whimsical painted illustration: a charmingly eccentric man in glasses chasing down flying books with a butterfly net. I found it for about three dollars at a local library sale not long ago. (If I had a working camera, which alas, at the moment I do not, I would put a picture here. Instead you get a word picture. Think of it as a mini workout for your imagination!)

I love tote bags. Tote bags that look pretty or whimsical and have lined pockets inside them, deep enough to really hold things...even better.

We have zillions of canvas totes all over our house. We use them for carrying books, art supplies, groceries, whatever the need. But the whimsical blue bookish tote has a life of its own. It's my writing bag.

I don't know why I never thought to have a writing bag before. You would think that after all the times I have misplaced my current writing notebook/journal (amidst the piles of work and homeschool stuff) I would have figured out before now that having a special one-of-a-kind bag just for my current writing work would be a brilliant idea.

I love that I can always find it and know what's inside -- pens, current notebook(s), sketch book, whatever books I'm reading to help provide writing inspiration. (At the moment, that would include Annie Dillard and Orson Scott Card.) The bag is light and portable -- I can swing it onto my arm and schlep it to the kitchen when I'm cooking dinner, squirrel away with it in the bathroom or when I'm curled up in bed, or take it with me when the sweet girl and I go for a walk. I love being able to just grab a pen and notebook and jot furiously/joyfully for ten minutes ~ when I can find ten minutes. I'm doing a lot of that lately (finding and treasuring ten writing minutes...)

A room of one's own? Sorry, Virginia, I can't manage it. Maybe never will. But a corner, yes, or a small piece of cluttered kitchen table. And this delightful blue bag full of writing stuff.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Trying to Count Birds and Blessings

Today was just a hard day. Plain and simple, just hard.

There's no deep reason for me to say that. Nothing terrible happened. I was overtired, overstressed, trying to get too many things done but somehow still enjoy time just to be with the family. But we all had the grumbles and seemed out of focus and out of step with each other most of the day.

Late in the day we headed to a park for a few minutes of counting birds for the Great Backyard Bird Count. I had been looking forward to this, but we'd had a misunderstanding over the family schedule (did I mention we were just all off today?) and weren't going to get much time at the park. There were recriminations and scoldings and frustrations and tears (the sweet girl did the tears, though I was close) and it was really cold at the park. I fed the birds and pretty much did the counting by myself.

Later there were apologies and hugs. D. and the sweet girl headed to a friends' house -- our monthly cluster group. I was feeling tired and achey and just on the edge of congestion but mostly in dire need of alone time and quiet, so I stayed home. I didn't feel like cooking anything so munched leftovers and lay on the couch and read P.D. James.

Then I got up and did a bit of writing and a bit of work pulling together stuff for World Mission Sunday. Tomorrow I get to share with the congregation a beautiful testimony to God's faithfulness written by missionary friends in Uganda. I was so thankful to read that again today as I prepare to share it tomorrow.

You know, it's funny, but when I was younger -- lots younger -- I used to dream about how I was going to grow up and do radical out of the ordinary things for God. Things perhaps not unlike what our friends in Uganda are doing. And now that I am middle-aged, I am realizing that perhaps the most radical thing I can do most days is to slow down, to admit my failures and mistakes, to love more, to deepen my trust in God, to find places and spaces of gratitude in this tiny, very ordinary, sometimes very gray little town where God called our family to serve him. Maybe discipleship doesn't really look all that different here than there.

And maybe, even on days when I just feel tired and like I've failed too many times, I can learn to rest more in his deep, deep love. If the blessings in my life were counted, they'd far outnumber the birds.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Highway Song for Valentine's Day (Luci Shaw)

This is one of my favorite Valentine's poems. Sharing in honor of the day!

Highway Song for Valentine's Day

(“Kim, I love you – Danny” roadside graffito)

On overhead and underpass,
beside the road, beyond the grass,

in aerosol or paint or chalk
the stones cry out, the billboards talk.

On rock and wall and bridge and tree,
boldly engraved for all to see,

hearts and initials intertwine
their passionate, short-lived valentine.

I’m listening for a longer Lover
whose declaration lasts forever:

from field and flower, through wind and breath,
in straw and star, by birth and death,

his urgent language of desire
flickers in dew and frost and fire.

This earliest spring that I have seen
shows me that tender love in green,

and on my windshield, clear and plain,
my Dearest signs his name in rain.

~Luci Shaw

Monday, February 13, 2012

The Week in Review (8): Jane Yolen Recommends Joy and Woody Gets Whimsical

I've been remiss about posting links to my book and film reviews. I'm trying to get back into the swing of things, though blogger's on-going link weirdness isn't helping.

I'm trying to review more these days so probably will only post the highlights in any given week, rather than trying to share everything! The past week's fun includes:

My review of Jane Yolen's Take Joy: A Writer's Guide to Loving the Craft -- a perfectly delightful (and often funny) book about loving writing and writing well.

I also reviewed Woody Allen's Midnight in Paris -- a very surprising film for me. If one can break up with an artist, I broke up with Woody years ago. (His "lover's quarrel with the world" was very different from mine, and his anger at women during a certain era of his film-making just left me feeling ragged.) I am so glad I decided to catch this one though. With it, Woody returns to whimsy in a way I wasn't sure he ever would again. A lovely movie. And a perfect fit for my ongoing enjoyment of all things 1920s.

Happy reading and viewing!

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Lindbergh, Paper Airplanes, and the "Nakamura Lock"

Yesterday's homeschool group found us learning about Charles Lindbergh's 1927 solo flight across the Atlantic. I loved preparing a timeline of the flight and talking about it with the kids, because Lindy (who lived in "my era" as my husband calls it) has long been a subject of interest. I followed some rather extensive reading trails into the Lindberghs' lives a number of years ago. It would be a lot of fun to come up with a whole unit study surrounding aviation during that time period.

A few fun facts about Lindy's flight that the children seemed to enjoy:
~Lindbergh took only five sandwiches and one canteen of water (4 quarts) for the whole flight.
~The flight took 30 hours and 30 minutes.
~ Because of the placement of the fuel tanks, he had no front windshield and could only look out the side windows.
~He kept the windows open, even when it got quite cold, to try to keep himself awake. He struggled particularly in the first half (or more) of the flight with sleeplessness, partly because he'd slept so poorly the day/night before he took off.
~He only cleared the telephone wires by 20 feet when he took off at Roosevelt Field in New York.
~At one point he attempted to yell to passing boats for directions, but no one was on deck.
~Despite navigating with only a compass (no radio) he was only a few miles off course when he finally came in over land again after his long journey over the Atlantic.

Looking for craft ideas, I hit upon the not so novel notion of having the kids make paper airplanes. It struck us moms as somewhat hilarious that we get to encourage our kids to throw paper airplanes in class. The joys of homeschooling!

I've never been a very good paper airplane maker, so I was very happy to find this page on the Exploratorium magazine website, where I learned to fold a paper airplane using the Nakamura Lock. That special little fold is named after the origami artist who created it. In addition to helping the planes fly better than most of the paper airplanes I've tried in my life, it made me feel like I was in a Star Trek episode. Doesn't the Nakamura Lock sound like some sort of test they'd put you through in Starfleet? Like the Kobayashi Maru.

If you've got budding aviation experts at your house, you might also enjoy this pdf file of connect the dot pictures of famous aircraft in history. The Spirit of St. Louis is, of course, included.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Re-Reading Wrinkle (Chapter 2, Mrs. Who)

I love how Madeleine does so much with so little. The entire chapter is entitled "Mrs. Who" but we really only spend time with her for two or three pages near the end. But what delightful pages! And what a character!

I've always loved Mrs. Who. She's so memorable in so many ways. Her glasses, her quaint voice, her facility with languages, the way she speaks in epigrams and quotations. As a young reader, I was fascinated that she spoke in quotes, and felt a little bit in awe of all those different languages spilling over the pages. It took me a number of years, and a number of re-reads, before it dawned on me how brilliant that bit of characterization was. It showed both an encyclopedic range of knowledge/memory and a struggle to verbalize in the "local dialect." These three ladies are struggling to fit in/adapt to their new environment, a recurring theme for L'Engle (here and elsewhere). It mirrors the kids' struggle to do the same thing. That theme of "not fitting in" is one reason why I loved her work as a teenager.

And speaking of "not fitting in" we get more intimations of otherness when Charles lets Calvin know Mother's "not one of us" and Meg's "not really one thing or the other." Those lines still make my skin prickle, and even after multiple re-reads I'm not always sure precisely what Charles Wallace means. Just how different is he, and how does he know how different he is?

I also enjoy how Madeleine uses "stock props" and stands them on their heads. In the first chapter, it was that war horse opening line "It was a dark and stormy night." In this chapter, it's the haunted house...which isn't really scary at all because the three Mrs. Ws are just making it look haunted for their own amusement.

The moment that moves me most here is probably when we meet Calvin, that brilliant, awkward, courteous boy. He and Charles are enough "alike" in their differences to hit it off immediately, but he kindly tries to direct his conversation toward Meg as much as Charles, a tiny bit of characterization that made me love him almost immediately.

As for lines I love ~ "He wasn't my idea, Charlsie, but I think he's a good one." That's Mrs. Who speaking about Calvin. What a wonderful sense of call behind the line. This is just one way that L'Engle lets us know the children have been chosen for the adventure/rescue mission on which they're about to embark.

Tuesday, February 07, 2012

Happy 200th, Mr. Dickens!

It's rare to see so much publicity around a literary anniversary, so I'm fully enjoying the attention Charles Dickens is getting today. From the fun tribute on Google to informative articles like this one from NPR, he seems to be everywhere.

I've not read enough Dickens. Besides A Christmas Carol (which I so love) I'm only perfectly sure that I've read two novels in full -- Hard Times, and A Tale of Two Cities. I've read memorable parts of Great Expectations and Oliver Twist. I've always been intrigued by The Pickwick Papers because of my love for Alcott's Little Women. And not long ago I picked up David Copperfield at a library sale. Knowing now that Dickens considered that one of his favorites, I think it might be my next Dickens book.

I first read A Tale of Two Cities about six years ago, and I found it truly inspiring. It had been a long time since I'd read Dickens when I picked that book up, and it took me a while to find my way into his prose again. But I'm glad I persevered. As I wrote in my review of the book at the time:

If like me, you haven't read Dickens for a while, you may have to discipline yourself to push through the first two or three chapters of the novel. His long, complex sentences are like an old-fashioned kind of music that our contemporary ears aren't used to hearing. After struggling a bit through the first few chapters, I got attuned again --I found my feet and felt as though I was waltzing or skating along to a wonderful tune.

This is not a "plot driven" book, which is what we postmoderns are used to. Dickens doesn't mind taking detours to describe, in huge amounts of detail, landscapes or scenes that are important to the story in symbolic or metaphorical ways, although they don't advance the storyline in a linear cause and effect way. One thing you can almost be sure of is that when he lingers, it's not just for the pure enjoyment of writing such masterful prose (though no doubt he felt that way too) but because the scene is important to the heart of his story.

I ended up loving A Tale of Two Cities. I don't know why I haven't made more room/space in my life for Dickens in recent years.

So tell me, what's your favorite Dickens? I'd love to hear what it is and why you love it.

Wednesday, February 01, 2012

Re-Reading Wrinkle (Chapter 1, Mrs. Whatsit)

I've been enjoying the ongoing celebration of the 50th anniversary of A Wrinkle in Time, so much so that the other day I picked up the book and began to read it again.

This would be my original copy, the one I first read when I was eleven. The binding broke years ago. It's in three pieces, but it's still my favorite copy to re-read!

Re-reading a favorite book is such a pleasure; I thought it would be fun to share that pleasure here. So for the next several weeks, I'll be blogging my reflections as I re-read the book, trying to capture just a handful of the things that make me love this story and enjoy it anew every time I return to it.

If you love Wrinkle too, I hope you'll enjoy the reflections and share some of your own. I'll be moving through chapter by chapter, using three "lenses" to help focus my reflections as I think through my response to the story both as a reader and a writer: Elements That Engage; Moments That Move Me; Lines I Love. Elements will focus especially on storycraft, plot and theme, moments on emotional resonances, and lines on language -- though of course those three strands will interweave. My goal is to post twice a week for six weeks.

Let's start at the very beginning. I hear it's a very good place to start!

Chapter 1: Mrs. Whatsit

Elements That Engage:
I love all the homey details of the Murrys' existence, especially when set against the wild storm raging outside, the mysterious absence of their father (which we quickly come to hear about), and the odd visitor who comes in the night to see them. Those homey details are everywhere in Meg's attic bedroom and especially the kitchen. The quilt, the hot chocolate steaming on the stove, Charles Wallace's footie pajamas, the geometric pattern on the curtains, the yellow chrysanthemums on the kitchen table, the sound of the furnace, late night snacks, cutting up pickles and tomatoes, the dog thumping his tail on the floor...even Meg's unruly adolescent hair.

Secondarily, I also find myself drawn to this opening presentation of Charles Wallace's character -- those little boy legs that dangle and don't yet reach the floor are in such juxtaposition with his quiet confidence that feels eerily grown-up. Remember, he's five, and yet he speaks calmly and clearly, he puts milk on the stove and knows how to make sandwiches by himself, he has that remarkable prescience and understanding of his mother and sister and even Mrs. W. It's Charles Wallace's presence that first marks this story as moving in a fantastical direction, pages before we see the crazy get-up of Mrs. W. or hear the word tesseract.

Moments That Move Me:
Mrs. Murry's tenderness with Meg as she talks with her about her trouble at school. And I laugh every time Mrs. Whatsit sprawls on the floor in her wet socks, tuna sandwich in hand, and sprains her dignity.

Lines I Love:
"Wild nights are my glory. I just got caught in a downdraft and blown off course." (Mrs. Whatsit)