Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Look What We Grew! (100 Species Challenge #s 14 & 15: Zinnias and Cosmos)

Zinnias (plantae asteraceae) so vibrant, have long been one of my favorite "easy-to-grow" garden flowers. This year I accidentally picked up a package of larger variety seeds. The results have been stunning, with this huge beauty the most gorgeous so far.

We also planted cosmos this year (they also belong to the asteraceae family) and they are so lovely, especially their feathery green leaves.

Start of a New School Year

I enjoy live-blogging. I sometimes follow live blogs for sporting events, especially since we don't really have t.v. (beyond what might or might not come in on regular reception minus cable). I like being able to follow along inning by inning in a big baseball game, reading the highlights of what happened.

Most of the time I don't think of my life as something that would be worth live-blogging (can you imagine the boredom of the description? Did the dishes. Folded laundry. Read chapter. Cleaned up spill. Checked email...) but the first day of school is always a day which makes me wish I could do a live-blog feed. Not so much to chronicle all the little things we do, step by step (though that would, at least, make for slightly more interesting reading than the above) but to remind myself of all the little things that bring joy and encouragement in our homeschool life. Not to mention to provide notes to myself about what we can always "tweak" to make something in our learning life work better.

The beginning of the year always feels shiny and new, but this year, thankfully, it's felt more that way than usual, and I'm extra thankful. The summer whipped by and was filled with so much work that it almost felt (almost) as though we'd not gotten a break at all. In fact, physically and emotionally, I'm still pretty tired as I move into this new fall...and I'll admit that had me a bit worried last week as I lesson planned and thought through all the "shape of our days" sorts of things I need to think through when we move back into this season. 

But the sweet girl was rarin' to go yesterday morning, and that makes such a difference. When you have a student who loves learning and is excited about getting the adventure going, it means the world to a teacher!

I was truly amazed at the kinds of leaps she has made learning-wise. It's not just that she's reading and writing and thinking with more confidence. She's taking ownership of her learning in new ways, and that's exciting to see.

Not that we haven't hit a wall already. At least this year it took us until day two to realize, once again, that this adventure we're on is all about learning as real human beings with lots of flaws. Not that we really forget, but sometimes in the shiny newness, we discover temporary amnesia! We are trying Latin (again) after our rather dismal Latin failure two years ago. A shiny new curriculum I am excited about, but the sweet girl still has the taste of the old one in her mouth, and balked about seventeen minutes in. Sigh. But this too shall provide good food for learning, both for student and teacher. Or so I declare.

So what are we studying this year? Besides our usual morning prayer and scripture meditation, we kick off each day (Monday-Thursday) with language arts. That includes spelling, grammar, and writing.  After that we take a little break before diving into math. Right now, while we're still in shiny new school year mode (getting up early!) and the weather is nice, we're getting in a nature/exercise walk after math, sometimes followed by journaling or reading time. Then after lunch we do either history (M-W) or science (T-Th) with supplemental subjects on different days (geography, Latin, health). Fridays are devoted to art and music (with math again afterwards) and with homeschool group later in the day.

Day two done...and tired as I am, so utterly thankful we're rolling again, and especially thankful we've managed to step, with courage, into another year on this journey.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Happy 100th Birthday, Gene Kelly!

It's the centennial birthday of Eugene Curran Kelly, known affectionately as Gene. The landmark dancer, choreographer, singer, actor, director, and producer was a Pittsburgh native. His alma mater, University of Pittsburgh, marked the occasion by giving umbrellas to their 3,000+ incoming freshmen and having them dance on the lawn.

It was a sunny day here today, no rain in sight, but that didn't stop our family from singing and dancing in the rain in our hearts...and watching the celebrated movie on video.

Gene Kelly is one of my favorite screen actors of all time. I've written numerous reviews of his movies from the 1940s and 50s, but I saved Singin' in the Rain for today: the classic 1952 film he co-directed, choreographed and starred in. Here's my take on the best movie musical of all time.

And here's a high-definition video clip of the joyous and always memorable title sequence.

Happy Birthday, Gene!

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

A Bad Night and a Very Good Day (or Learning to Dance in the Rain)

Late Saturday night...so late that it was actually the wee small hours of Sunday (around 1:00 a.m.)...I was experiencing what I call a bad night. These happen to me occasionally. I'm tired but too wound up to sleep and can't seem to turn off my thoughts. My thoughts lead me in anxious directions, and before you know it, I'm on the border of a full-blown anxiety attack.

This doesn't happen to me often, for which I'm very thankful, but when it does, it almost always seems to happen in those dark, wee smalls when no one else in the house is awake. It's often our family's difficult financial situation that triggers the anxiety, though strangely enough there's not usually an obvious "trigger" that trips me into the anxious zone. I have been through a lot of the biggies in recent months -- things I once thought I'd never survive well, like negotiating our debt and losing my health insurance. They were big things with ongoing challenging repercussions, and yet I seemed to weather them with at least little bits of grace.

No, weirdly, it's the little things that often trip me up. A few years ago, when we first began to realize we were in the crunch for the long haul, we started tightening our belts in all sorts of ways. I remember thinking through everything we could possibly give up that would help, and one of the conclusions I reached is that I should not buy body wash anymore. Now that probably seems silly, but body wash (the scented, silky kind you use in the shower) used to be something I really enjoyed using. But it had gotten expensive, often costing several dollars a bottle, and I knew we couldn't spend that kind of money for something so non-essential, so I stopped buying it and never looked back. I remember having a mild fit of panic, not so much over the loss, but over the realization that there were only so many "small things" left like that we could cut out -- and it still wasn't going to make a huge difference.

This time around, it was another silly little thing. On Friday night we had run some errands in a nearby town, buying some groceries and back to school supplies. Cash flow was tight and I found myself trying hard to make wise decisions about what to buy without processing anything out loud (which doesn't make for a fun family outing...and the sweet girl was already having a bit of an intense evening...W-Mart brings it out in her). We had agreed to stop by a local theater to find out if they were playing the theatrical re-issue of Singin' in the Rain this coming Wednesday. It's to celebrate the film's 60th anniversary and comes on the eve of Gene Kelly's 100th birthday. Singin' in the Rain is my favorite film of all time; I have always longed to see it on the big screen. D. and S. both love it too. I knew we had next to nothing to cover tickets, but I had also heard there might be a matinee, so I was hopeful. (We saw the classic Wizard of Oz on the big screen last year for $1 each!)

So I asked the woman at the ticket counter if they were bringing the movie. She told me yes and confirmed they had a matinee, which made my heart beat faster. Then she informed me that because it was a special event, there were no special matinee prices. And then added somewhat apologetically, perhaps seeing the look on my face, that the price was also higher than their normal ticket because it was a special showing. She then proceeded to quote a price that I knew we couldn't pay. We just didn't have it.

Walking out of that theater without tickets I actually had tears in my eyes. In the grand scheme of things, it was not, is not, a huge deal. It's a movie, for goodness' sake. We have given up lots of nights out over the years for the sake of living simpler lives and being able to have the freedom to keep doing things we love -- like have me working from home so I can homeschool the sweet girl, and having D. work multiple part-time jobs so we can all continue to minister to kids in our little town. And in the midst of all the stuff we've given up have also been all the times we've been utterly surprised and blessed by gifts that we didn't absolutely need but were so blessed by -- a case in point being two recent nights in a hotel near Lake Erie.

So this was not me crying poor us (well, okay, maybe it was a little at first). It's just that -- well, this is Singin' in the Rain. (I know I sound crazy, but stick with me.) I have loved it as long as I can remember because it has that wonderful way of affirming the joyousness of life in the midst of everything. The scene of dear Gene dancin' and singin' in the rain has, in a strange but delightful way, become an icon for me, especially during some of our leanest and most challenging years. Somehow I thought it seemed a little bit like serendipity that we'd have a chance to see it in the theater during the week we were celebrating the 15th anniversary of our move here. And instead, it ended up being just one more thing to let go of.

So there I was, in the wee small hours, feeling anxious because I couldn't buy movie tickets (it felt like the body wash all over again) and then feeling stupid and guilty to be sad about something so trivial in a world filled with so much real deprivation and pain. From there, I moved into full-blown anxiety over the fact that movie tickets are the least of our worries in the coming month -- we've got bills I don't know how we're going to pay. Once the enemy got hold of that stick, I was really getting beaten up. I ended up having to get up for a while, going to the bathroom to have a good cry (and reading time and prayer time). A very bad night before I surrendered it all to the Lord and headed back to bed for a few hours of sleep.

And then...oh joy...yesterday was a good day, and today was even better. Outwardly nothing has changed. My appliances are struggling (and at least one threatening to quit); we're having car problems; D broke another tooth; we still have bills we can't pay including one in a few weeks we truly can't default on. But you know what? Surrendering everything to the Lord, from tears over small hurts and losses to big anxiety over very real lack of resources, makes a difference. Because when things look ridiculously hard and lean, asking God to help you choose to dance in the rain is a good way to go.

So today instead of struggling, I let go again. I chose to remember the wondrous deeds of the Lord. Instead of stressing over lack of work, I ghostwrote a web article even though it didn't pay much. I enjoyed lesson planning for fall and a beautiful walk in the sunshine with my daughter. I overjoyed to her joy and enthusiasm over writing a letter to the new child we are sponsoring through Compassion, a girl in Haiti just her age (thank you, Compassion, for helping us make this connection)! I loved the beautiful picture she drew and painted to enclose in the letter. I slowed down and took the time to cook with the sweet girl -- we roasted fresh beets picked from our own little community garden plot and made homemade scalloped potatoes. And after dinner, all three of us sat on a blanket on the floor and celebrated our 15 years in this town with a miniature tea party complete with peppermint tea, tiny bread and butter slices, and tootsie rolls that rained down yesterday from a birthday pinata of a friend. Drinking tea made us feel veddy, veddy British (and veddy, veddy silly) so we popped in a travel video we'd gotten from the library and spent half an hour oohing and ahhing over the south of England. ("I have to live there," my ten year old said passionately, precisely echoing the way I've often felt. It must be genetic.)

So very thankful for this very good day.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Pondering Teaching Literature in Mid-Grade Years: Part 1

Ten days from the start of the sweet girl's fifth grade year, I find myself pondering -- a lot -- a subject I would have suspected I'd spend very little time contemplating: how to effectively teach literature in the middle grades.

I love literature. It was one of my majors in college, and I've been a bookworm almost since before I can remember (I learned to read very early, and have only one vague recollection of not knowing how to read). I have read to the sweet girl pretty much every day of her life. Our house is full of books. Her dad loves to read, I love to read, she loves to read. She is also beginning to love writing stories, perhaps at least in part because I do too -- and we've spent a lot of time talking about how stories work. We are a story kind of family. I would have told you I had this literature thing down cold -- that it was something I didn't have to think about because reading and loving literature is just a natural part of the way we live.

That's all still true. I do think the most natural way to teach an appreciation and understanding of literature is, quite simply, to a) read a lot, and b) talk a lot about what you love to read. This natural way of teaching and learning is part of why I'm drawn to the Charlotte Mason method of education, which pretty much promotes that kind of learning across the curriculum. Learning is part of life. Approaching it in a natural way fuels learning passions and just plumb makes sense.

So I fully agree with the sentiments in articles like this one, which does a nice job of laying out, simply and clearly, the Charlotte Mason approach to teaching literature. And that is basically like the CM approach to teaching most things: read lots of living books (no twaddle) and then have your children narrate what they learn. Though this discussion of teaching literature adds two tweaks I appreciate: the fact that many books are simply read for enjoyment, not primarily for discussion/narration, and that narration can and should be shaped differently for older students. I think it's that last that I find myself pondering.

What I find myself musing about is the balance between teaching literature the natural way and yet providing my daughter with good tools for beginning analysis of literature -- both the mechanics and literary elements of good writing, and a way of learning to discern deeper meaning in the text. The one thing I don't want to do is turn literature into a dreaded subject by making analysis a heavy lifting exercise, the kind that turns books into chores or into "things" to be decoded. I always think of Billy Collins' poem "Introduction to Poetry" when I think about the way some of us have been taught to 'read', especially the ending:

I want them to waterski   
across the surface of a poem
waving at the author’s name on the shore.

But all they want to do
is tie the poem to a chair with rope   
and torture a confession out of it.

They begin beating it with a hose   
to find out what it really means.

(You can read the whole poem here.)  While I think it takes a lot of time and practice for a student to get to the place where they feel a need to "torture a confession" out of a piece of writing, that's the place where I don't want any student I teach to ultimately end up!

But back to my main reflection. I believe that works of art have inherent, intended, and sometimes even non-intended meaning -- and that the deeper layers of meaning are there for us to find and ponder. That's true of any good work of literature, be it written for children or adults. And while it's true that some works of literature don't require us to "go deeper" to fully enjoy them, many of the best ones do. So part of my job as a teacher of literature is to help students unpack those layers by giving them the knowledge and tools to dig and discern. I also think, as readers/learners get older, it can become an enjoyable thing to be able to see how a writer did something. That may be especially true if you enjoy writing -- because you find yourself beginning to understand the tricks of the trade and to appreciate more deeply the craft it takes to shape a piece of writing.

I've been reading a little book called Deconstructing Penguins where the authors, who travel around to libraries and schools promoting book discussions involving kids and parents, suggest that one way of teaching younger children literary elements/devices is to help them become "book detectives." They suggest teaching children (and they work with kids as young as second grade) elements such as protagonist/antagonist, setting, crisis/conflict/climax, theme, and point of view. They further suggest that an effective way to do so is to help kids understand those elements through discussion of particularly chosen stories, where they're guided to look for "clues" and "evidence" about the "message" of a given book and whether or not an author plays fair and writes honestly. They invite kids to figure out what a book is really "about," and they show, through reporting some of their groups' findings/experiences, some of the creative discussions this method of teaching has engendered.

On the one hand, I'm intrigued by this idea. What kid doesn't love a mystery or enjoy playing detective? There's a playfulness about the approach that I think probably helps it be effective (and from their reporting, I sense they manage to keep the discussions pretty open-ended, not always expecting everyone to come to consensus/agreement). On the other hand, the metaphor does lend itself to the idea of a book, like a mystery, being something that needs "solving" -- as though one could find the footprints and the cigarette ash on the ground and know these things will lead, without a doubt, to a "right" conclusion. (We know how the great Hercule Poirot feels about that idea!) As much as I've enjoyed reading the recaps of their discussions, I think the weakest chapter in the book so far has been the one that should be strongest, where they present their "book detective" approach. The writers themselves seem to realize, even if they don't say it aloud, that there's something intuitively more to discerning meaning than a mere connecting the dots. I think their approach shows better through their discussion recaps than it does through their attempts to explain how it works. 

So...not sure I'm up for the book detective idea, at least not entirely, though I appreciate their insights into the various literary elements, which they explain simply and well on an elementary/late elementary learning level. (Especially good is their discussion of protagonist/antagonist, where they deepen our perception of those terms from simple good guy/bad guy to character trying to push the action forward/character trying to hold the action back. I like the way they emphasize the movement of a story here and elsewhere.)

For the purposes of our learning life together this year, I think an easier and more natural approach will be to simply present literary elements pretty straightforwardly, as ways that help us understand both a story's meaning and art on a deeper level. Some of this, I realize, I've already taught without realizing fully I was teaching it -- just through discussions we've had about books as a family, and perhaps more so through the discussions we've had about the book I'm writing. The sweet girl has a good grasp of the concept of point of view and has even played with using different points of view in her own story-writing. She has begun to ask intrigued questions about certain words that have come up in our book conversations. The other day she wanted me to explain what I meant by "sub-plot" (I had used the word in reference to something we'd been reading in one of the Trixie Belden books). I fumbled around a bit on the spur of the moment, but she must have gotten it. The next day she walked in with her beloved Penderwicks on Gardam Street in hand and announced she had figured out that the main plot was the "Saving Daddy" plan and the subplot was the "Sisters and Sacrifice" play that Jane wrote for Skye. I found that a pretty astute assessment of plot and sub-plot in that particular story! 

I guess what I'm getting at is that many literary elements have come up naturally as we discuss stories we've read and stories we're writing, and I'd like to find a way to tap into that natural learning to make it a little more intentional and explicit. I've thought of having a literary element of the month and using it as a lens to explore whatever books we're reading together as a family (which would likely influence my choice of when we read certain books this year). 

I've been looking for some books and resources that might help me play with this idea and have found at least a couple that look potentially helpful. This post has already gotten very long, so I think I'll save those ideas for part 2.

Wednesday, August 08, 2012

A Different Kind of Week

I'm feeling wonderfully thankful today in the midst of a very tired week. Not at all the sort of week I was expecting...but sometimes God stops us in our tracks, gently moves aside our well-laid plans, and says, "here, have THIS kind of week instead."

I thought I would be at VBS every evening this week, but thus far I've not made it once. (And they have made it just fine without me. It's going well.) That's because over the weekend I came down with terrible congestion and a croupy cough, a couple of weeks behind the sweet girl (who is finally getting over it). My summer cold immediately seemed to take a dive into sinus infection territory. Awful pain and pressure behind my eyes and in my right ear. My whole face has been aching, especially on the right side, and it's seemed to move into all sorts of muscles so that my neck and shoulder hurt too. And I just keep coughing...

But wait! you cry. This was supposed to be a thankful post! Why yes, it is.

I'm thankful that I've actually had to slow down in the midst of a summer that's had so little time to slow down. The sweet girl and I spent Monday cutting out dozens of small pieces of craft foam for a VBS project (while I coughed and coughed and coughed...) and we've watched tons of the Olympics on our t.v. without cable that hardly *ever* gets decent reception but for some reason this time around is. Most of the time. Except when we have to stand in one spot to the left of the set when it decides to get the hiccups. And sometimes stand on one leg like storks or wiggle our bodies in a strange kind of olympic dance. But even that's been sort of fun.

It's been fun letting my ten year old girl stay up extra late a couple of nights so we can watch gymnastics. We've turned off all the lights except for the television and cuddled on the couch in our pajamas (while coughing, coughing, coughing...) and she has been enthralled by the women's gymnastics team. An unabashed Gabby Douglas fan (a picture of Gabby went up in her room today, and she spent part of the afternoon practicing tumbling on makeshift mats) and yet I've been happy to see that her love of the sport is not limited by her love of country. She has been highly impressed with the Russian gymnasts (that's my post-Cold War era kid!) and she worries about the morale of anyone who falls off beam or takes a big hop on a landing. I've loved hearing her chatter knowledgeably about routines and apparatuses, using the jargon she's picked up from commentators.

Then there's been the fact that, try as I might to get writing, cleaning, and lesson-planning work done this week, all the stuff I'm a month behind on, sometimes when you're feeling this miserable, you've just gotta read. Not that I need an excuse to read, but it's nice to be able to cushion your aching head and give in. I've been winging my way through Deborah Crombie's Kincaid/James series since spring, and I do mean winging. I finished the 9th book in the series this past week (Now May You Weep, another great one) and can't wait to pick up the 10th. Gemma is my favorite character, but I'm a little in love with Duncan (which makes sense, since Gemma is too). I've also been enjoying more P.D. James, both by book and video. I just finished the third Adam Dalgliesh book Unnatural Causes, and D. and I have been very slowly wending our way, mostly on weekends, through the mid 1980s mini-series adaptation of Cover Her Face based on the first Dalgliesh book.

And finally, are you ready for this? We're getting a vacation this month! Two nights/three days!  Courtesy of several members of my extended family who know we are tired (and broke) and who want to bless us. I  am so utterly grateful. Time to breathe, to enjoy some fresh air and green, to see some dear friends. I am very much looking forward to it.

There are other things that have blessed this week...Ted Kooser poetry, Simone Dinnerstein playing Bach on piano (on my CD player), a note from a dear friend who sent two lovely little keepsakes to the sweet girl from a recent trip to Italy. A sister visiting Martha's Vineyard, the island where D. and I honeymooned 20+ years ago in what feels like a fairy-tale from another age (and the chance to look at the pictures from that magical week...were we really ever that young?)! An early reader's copy of an Eerdman's picture book for me to review. Not having to cook much all week because everyone else is eating at VBS and I don't much care what I eat when I'm sick. Even some of the harder things -- a challenging and unexpected email conversation with a friend, a time or two when I've been tired enough to lose my patience with the sweet girl's worry struggles -- well, even in the harder things, I am feeling blessed to know I am growing and learning and God is still shaping me.

So...not the kind of week I was expecting at all. But the kind of week God wanted to give me. The kind I've been glad to receive.

Tuesday, August 07, 2012

Read-Alouds for the Coming School Year

It's that time of year again...the time when I begin to compile my book lists for the coming fall. Actually, I usually do this in June or July, but this summer has been so busy I'm just now getting to it in August. And that thanks mostly to a sinus infection! (Silver lining, anyone?)

In the past, I've discovered that, as I look ahead to the next school year, I'm really compiling several lists. There are books I want to recommend to the sweet girl for independent reading. Her reading totally took off this summer -- she has been swallowing books whole, and actually completed the entire booklet for the library summer reading program (all 36 hours). Then there are books that I know I either want her to read independently or us to read together -- books that tie into subject matter we're tackling. This year the subject list contains ancient history, late elementary/early mid-grade biology, Middle Eastern geography, ancient art, and the orchestra, just to cover the biggies.

But then there's the really fun list: the list of read-alouds we do as a family, mostly in the evenings and on car-trips if we end up traveling during holidays. We've always tried to keep this a mix of fun things that we all just really want to read (which can include light and fluffy reading, especially during the summer) and literary classics (which may or may not always fall under the "we really want to read this" but we try to do them anyway). I like this list because we can really stretch it. Since we're reading the books together, we don't have to worry too much if the content or style is "over" the sweet girl's head -- because we can talk about it together. Sometimes it's good to pitch high even if the throw ends up a bit wild.

So I'm trying to compile a list of potential good reads for this coming year, when our dear daughter is ten and will be working through fifth grade work. A few possibilities so far include The Adventures of Tom Sawyer; The Railway Children (to follow up on our Nesbit read from last year -- Five Children and It); The Blue Fairy Book; Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of Nimh; Swallows and Amazons; Bella at Midnight; Little White Horse; Wind in the Willows; Little Women; Anne of Avonlea (sequel to Anne of Green Gables, which she loved last year); Bambi; Black Beauty. Ah, and we want to do more Shakespeare from the Lambs and from Nesbit (more on that another time when I finally get around to finishing my post about this summer and King Lear).And we plan to read the last Martha book in Melissa Wiley's wonderful series, and maybe venture into the Charlotte books too.

The jury is still out on whether or not we will venture more into Kipling -- we did big portions of Jungle Book and Just-So Stories last year. Captains Courageous? Kim? Poetry? And I'm not yet sure if we'll do more Twain past Tom Sawyer yet (maybe The Prince and the Pauper)? The sweet girl loved both The Secret Garden and A Little Princess, so should we try Little Lord Fauntleroy (one I've not yet read...)? How about Peter Pan? Sherlock Holmes (abridged or not abridged, that is the question...) My husband and I have been discussing Dickens -- all we've read aloud together so far is A Christmas Carol. What do you think: would a ten year old be up for Oliver Twist?

I know I am leaving off tons of good things...so please, please recommend more books. We may have read them already, we may have considered but forgotten them, or we may already have them on a list for later, but regardless, I'd love to hear some of the gems you think our little family would love.

Friday, August 03, 2012

The Beauty of Discipline

Our family has been catching as much of the Olympics as time and our awful television reception will allow. Actually it's been coming in better than I anticipated, though we've had some fun moments of needing to stand (yes, stand) in a very specific place to the left of the t.v. set in order to improve reception! The sweet girl and I have been experimenting with occasional movement to see if that helps. We call it our Olympic dance.

I've been really struck by something during these games in London, and that is the beauty of discipline. There is something truly lovely, sometimes even awe-inspiring, about seeing someone do so well at something that takes a great deal of skill, practice, and dedication. Watching Kenya's Tiruenesh Dibaba win the women's 10,000 meter race this afternoon, with such grace, poise, and joy, I found myself in tears -- and thinking of Eric Liddell's phrase "When I run, I feel his pleasure."

Watching a great athlete perform with tremendous skill reminds me of those moments I have sometimes as a reader or listener. When you read a beautiful stanza of poetry or elegantly crafted passage of prose, when you hear a motif in a piece of music that pulls through your heart like a bow gently pulled across violin strings, there is something wondrous about it. Sometimes those moments happen when we're experiencing tried and true classics, but other times they sneak up on us suddenly -- in the middle of just a solidly crafted piece of work. I had it happen to me the other day when reading the detective novelist P.D. James. I waded into a descriptive paragraph and by the time I got the end of it, I was just filled with delight that someone had crafted words that carefully and well.

As I writer, I've not had many moments like this -- but there have been a few. And I'm convinced that those moments happen more frequently when I am in the most disciplined seasons of crafting. Talent matters in all sorts of endeavors -- from running to writing to making music -- but the discipline of working at a skill day after day after day eventually pays off. And so does the ability to abandon oneself to the sheer joy of doing something well, even if (on any given, particular day) we don't win a gold medal."When I write, I feel his pleasure." Those are the most golden days of all.