Wednesday, November 29, 2006

The Literary Day of Days

I sometimes mark the birthdays of favorite authors or poets here. But today, November 29, there is an embarrassment of riches. For me, this is the day of all literary days to celebrate each year!

Today we mark the birthdays of:

Louisa May Alcott (1832)
Clive Staples Lewis (1898)
Madeleine L'Engle (1918)

It just doesn't get much better than this.

If I were hard pressed to choose ten, and only ten, of my all-time favorite authors, the authors of my heart who have done the most to help shape my imagination and my thinking, these three would all be on the list.

I've loved them at different seasons of my life. I probably discovered Alcott first. I read many of her books during my childhood and adolescence, but particularly "inhabited" Little Women, visiting its pages over and over again. I read it so many times that I had certain portions of it memorized, and certainly random lines of it still come back to me even now.

I loved the world of Little Women so much that when D. and I made an unexpected trip to Concord one autumn a number of years ago (while looking into seminaries in the Massachusetts area) and turned onto the street where Orchard House is located, I caught my breath in wonder before I even realized what house I was looking at. Orchard House was the house where Alcott wrote Little Women, and in many ways was her model for the March home where Meg, Jo, Beth and Amy grew up.

She must have captured it brilliantly. I have never before had such a strange sense of homecoming to a house I'd never even seen.

It's hard for me to recall whether I began reading Lewis or L'Engle first. I'm pretty sure it was Lewis...I think I read at least The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe and Prince Caspian the year I was ten, with the other Chronicles coming not long after. Certainly I'd read them all by the time I'd gotten through the junior high years, some of them several times each. For my sixteenth birthday, I got a hardback copy of Paul Ford's Companion to Narnia and an electric typewriter. That might give you some idea of how Lewis influenced my story-loving, story-writing life.

But Lewis has remained a huge influence, not only through his wonderful Chronicles (though they're still dearest to my heart of all his work, I think) but through his other fiction and through many of his non-fiction books. I go to Lewis so often that I sometimes feel as though he and I are friends; we can just sit down together, or more likely, I can sit on the floor right next to the chair where he sits and puffs on his pipe. I admire him not only as a story-teller, but as a Christian theologian: for me, Lewis remains one of the sanest, healthiest voices of the 20th century.

And then there's Madeleine. She's the only one of the three that I feel comfortable calling by her first name, perhaps because she is still a living author, perhaps because I've actually written her letters several times over the years and received wonderful, warm and personal replies with her extravagant "Madeleine L'Engle" signature scrawled at the bottom of the page. (I even invited her to our wedding, because her book Two-Part Invention had shaped so many of my early thoughts about marriage. She wasn't able to come, but she sent a beautiful note of thanks and blessing.) It was probably Madeleine who made me realize how much I wanted to be a writer in the first place. Her characters -- especially Vicky Austin and Katherine Vigneras -- retain huge places of honor in my personal literary canon. I can always go back to a Madeleine book, fiction or non-fiction, assured that I will find, like a tune I've heard a thousand times, repeated notes of beauty: about the ordered purpose of lives lived under the sustaining care of a good Creator God; about the richness of names and naming; about the importance of our ordinary, every-day actions.

Alcott, Lewis, L'Engle. A trio of literary saints, if you will. Near and dear to my heart. Happy birthday to all three!

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

I Need to Write an Advent Poem!

Yikes! Consider this a virtual post-it. Reminder to self: write annual advent poem!

I've written an advent poem every year since 1992, the year D. and I got married. I always send it out to family and friends along with our Christmas card or letter (depending on the year).

It's a tradition I never expected to love so much, nor to keep so faithfully. But in recent years, it seems as though the advent season is arriving so much more quickly than it used to. I keep finding myself fretting that maybe this year, inspiration will not strike and I'll have no poem to send...or that I'll have to go into my poetic archives and send an old one.

I spent part of my morning at the office working on Advent/Christmas worship service schedules at church and it dawned on me anew that Advent really does begin this Sunday, December 3. So I'm now in my usual pleasurable flutter of creative panic, feeling completely "idea-less" and wondering when the gift idea or the gift line will arrive to start me off.

That's part of the joy and excitement...waiting... waiting and staying open to whatever creativity God sends this year.

My Thankful Tree...One Week Later

I'm feeling glad that I didn't get to my "thankful tree" posting before I left. Not that I didn't have a tremendous amount to be thankful for then, but after the wonderful few days spent in Virginia with our families, I feel like I've got even more to be thankful for now...or am just that much more aware of my blessings!

Some of the leaves for my virtual thankful tree would have to be large indeed...

here are just a few of the highlights.


I'm thankful for my terrific parents. They were so relaxed, flexible and hospitable this past week, with so much going on. At 74, they both model a joy in life and an openness to change that I find remarkable.

I'm thankful for our newest family member, my dear oldest sister's husband (they got married in September). Celebrating their marriage was the impetus that got us all together for the first time in five years, and seeing the ways they treasure one another was indeed cause for celebration.

I'm thankful for the time that the sweet girl got to spend with grandparents, uncles, aunts and cousins. It was so much fun seeing her play with H (age 10) and L (age 3). The two littlest girls were especially funny and sweet together, in part because they're so different in personality. Yet they played together pretty harmoniously!

What great food! How can I not be thankful for good food at thanksgiving? Mom's sweet potato casserole...a tender turkey...mashed potatoes...the best cole slaw I think I'd ever tasted...olives and pickles...chocolate pie (in addition to pumpkin...I think I am going to have to learn to make chocolate pie and make this a new family tradition for our little family of three) pumpkin-butterscotch cookies (which were a hit...hooray!) and a really interesting and yummy Armenian green bean casserole made with Italian beans. Oh and bread of course, with plenty of butter. My Mom outdid herself this year.

Watching my dear niece H. (the ten year old) climb a very tall tree to get her little sister's red balloon -- she did it! Watching that same dear niece set up a "poitret (portrait) studio" at the back booth in the room at our parents' favorite Mexican restaurant where on Saturday night we celebrated M & P's marriage. H. is a blossoming artist -- her drawings of family members really captured peoples' features and personalities! -- and she's also a bit of an entrepeneur (I think she made almost $2 drawing those pictures!). I love how she would ask us questions about our favorite things as she drew; I think the answers helped inspire her artistic vision!

My two beautiful grown-up nieces who were able to attend, M (age 17) and N (age 24). They're not only beautiful, but warm-hearted and such an important part of our family.

Realizing how much my Dad and brother look alike. They were bending over the congratulations sign my dad had made for the party at the restaurant, and you know, I had a hard time telling those gray and balding heads apart! :-)

That "congratulations" sign itself brought back so many memories. It was my dad's special artistic touch -- the letters cut out from construction papers -- that evoked so many of the handmade lettered signs he made for our home movies for so many of our growing up years.

Watching some of the old home movies that had been converted to video. Epsecially fun to hear the younger generation asking questions about who everybody was. We all kept talking a mile a minute, offering a running, laughing commentary to the movies. At one point, one of the little girls wanted to know why there was no sound, and my middle sister M. laughed and said "we're the soundtrack for these movies ourselves!"

Watching my dear sister-in-law R. walking hand in hand through the leaves with my little girl. Feeling so grateful that my little one finally got to meet my brother and his wife.

Seeing my brother G. again...five years is a long time, especially when I think of all that he's been through (and all we've been through too). Knowing some of those hardships just made time with him, and with everyone, even more precious.

The impromptu sibling get-together at the hotel on the last night of our visit. It was amazing. The four of us sat (first in the bar/dining room, until they kicked us out at eleven, and then in the lobby by the Christmas tree) talking, laughing and remembering. It was the first time in our entire grown-up lives that we'd ever had two plus hours, just the four of us, to relax and be together and I think it will long remain in my memory as one of the most special evenings of my life. I have loved many good friends in my life, but there is something deep and special about the bond between siblings. And mine are some of the most interesting, kind, generous, funny, and intelligent people I've ever been privileged to know.

Seeing how God has been at work in our family as a whole, even (especially?) through some difficulties in recent years past. In all of us, myself included, I glimpsed old bitternesses or wounds that have healed, things let go of, deeper gratitude, more seasoned maturity, more ability to rest and relax and just be. It made the entire visit the most special one we've ever had.

Good food...did I mention good food? Hmm...yes, I did, but that was thanksgiving food. Saturday was the Mexican repast. Quesidillas, burritos, spanish rice, guacamole salad....yum, yum, yum.

The gorgeous hotel. Thanks to my sister and her newlywed hubby, we stayed in what felt like regal splendor at the Embassy Suites. That meant the sweet girl had her own pull-out couch bed in the living room, and we had a door we could close after she went to bed. So my dear husband and I could relax and watch t.v. and cuddle and giggle and just enjoy being together, even though it was past "lights out" for the little one!

And of course, there was good food at the hotel breakfast bar too. I sense a theme here. Wonder how much weight I gained!?

Dear friends L and M, my oldest sister's closest friend and her husband (and dear friends of our's as well, from days I lived in CT and visits in the years of our early marriage) came through VA on their travels up from Florida. L. has felt like a extended sister/member of the family for years, and it just seemed so fitting to finally have her meet everyone and vice versa.

Time spent in the "curtain house" that my daughter created at the hotel. This was the name she came up with for the little space created by the floor length drapes in front of the large picture window. She and I spent lots of time cuddled there in the evenings before bed and in the mornings (we did our morning prayers and Bible reading in the curtain house). She was enthralled with everything we could see from the windows, especially at night...the line of pine trees in the hotel parking lot, lit by street lights, the nearby restaraunts, and especially the blinking red lights of three nearby radio towers. I'm fairly certain that the blinking red light on the tallest one was the one that we could see from our house, and that my sister M. used to insist was "Rudolph" on Christmas Eve. If not, it certainly brought back that fun memory!

Time spent at my husband's mother's house on the way down and back. The sweet girl loved her "little bed" there (the cot they'd fixed up for her in the dining room) and had a wonderful time riding on the rocking horse and dancing to Patty Loveless songs with Grandma!

As you can see, my thankful tree is large and has many leaves!

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Thanksgivings Past

I had hoped to do a kind of "thankful tree" of my own tonight, complete with list of things I'm thankful for, but frankly I'm just too tired to attempt it. I know tomorrow will be hectic since we're travelling and I think I'd probably better get some rest. (One thing I will soon be thankful for, I hope, is SLEEP!)

One thing I do want to reflect on briefly thankfulness for thanksgivings past. I've always loved this season and day. Christmas is near and dear to my heart for so many deep reasons, but thanksgiving has its own special place in part because within my family it's always been the one time of year we usually spent with extended family. When I was growing up, it usually meant a trip from Richmond to Asheville, North Carolina, the city where both my parents grew up. We spent thanksgiving day most often with my Aunts, Myrtle and Janet (Lulu), both of whom have now passed away.

There was a period of time where we didn't travel much at thanksgiving or any other time, because my grandmother (who was ill) lived with us. But those thanksgivings are special in my memory too, because she was with us -- and because during that time the number of places at the table were beginning to grow in other ways, as my older siblings got married and started families of their own. Then after my grandmother passed away, in 1982, we began doing the thanksgiving trek to Asheville again. Some of my fondest fall memories during my high school years are of thanksgiving trips when we stayed at my aunt's apartment on the campus of Asheville school. In fact tonight, while taking a batch of pumpkin-butterscotch cookies out of the oven, I had a sudden flash on a very clear memory from thanksgiving 1985 -- sitting on the big, beautiful porch overlooking the green playing fields surrounded by the hazy, blue mountains, enjoying early morning bird calls and a moist chill in the air, curled up in sweatshirt, reading (of all things!) Madame Bovary for my senior high school world literature class. Can that still, precious morning really have been 21 years ago?

I miss my aunts. They were wonderful women -- southern to the core, stubborn, passionate, interesting. I knew Aunt Myrtle best, probably because we stayed at her place. I still recall her warm southern voice, her grin, the beautiful blue glass she collected on her shelves (I think my own small green glass collection had its genesis in my admiration for my aunt's unabashed love of beautiful glass), her eclectic music collection, and the marvelous window seats in the big windows in the living room of her school apartment. (She was the school nurse, so lived on campus for many years.) When I was very little, I used to think to myself that one day I would grow up and live in a big house in the mountains with lots of window seats. I still like the idea!

Myrtle used to make mayonaise muffins on thanksgiving. These are marvelous little muffins made mostly from white flour and mayonaise. They probably don't sound very apetizing, and they're really not that healthy, but oh my, that warm bready smell...they were so good with melted butter!

My thoughts are obviously tired and meandering. I could write more, but think I'll stop for now. I am grateful for these memories, and grateful for the memories yet to be made, especially this coming week during my family's "reunion" gathering. All four of us siblings, our spouses, and the children still at my parents. The largest gathering we've managed in five years. It will be very good to be home for thanksgiving!

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

The Thankful Tree

Yesterday afternoon the sweet girl and I did a very nice thanksgiving craft project. It was sent home by her Sunday School teacher (since she was too sick to attend church on Sunday) and I was most thankful for this lovely little project!

It's called a "thankful tree". Our family has done variations on this before, but usually just with paper. This is a very cool tree because both the trunk and the branches are made from foam pieces, and once you glue and tab everything together (very easy to do!) it actually stands up and makes a great table centerpiece. (If interested, this particular project can be ordered from the Oriental Trading Company.)

There were 20 foam leaves in all, in varying fall colors. We got out the markers and the sweet girl let me know...with a little bit of prompting and some thoughtful questioning from mom to help inspire...just what she's most thankful for.

And here's the list. I present these in no particular order of importance; this just happens to be how they got glued onto the branches!

--Trumpkin (her stuffed bear)
--our house
--Uncle P.
--the A. family (family she stays with on Wed. mornings)
--Aunt M.

If I have time late tonight, I think I might try to post my own virtual "thankful tree," the list of things I'm most thankful for as we head into this beautiful time of thanksgiving.

We travel tomorrow and I'll be computerless for six days. I will try to remember to journal by hand (now that's a novel concept nowadays!) and bring back plenty of good tid-bits for the blog next week.

Just how much is a "biggle"?

The sweet girl has been sick for almost a full week. She's had a sore throat and a terrible, deep cough. We had to take her to the doctor a few days ago, who thought she might have strep. Thankfully, that turned out not to be the case, but she's still been feeling miserable, especially because the bad cough is often making her sleep quite restless or broken (and her mom's too!).

Her fever broke a few days ago, and her energy is improving, but her appetite still leaves much to be desired. So I was pleased tonight when she wanted a second helping of applesauce, sprinkled liberally (of course) with cinnamon-sugar.

And it turns out that she'd coined her own word for the big heaping mouthfuls of cinamonny applesauce she was enjoying: her daddy informed me, laughing, that she'd told him she'd eaten a "biggle" of it. "A what?" I asked blankly (having missed the initial exchange while I was in the bathroom). "A biggle," my husband explained patiently, while the sweet girl sat there, grinning at me while she continued to eat. "She says a biggle is a big spoonful."

Ah, but of course!

Sunday, November 19, 2006



In geography class,
we study maps,
learn longitude and latitude.

In the school of our hearts,
the maps are marked
by fortitude and gratitude.

.....a little poem I wrote several months ago.....

My dear husband provided me with the title after I first read the poem to him. I've never been very good at titles, but he's quite clever at it!

I remembered this one tonight and thought it was very appropriate for the thanksgiving season.

Friday, November 17, 2006

Time to Break Out the Christmas Music

Yes, I did it...just today! I confess I've not yet found the cassette tapes (they're in a case buried somewhere on a closet shelf) but I got the Christmas CDs out early this evening and began playing Christmas music while cleaning up the kitchen after dinner.

I always feel a kind of need to justify myself in this practice of listening to Christmas music even prior to Advent. My slight guilt is due to a combination of factors. The first is that my mom had a "rule" when I was growing up, or at least during the years of my adolescence (perhaps as a result of me dragging out the Christmas albums too early in preceding years) that I couldn't get the Christmas music out until we'd finished washing the Thanksgiving dishes. Maybe this was her way of making sure I helped with the dishes! Or maybe she was trying to teach me a lesson in delayed gratification. Or perhaps she just wasn't ready to grit her teeth through numerous play-throughs of the old Firestone Christmas albums, which were my favorites. One of these days, I should probably ask her...though it might take the mystery out of the question.

At any rate, for years I had an ingrained habit of not playing Christmas music until Thanksgiving night. Then in my 20s, I joined the Anglican tradition and became a much more "liturgically minded" Christian. Suddenly I was worshipping in churches that didn't play Christmas music at all -- until Christmas day itself. Talk about delayed gratification! Of course what that opened up for me was a whole new world of music as I began learning advent hymnody and appreciating the glories of that beautiful season of waiting and expectancy. Some of the music I now get out in November is advent music.

So there you have it. By training and by adopted tradition, there is much in me that says "you shouldn't do this yet." And I get older, as I get wiser (?let's hope!) there is a part of me that grows more child-like. That's deepened even more since I've become a mother. I love the sheer joys of Christmas music. The exuberance and simplicity of the hymnody. I even love the simple frivolities of some secular (especially more traditional songs) the ones that celebrate the beauties of family and winter.

I feel like I am growing more simple and less sophisticated the older I get. And the child-like part of me longs to squeeze out every drop of light and joy I can from this beautiful season. That's deepened since I've lived in a part of the country that has cold, dark, long winters -- I need this kind of light and joy, starting now and often lasting long into the winter days, well past the time when I used to put the music away. My longing to celebrate Christmas has also deepened as my understanding of the import of the incarnation has deepened -- truly this is the turning point of all human history, the moment when God took on flesh and entered fully into the life of humanity. Everything that comes after it -- the cross, his rising -- is dependent on this moment, when heaven and earth meet and earth is caught up in God's redemptive plan. It is rich, it is deep, it is mystery, and it needs to be celebrated...not just one day of the year, but every day. ("I will keep Christmas in my heart!")

So there you have it. The Christmas music is playing; it's ready for me to pack to take with us on our Thanksgiving trip. And I am smiling with the joy of hearing.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Walden Media Celebrating Charlotte's Web

File this under intriguing: Walden Media, the company releasing a live-action film version of the classic Charlotte's Web this holiday season, is calling on teachers, librarians and other educators to celebrate the book on December 13. In a unique twist, they're asking everyone who plans such celebrations to read the same passage from the book at 12:00 noon (EST).

They're attempting to break the Guiness Book of World Records for "most people reading aloud simultaneously." Apparently (according to their website) the current record "is held by 155,528 students from 737 schools in the United Kingdom who read William Wordsworth’s poem, “Daffodils,” on March 19, 2004."

You can go here if you're interested in finding out more information about how your local schoools and libraries can register. There are several PDF forms at the site that need to be downloaded and read by anyone organizing a celebration. Apparently the registration and record-keeping processes for such a record-breaking attempt are a bit complicated!

One has to hand it to Walden Media. I know...the cynical part of me says this is probably a really clever marketing ploy to get more people to watch their movie. I think it is that, truth be told, but that doesn't mean that's all it is. Thus far I have been very impressed by their commitment to making good movies about good books, and they've made some excellent choices of source materials. While I struggled mightily with certain aspects of their adaptation of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, especially from a theological perspective, I still think they lavished a lot of care on that film and it's likely that their efforts resulted in more children reading the books. And frankly, I think they stand a good chance of getting Charlotte's Web just right...if they do it well and with integrity, this is a book that could be winningly adapted to film.

And hey, who can resist the idea of thousands of people in different locations all across the country stopping at the same moment and saying "Salutations!" (They've chosen a two page passage that begins with Charlotte's greeting to Wilbur.) I find it a rather fun and lovely thought!

So let's pass the word along to our local libraries. December 13 is Charlotte's Web day!

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

What Part of Thanksgiving Are You?

You Are Mashed Potatoes

Oridnary, comforting, and more than a little predictable
You're the glue that holds everyone together.

Yes indeed, that would be me! How about you?

Monday, November 13, 2006

"...And on the ships at sea..."

The rain is raining all around,
It falls on field and tree,
It rains on the umbrellas here,
And on the ships at sea.

Happy Birthday to Robert Louis Stevenson (November 13, 1850 to December 3, much richness for only forty-four years!)

Sixty-Seven Years...Sixty-Seven Ministries

Today is the feast day of St. Frances Xavier Cabrini, or Mother Cabrini as she is affectionately called by many, including her sisters and daughters in the missionary institute she founded.

Mother Cabrini was born in Italy in 1850, but came to the United States at the request of the Pope. This was not an easy task for her, since her heart's desire had long been to go to China to serve God as a missionary. She responded to the call "not to the east, but to the west," and came to the U.S. where she served the poor and immigrants. She became the first naturalized American citizen to be canonized by the Catholic Church.

I love Mother Cabrini for many reasons -- not least her obedience, her courage to cross the ocean numerous times despite a fear of water, her real humility and her tireless efforts to love and serve all whom the Lord placed within her path. Although I'm not Roman Catholic, I count myself blessed to have spent five years working with the Missionary Sisters of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, the order which she founded. From them I learned much about this amazing woman of God and her special charism of love and service. I am so grateful that Mother Cabrini is part of the great cloud of witnesses talked about in Hebrews, that cloud of witnesses that encourages us as we try to walk with our eyes fixed on Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith.

She died in Chicago in 1917. I was just spending a few minutes over at, revisiting some of the details of her life. What struck me anew was that in her sixty-seven years of life, she founded 67 ministries, many of them schools and hospitals for people most in need. These were ministries founded in eight different countries. It's almost hard to conceive of a life so fruitful, until one realizes that the fruit was borne out of her abiding in the loving heart of her Lord.

I love this prayer which she prayed in her journal in November 1892:

Spread wide, loving Jesus, the fibers of my soul and make me come to you. Make me work much for you; make me lead many souls to your divine heart. Thank you, Jesus, for all the help you have granted me until now, especially during this last year of mission in which you have made me see so clearly that you are the one at work!

You do everything—I’m not even, as others say an instrument in your hands. You’re the One who does it all—I’m only the spectator of the great and wonderful works you perform. Jesus, if you were not God, but merely human, I would have to say you are one great missionary! As it is, I can’t praise you enough. I can only offer you this prayer:
let me learn from you how to be a good missionary. This prayer I will renew with every beat of my heart.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Bedtime prayer

My dear little daughter has been praying more out loud recently, wanting to be the one to say grace or insisting that we all pray a short prayer at bedtime (taking turns).

She started the bedtime prayers off this evening, and I found my own heart smiling over her heartfelt litany, which went something like this.

"Dear Jesus, thank you for everything you've made. Thank you for lots of stuff like the sun and the moon and the stars. And thank you for sea anemones also. Amen."

(Yes, in case you're wondering, we've been reading a book with sea anemones in it... Swimmy, by Leo Lionni.)

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Janet Batchler's Book: What Will Harry Do?

It's published! Janet Batchler, who blogs at Quoth the Maven, has published her "Unofficial Guide to Payoffs and Possibilities in Book 7." Most of the wonderful insights in this book, written from her screenwriterly perspective, were originally posted on her blog. But here she gathers them all together in one place for what promises to be a terrific read. I know it's good! I even had the privilege of proofreading three of its chapters.

I first "met" Janet in a Barnes & Noble's reading group for Half-Blood Prince, moderated by John Granger. She's got a terrific way of bringing storytelling expertise to her readings of the first six Harry Potter novels, providing clear insights into J.K. Rowling's story "set-ups" and then giving her own grounded speculations as to what we might see as pay-offs in the final installment.

The book will be sold at larger online retailers soon; for now, it's available for purchase here.

Friday, November 10, 2006

Song from the Sweet Girl

This original song brought to you courtesy of my lovely daughter, this evening, as she pulled on her Little Mermaid t-shirt before bedtime....

Mermaid in the ocean
Mermaid in the sea
Mermaid swimming to you
Mermaid swimming to me

Chesterton on Picture Books

This is the sort of book we like
(For you and I are very small)
With pictures stuck in anyhow
And hardly any words at all.

You will not understand a word
Of all the words, including mine;
Never you trouble; you can see --
And all directness is divine.

Stand up and keep your childishness.
Read all the pedants' screeds and strictures.
But don't believe in anything
That can't be told in coloured pictures.
-- G.K. Chesterton

I found this little gem of a poem ages ago. It's quoted in A Time to Read: Good Books for Growing Readers by Mary Ruth K. Wilkinson and Heidi Wilkinson Teel (Regent College Publishing). They don't note what Chesterton book it comes from, and I've not been able to find any attribution online.

I love this poem. It seems so simple on first reading, but stands up to repeated readings and repeated peeling back of layers. It also has the added bonus of one line that challenged me to look up three words (pedant, screeds and strictures). I think that must be a record. I thought I understood the line pretty well from context, and I did, but looking those words up was enlightening nonetheless.

It makes me think not only of picture books, but of stained glass windows...

I hope I will always be of good courage when it comes to standing up and keeping my childishness.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

I am officially old...

My 20th high school reunion was held last weekend. No, I didn't go -- I would have had to travel too far, and the cost of the various events was quite high. Added to the fact that I wasn't terribly happy in high school, and the few friends I had and would have liked to see again didn't seem to appear on the rsvp list.

I've been keeping up with the reunion news once in a while via a class blog that the reunion organizers set up. And just a little while ago, I accessed an online photo album of pictures of the weekend. Basically it was photo after photo of a huge room crowded with middle-aged people I didn't recognize. No kidding. Yikes.

Sigh. It's just been that kind of day. Among other things, I discovered that a stranger somehow got hold of one of our credit card numbers and charged almost $200 worth of merchandise to it -- from some overseas company I'd never heard of. The really odd thing is that the merchandise was shipped to us. You think if someone was going out of their way to fraudently use your c. card, they would at least ship the stuff to themselves.

I didn't feel quite as angry and violated as I did when our car got stolen a decade or more ago near Philadelphia, but it certainly does leave one feeling vulnerable. I lodged an official dispute of the charge with my c. card company, and tomorrow I think I need to call the Better Business Bureau about the company that sent the shipment.

Yep. Definitely tired tonight. A little discouraged. And feeling old.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Orson Scott Card: Defender of Harry!

I'm not a science fiction fan, but several years ago I began reading and enjoying some of the marvelous books by Orson Scott Card. I began with Ender's Game (probably his best known work) and ended up reading several more books by him. He's a first-class storyteller. In fact, I admired his storytelling so much that I went on to read some of his non-fiction work on crafting fiction, especially fantasy fiction.

Long about a year ago, I discovered Card's blog. For some reason (possibly because we had a major computer crash) I no longer had it bookmarked and hadn't checked in there for a while. But I did the other day, and enjoyed myself immensely. I certainly don't agree with everything Card writes, especially regarding politics. But I love his regular columns entitled "Uncle Orson Reviews Everything" where he does indeed review just about everything, or at least just about everything that strikes his fancy, from children's literature to movies water.

But here's the best part: he's a Harry Potter fan! Why does this surprise me? It shouldn't have. I should have known that one consummate storyteller would recognize the genius of another. I just hadn't "connected" them in any way. What's even more fun is how brilliantly and zestfully OSC defends Harry -- as good literature. Thank you, thank you!

So even though this piece was written almost exactly five years ago, I'm still recommending it as a ripping good read...not just for Card fans or Rowling fans, but for anyone who loves children's literature and respects the power of good storytelling. My favorite part is the way Card zings the literary "elite" and reminds us that we can trust children to spot good stories:

What infuriates the literati? Oh, they talk about how Harry Potter is just a fad, how children's books aren't "literature," how these books are proof that English-language readers are even dumber than they thought.

But the truth is, in fact, the opposite. Unlike Pokemon or the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, the Harry Potter movement is reader-driven. Kids who thought they hated to read because they had hated everything anybody tried to make them read in school suddenly became avid readers of big thick books that were extraordinarily demanding, not just in vocabulary and syntax and culture, but in moral reasoning and character development....

And then a little further on:

It is obvious that J.K. Rowling, the author of the Harry Potter books, has already earned a permanent place in world literature, alongside Louisa Mae Alcott, Robert Louis Stephenson, and Mark Twain, who also wrote books that children loved, and who also were phenomenally popular during their lifetimes despite the harsh criticism of literary elitists.

In fact, one can make a good case for the idea that children are often the guardians of the truly great literature of the world, for in their love of story and unconcern for stylistic fads and literary tricks, children unerringly gravitate toward truth and power.

The whole post is definitely worth reading. It got me all excited about good reading and good writing...again.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

The "Nice Little Girl in a Purple Bathrobe"

Sweet Girl's been longing for a bathrobe. Her Daddy got a new one a couple of months ago, which might have something to do with it. More than likely though, it was the number of times I'd said, as she shivered her way through the kitchen from the bathtub to her bedroom, clad only in her favorite green towel: "we really should get you a nice, warm bathrobe."

Well, we finally did today. We checked a couple of places out and finally decided on the soft, fleecy, dark purple one -- her choice. She and her Daddy went back to the store to buy it, leaving me right across the the bookstore with the "15% off, only today" coupon (slightly dangerous!).

Actually, I was very good with that coupon. I looked longingly at a couple of books I knew that either I or D. and I both, would enjoy. I reminded myself once again of our finances and of the fact that I could almost definitely find any of these things on inter-library loan. I almost scrapped the coupon completely, except that I found a lovely paperback copy of Arnold Lobel's Owl at Home which I knew the Sweet Girl would love. With the coupon, I got it for about $3 -- and was able to put it away for Christmas.

I was standing in line to buy it when I suddenly heard -- well, it's hard to describe, but it was a kind of happy squealing that I can almost always instantly identify as my daughter. I looked up. There she was, standing next to her Daddy in the mall proper, just a few yards away from the bookstore entrance. He was down on his guessed it...helping her into the new bathrobe.

Suddenly a tiny little girl wrapped, hooded and belted in warm purple fleece was hurtling toward me with the biggest grin on her face you can imagine. "Mommy! Mommy! Look at my new bathrobe!" she shrieked with glee, causing several heads to turn and several people to chuckle. I made all the appropriate exclamations, of course, and so did the very nice ladies behind the cash registers at the bookstore.

We managed to convince her that it wasn't really an outdoor kind of thing to wear, so she exchanged it for her jacket, but as soon as we got home, out came the robe again. I suspect I shall be seeing a lot if it this coming winter! She wore it for the rest of the day. At one point, when I was making dinner, she pelted into the kitchen to proclaim "I'm a nice little girl in a purple bathrobe!" and I had to laugh. We celebrated purple bathrobe day by putting on Tchaikovsky's Swan Lake Waltz and dancing around and around the kitchen with her bear Trumpkin and her small stuffed skunk (an old toy she's recently fallen in love with and has christened simply "Skunk").

It's funny that I chose the Tchaikovsky. It used to be one of her favorite pieces of music when she was a baby -- we danced to it almost every morning during the winter when she was between 6-9 months old, me holding her on my hip and waltzing her around her room, or zooming her up over my head during the fast, swishy parts. I told her about how we used to do that, and she just grinned. Later on, after she'd gone to bed (wearing the bathrobe, though that didn't last long because she got too hot and needed to take it off, as we'd told her would probably happen) it suddenly hit me that today is the 5 year anniversary of the day we found out we were pregnant with the Sweet Girl. Just 5 years ago! She's filled up so much of our days since then. It's sometimes hard to realize there was ever a time when I didn't know that happy squeal, ever a time when I didn't know and love my "nice little girl in a purple bathrobe."

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Character Assassination

A few weeks ago I wrote about my enjoyment in the hit television show LOST, and worried out loud that the show might be "losing me" as a viewer. I've been concerned for some time about the creative direction in which the writers are taking the show, but I've stuck with it, not least because that Wednesday night date to watch it (through our snowy, static-y television reception) has become one of the few relaxing, fun-together times my hubby and I can count on during the busy week.

After last night, we're wondering if we need to come up with a new date night.

We're still hanging in there...but just barely. There's one show to go in what ABC is now billing as the "fall season" (they're on a six show mini-season kick, followed by a really long hiatus, followed by a new mini-season starting again in January or February, I think) and we do plan to watch it next week. But my dear D., who has been a loyal fan from the first, and was the one who originally got me watching, isn't feeling too sure that he's going to care that much when the show rolls into hiatus. And I'm right there with him.

Last night, they killed off a fairly beloved character. This is not new -- at last count, at least prior to last night, I think they'd killed off at least four major or semi-major characters, not to mention a whole host of "red shirts" -- but what made us both look at one another in near comic-despair was what they did just prior to the killing off of this particular character.

By the way, in deference to FBRE (that's "faithful blog reader Erin") I'm trying not to get too specific about the plot details, because I know she's still catching up on previous seasons! But I think I can forage ahead in a general way and still get my complaints across.

What made both D. and me so frustrated was the fact that it felt like they killed this character twice: first they made him do something completely and utterly out of character, and then they killed him. They've done this before, but never quite so heinously as this time around. It makes it hard to grieve properly (yes, I know -- this is a TV show, not real life, but I still think one needs a little time to process character deaths) when they pull this kind of thing. To make matters worse, this particular little "character assassination," as I'm thinking of it, also showed once again (and this time with vigor!) their utter inability to deal decently or realistically with religious themes. They've struggled here before too, but it never felt so clear as last night. What frustrated us is that in changing the character we'd come to know and respect and feel interested in, they actually imperilled not only his life but his soul. Argh.

I still feel invested enough in Jack's character and storyline to want to give the show at least one more chance, but I confess I'm getting disappointed. And D. is a very loyal viewer of shows he enjoys, and usually far more patient than I...but even he said last night that he just might not tune in again next spring, depending on what happens next week. And then he chuckled and said, "but what will we watch instead?" which is a good question given the fact that we can barely get in just one station! Ah well, there's always episodes of Monk on DVD -- which we've been enjoying on occasion recently, courtesy of a friend. Back when we had time...and better reception...Monk was our favorite show. Right around the time we stopped watching, Sharona (one of our favorite characters) left the show. Sigh. We just can't win!

"For All the Saints..."

I didn't have a chance last night to post a brief commemoration of All Saints' Day. We'll be celebrating it this Sunday in our parish by focusing our minds and hearts on Christians around the world who are being persecuted for their faith.

It's really hard to choose which verses to share of William H. How's hymn, set to such amazing music by Ralph Vaughan Williams (1872-1958). Each verse seems important and helps the song to build to a powerful crescendo. I'm listening to a beautiful version of it as I type this, from the CD entitled A Vaughn Williams Hymnal, with the Choir of Trinity College, Cambridge singing. I love this arrangement, as sometimes the voices are acapella and at other times they're joined by rich swells of an organ. It makes me long (I must confess) to attend and participate in an elaborate festival eucharist in a cathedral. It's been a while since I've been at such a worship service.

Okay, I can't choose. I'm going to paste the whole thing below, and hope it's not infringing any copyright. To give full credit where credit is due, I'm pasting stanzas from

For all the saints, who from their labors rest,
Who Thee by faith before the world confessed,
Thy Name, O Jesus, be forever blessed.
Alleluia, Alleluia!

Thou wast their Rock, their Fortress and their Might;
Thou, Lord, their Captain in the well fought fight;
Thou, in the darkness drear, their one true Light.
Alleluia, Alleluia!

For the Apostles’ glorious company,
Who bearing forth the Cross o’er land and sea,
Shook all the mighty world, we sing to Thee:
Alleluia, Alleluia!

For the Evangelists, by whose blest word,
Like fourfold streams, the garden of the Lord,
Is fair and fruitful, be Thy Name adored.
Alleluia, Alleluia!

For Martyrs, who with rapture kindled eye,
Saw the bright crown descending from the sky,
And seeing, grasped it, Thee we glorify.
Alleluia, Alleluia!

O blest communion, fellowship divine!
We feebly struggle, they in glory shine;
All are one in Thee, for all are Thine.
Alleluia, Alleluia!

O may Thy soldiers, faithful, true and bold,
Fight as the saints who nobly fought of old,
And win with them the victor’s crown of gold.
Alleluia, Alleluia!

And when the strife is fierce, the warfare long,
Steals on the ear the distant triumph song,
And hearts are brave, again, and arms are strong.
Alleluia, Alleluia!

The golden evening brightens in the west;
Soon, soon to faithful warriors comes their rest;
Sweet is the calm of paradise the blessed.
Alleluia, Alleluia!

But lo! there breaks a yet more glorious day;
The saints triumphant rise in bright array;
The King of glory passes on His way.
Alleluia, Alleluia!

From earth’s wide bounds, from ocean’s farthest coast,
Through gates of pearl streams in the countless host,
And singing to Father, Son and Holy Ghost:
Alleluia, Alleluia!

Words: Will­iam W. How, in Hymns for Saint’s Days, and Other Hymns, by Earl Nel­son, 1864. Music: Sine Nomine, Ralph Vaugh­an Will­iams, in The Eng­lish Hymn­al (Lon­don: Ox­ford Un­i­ver­si­ty Press, 1906), num­ber 641