Thursday, July 26, 2012

Meeting Trixie Belden (A Good Reading Summer Continues)

We are on the eve of our last day of arts camp. Our last day! Seven weeks ago, I would have told you, fainthearted as I am, that we would never make it. But the last day is tomorrow, the closing program tomorrow night, and by this time tomorrow we will all, I hope, be exhausted but happy. Instead of just plain exhausted.

Seriously, it's been a good but highly tiring summer. I'm battling a headache and sore throat and feel like I am limping to the finish line, so I will save my lengthier arts camp ruminations for another time. Tonight I just had to pop in to celebrate the ongoing richness of our family's reading summer. Because the sweet girl has fallen in love with the Trixie Belden books.

To fully understand my glee over this, you'd have to be transported back to a pink bedroom circa 1976. There's a rocking chair in there, a window overlooking the back patio, a record player in a tan plastic case, and a shelf full of Trixie Belden books I'd inherited from my oldest sister.

How I loved those books. I read the eight we had -- devoured would be the better word -- and then began scooping up more. Fortunately there were lots to be had in the 1970s because Trixie was back "in" -- so much so that they'd begun writing new books in the series. I read them all and loved them all (well, except for the last four or five) and I still have some of my old copies, including the battered cameos I got from my sister. How I wish I had them all.

Random House reissued some of the earlier books in the series back a few years ago, and I picked up the first two to give as gifts to the sweet girl. I put them in a closet and -- well, I didn't forget about them exactly, but somehow they faded from prominence (stuff in closets tends to do that). The time finally felt right this summer and she got them for her 10th birthday. We were in the middle of our Prydain summer at the time, so everything else had to go on hold, but a couple of weeks or so ago, we took the dive. Knowing how much these books meant to me in my childhood, the sweet girl asked if we could begin them aloud -- and it has been SO much fun to read these to her. I practically know the first half-dozen books (written by original author Julie Campbell) by heart, and reading them aloud has been terrific fun.

And she's fallen in love with them too. At first I thought she was being extra kind to Mommy -- but no, I can tell. She's laughing in all the same places I laughed and on the edge of her seat in all the same places too. Honey is her favorite character so far, though she just met Brian and Mart, Trixie's older brothers, last night. (We're in the middle of Gatehouse, the third book and my favorite.) We've got Mysterious Visitor, the fourth book, on hold at the library already. (My copy, one of the "uglies" from the 1970s, is in too bad a shape to read -- those were the cheaply made hardbacks that tended to fall apart after your read them twice.)

It's been such a delight to introduce Trixie to my daughter. I had a lot of literary friends when I was a girl, a lot of them far more high-brow than Trixie, but she was the girl I could most easily picture myself actually being friends with. And the books were such a constant of my pre-teen years that I have distinct seasonal memories from a lot of the books -- times when I read Trixie in a patch of grass in the summertime yard, or curled up next to a small space heater in winter, or -- and I'm pretty sure this is a real memory -- after eating a thanksgiving dinner.

Now I can add another reading memory -- sitting on the front step of our little apartment, reading Gatehouse in the twilight while the sweet girl sipped tea in the big folding chair on the sidewalk and a bright moon smiled at us over the sycamores across the street. I hope there will be lots more Trixie reading memories to come.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

100 Species Challenge #13: Gerbera Daisies

I've always loved Gerbera daisies, but just recently learned that they are one of a number of household plants that actually help improve air quality significantly. Just another reason to love them!

I haven't done the 100 Species Challenge in so long I couldn't remember what number I was on and had to go back to the archives to check. If anyone could win a prize for the slowest gathering of 100 plants/flowers/trees ever, it would be me. The funny thing is that I've taken many photos over the past few years ~ I just haven't gotten around to posting them. Perhaps I should remedy that.

These luscious pink Gerberas were at the Phipps this past spring. Don't they look friendly and cheerful?

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Sketching (An Original Poem)

Our fourth week of arts camp came to a close Friday, and found me limping -- figuratively speaking. I am worn out and weary as we round the corner on week five, and I've been trying to find some small ways to replenish my energy reserves this weekend. Listening to Elgar, watching a brief but refreshing rain, reading...they've all helped.

I was looking through my drawing folder (a little portfolio I began to keep a year or so ago when I was sketching more) looking for a scrap of artwork I might build on to make my Daddy's 80th birthday card, when I came upon a poem I'd written and forgot about. Bits and pieces of poems are tucked all over my drawing folder because I find that sketching frees me up to poem and vice versa -- the two activities are clearly connected, and doing one often inspires me to spend time doing the other. This poem captured my imagination today not only because it reminded me of the year I spent more time drawing, and what I learned through "re-learning" how to draw, but because it's what I wish I could tell some of the older kids in our arts camp. I've been amazed at how differently younger and slightly older children approach drawing. There really is a certain age -- it's probably different for each kid -- where self-consciousness and worry about doing art "right" works its way into the minds of most children. They become cautious with the pencil or predictable in what they draw, sticking to one thing they think they know how to do well.

Here's what I wish I could tell kids -- and the grown-ups who tend to freeze up when faced with a blank page. I think one of the enemy's great lies to people of all ages is to get them to doubt that they can draw, write, paint, poem, dance, sing, or that if they try, it will be stupid or a failure or wrong or not as good as the next person's. I'm not saying that there isn't an inner critic in all of us that recognizes the difference between what we envision in our minds and what we're actually able to do, but I am saying how sad it is that we can be so crippled by the notion that we can't do it that we don't even try, don't even start. And we miss out then on one of the wondrous gifts God has given us, the gift of creativity. That's why it's such a noxious lie of the enemy.  He tells us we're not creative, or he gets us to limit the idea of creativity (the person who can draw is creative, but I can only knit or cook, and that's not creative) when the reality is, we are made in the image of a boisterously, wonderfully creative God. And he has given each one of us creative gifts to explore, enjoy, and use for his glory.


Don't freeze, flow.
Let your hand go.
Unclench your fingers
and your fears
and follow the lines.
Don't worry if
your eyes move more
quickly than your
skill can keep pace with.
Shade, center, curve,
back up, move again,
pause, re-look,
re-think, re-dream,
and start again.
For today, banish erasers
from your thoughts.
If the line won't work
where it stands,
leave it till you can
decide how to work
it back into
this newly imagined
it all, every mistake,
lines thin and tall
and squat and wide
and all
the shaky lines
you try to hide.
Don't freeze, flow.
Look. Look! Love.
And let you hand go.

~EMP (4/11)

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Community Gardens (Our Little Patch of Green in the City)

Although this summer has been almost completely taken up with arts camp, we are involved in a few other things. For the second summer in a row, we're participating in the local Community Gardens project.

I love having a garden again. Having grown up with one (the big one my parents always planted in the backyard, and my own little garden space) I have spent the past nearly two decades yardless and so missing the chance to plant and grow things. We've got a good sized plot in a raised bed, and we're trying all sorts of things this year -- zucchini, tomatoes, cucumbers, broccoli, cauliflower, beets, basil, a few flowers (the sweet girl loves to sprinkle flowers in amongst the veggies, and I'm happy to oblige with easy growing zinnias and cosmos). We attempted carrots -- twice, from seeds -- but they didn't come up either time. We failed with carrots last year too and I thought perhaps it was because we sowed too late in the season. But this year we were well within planting time, and from everything I can tell, we should have been able to get in more than one planting. Still nada. Apparently we are not destined to grow carrots.

The terrible heat wave we recently went through (along with much of the rest of the country) pretty much wiped out our largest zucchini plant, but then it had flourished early, threatening to take over the whole bed, and has already given us several large, delicious squashes. So it has served its purpose. We need to dig out the drying plant soon which will leave room to try something else.

I'm so utterly thankful for this little garden plot. Though I have tried hard to adapt to my urban transplanting and to root out ingratitude wherever it tries to take over the garden plot of my heart, there is just something in my genetic makeup that has made almost fifteen years surrounded by asphalt really hard. I can get physically worn down by the constancy of pavement, tar, and traffic -- the sights, smells, and sounds can make me feel so weary. And I am realizing anew lately how physical weariness can feed into spiritual weariness -- our bodies, minds, and spirits are so connected.

So having a small patch of green and soil I can head to whenever I need to is a true blessing.

 The Garden glows
And 'gainst its walls the city's heart still beats.
And out from it each summer wind that blows
Carries some sweetness to the tired streets.

~Margarent Deland

Yes, and some sweetness to tired me. 

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Just Because...

Just because...
I needed some beauty in this day and thought you might too.

Just because...
I forgot to post my annual flower photos from my birthday trip to the conservatory back in March. (This is one of many I took that day...)

Just because...
I recently remembered how much I love cymbidium orchids.

Just because...
you can never have enough flowers.

Sunday, July 08, 2012

The Summer of Prydain

"And, in time, only the bards knew the truth of it."

I read this sentence last night a little before 10 pm. It's the last sentence of The High King, the last book in Lloyd Alexander's The Chronicles of Prydain.

The sweet girl was up that late because how could we stop a chapter short of the very end? Especially with so much still at stake? We've been journeying as a family through Prydain since the beginning of March, with only a brief break for another book or two near the beginning of the series. Once we hit The Black Cauldron, the sweet girl didn't want us to turn to the left or the right. She wanted to go straight through Prydain without looking back.

Not that there weren't moments of struggle. A nine (newly turned 10) year old is still on the early age edge for these books. But she struggled in totally appropriate ways, was challenged by what should have challenged her, and is there anything one can say better about a beloved book?

And she loved them. She really loved them. I know how she feels. I didn't find these books till a few years ago, but I instantly knew, my first time through, that I would have loved them when I was ten. And I knew I wanted to share them with my family.

We hit brief snags in both The Black Cauldron and Taran Wanderer. In the Black Cauldron, her intensity levels were running high -- both in real life and in the way she was identifying with the story (and somehow that's always connected for most of us). As I shared with a friend back in May: "She was desperately worried about the characters and what would happen, and was struggling because she wanted to see certain characters as "all bad" when Alexander gives at least one baddie a real shot at redemption (bless him). We kept telling her to trust the storyteller. She persevered, and BAM! those last chapters were just priceless. I felt like writing a love letter to Lloyd Alexander to thank him -- he anticipated everything she needed and he delivered."

Great story-tellers, I'm beginning to realize, are like that. They truly anticipate the questions that readers/listeners will ask, as though they are there in the room with you eavesdropping. And the narrative goes where it needs to go to answer those questions. The sweet girl could not believe that one of the characters, so sneering and mean, could ever do the right thing, the brave thing, the big thing, the one thing needed. His complexity startled her and wowed her. She knew a sacrifice was going to be required. She was terrified that it would be a character she loved. But she couldn't believe it was a character who had seemed so incapable of love. That's growth, I wanted to tell her, that's how it really works in life sometimes. But I didn't need to tell her. Alexander's story already had.

He's so very good at showing growth and change in characters. Nowhere is that more true than in the character of Taran himself. I marveled anew when we came to the end last night at just how far Taran had come: from a young boy who dreams of glory but doesn't understand it to a man who accepts a noble destiny -- deeply prepared and yet somewhat reluctant because he has learned not to scorn the beauties and blessedness of the daily, the ordinary. Taran himself is like the sword he forges in Taran Wanderer -- a little misshapen, thin, and bent, and yet true as steel, of powerfully strong mettle and worth, a worth that has been shaped at great cost and effort.

Taran Wanderer, the fourth book in the series, is so important to his inner growth and learning -- but I think that's what made it a particularly difficult book for a ten year old. It moved much more slowly, with much of the action taking place inside Taran. She also missed Eilonwy, who is absent for the entire narrative (except from Taran's thoughts). Since Eilonwy is the only major girl character (and the only sympathetic female character in the series) that felt like a big loss. I know I missed her too, especially her wit and sparkle!

These books feel important to me as an adult, perhaps because the lessons they teach so beautifully through story are lessons we all need to learn, re-learn, and remember no matter how old we grow. Lessons about love and courage and valor and faithfulness. This time through, reading them aloud as I worked on my own growing Four Princesses narrative, I also had a strange sense of being apprenticed to Lloyd Alexander. I think I've learned a lot from him about how to shape a narrative (especially relatively short chapters) for younger readers -- with exciting dialogue, plot, action that nevertheless never sacrifices the richness of symbol and theme. 

I'll miss our Prydain summer.