Monday, April 30, 2012

End of Month Musings

I didn't mean to disappear from the blogosphere this month. It's just been an exceptionally busy season in our lives, and a tiring one. I often have things I want to share -- especially about what I'm reading -- flit through my mind. Sometimes part of the thoughts even make it to draft status! Hopefully in the coming weeks, I will get back to a regular posting rhythm. I do miss writing here.

I miss writing period. In April, I was hoping to return to work on my mid-grade fairy-tale. Didn't happen. I also had an essay in the works (I was looking at a submission deadline mid-month) and a short story (submission deadline today) and I wasn't able to do either one, though both projects got started via research and a bit of writing. Instead I've been teaching, grading, editing, ghost-writing articles, penning an occasional review. So yes...I guess I am still writing...just not getting to the writing I hoped to get to.

I had also hoped to spend more time with poetry during Poetry Month. The sweet girl and I enjoyed our regular visits to 30 Poets/30 Days over at Gotta Book (finishing today) and read some other poetry as well. I wrote a handful of poems early in the month. At least I think I's all starting to blur! Another thing I'd hoped to do: get back to blogging my way through A Wrinkle in Time. So loving the lovely 50th anniversary edition I received for my birthday.

A few brief family reading notes as we turn the corner on May.

We finished The Book of Three during evening family reading this month. So much fun to begin the Prydain series out loud. We loved introducing the characters -- I love doing the voices! I think we will likely move onto The Black Cauldron sometime in May.

At the moment, we've side-tracked into Betsy-Tacy. The sweet girl begged so hard to go on to the high school books, I caved. She loves the first four so much. I've had my doubts about going onto the older Betsy books this early, and now that we're 2/3 of the way through, I'm realizing I probably should have trusted my instincts. I love the h.s. Betsy books, and have since I was about 11, but Betsy certainly is dealing with older girl issues. In Heaven to Betsy, her insecurities often cause her to doubt herself and to present a "mask" to the world (hiding her true feelings). It's part of why I love Betsy (so real, so authentic) but my youngish nine year old isn't quite "getting" why Betsy has changed so much from the last book.

During our morning reading time this month, we read Pollyanna -- a delightful surprise. Despite its classic status, I'd never read the book, and I found it sweet and thoughtful -- holding its own within the "girl's book" genre of its era. Reading it also gave me an idea for yet another writing project I don't have time for!

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

What We Look At (& How It Shapes Us)

There's an interesting article making the social network rounds, at least within my little community of connections. It's entitled "Your Children Want You!" and is written by blogger April Perry.

Her main point is that our children want us, not some facsimile of supermom we've dreamed up through our mesmerized meditations on what we see other moms "out there" doing -- other moms we don't know, but whose beautiful, crisp-photo-essay lives are spilled out for everyone to see on Pinterest, Facebook, magazines, and other "virtual" gathering places.

I agree it's a thoughtful and encouraging article, well-written and timely. What surprises me is that this hasn't been said before now, loud and clear. Perhaps it has been, and I've just missed it. Beyond the good, encouraging word of the article itself lurk some hard questions I think we could be asking ourselves, questions that really get at the heart of our spiritual lives.

Why do we compare ourselves to others?
Why do we constantly feel we fall short?
Why do we dream so hard about what we don't have?

(And if you're answering, "the power of sin and a broken world" for every question, I won't disagree with you...though how that plays out for each of us is unique as well as similar. I also think there can be such a thing as a "holy discontent" that can compel us to create, be, and do things to help change our the circumstances around us...but that's probably a topic for another post.)

Beyond the prognosis and recognition of our own brokenness come the pro-active questions. What can we do about this? How can we stop comparing ourselves to unknown, glossy standards of "good, best, better"? How do we root ourselves in our worth in God? How can we cultivate contentment and gratitude on a daily basis?

And the questions get does spending all the "virtual" time we spend, especially time looking at other people's lives (or the snippets they choose to share from their lives) affect us? Beyond spending more time in actual, face-to-face relationships, what pictures and words could we be looking at to counterbalance all of the "perfection" we often drool over?

And other interesting questions could be raised too. Why are we driven to look at the beautiful things other people create? Because one thing that online communities have certainly opened up to us is an increased awareness of the amazing creativity of other people, and the ways they are shaping their lives and the lives of their children and families. Those things do not have to lead us to despair over our own inadequacies. They can, in fact, be causes for celebration and thankfulness. How do we learn to appreciate and learn from those things we see while remaining our own unique creative shape? In a world that contains so much brokenness, suffering, poverty, and need, what place should beauty, and the creation of beauty in our lives, have?

Monday, April 16, 2012

He Didn't Have to Make Asparagus

The exhausting spring continues. I won't bore you with the details of the exhaustion and stress, but they are very real, and I am very tired. But I am also hanging on and finding new ways to count blessings and gifts every day...

Today's little blessing that made me realize anew the goodness of God? Fresh asparagus.

I'm not joking. This was just a flat-out crazy-busy day with so much stress (it's also going to be a late working night) and though I ate a little bit throughout the day, I hadn't really eaten much. When it was time to make dinner, I was poking half-heartedly through the fridge and then remembered I'd bought a bunch of fresh asparagus on a big sale at the market. That perked me up. I trimmed, steamed, and sauteed it in a little butter and garlic. And it was sooooo good.

And it dawned on me, with great seriousness, that God did not have to make asparagus. Or butter. Or garlic. The variety and richness of his gifts, even seemingly small and ordinary ones, is astonishing.

It's funny but not surprising that it was something green that turned my heart Godward. It often is.

Monday, April 09, 2012

Slow-Cooked Days: Easter Dinner

I heart my slow cooker. I've been using it more and more, enjoying the delicious (and easy, hearty and economical) meals I can cook up in it without much fuss. I especially enjoy the way a little bit of planning and chopping can free up big chunks of my day to do other things.

I ended up using the slow cooker for Easter dinner, and it came out quite nicely. We'd picked up a whole chicken on a major sale at the local grocery store a few weeks back. On Friday afternoon, I moved the chicken from freezer to fridge, and on Sunday morning, it only took me about five minutes of preparation to get it ready for slow cooking all day. I washed and dried the chicken, applied a bit of olive oil and a generous rub of freeze-dried poultry spices, then threw it in the crockpot with some water (so it would make extra broth) and a couple of tablespoons of butter. I put the whole thing on low and cooked it for 8-9 hours. By dinnertime it was moist and juicy. And I've got plenty of leftovers for at least two more meals, including enough broth and small chicken pieces to do a nice chicken soup this week.

Since the sweet girl is not a chicken fan ("Oh look! Chicken bones! Cool! Except...oooh, oh. That means that's a real chicken that got killed so we could eat it. Yuk..." -- yes, she comes by her vegetarianism honestly) I made one of her favorite dishes to go along with it. If the chicken was mostly for D., the rumbledethump was mostly for S. I just love saying the world rumbledethump. It's a delicious potato-based dish based on colcannon recipes. I learned it from Recipes from the Root Cellar . We probably eat it at least once a month. It's a hearty dish made from potatoes, onions, cabbage, a little butter and cheese, some salt and pepper. Last night I made roasted carrots (olive oil and Spike seasoning) to go with it, and also dished up some jarred unsweetened applesauce sprinkled with some cinnamon/sugar. The sweet girl managed two small bites of chicken (more than I expected; I don't mind when she goes full-blown vegetarian) but the rumbledethump, carrots, and applesauce provided plenty of hearty food even without the chicken.

All in all, a delicious, simple meal that was amazingly economical. I am determined to continue to find ways to feed good, real food to my family in the midst of hard times, so this meal felt like a winner.

Edited to add: when thinking about what to do with the leftover chicken for tonight, I suddenly remembered I had leftover ratatouille in the fridge from late last week. Score! Cut up chicken pieces sauteed with the ratatouille = yummy chicken cacciatore-ness.

Sunday, April 08, 2012

Resurrection Fruit

Ransomed forever
Everlastingly free
Supremely joyful
Under death no more
Real life in abundance
Ruled by the King
Endlessly in love
Creation renewed
Tomorrows secure
Indescribably empowered
Only His
Night gives way to day

~EMP, 4/8/12

Wednesday, April 04, 2012

The Poet Laureate of Spring

A new poem for you today, born of my musings on the beauties of spring and how my heart always turns to Robert Frost this time of year. Happy Poetry Month!

Come join me in the land of Spring,
where tulips play a fanfare on the trumpet,
a field of blue flags is unfurled,
and the dogwoods are yipping and barking.

Looking as though his heart might melt,
Mr. Frost was given the key to the city,
a key as emerald as the grass where he stood:
poet laureate of all that’s green and fair and good.

~EMP 4/4/12

Tuesday, April 03, 2012

"You Know, Kind of Like Serenity..."

In the midst of this long, ongoing season of deep stress and exhaustion, I keep being amazed by the wonderfulness of God. What I love is when he provides those lovely, unexpected moments that make me laugh outright, or tear up with sudden beauty and gratitude, or just plain feel like hugging the world.

So often he sends those moments through my family.

One of the hardest pieces of the past very hard month has been lack of almost any time to write. This after the first couple months of the year when I felt like I'd dived back into some creative work with more zest and vitality than I'd felt in years. The novel I was writing -- yes, I just used the word novel -- was almost compelling me to the computer every late night and early morning, begging to be written even in tiny snatches. I loved every scrap of the time I got, even as I began to realize the writing time tunnel was narrowing to an almost close again. For the past few weeks, any writing time I can squeeze has been of the writing anything quickly for pay variety since I'm busy trying to fight wolfish creditors (where are Taran and the sword Dyrnwyn when you need them?) and to help keep food on the table.

Frankly, I miss my characters. I miss them so much it almost aches. But there's nothing I can do about it at the moment beyond keep missing them, and keep mulling their story in the late night snatches when I can't sleep.

This morning, the sweet girl was talking to me about one of her own stories. Yes, she's a story-teller and writer too, which I love. She was explaining something to me about one of her characters, who is eighteen, but not quite an adult, she explained earnestly, because in this world, you didn't really come of age until you were twenty. My tired brain thought that sounded familiar. And then she said, wonderfully casually, "You know, kind of like Serenity..."

Serenity is one of my characters. She is a princess, set to inherit a throne she is not quite ready for. Her wise mother is the acting regent; her beloved father has been missing for years. She's 19, on the cusp of 20, the age at which she will be considered old enough to become queen. She's trying to become ready for her royal responsibilities in the face of an imminent war. Circumstances have forced her to have to choose a suitor from the very people they most fear.

And she's real. Not just real to me. Real enough for my lovely nine year old, who has heard more of the actual written story than anyone else in the world, to mention her name so casually that it took me a few seconds to realize what she'd done. Real enough for my daughter to use her story as a frame of reference for her own creative story. Real enough that my daughter keeps encouraging me to write again because she wants to find out what happens to Serenity and to Winifred and Garron and to all of the peoples of Radmost and Charis.

I'm not sure there's a better gift someone can give a writer than to care about the story they're trying to tell, and to love their characters. What a great gift that was to me today.

Sunday, April 01, 2012

A Narrowed Focus (Holy Week into Easter)

I've been describing this past week as a lost week. My birthday last Monday was just a super lovely day (annual conservatory pictures coming soon) but things started getting weird on Tuesday. The sweet girl discovered, late in the morning, that she wasn't feeling very well. She seemed to lose all energy and appetite and had started a cough. I discovered she had a temperature that afternoon, and by nighttime it had hit 103. It didn't fully break until this morning, in the sixth day of the illness.

It turned out to be a virus (with such a high temp, we took her to the doc mid-week) but what an awful one. I started battling it on Wednesday and came down with it on Thursday in earnest, and I suddenly understood why she had complained of dizziness and aches and had cried so much. At one point she had told me she needed help to walk to the bathroom; I obliged with a slight inward smile, thinking she was being a bit of a drama princess. Um...turns out that, no, she was being completely accurate. I had a hard time standing up long enough for a shower yesterday. The body aches, fierce headache, high temps, and wracking cough, when you put them all together, just make for misery.

I am finally turning the corner today, though still running a temp and coughing and having to rest a lot. I've been attempting, in five minute increments, to pick up the living room, which we basically trashed during a week of camping out on the couch and loveseat (where we both napped for much of the week). There are videos and coloring books and a few scattered schoolbooks, there are piles of laundry (which my dear husband valiantly folded last night...he has miraculously not gotten this, but is so busy with multiple jobs and trying to take care of us this week that he hasn't had much time for the house either). The tax papers are stranded on the table -- no, I haven't done them yet. They were supposed to get done last Tuesday.

It's amazing to me, as always, how much illness narrows one's focus. And not even a terribly serious illness, in this case, just one that wiped our little family out for close to a week. I have friends right now who have been sojourning for months with a child who is seriously ill and has been in and out of hospital over and over again. I can only imagine how their focus has narrowed, and how they have discovered, in the midst of it all, what's important and what's not.

When your focus has narrowed for a while, you can feel it begin to open again, almost like a wide lens opening on a camera. Today was seriously the first time in a handful of days that I had enough energy to begin to notice certain little things, like the socks that needed matching, and the fact that the geranium on the windowsill really needed water. A chunk of cheese in the refrigerator had started to get moldy (D. was hardly here for meals all week, and neither the sweet girl nor I have had any appetite, so most of last week's fresh groceries have unfortunately gone south). As deep down tired as I still feel, I'm starting to notice and to care about these things again. I'm starting to take care of these things again.

It strikes me that a narrowed focus is a powerful metaphor for our journey during Holy Week. During these days, our prayers and meditations center on Jesus' final days, the days leading up to his arrest and passion. Our focus becomes intensively narrow. We leave behind the earlier pages of the gospels, not fully (because the context of Jesus' whole and fully lived life stays with us) but for these few days, we narrow our focus to the central event, his passion and death.

How much more so this must have been true the original disciples, who walked with him up through the Last Supper, and in some cases, to the foot of the cross. They must have felt love, sorrow, fear, in intense waves. Jesus was dying. He was leaving them. He was going to his death. That was their lens, their focus, in those hard and bitter days.

It's only with the resurrection three days later that the lens opens wide again, forever widening their view and our's. No longer would they view Jesus, the world, themselves, in the same way ever again. Death and evil had been defeated! No longer were they subject to them! Their King had returned, and returned in such a way that the whole world was made new. For the rest of their lives, as his disciples, they would keep learning to see the world his way.