Saturday, December 29, 2007

"And there were in the same country shepherds..."

"keeping watch over their flocks by night."

I snapped a few more traditional pictures at our church's Christmas pageant, but this casual snap might have been one of my favorites. The "flock" this year consisted of two sheep: my precious daughter (don't you love the ears?) and her soft, woolly stuffed sheep. This was actually taken during morning rehearsal, before the congregation had fully arrived. I love how sheep and shepherd are just sitting next to each other, enjoying everything!

Friday, December 28, 2007

New Year's Lists

I've got a plethora of new year's grading and writing deadlines, so these few days of supposed "down time" are actually some of the busiest I've had in a while! In the midst of all that, however, I'm contemplating some new year's lists.

I'm not a big new year's resolver. I don't make huge resolutions or very detailed ones. I do sometimes find this is a good time, however, to look again at my priorities and how I spend my time, and to try to set some goals and get a bit more organized. This year I seem to be in a bit of a list-making frenzy.

Here are some of the lists I'm currently making (mentally and/or soon-to-be on paper). Some of them, as you can see, lend themselves to larger organizational other words, the lists aren't just an end unto themselves!

Short-term lists:

*** My year-end list of books I've read or am in the process of reading. I usually compile that list based on my notes here and on the reviews I've written for epinions. Last year in early January I posted a list of my favorites (in various, self-appointed categories) for the year, and I hope to do that again this year. Usually that list helps me think about what kinds of reading I hope to accomplish in the new year.

*** Spring term kindergarten list. I need time to sit down and plan out (at least in broad sweeps) the next few months of school time for the sweet girl. I have a general idea of where I'm going and what books and other resources we'll be using, but I need some more time to pull all that together.

Short-to-medium-term lists:

*** First Grade book list. Lord willing, we'll be able to continue our homeschool journey in the fall (we are trusting God to continue to provide a way!). I'm already working on my book list for the coming year and thinking about ways I can find and utilize different resources (purchases, libraries, loans, downloads) in order to keep costs down. I love making this list because it excites me no end to think of the wonderful things the sweet girl and I will be studying and exploring together.

Please pray that I will not get bogged down in worries about how our continued commitment to homeschooling is actually going to happen. God continues to provide me work from home as we need it, often right when we need it, and it's no good fretting in advance even when I feel clueless about how he's going to do it the next time around. We're manna-gatherers for sure! Pray also that I can find ways to save toward some of the book and curriculum purchases we do need to make. I've been hanging onto my epi-earnings (helped immeasurably by their generous end-of-year bonus) in the hopes that I can use them for that this year, and not have to spend them on creditors, car or health insurance.

*** Money-saving ideas. With the preceding paragraph in mind, you're no doubt not surprised to see this here. Our debt burden and increasing out-of-pocket health care costs, combined with our less than lucrative (at least monetarily...we are so rich in every other way that counts!) vocational choices means that we have to get really creative this year about tightening our belts even further. I have been trying to come up with a list of ideas to save us money each week and month, in the hopes we can begin to chip more at debt and be freed up to give more as we're called. If you've got good, creative tips or web resources on saving money, generating needed income, or budgeting, pass em' on!

*** Address list. This sounds silly...after all, we live in the information age and I'm supposed to have this kind of data all handy somewhere, right? But we don't. My mad scramble to find email and/or postal addresses for a number of people this Christmas made me realize just how unorganized our personal address list is. A lot of that is due to the fact that the last time we did a full-scale organized list, it was on a computer that now sits almost unused in our bedroom (an old computer that has no way of "talking to" this computer). This is the year for me to get old stuff OFF that computer and to re-organize a contact list for what we like to call our "life community" -- people we've known and loved during so many different seasons and places.

Medium-long-term lists:

*** Genealogical information. This one is related to the above. About a decade ago, D. and I did a lot of research into our families' histories, some of which bore great fruit. We organized some of the info. in hard copies (charts, pictures, etc.) and those boxes are sitting in our closet, awaiting further organization. Some of the data made it onto a budget software program on our old computer, once again, "non-transferrable." Eventually we'd like to get a better program, but in the meantime, I'd be satisfied with just getting the information we have into accessible and easy to find formats in binders and plastic folders.

*** My writing files. Ah, the never ending project. I haven't organized my writing files in so long it's embarrassing. It's also embarrassing how often I can't find a story, poem or other piece I've written, or a project I started and would like to re-visit and work on again. This really needs to happen. One reason I realized that anew is because D. and I worked on a series of narrative monologue and poems several years ago, which were presented (in rough form) as an advent program at the seminary. Seven years later, this advent, we got to thinking about them again and began talking about ways we could revise them, add to them, and perhaps even think about submitting them somewhere for publication...only to discover we can't find the file anywhere. Still looking! I hope to really dive into some writing projects this year, both old and new, so this organizational goal feels important.

*** Birthday and Christmas scrapbooks for the sweet girl. I keep promising myself these will get done. I really want to work on them this year!

Well, I'm sure there are more lists I could think of...and have thought of...but these are the ones coming to mind for now.

How about you? Do you make lists and plan organizational projects for the new year?

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas!

Checking in briefly from my mother-in-law's laptop on this Christmas morning. We're traveling for Christmas, per usual the past several years.

The sweet girl has been so excited about Christmas. Last night, on the way to the Christmas Eve service at her great aunt's church, she suddenly shouted from the back seat, "Almost, almost, ALMOST!" "Almost what?" we asked. "ALMOST CHRISTMAS!" And she's thrilled that the day is here at last.

Our other favorite moment last night was during the lengthy but beautiful Christmas Eve service. Cindy's church is Methodist, which meant most of the service looked familiar to our little Anglican family, though there were some slight differences in liturgy. (Remember the Wesleys were Anglican!) At some point, the minister said something about turning to a certain page in the liturgy and beginning the great thanksgiving. At which point, the sweet girl, squirming a bit in the pew, looked over her shoulder at her Daddy and me and said in a loud stage whisper, "but it's not THANKSGIVING!"

Merry Christmas to all! Blessings as we celebrate our Savior's birth!

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

It's a Wonderful Life...With Bunnies

D. and I fulfilled our favorite movie-watching obligation during the Advent/Christmas seasons the other evening...we watched It's A Wonderful Life.

I guess we're really not under any obligation to watch it, but we always want to, and it doesn't feel like Christmas if we don't. We have several favorite movies we like to see this time of year, but Frank Capra's classic is the best. There's nothing more fun than quoting our favorite lines, laughing over the funny parts, and tearing up (yes, I still do) over the most poignant scenes.

After we watched it, we went to the computer to look it up on IMDB. When I googled on the title, it came up with a website I hadn't thought of in a couple of years. That was when we first saw this terrifically funny piece of animation. It's A Wonderful Life...Re-Enacted in 30 seconds...With Bunnies.

If you're a fan of this movie, this little bit of animation is a must-see. It's a parody, yes, but so well done...obviously made by someone who knows and loves the movie inside out. Plus it's just so wonderful seeing all your favorite characters from the film in bunny form. It's even in black and white!

Friday, December 14, 2007

New Every Morning

"One of the great blessings of growing older (that is, growing older as a Christian) is a developing awareness of God's continuing mercy, a sweet apprehension that his great mercy is tireless." ~ Scott Cairns, God With Us

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Tonight's Bedtime Prayers

Bedtime prayers this evening featured a very tired Daddy, a not-much-behind-him-in- exhaustion Mommy, and a fresh from the bath and somewhat giggly little girl.

So not much different than most nights.

D. was saying the bedtime prayer right before it was time to tuck the sweet girl in for the night. As always, he prayed that God would bless her sleep and help her to wake up refreshed in the morning. Amen.

It was after the Amen that her stern and somewhat strident little voice piped up. "I'm not Sarah. I'm Piglet. Why did you say Sarah in the prayer?" And before tired Daddy could respond, she added, "God knows I'm pretending to be Piglet. God knows everything."

There is deep food for theological reflection here, I'm sure. But for now I'll just say Amen again!

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Maybe That Tree Is on an Island...

"You can't really rock around the Christmas tree," the sweet girl said tonight. Then added thoughtfully, "Maybe it's a boat thing. You know, you can rock in a boat."

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

A Book Give Away Just in Time For Christmas

Edited to add: The drawing was held earlier today (th 13th). I didn't win, but congratulations to the lady who did!

There's a lovely book give away in progress over at the lovely blog "A Readable Feast." Click here if you're interested in learning more and actually submitting your name for a chance to win. The books would all make wonderful gifts for little ones in your life!

Do You Miss Christmas Cards?

I really do miss sending and receiving Christmas cards. Do you find that you're receiving fewer of them than in the past? We certainly do.

This isn't really meant as a complaint. In fact, I understand some of the reasons behind the drop (or at least I think I do). We used to send out a big pile of cards every Christmas ourselves, along with our annual letter and my annual advent poem. In recent years, we've dropped back to just the letter and poem and usually send that via email in order to save postage. We still send a few cards to a handful of friends who don't have email. But with stamps at 41 cents, if we really wanted to send out cards to everyone we'd love to be in touch with (including far-flung friends we're not in touch with much at other times of year) we'd probably be spending at least $50 just in stamps, and that's not possible for us right now.

I also think that many people in our generation (and the younger generations) just don't seem to get into sending cards. Maybe they feel it's too old-fashioned, or takes too long. Believe me, I love hearing from friends via many different mediums, including electronic ones, but I miss the old-fashioned, time-consuming and time-honored exchange of actual Christmas cards. (I confess I miss old-fashioned letters too!)

This year I haven't even bothered getting out the lovely Christmas tray where I usually keep the stack of cards. A stack hasn't materialized. I still can't quite help myself, feeling the slight tingle of expectation when I go to the mailbox, but most days there's nothing there but bills and flyers from stores trying to get us to rack up more bills. Yuk.

So I'm not really dreaming of a white Christmas this year so much as I'm dreaming of a creamy envelope with a bit of gold foil on the flap. A colorful stamp. A card that when you pull it out, you catch your breath because it reminds you, for an aching moment, of the majesty of the season and all the real reasons we celebrate it. Signed by someone you love, but maybe haven't seen in a while, who took the time to send the card to you just because this time of year we do that kind of thing.

Monday, December 10, 2007

And on that Christmas Tree, A Shining...Easter Egg

We decorated our tree this weekend. Or rather, our trees.

A few years ago we started a tradition of decorating a small tree in the sweet girl's room. It's very small -- an old prop Dana had from a Christmas skit he did years ago. It's maybe a foot and a half tall, and we put it on her dresser each year with a few little ornaments.

We happened to get it out of the closet a couple of days ago, before we had opened up any of the boxes of ornaments. We weren't decorating the bigger tree until yesterday, but S. was so excited she just couldn't wait. "Can I go ahead and decorate the little tree?" she asked, and I laughed and said "sure," curious to know what she might do.

It was quite extraordinary really. She found a pale pink hair ribbon and draped it artistically over a few of the branches.

Then she arranged the soft cloth dolls and creatures from her little fabric creche (one she's had since her first Christmas). There's Mary sitting jauntily on a branch like a bright bird, and Joseph, gray of hair (in this particular version) peering from the branches like a squirrel. The camel's perched precariously near the top.

And on the very top, instead of a star, she placed half of a bright yellow plastic easter egg.

That last really struck me when I looked at the tree. What a perfect, crowning touch really. The incarnation is like the roots and branches of our faith. Without it, without God taking on human flesh, the rest of the gospel couldn't have happened. His death and resurrection are all of a piece with his coming as a small baby to take on our human nature, to assume that flesh that he would redeem.

She finished decorating her little tree yesterday, after the regular boxes of ornaments were opened. It's beautiful, and the easter egg still crowns the whole. I can't get those first, simple decorations, in all their wonderful childlike originality, out of my mind. Food for my heart this season.

Sunday, December 09, 2007

Hairdryers We Have Heard On High

I was thinking back the other day to this season in our lives three years ago.

Not many people know this, but the year the sweet girl was two was an incredibly hard year for us. In early summer, D. and I had essentially been forced out of our jobs, work we liked and work we thought we were doing well. We thought God was calling us to relocate and spent a ton of time, energy and money traveling so D. could interview for various jobs. Doors kept closing on us, including some that initially looked very promising.

By Christmas, we were beginning to run out of resources, both inwardly and outwardly. We spent that whole year basically unemployed (except for a few temporary assignments we could get once in a while) and running on fumes. We had received an inheritance from D's grandparents, money we had hoped could pay down some debt and perhaps even provide a down payment on a house...something we've never been able to do. Instead, we were forced to live on it, grateful beyond words that we had it, but frustrated too to see it going toward daily expenses when we'd hoped to put it toward the future.

In the middle of all these things (and more) that swirled around us, our little girl was not talking. Not at all. When we thought back, we realized we had not heard her little voice in a long time. I won't go into details here, but we had a long and difficult stretch of time when we thought we might be facing a diagnosis on the autism spectrum. Besides the loss of language (she had been speaking a few words for a while, then stopped completely) there were a few other "quirky" things going on in behavior that made the developmentalists wonder aloud.

I know, all children have "quirks." And all grown-ups too. I certainly had (and have) my share. But when you're trying to keep anxiety and concern at bay, some of those quirks can look hugely significant, perhaps disproportionately so. One that always concerned me, perhaps more than it should have, was the sweet girl's high sensitivity to loud, mechanized noises. The vacuum. The blender. The juicer. My hair dryer. Hand dryers in public restrooms (which could send her into such a frenzy that I dreaded ever having to take her into one). During her first three years, I essentially had to give up using any loud appliances when she was in the house. Well-meaning friends sometimes encouraged us to just keep doing those things and she'd get used to it. Or to take her along on my hip while I vacuumed, for instance. What I couldn't always explain was the gut-wrenching quality of her reactions. It was such a visceral reaction -- she would quite often literally shake in fear, and no amount of calming or soothing or shutting of doors (in our one floor apartment, hard to conceal sounds) seemed to help.

In the past two years, she's made huge strides in this as well as everything else. Once she could use words to express her feelings, she could talk about how much she didn't like the noise. Step by step, that led us to be able to help her to do other things about her own response. Now, for instance, when I use the blender to make her favorite blueberry smoothies, I just give her fair warning that I'm about to start, and she heads to her bedroom and closes the door.

I knew we'd come far when, several months ago, I suggested that she let me dry her hair...and she let me. Mind you, only on the lowest setting. And this was a special, relatively "quiet" hairdryer that my dear sister had bought for me when the sweet girl was a baby, hoping I might be able to use it. Drying her hair on bath nights quickly became an enjoyable and relaxing time we'd spend together, though for the first several weeks, she always prefaced the moment with a long string of "remember, Mommy, don't turn it on high, I don't LIKE it on high, it's too loud, please keep it on low."

Until last week. When she suddenly said, oh so casually, "Maybe next time you can dry my hair, you can put it on high. Just so I can feel it. Not this time. But next time."

"Okay," I said calmly, inwardly turning cartwheels of joy. It's such a little thing really, but it's not. It feels big for her. For all of us.

So when it came time to get the hairdryer out the next time, just the other evening, I tried to match her casual tone. "Remember you said you might want me to turn it on high the next time? Would you like me to?"

She hesitated, and then she said yes.

So I slowly moved that button down to the high position. The pitch, the volume, the hot air, all zoomed to loud life right behind her. Startled, she jumped, and for a second I braced myself for quick shouts to turn it off. But they didn't come.

She relaxed. She relaxed into the warmth. "Mmm! Mommy, it feels GOOD! It feels good on high! I like it!"

Like I said, I know it seems small. But sometimes small victories can also feel hugely significant, maybe disproportionately. Or maybe not. Right now, I am just rejoicing in this little step my sweet girl has taken, knowing there will be so many more.

I'm also wondering how many times I am rigid and frozen in my own fears and insecurities, while a loving God sits behind me (and before me and round about me) ready to move the button to a higher, louder, more passionate setting, knowing I am ready for it long before I know that about myself. Like my little girl, I hope I will have the courage to relax into whatever he has in store for me.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

My Thankful Post

I promised my own thankful post would be forthcoming. So before we get too far into the advent season, I thought I'd reflect (as I did last year) on our thanksgiving trip and all the blessings we encountered during it.

First was simply the blessing of being able to go. Given how little we have been able to travel in recent years, that was no small thing. Being able to afford the trip and to get the time off from various jobs (D's heavy workload in two places makes this especially tricky) was a blessing all by itself. Because we work part-time and via self-employment, we've had no "paid vacation" in years. Any days off, we really feel like we have to earn, usually by finessing schedules and working more hours before and after to be able to do it. Everything coming together the way it did was a gift.

We left later than we intended on the day we headed down to Virginia. I'm thankful we were able to simply relax about that and not "stress" that we couldn't get there faster. In fact, we relaxed a bit more than usual, stopping several times...once at our favorite rest stop (where there are lots of trees and hills and a place for the sweet girl to run around). It was heading toward twilight by the time we got there, and I got a lovely shot of the moon right on the cusp of evening, looking so beautiful with the darkening sky and the bare almost-winter branches next to it.

Our time in Virginia was precious. I missed all of my siblings something fierce this year, but it was also wonderful for the sweet girl to get so much grandparent time. At my parents' (where we spent thanksgiving day - Saturday morning) she had a lot of fun making pumpkin bread with Grandma Eva. Watching them measure the spices and stir up the batter was a delight and brought back some wonderful kitchen memories with my Mom. And speaking of the kitchen, my parents have been re-doing their kitchen, completely on their own. I wanted to post a photo, but for some reason blogger is not allowing me a second one in this post. Hmm.

Anyway, the leaves in Richmond were beautiful, colorful and around their peak. My Dad apologized because a strong wind the day before had brought down scads of yellow maple leaves all over the yard, but we loved it. I especially loved it because those are "my maples" -- the trees I spent hours of my childhood climbing.

Thanksgiving dinner was delicious, with Mom out-doing herself as usual. She was scandalized by my Dad's suggestion that since there were so few of us this year (just the five of us) that she not make sweet potatoes, since mashed potatoes would suffice. I'm relieved she didn't give into the one-potato pressure. :-) I love Mom's sweet potato casserole made with pineapple!

The sweet girl ate fairly well at thanksgiving dinner. When it was all over, we asked her what her favorite food had been. "The pickles," she said promptly. A girl after my own heart.

Time at Grandma Ona's from Saturday-Monday morning was also good. We had planned to spend as much as Sunday as we could, following church, in Washington D.C., so that necessitated our finding a slightly earlier church service. We visited the Falls Church for the first time ever and were blessed to hear Bishop Martyn Minns preach and celebrate. It's a huge building (and we were in only one of their sancutaries, the "main" one, not the "historic" one) and we arrived about four minutes late. The friendly ushers put us on the second row which had me in a slight tizzy for the first half hour, as I waited for the sweet girl to squirm, fuss or otherwise disobey in front of this large and strange congregation. I knew she wasn't feeling entirely comfortable (nor was I) given how much larger and "grander" looking the place was than our tiny basement sanctuary. But I think the beauty of the place and the majesty of the organ overwhelmed her into almost-silence. It was also her first time using a kneeler to pray during a church service, and I was amazed at how quickly she caught on (with no coaching from either of us). When we got back from the communion rail, she actually dropped to her knees again without any prompting (and most people in the congregation weren't even doing that). I felt very tender watching that little curved back and bowed head.

We had perfect fall weather, crisp, clear and colorful, for our day-long trek into D.C. It was S' first trip on the Metro and she loved it, holding her doll Jane up to the window so she could look out. D's Aunt Cindy came with us and was a trooper to traipse all over creation and back (well okay, just to the Lincoln Monument and back, but it was a LOT of walking). Besides the Lincoln, we spent time at the WWII Memorial (a first for us, and very meaningful since Cindy's Dad/Dana's Granddad fought with Patton). We also got time at the Museum of Natural History and the National Gallery.

We love the National Gallery. Once upon a time, when we lived closer to D.C. and visited it more often, we knew it well. We were slightly disoriented this time both because it had been so long since we'd been there, and because they are undergoing some major renovations and had moved part of the collection. Thankfully, we found D's favorite Thomas Cole paintings! I loved watching him hold S. right up to each one and talk to her about the pictures as they progressed through all four. And I loved the way his face lit up when her own little face, piqued with interest, lit up too, and she asked "Can we go back and look at the first one?"

S. loved spending time with Grandma Ona, of course. The two of them did a little dancing and a lot of chatting and hugging. I think S. is already counting the days till Christmas when we hope, Lord willing, to be going back.

This feels like a whirlwind version, but at least it gives you a glimpse of all we had to be thankful for. Safe travels, beautiful weather, loving times with parents/grandparents. Another thanksgiving I will treasure long in my memory!

Monday, December 03, 2007

Reminder to Self: Next Year Get the Advent Candles Early

This morning the sweet girl trotted into the kitchen first thing. She changed the magnets on the refrigerator to reflect today's date. And then she added "A 2." "Look at what I did, Mommy! A is for Advent, and 2 means it's the second day." Amen. Happy A 2!


As if one needed any more proof that mainstream culture orders its time and its look differently than the church, here's my two cents on the second day of advent: it's really, really hard to find candles in the correct liturgical colors in regular stores this time of year.

In 2006 I was smart. I bought blue and pink candles on sale at a drugstore in the spring. Just as a side note, we sometimes use medium blue candles rather than purple ones, although purple is the more traditional color for Advent candles. I think that's because our first Episcopal parish, a number of years ago, had switched for a while to the more "modern" liturgical blue. But I digress...

I bought one box of blue and one box of pink last year. And we used some, not all of them. This past weekend I was proud that I was able to find the partially used boxes in the closet. Great! We were all set! Or so I thought.

We still had plenty of pink left (since typically you only place one pink or rose colored candle on the wreath, along with three purple or blue ones) but we only had two blue left. No problem, I thought. We'll just pick up more blue candles, and if we can't find one that matches closely, we'll pick up a set of purple.

But apparently stores don't like to stock those colors this time of year. We had to go to Wal-Mart yesterday (we don't usually shop on a Sunday evening, but D. had been out of town on a youth retreat all weekend, and I'd been sick with a virus). The sweet girl was very excited because we were going to find the rest of the advent candles we needed. Or so we thought.

This was one of those ridiculously large Wal-Marts (is there any other kind?). As in huge. As in they had an entire aisle devoted to nothing but candles. But all of them, I kid you not, were autumnal colors. Browns, creams, oranges, reds, in every imaginable shape and size. "This can't be all the candles they have," I declared, and found a sales associate to ask.

Turns out I was right. They had a whole other aisle full of candles. This was in one of the "Christmas aisles." Confident that somewhere along the line we'd stumble into various colored candles, or perhaps even find a box marked "advent candles" specifically, we sallied forth. I stood for a while facing the shelves, unwilling to believe it. White candles, a few green, a few red. Silver taper candles. Very pretty, those. But not a single candle that looked remotely close to an advent color.

The colors of the advent candles are supposed to remind us...of the solemnity of the season (purple is a penitential color, also a royal one) and the joy and brightness of the season (the rose or pink colored one). Why can't we find those colors in our regular stores and not just small church supply shops and bookstores? Who dictates the color schemes of the seasons, I wonder, or decides what the season is "all about"?

Well, enough whining. We came home candle-less. We gathered around our beautiful wreath, still the one D. and I made together early n in our marriage, and we carefully placed two blue and two pink candles. Not liturgically correct, no, and my sense of stubbornness will probably ensure I keep looking for a while. But at least we were close, and we had a wonderful devotional time of prayer and music together.

Next year, I will go shopping for advent candles in the spring again.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Michael Ward on the Planetary Influences in the Chronicles of Narnia

While I'm celebrating C.S. Lewis today, I had to pass on the link to this wonderful article, recently published in Touchstone magazine. Must reading for lovers of Lewis' work, especially for fans of the Chronicles. Important, enjoyable, thought-provoking. Worth reading not once but several times (by Jove!).

Beautiful Birthdays: Louisa, Lewis, L'Engle

November 29 is one of my very favorite days of the year. It doesn't seem to matter if I'm cold, tired, overwhelmed, stressed, or any number of other things I can often find myself being. This is always a good day because I get to remember and celebrate the birthdays of three writers near and dear to my heart: Louisa May Alcott (1832); Clive Staples Lewis (1898); and Madeleine L'Engle (1918).

When I posted on this day last year, calling it the "literary day of days," Madeleine was still with us. She has since joined the saints in glory. I enjoyed spending time yesterday afternoon reading through a selection from Walking on Water, and also her Christmas poem "O Simplicitas."

The Child born in a stall?
I understood it: all.
Kings came in adoration.

Perhaps it was absurd;
a stable set apart,
the sleepy cattle lowing;
and the incarnate Word
resting against my heart.
My joy was overflowing.
The shepherds came, adored
the folly of the Lord,
wiser than all men's knowing.

I love that whole poem (though I'm only quoting the final part).

But today has belonged to Lewis. That's because, providentially, the sweet girl and I are finishing up our read-aloud of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, which we began in the car during thanksgiving travels. Today we came to chapter 16, when Aslan, with Susan and Lucy, arrives at the courtyard of the White Witch. He breathes on the statues and they all come back to life. The sweet girl, who has been enjoying (and seeming to grasp much better than even I expected) the whole book, seemed enthralled with this scene. She kept asking, with wonder, "how did he make the stone people real again?" or saying things like, "you can't melt stone!" to which I keep replying things like, "He's Aslan. He's the King of the beasts, the King of all Narnia. And he's very powerful!"

S. has a wonderful sense of humor too. She often seems to "get" things that are supposed to be funny, even when you can tell she's not entirely sure yet why they're funny. I think her favorite part in the whole scene today was when Aslan breathed on the other lion in the courtyard (the smaller lion whom Edmund, still lost in his folly, half-hoped might be Aslan himself). She kept giggling over there being "two lions in this chapter" and seemed delighted when the smaller lion kept running around, oh so proudly, thrilled to be included by Aslan in the task of rounding up the other animals. "Did you hear what he said? Us Lions. That means him and me." She liked that part so much that, when the chapter ended, she ran to her room to get her two stuffed lions. One is very small (she's had him since she was a baby) and the other is a larger one she got for her birthday. She made the big one Aslan and had him breathe on the little one so he could come back to life.

Happy Birthday, Jack! Thank you for blessing us all with such wonderful stories. Thank you for imagining a faun by a lamppost in a snowy wood. Thank you for giving us Aslan. Thank you for giving me stories I can pass on, with such joy, to my little girl.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

A Pause to Remember

This afternoon at 4:00 p.m. in New York City, there will be a public memorial service to remember and celebrate the life of Madeleine L'Engle. She would have been 89 years old tomorrow.

Pause sometime today to give thanks for her life and to pray for the family, friends and admirers gathered in New York today to mourn and celebrate. Or spend a few minutes, if you can, reading one of Madeleine's poems or a favorite passage from one of her novels or journals! My advent reading this year is Wintersong (Christmas writings by Madeleine and her good friend Luci Shaw). I hope to spend a few minutes with it this afternoon around 4.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Leaves For This Year's Thankful Tree

My extended family has a several year tradition of creating a "thankful tree" each thanksgiving. Colored paper leaves are distributed during the day and everyone writes on at least one leaf (sometimes several) to share what they're thankful for. Then we tape the leaves to a tree picture, usually drawn or painted by one of the many artistic people in the family.

We did it again this year, although our gathering was small...just my parents and the three of us. We still managed to cover the tree with bright paper leaves full of thankfulness.

Last year I instituted the tradition here at home as well, and gave the sweet girl a chance to do her own little tree before we left on our trip. It's not only a good exercise in helping her learn to "count her blessings" but gets her primed to share at the wider family gathering.

This year we didn't actually do a tree here at home, but we did do the leaves. They've been littering the table in a lovely, bright pile, and were still scattered there when we got home from our nearly-week long travels last night.

In no particular order, just as I did last year, here's my dear daughter's list of what she's thankful for:

-Good Food
-Mommy and Daddy
-Our Home
-Fall Leaves
-Jesus Loves Me
-Our Church
-My Grandparents
-Good Books Like The Bunnies Are Not in Their Beds; Llama Llama Red Pajama; Thanksgiving at the Tappletons and Thanksgiving Is Here
-Big and Small Things
-My Dolls
-My Drums
-Warm Colorful Socks

A pretty good list, I thought! Yes, I had to do a bit of prompting to help her along, but she got the hang of it pretty quick. And she insisted on listing her current favorite books (note the thanksgiving theme) after saying "good books."

"My Drums" made me smile...her current "drum set" is actually a handful of small, plastic bowls she has confiscated from the kitchen. She has chosen them carefully so that each drum has a slightly different tone, just like the real drum set at church. She uses various things as drumsticks -- the old plastic drumstick from her xylophone, a plastic knife from her toy kitchen set, a small metal pipe from a broken set of musical pipes. In addition to the drum set, she's also created a rather extensive percussion section for herself by making egg shakers out of different things. We had a couple of egg shakers we bought from Kindermusik when she was a baby, and then this summer at VBS she got a couple of plastic easter eggs with rice inside them. She has since made several more from old plastic easter eggs filled with all kinds of things: lentils, unpopped popcorn kernels; small bits of hard uncooked pasta. She loves the different sounds they make.

"Big and Small Things" is a nod to our morning prayers. For years now, literally, one of the morning prayers we have often prayed (almost if not quite every day) is this: "Dear Father, hear and bless thy beasts and singing birds. And guard with tenderness small things that have no words." That became an especially dear prayer to us back in the day when the sweet girl was struggling with her speech delay and quite literally had "no words" coming from her lips for many months on end. It's still a special prayer, but in the past year or so it's morphed into a regular litany she's created of "small things" and "big things" that God has made and which she's thankful for.

My own thankful list to come!

Monday, November 19, 2007

Heroic Stories/Learning to Listen

November always feels like a heroic month. I mean that first on a personal level: as the weather begins to get colder and the tree branches stripped more bare, I often find myself needing to muster up all my inner reserves of strength as I think of the gray, dark, cold winter days ahead.

But November also feels like a month that asks us to look at heroes, or at least to revisit the stories of people who have lived bold, courageous and authentic lives in ages past. I feel that mostly because the month is ushered in by All Saints day. While it's true that "all saints" means what it says (all saints, including the ordinary and perhaps not overtly heroic ones, which includes all of us who follow the way of Jesus now) I do find myself more drawn than ever this time of year to the stories of the saints whose lives burned brightly with God's love.

Even the secular calendar gets on the act. On the 11th, it throws us veteran's day, where we often find ourselves remembering people who have given their lives or the lives of sons and daughters to causes larger than themselves.

I've been wondering lately about the best way to pass on the stories of heroes, saints...role the next generation.

Our culture as a whole seems so much more easily mesmerized by badness than goodness, by worldly power than counter-cultural stands against power, by glamor than truth-telling.

Last week we were reading Dallas Willard on discipleship in our youth fellowship group (kids ages 12-17 who meet weekly at our home) and Willard mentioned Dietrich Bonhoeffer. One of the oldest girls knew who he was, but for the most part, there was little to no recognition. So we decided to try to wrestle our way through some Bonhoeffer this week (we tend to pitch high sometimes) and to share a bit about his life.

It feels painful somehow that the history we learn in school focuses almost exclusively on the "big players." I would guess most high schoolers know about Hitler, Churchill, Stalin? But how many high schoolers, even in our churches, even in families of faith, know about Bonhoeffer and Barth and the confessing church in Germany?

We need to find a way to pass these stories on. And I'm just not sure how. I know this tends to be a very visual generation. So to kick off yet another round of talk about discipleship last night, we decided to show a scene from Amazing Grace, the feature film focusing on the life of William Wilberforce.

D. and I just saw the movie ourselves a couple of nights ago, and we were far more impressed than either of us expected to be. Wilberforce has long been one of my favorite heroes of the faith; I've facilitated discussion about him in various church history classes across three levels in seminary. (I teach Anglican church history to mostly evangelical Anglicans, and Wilberforce was, of course, an evangelical Anglican...). I thought I might see glaring inaccuracies or a lack of willingness to engage the heart's core of his untiring activism: his roots in God. And while I did have minor quibbles here and there, I was really awed by the excellent acting and by the way the truth of his life and his motivations shined forth on screen.

But one of the kids kicked things off by saying he'd seen the movie in the theater and fallen asleep. Which made one of the other kids automatically assume it was boring. My own initial impatient response to the first kid probably didn't help matters (help me, Jesus!). The scene got lost in the back and forth shuffle of inattentive kids talking and laughing.

I know this is just one isolated event. I know I am tired and feeling easily discouraged right now about several things. But it really made me think. How do we find creative ways to pass on the lives of heroes, real heroes of the faith especially, to young people in our churches and communities and families? When young people are surrounded by inanity and "celebrity" and a culture of what feels like almost total irreverence and incivility -- how do we show them what real commitment and grace and courage looks like? In our own lives, yes (and I know that's huge) but how do we pass on the "family stories" of our faith?

Maybe most importantly, how do we show them Jesus? How do we speak Jesus (more than just a great role model or hero...Savior, Redeemer, Way, Truth, Life!) into their lives in ways that they will actually be attentive to and hear? "This is my beloved Son. Listen to him." And "Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her." Those are two Scriptures I find myself practically tripping over again and again these days. It seems that listening to Jesus, sitting at his feet, is the most important thing we can do. How do we make sacred space in our lives to do that? How do we make room in that space for our children to learn to do it too?

Thursday, November 15, 2007

The Last Living American WWI Veteran

An interesting op-ed piece in the New York Times profiles Frank Buckles,the last living American World War I Veteran.

My ongoing fascination with the turn of the 20th century on into the WWI era and beyond made me sit up and notice this one. I was frankly surprised (no pun intended) to find that any WWI veterans were left. Frank Buckles was born in 1901, about a month after my paternal grandfather, whom I knew had been too young to enlist. In the manner of many young men wanting to rush to war, Buckles lied about his age.

And now he finds himself the last living American vet who actually saw action. (The piece does mention there are two others still alive who were in basic training at the time of the armistice, so never saw action. Buckles actually spent time in France.)

Richard Rubin's article is worth reading, especially for his comparisons of the world WWI vets returned to versus the world WWII vets found upon their arrival home.

And I appreciate his thoughtful conclusion to the piece:

It’s hard for anyone, I imagine, to say for certain what it is that we will lose when Frank Buckles dies. It’s not that World War I will then become history; it’s been history for a long time now. But it will become a different kind of history, the kind we can’t quite touch anymore, the kind that will, from that point on, always be just beyond our grasp somehow. We can’t stop that from happening. But we should, at least, take notice of it.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Two For the Christmas List

On a blog called Endless Books, I think it's perfectly acceptable from time to time to talk about books I haven't read yet, but certainly would love to.

In that vein, here are two books for my Christmas list, or at least my ongoing book wishlist.

Planet Narnia by Michael Ward looks utterly fascinating. Ward argues that medieval cosmology underlies the Chronicles, giving them a "symbolic coherence."

I'm also interested in A Walk With Jane Austen (well, who wouldn't be?) by Lori Smith. It's a combination of Austen musings with spiritual memoir. Sounds a bit like "Girl Meets Jane." Sign me up!

What's on your booklist for Christmas this year?

Turkey Talk

At lunch today, the sweet girl was recounting one of her favorite moments in one of our family's favorite, funny Thanksgiving picture books: Thanksgiving at the Tappleton's. Poor Mrs. Tappleton loses her turkey. She's about to put it in the oven when the milkman arrives at the back door early to deliver eggnog (and doesn't that sound nice?). The turkey slips out of her arms, slithers down the icy steps, slides down the hill, and crashes into the icy pond. PLOP! SPLASH!

Definitely a story worth recounting, complete with giggling sound effects.

In the midst of her narration today, the sweet girl suddenly stopped and looked thoughtful.

S: Mommy, what are turkeys made from?

M: (not sure I understood) What do you mean what are they made from?

S: (with an amused chuckle, and sounding quite sure of herself) Well, they aren't the BIRD. So what are they?

M: But yes, they are birds. The turkey is a bird.

S: (eyes widening as the content of the only meat she'll eat slowly dawns) Oh. (Another pause) I don't like turkey.

M: You've always liked turkey. (mostly true)

S: No, I don't like the taste of it.

My budding vegetarian is now armed with more reasons not to eat lunchmeat. Not that I'm terribly worried, having once been a full vegetarian myself, and having only eaten poultry or fish (no beef or pork) for over twenty years.

Still, it made me laugh. What did she think turkey was all this time, if not the bird of the same name? I'm not sure I want to know!

All this turkey talk reminds me of an amusing episode from the thanksgiving dinner table when I was in about the seventh grade. Not long before the thanksgiving holiday, my math teacher had set the class a difficult word problem involving turkey eggs. I can't remember what it was now, but I do remember I wrestled with it mightily and couldn't figure it out. I think we were supposed to turn the answer in and then after the holiday break, she'd let us know if we were right and show us how to work the problem.

Well, when I couldn't figure it out, instead of humbly realizing I just didn't know how to work the problem, I had what I thought was a real epiphany. I decided that perhaps there wasn't an answer at all, and my teacher had set us a trick question as a joke. I triumphantly explained this to my family at the dinner table during thanksgiving, finishing with "so the answer was really zero, because turkeys don't lay eggs!" (And hey, I was about eleven years old at the much older than my daughter now!)

I think there was silence for a moment. Then no doubt chuckles. And then my dear grandmother, who lived with us at the time, and who had almost no tactful bones left in her body by then (she'd always been blunt, but I think age had given her more chutzpah so that she always "told it like it was") announced with great spirit: "Of course turkeys lay eggs!"

"No, they don't!" I insisted (full of spitfire that my epiphany would be doubted).

"Yes, they do!"

"No, they don't!"

"Of course turkeys lay eggs! Where do you think baby turkeys come from?"


Well, I couldn't answer that one. So I meekly acquiesed to my grandmother's wisdom (never a bad idea, even when she was less clearly right than in this situation). And my family hasn't ever let me forget the moment. "I hear turkeys don't lay eggs!" is always, always good for a laugh at the McCoy house near thanksgiving.

Hmm. Maybe they really don't lay eggs. I mean, if my five year old is correct, they might not even be birds!

Monday, November 12, 2007

Reading Round-Up, Early November

It's been a while since I've posted a list of what I'm reading. I've been all over the map book-wise lately, so I'll just dive in.

Recently read:

End of the Spear (Steve Saint)

Saint's book was wonderful, far better than the feature film made from it a couple of years ago (though the film was good too). The book was just able to go into the story so much more deeply. And what a story. If you know anything about the five missionaries killed by the "Auca" Indians in Ecuador in 1956 (a story I grew up knowing and reading about) you really need to read this book.

Steve Saint is the now grown son of Nate Saint, one of the martyred missionaries. He was five when his father died. He and his family went back into the jungle to actually live with the tribe that did the killing, to forgive them, and to make sure that they finally had the opportunity to hear the gospel. They embraced the gospel and began to "walk God's trail." Saint grew up with the Waodoni (the real name of the tribe, their name for themselves..."Auca," it turns out, was a pejorative name given to them by others) and was even baptized in the same river his father died in. As a young adult, he left the Amazon to attend college and become a businessman in North America. "End of the Spear" is the story of how he took his wife and children, years later, back to the jungle to live with the Waodoni again -- and helped them to find a self-sustaining livelihood.

This book is one of the most stunning testaments to God's sovereignty and grace I've ever had the privilege to read. See my longer review of it here.

Also recently read, two children's books, one old and one new:

The Talented Clementine (Sara Pennypacker) Ramona for a new generation!
The Doll's House (Rumer Godden) An odd and unusual story, very poignant

Recently re-read:

Persuasion (Jane Austen)
A Wrinkle in Time (Madeleine L'Engle)

Currently Reading:
The Evolution of the English Churches (Doreen Rosman) This is the text I'll be using as the main text for the C of E course in the spring. A good read so far, helping me think through the big picture of English church history (and making me realize afresh that there's nothing new under the sun). Stay tuned for notes/thoughts.

For the Children's Sake (Susan Schaeffer Macaulay) A good way to get at some summaries of Charlotte Mason's thoughts on education, which I've only read in snippets.

All Aunt Hagar's Children (Edward P. Jones) Wonderful, wonderful short prose. I haven't read short stories in ages, and this is a great way to re-immerse in the genre. Jones has won a Pulitzer but this is my first encounter with him. I believe he's going to be at the Festival of Faith and Writing in Michigan in the spring. Registration for that festival is now open, by the way!

The Elizabethan World Picture (E.M.W. Tillyard) I've been meaning to read this for ages. I'm finally doing it.

Reading "at" (sporadically):

Engaging the Soul of Youth Culture (Walt Mueller)
What to Listen for in Music (Aaron Copland) A nice grown-up complement to the Story of the Orchestra book the sweet girl and I are going through together.

Books I'm Skimming and Thinking About Using for our First Grade Year (or over the summer between K and 1st):

Drawing With Children (Mona Brookes) The copy I got from the library is beat up with use, underlined and highlighted. But I can see why. It's a book that begs for practical use as it's full of drawing (and seeing) exercises for children and yes, for adults who have never felt comfortable with their drawing skills. I've been drawing again in the past year or so; a book like this just encourages me to keep on and gives me confidence and ideas/methods for more formal drawing lessons I can actually do with my daughter.

First Language Lessons for the Well-Trained Mind (Jesse Wise) I'm fairly certain I'm going to use this book to cover and/or review basic English usage with the sweet girl next year. Some of it will definitely fall into the "review" category for us, but I still think the progression of the lessons is helpful, even if I end up tweaking and supplementing a bit. I also like the helpful approaches to narration and copy work.

Books on Creativity I'm Visiting and/or Revisiting
On Being Human (Calvin Seerveld)
Walking on Water (Madeleine L'Engle)
Scribbling in the Sand (Michael Card)

Walking on Water is in a class by itself on this topic; I love it and have loved it for years. Seerveld and Card both come from a more reformed theological perspective and engage God-honoring creativity in life-giving ways that make me think
and that complements L'Engle's perspective. I like wrestling with all three of these at once. Only wish I had more time to do it!

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Mahler's 7th Symphony

I've fallen in love with a "new" composer. Well, one that's new to me anyway!

I can't recall ever hearing any of Gustav Mahler's work, at least not hearing it and being conscious that it was his. He lived 1865-1911, which puts some of his work firmly in the beginning of one of my favorite eras.

The sweet girl and I have been reading and listening to Robert Levine's The Story of the Orchestra. This is a book/CD intended for children, but I've been learning as much or more than my little one (though she's loved it too). Each morning we talk about a different instrument in the orchestra and after learning about it, play the appropriate track on the CD that highlights it. It's been a great exercise in learning to pick out instruments as we hear them in orchestral work, something I never really learned to do.

A couple of weeks ago we learned about the tympani, those wonderfully huge drums played in the orchestra. The sweet girl has an ongoing fascination with percussion (seriously...she is longing to play drums and has a great sense of rhythm, though I'm not yet sure can carry a tune!) and so we were both excited to hear the featured track for this one. It happened to be the opening minute of the finale to Mahler's 7th symphony. If you've never heard this particular piece, try! It's one of the most exciting and heart-rending pieces I've heard in a long time. As we've played that one minute over and over, I've had odd but powerful sensations when I listen to it: it makes me feel excited to be alive, hopeful about the future, and (no kidding, though it's hard to explain this about a piece of supposedly secular music) jazzed about heaven and the kingdom of God. I think some orchestral music, because of its communal nature and often majestic brass tones, just gives me a heavenly sense.

The agonizing thing was we only had this one minute excerpt. It trails off tantalizingly, leaving me wanting to know where the music would go next. I hurried to our online card catalog to see of the county system had this particular symphony anywhere. They did, though it took them several days to get it from another library after I requested it.

I picked it up from the library hold shelf this morning. And I did something I basically never do with a good book, I went to the last chapter first. I had to hear that stunning finale, the final movement of the symphony. I felt like I'd been left hanging for two weeks, waiting to find out "what happened."

And it's wonderful. All 18 minutes of it. Now I need to go back and listen to the whole symphony, which lasts over an hour (so stretches my still growing musical appreciation skills). Mahler apparently wrote some of the biggest, longest, most complex symphonies ever. Wouldn't you know it!

The other great thing was how excited the sweet girl was about this CD too. I picked it up downstairs while she was up with her Daddy in the children's section. So she didn't see me get it. She must have remembered it during her rest time this afternoon though. A little while ago when she got up from a nap, the first thing she said was: "Mommy, did you get the rest of that symphony today?" She too wanted to hear the rest of the finale. It's playing in her room right now!

Edited to add: it must've finished. Right as I posted this, she came running into the living room, smiling brightly. "Mommy, can I hear the tympani again?" Time to go push the play button on track five one more time...!

Friday, November 09, 2007

School Journey Notes (always written by lamplight)

Well, we've come to the end of another week of school -- we've got eleven weeks under our belt and we're still going strong. Though I confess I am eagerly anticipating the four days off we will get at Thanksgiving! Partly I just need the break: not so much from schooling itself as from routine in general. I am very much looking forward to seeing my parents in Virginia (we haven't seen them in a whole year, which I think is the longest we've ever gone between visits)! We will also get to see Dana's mom, stepdad, and aunt, both on our way down and our way back. And we're hoping to squeeze in a "field trip" to D.C. as the sweet girl has never been there. That seems almost unbelievable to me given how many wonderful times D. and I spent there in the first few years of our marriage when we only lived three hours from it (and the fact that my hubby, now many many years ago, was a D.C. tour guide).

Okay, I'm getting ahead of myself. We still have all of next week and two days of the next before we leave, but I am getting excited. The sweet girl is eagerly anticipating the Thanksgiving trip but didn't realize at first that vacation really meant vacation -- from school as well as everything else. She burst into tears upon the discovery that we are not taking her math workbook with us. (I know, I know, I am a cruel mommy.) She's happy though that we're planning to take our Scripture memorization CD and our current book of poetry so she can do some reciting for the grandparents. She has recently memorized several poems with almost no prompting at all. She loves Mary Ann Hoberman's work and seems to soak up its rhythms so easily. Her favorites, and the ones she's practiced most to share, are "Snow" and "My Sister Saw a Dinosaur."

I'm looking for recommendations about how to proceed with reading in the new year. At the rate we're progressing, we've got only about four weeks to go in our 100 Easy Lessons book. I've been really pleased with it, and the sweet girl has done well with it. I think I will probably spend the run-up toward Christmas doing some review in the earlier sections of the book. I'd love to find some easy readers/beginning readers that focus on Christmas for that time period.

Once we're in the new year, however, I am feeling that we'll still need a component of more formal reading instruction each day...more "lessons" (as S. loves to call them). We play phonics games; I have some other game and worksheet kinds of activities I can use; and I know of some good beginning readers, but that all feels a bit haphazard. One friend suggested that we go with Sonlight's readers, but in looking over their website, I'm feeling unsure about whether or not that's what we need right now. I've been looking through some other resources, mostly Ambleside and Berquist's book on planning your own classical curriculum...I need to re-check The Well-Trained Mind for suggestions too. Anyone out there used Alpha-phonics? I'm not sure about its compatibility with "100 Easy Lessons." Well, we'll see.

Math is going really well. We've spent the past couple of weeks on place value. I wasn't wild about the introduction of the concept in the Horizons workbook we're using, so I went back to Math-U-See. What a wonderful way to learn! Sometimes I wonder if I should have gone with that curriculum as I originally planned. At any rate, I'm grateful I can use it (thanks to a loan from a friend) to supplement the other things we're doing. S. keeps asking if we can do more place values: she loves the fun aspect of drawing the "tens house" and the "ones house" with markers on the white board, and then "building" numbers with the appropriate blocks (the ten blocks live in the tens house, the one unit blocks live in the ones house). Sometimes I write the number and she builds it; sometimes I build the number and then have her write it. We've talked enough about place value that she's recognized the next place (or "house") will belong to the hundreds, and she's begged to do the hundreds place next week. That puts us rather ahead of the Horizons workbook on this particular concept, but I think that's probably just fine...the place value stuff on the worksheets will likely just feel like review for a while.

I may post reader and reader resource ideas as I find them here...this journal is turning into a place where I can post some homeschooling notes from time to time. If you've got other beginning reader suggestions (either curricula, ideas, or just good easy reader titles) please pass them on!

Monday, November 05, 2007

A Franc for Your Thoughts

The sweet girl and I were on our way to the post office late this morning. I needed to buy some stamps, and was pilfering our change jar in the kitchen to come up with a pile of quarters. I decided to turn the errand into a bit of a math lesson.

I told her that one stamp costs forty-once cents, and asked her how many quarters she would need to buy one. We took four quarters out and talked about how each was worth twenty-five cents, then counted "by 25s" to 100. She then figured out that she would need two quarters to buy one stamp.

I decided to save the lesson in subtraction (how many cents would you get back in change from the two quarters) until later. That's because on closer scrutiny, I realized that one of the quarters was not a quarter at all. It was a franc.

I have no idea how French currency made its way into our kitchen jar. I occasionally come across Canadian pennies, but this was a first. Actually this is the first time I think I'd ever seen a franc. It's a lovely coin with what looks like a leafy branch on one side and a woman (lady liberty, perhaps?) in a gauzy gown on the other. This particular coin was minted in 1975.

The wonderfully serendipitous thing was that, after our post office run, we were planning to snuggle for some read-aloud time with a new chapter book. And today just "happened" to be the day we were starting Nancy Savage Carlson's book The Family Under the Bridge, which is set guessed it...Paris.

So we spent time looking together at the franc, which will now be the basis of a coin collection. And then later we spent time talking about France. You've just got to love moments like that!

Monday, October 29, 2007

"Mommy, Why Does Your Face Look Like That?"

A funny moment with the sweet girl today, one that brought me some much needed laughter...and a bit of perspective!

After a very busy couple of weeks, I finally found time to sit down today and do some work on the family finances (write checks, etc.) only to find that I had once again neglected to pay a couple of important bills. This has happened a few times lately, and it's not helping our family's already stretched-tight financial situation.

I know this isn't mere forgetfulness. I'm pretty sure I understand what's going on and how to correct it; it's just a matter of doing it. Because we've had some pretty long seasons of debt and financial hardship, and because those are the kinds of difficulties that can make me most anxious, I've been trying to "not think about it" unless and until I absolutely have to. Dumb, very dumb. Putting this out of sight and out of mind isn't helping matters. I need to be disciplined: do what I need to do well and carefully, but not give into fretting, especially since fretting is useless. It's a bit of a balancing act, and one I've obviously not been doing well.

I still had papers spread out all over the living room floor when it was time to get the sweet girl up from her afternoon rest time. I still felt terribly preoccupied with numbers when I poked my head into her room, where she was cuddling with some of her stuffed animals. I let her know rest time was over and asked if she'd like a snack.

"Yes," she said. And then added, "Mommy, why does your face look like that?"

"Like what?" I asked, probably adding to the look she was noting by my puzzlement.

"Like THAT." She tried to scrunch her own fair, unwrinkled little face. "Like your forehead is all wrinkled."

I was beginning to get it. "You mean, like this?" I asked, purposefully scowling and wrinkling my brow.

"Yes! Like that!"

I half-sighed, half-chuckled. And I told her, in all honesty, that Mommy was having to spend the afternoon thinking about bills to pay and being on the phone with people we owed money to, and that those things made me feel sort of anxious and worried, even though I know they shouldn't. "So I'm feeling worried, and I'm thinking a lot. And I guess that's why my forehead is all wrinkled," I concluded.

She listened quite placidly and seemed to accept my explanation. Except then she added, with a wise little nod, "Yes, and you're thirty-nine."

Ah yes. That too.

Sometimes you just have to laugh. And thankfully, it turns out to be the best thing in the world for your face...and your soul!

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Schooling With Computers

I am discovering that I really love the simplicity of teaching and learning at home. Give us a few good books, a few good apples, a bench outside (if it's sunny and warm) or a couch inside (if it's cold and rainy) and we're good to go!

But I'm also delighting in the fact that I am homeschooling in the information age.

It's unusual for me to admit that I feel at home in my own time. Often I'm like a fish out of water. And I've always seen the "two-sidedness" of technology -- both the potential and actual blessings that come with it, and the potential and actual pitfalls.(Yes, I note the irony that I am writing this in a blogpost.) Among other things, I sometimes wonder if we're just taking in way too much information too quickly, with no way to assimilate it or respond to it meaningfully. But that's probably another post for another time.

This week I've been realizing how wonderful it is to have the internet at my fingertips when it comes to supplementing or enriching our lessons. So far at least I haven't really planned much of the "computer activities" that we've used. I just find myself getting curious about topics as I teach them, so I begin to explore on my own, the way I do with most topics in which I'm interested. Or I find helpful looking websites recommended by other parents and teachers on homeschooling forums.

This week we've used the internet for three things. We've been studying the seven continents, reviewing their names, learning where they're located on a map, and reading some facts about each. As usual, the sweet girl is utterly fascinated by Antarctica (her penguin passion never seems to fade). I found a terrific zoomable map at, where with a click of the mouse you can zoom in and out on a satellite photo of Antarctica. We had great fun with that, making the land of ice and snow bigger and smaller!

We've also been reading about Johnny Appleseed, the legendary name of the real John Chapman of Massachusetts, who traveled in the young United States planting apple trees and helping pioneering settlers. You can find the well-known Johnny Appleseed "grace" at If you're not sure you remember the tune (I wasn't!) you can even play a recording of the melody played simply on piano. They've got the words to several verses of the song in English, and the first verse in Spanish.

And then today we spent some time at this fun website: The activities there re-emphasize the letter sounds and phonics we've been working on for months. It also has simple but effective graphics and easy "click and drag" kinds of games that help S. learn basic computer skills as well as review letter sounds. That's a nice plus because I've been looking for a "gentle in" to more computer usage. We've not been in any rush to teach her computer skills. She did some game-playing on the computer at preschool last year, and she's done a bit of typing and clicking with us from time to time. I know some might think it's foolish -- there seems to be a huge push to want to get kids "computer-savvy" as quickly as possible. But frankly, although it's an important skill in our culture, I haven't felt the need or desire to have her learn it right away. It's felt more important that she spend time reading, writing, coloring, counting, stringing beads, playing with play-doh, making up stories for her tiny dollhouse family, taking walks and looking for beetles. I'm sure she will spend plenty of hours of her life on a computer; those skills will come in time just like everything else. Today it was just such fun to watch her delight in clicking on the capital A's and lower-case a's on the apple tree, and dragging each letter to the appropriate apple basket down below.

Yep, today I was thankful to live in the computer age.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Bearing Fruit

The verse we've been learning in school this week is John 15:5. "Jesus said 'I am the vine, you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit. Apart from me you can do nothing."

We've been talking about what it means to draw life from Jesus.

It's made me think of this picture I took a few weeks ago when we were visiting a nearby gardens where the grape vines were laden with fruit.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Starting Our Ninth Week

I just had to give a shout out: we're starting our ninth week of school today! The sweet girl and I have definitely found a good rhythm for our days (and have been able to add some of that much needed flexibility too) and I am feeling so grateful and enthused about how our school year is going.

And more good news: the Lord has provided more teaching work for me at the seminary in the spring. This will enable me to continue to freely work at home and to homeschool. We didn't know how God was going to work this out for us in the new year, and I am just feeling so grateful that he has. His blessing feels like a sign of tangible encouragement that we are doing what we are meant to be doing.

I just had to share these things on my heart this morning. I wish there were more people with whom I could share our work/homeschool/ministry journey!

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

The Blessing of Children

While blog-hopping the other day, I found this wonderful post from a Catholic homeschooling mother and writer: 40 Reasons to Have Kids. It's a terrific list all in itself, one worth reading over and contemplating and then reading over again as you think about your own reasons you could add to it.

What makes it even more interesting is that it was written in response to another list, titled "40 Reasons Not to Have Kids" which is included at the end of this article. If you think that list sounds like a bad joke or a broad parody...well, it wasn't intended to. It's part of an actual book that apparently has become a bestseller in France. I only recommend reading the latter list 1) after you have read the life-affirming list I posted first, and 2) with an eye toward reflecting on the sadness of our life-denying culture (and finding new ways to pray for people enmeshed in it).

It's truly eye-opening to see the difference in world views: what life and children and love and parenting look like from the perspective of someone who knows and loves God, versus what they look like from the perspective of someone who seems to be mostly thinking about herself. Granted, we all fall into the latter category sometimes (because we're all sinners) but I am totally in agreement with the blogger who believes that children are a gift. In fact, a very great gift. And that they help to move us out of our selfish myopia and into an openness to all that God longs to do in us and shape us into being.

One other comment on this pair of lists: when I read the article about the author of the "No Kids" book, it pointed out that she is, in fact, the mother of two children whom she deeply regrets having. How painful that must be for her children. The journalist interviewing her asked her if she'd given copies of her book to her kids (who are, I believe, aged 10 and 13). And then came my favorite moment from the article:

For the record, she has given copies of her book to both her children. Neither has picked it up, or paid it any attention. "All they want to do is read Harry Potter," she sighs.

I didn't know whether to laugh or cry. I'm so thankful for the resilience of childhood. It's wonderful to realize that her children instinctively turn away from the painful and debilitating view of life that she's espousing and turn toward an amazingly written story that, among other things, provides one of the richest storied pictures you can imagine of maternal sacrificial love, and of sacrificial love at the very heart of reality. In other words, they're "escaping" into a story that's preparing them for an encounter with the Greatest Story. It's pre-evangelism, but shh! don't tell their mother. Don't tickle the sleeping dragon. Just let em' read.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Festival of Faith and Writing Booklist

Calvin College hosts the Festival of Faith and Writing on their Michigan campus every other spring. This is a festival I've been longing to go to for...oh, about a decade. They always have an amazing line-up of writers and artists. Though I've never been able to actually get there, I stay on their mailing list, in part because they provide great reading recommendations based on their speaker list.

This year they've done something fun and very smart: they've compiled a booklist based on the speaker list for the coming 2008 festival and they've posted that list as a "library" on the website librarything. If you're looking for some new reading material this fall and winter, check out this wonderful list. It's full of authors who care about the craft of writing and who wrestle creatively with the connections between life, faith and literature.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Surrendering to Fiction

I've got a bout of fiction writing coming on. I can feel it coming, almost like you can tell when you're getting the flu.

I'm kidding with that last analogy...well, sort of kidding. There's a combination of feelings for me when I think about sitting down to write stories. Some of it is birthday-coming-soon excitement. But these days, it's tinged a bit with dread too. I think it's because I have gotten out of the habit of writing fiction. It's a completely different animal from writing prose, no matter how much I enjoy that endeavor and how creative it can be. Making myself drop into fiction is a deeper sort of surrender. When I am really "into" a story, it takes huge amounts of reserve energy (and my reserves seem low). That's probably why I haven't done it as much in recent energy is going toward other things. That's not necessarily bad, but I miss the excitement and exhaustion and exhilaration of story writing.

And for the first time in a long time, stories are coming again. I'm dreaming and daydreaming about some characters I haven't visited with in years. I'm hearing story thoughts and character voices (don't worry...I'm not hearing actual voices, just finding myself imagining dialogue between characters while I'm doing other things like cooking or cleaning or showering). I've even got a couple of rather strong visual images floating around in my mind, and they're clamoring to be pinned on paper, always a bit terrifying.

And I am procrastinating. Faced with computer time this afternoon, a whole blessed hour of it, I frittered it away. Productive frittering (homeschool planning, recipe gathering, email sending...and oh yes, blogging). But lurking in the background is that realization that I am doing everything I can to do-si-do my way around the blank page that's just asked me to dance.

I need to curtsy, surrender to the music, and get on with it.

Ever stood on this creative cliff yourself? What do you do to make yourself jump? I'd love to hear!

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Time To Read (Early October)

Several weeks ago I mentioned that I planned to purposefully post periodic updates about the books that the sweet girl and I are reading together. I'm doing this partly for my own record-keeping/reflections, but I also hope others might benefit from some of the book recommendations.

Our longer read-alouds thus far (since late August):
Little House in the Big Woods (Wilder)
The Boxcar Children (Warner)
The Apple and the Arrow (Buff)
Babe: The Gallant Pig (King-Smith)
The Storm: The Lighthouse Family (Rylant)
My Father's Dragon (Gannett)

Well, we're almost done with that chapter tomorrow!

As for picture books, we've had a sudden renaissance of interest in the work of Marisabina Russo, long a favorite of the sweet girl's. We started reading Russo's books when S. was about two, and they've definitely stood the test of time. Lately she's been wanting repeated reads of Waiting for Hannah; The Trouble With Baby; The Line-Up Book; and Russo's newest, The Bunnies Are Not in Their Beds. I cheerfully confess that the last one drives me a bit crazy, but it's a fun read-aloud and at least it raises good discussion about listening and obedience (though the mischievous bunnies, a la Curious George, don't always provide the most wholesome examples).

I'm feeling very grateful to Marisabina Russo, however, not only because she writes books that help my daughter tap into and learn to better express her feelings, but because of a most gracious letter she wrote to us last week. I was on her website not long ago, looking up the names of some of her newer work (at the request of the sweet girl) so we could put them on hold in our library system. When I saw she listed an email adress, I decided on a whim to contact her and let her know how much we loved her books at our house. I've been getting more bold about contacting authors in recent years, in part because I'm coming to realize how wonderful it is when people tell you that what you wrote touched them on a deep level, and in part because published authors are becoming so much more accessible in the information age. I even sent Marisabina a link to a review I wrote of her book Come Back, Hannah. Re-reading the review, which I penned a couple of years ago, brought back very fond memories of our little girl's toddlerhood and our struggles and small, daily triumphs with language acquisition.

Well, not only did Marisabina Russo enjoy my review (and say so, which was quite lovely of her) but she wrote some wonderful words just for my daughter, letting her know how happy she was that her books were so loved. It's a letter we'll treasure. And it makes me think that perhaps we should write a few more authors and let them know how much we enjoy their work! Among other things, it helps S. to know and understand that authors are real people, writing out of their real lives and experiences, and that they care about readers. At least the best ones!

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Finally Fall

October got off to a very hot and summery start. Although I confess I tend to dread winter a bit, I love the weeks of fall weather that precede it, and I was a bit saddened that it still felt so hot and dry and August-like during the first week of October.

Then we walked out of our front door this morning and woosh! A crisp wind scuttled across the sidewalk and came rushing up to us with the jubliant feel of autumn. It even SMELLS like fall today! We were happy to go back for a jacket for the sweet girl.

I love autumn days. This afternoon felt just perfect for drinking a cup of tart cherry tea (sweetened with a bit of Agave Nectar, my newest find at the health food store) while cooking up a big pot of lentil soup for the young adult group that meets at our church this evening. The sweet girl is not a soup eater, but I think she enjoyed all the good cooking smells too. She peeked into the pot and said wistfully, "I wish I could go to the young adult group tonight so I could have some of that soup!" (Yes, I will save out a small bowlful for her...) Somehow lemon juice, garlic, thyme and tarragon all smell better in the fall. Onward to cornbread...

Sunday, October 07, 2007

Our First (and Hopefully Last) Trip to the ER

In the category of where we actually spent this weekend, at least a couple of hours of it: how about the emergency room of our local hospital?

This is not a place one ever wants to be (though we were grateful it was there). You especially don't want to be there because your five year old needs to be.

The sweet girl is OK. She had an unfortunate run-in with a large, glassed in frame which was propped up on a shelf (for some unfathomable reason) in our church nursery. We were at church yesterday doing some work -- D. had a flyer to pull together for this morning's bulletin and I was photocopying the monthly newsletter I'd just finished pulling together at home. I was at the copier across the hall from the nursery when I heard the crash, the smash, the shatters and the high-pitched screams. Not what a mother ever wants to hear. I went running as fast as I could and then had just a few moments of sheer blind panic when I saw her surrounded by broken glass, holding up bleeding hands.

We never did quite figure out what happened. She didn't know the picture was framed in glass or that it was loose and would slip. She just wanted to see "the pretty giraffe" in the picture. As far as we can tell, it started to fall (perhaps hitting her on the head and starting to break) and then she tried to ward it off by grabbing/ clutching at it. Then the whole thing just smashed to the floor. End result: lots of minor cuts but three deeper cuts, one an especially deep laceration on her left hand, between pointer finger and thumb. We couldn't get the bleeding stopped for a long time, which is why we decided a trip to the local ER was in order. The sweet girl got to experience all sorts of firsts, including x-rays (they wanted to rule out that no glass silvers were still in her skin, and thank the Lord they weren't).

So...we got home around five o'clock with a tear-stained and blood-stained little girl. She'd had the equivalent of a few stitches (they used a kind of special glue on her skin, which will help it heal and will fall off in a few days). In addition to glued and band-aided fingers (which are now partially wrapped in gauze, which we've found is easier to keep on...and we need to keep those fingers clean and dry for a few days to give them a chance to heal properly) her lips were bright red from a popsicle a kind nurse gave to her as we were leaving. She wore a sticker that said "Hug me, I was brave." And frankly, both D. and I were exhausted, almost as tired as she was! There is something about the emotions of seeing your child get hurt that are really wearing. I am just very grateful to God that she is all right.

And today is the 17th anniversary of the day her daddy and I first said "I love you" to each other. We sort of celebrate that each year as a mini-anniversary. Some years it's felt very romantic. This year we're mostly just trying to catch our breaths. Autumn's always been my favorite season but falling in love during it blessed it with an even deeper benediction and grace. And I'll tell you something: I felt so blessed that he was the man sitting next to me in the emergency room yesterday, holding our little girl on his lap and encouraging her to play math games to get her focus off the pain of her hands. I love him more than I could have believed possible seventeen years ago.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

"Return of an Angel"

In the category of where I truly wish I could be this weekend: I am longing to be at any one of the performances of Return of an Angel, a play about Asheville native and renowned American novelist Thomas Wolfe.

The play is being put on by the Occasional Theatre at the Asheville Community Theatre, in conjunction with other activities marking the Thomas Wolfe Festival.

My paternal grandparents George and Lola Love McCoy were good friends of Thomas Wolfe. They encouraged him in his work -- my grandmother, in fact, wrote what I believe was the only positive review of Look Homeward, Angel in the region when the book first came out (most folks native to Asheville were incensed by the candid way in which Wolfe had exposed the frailties and foibles of a number of townspeople, only thinly disguised as characters).

And my grandparents are in the play. The roles are small, but they are actual characters. The man playing my grandfather got in touch with my parents, wanting to learn as much as he could about Papaw. He's a terrifically gracious person and has been emailing our family with updates about rehearsals. If you go to the page with character profiles, you'll see photos of my grandparents next to photos of the actors playing them. (My Mamaw would have been thrilled by the beauty of the lady playing her, I think!) The little boy on my grandfather's lap in that photo is my Dad.

My grandparents are very close to my heart. I never knew my Papaw, but I certainly feel as though I did, mostly because my Mamaw lived the last five years of her life at our home in Virginia, from the time I was nine until I was fourteen. She told lots of stories. Those were formative years for me, and I will always be grateful for her influence in my life. I've also spent a lot of time in the intervening years talking to my parents about their parents, and also doing a good bit of research into our family history. I was able to trace my Mamaw's line back about ten generations to Ireland.

It's all very exciting, and you can see why I'm longing to be at the play. I felt like I came tantalizingly close to being able to go.

We're all thrilled that my beloved oldest sister is going, however. We can't wait to hear back from her with a full review. She's already heard from the playwright, and she'll get to meet her and also some of the cast on Saturday night. Once I get a full report, I hope I will be able to post again...and I hope the official website for play will post some performance pictures!

Monday, October 01, 2007

School in our Pajamas

We got many and varied responses when we began letting people know that we were really going to homeschool this year. One of my favorites came from my Dad. We were talking on the phone, and in response to me saying how much I was looking forward to the year beginning (this was back sometime in August) he replied something like: "Well, yes. But you're going to *really* do it, right? It's not like you're going to just hang out in your pajamas every morning."

This made me chuckle. It didn't upset me, because I knew exactly where my Dad was coming from. First of all, you have to understand that my Dad, bless him, truly does respect homeschoolers. Most of his grandchildren have been homeschooled, and he loves and respects the work my sister and sister-in-law have done in teaching them. He also, perhaps unbeknownst even to himself, is probably one of the biggest reasons that I decided I wanted to homeschool, because my Dad was a wonderful teacher.

I was never formally homeschooled, but I learned a lot at home, even before I was officially school age. Some of this was informal, just because my parents are both the kinds of people who love to learn and talk about what they're learning and thinking and doing. But some of it came about because my Dad took time and effort to teach me things. When I was about four, he and I had a big blue notebook we kept together. We did all kinds of things in that notebook: color wheels, rhymes, number games. I created my first poem for that notebook, which he dutifully copied down (I can still picture his careful capital letter printing in blue ink). So I had a very early example of how to pass on the joys of learning and discovery to a child.

But I know the other place my Dad is coming from too. He's "old school" in some respects, which makes sense, given the fact that he's 75 years old (or young). He appreciates formal learning, the kind of learning he himself experienced. He values order and routine. I'm his daughter, and I appreciate and value those things too, in part because I learned to from him.

In fact, one of the things I'm discovering as we move into a our sixth week of the school year is that I have to guard against falling into the trap of being too formal. One of the reasons we chose to homeschool is that we value the flexibility, the way learning can fit into the everyday and be an organic part of living. I am finding that I need to strike a creative balance between "formality" (for want of a better word) or an organized routine (which describes it better) and flexibility.

In the case of the sweet girl, learning flexibility, informality and spontaneity feel most important now. She is her Papaw's granddaughter through and through, inheriting not only his love of order and routine but mine as well, with a touch of it from her Dad too. I guess it's not surprising to find that she thrives on a schedule. She loves when we do things in the same order each day...morning prayers and Bible reading in her room; breakfast; morning chores; another brief prayertime on the living room couch; a musical interlude when we learn our Scripture verses; and on to lessons (reading, math, writing, sometimes art and poetry) before we take a walk and enjoy some sunshine and do some longer read-alouds outside. That's quickly become the shape of our usual morning, and she would love it, I think, if I varied it even less than I do. One of her great challenges, not just in schooling but in life in general, is to not shape expectations around things being done exactly the same each time we do them. I think she will likely grow up with a great love of liturgy (at least I am praying that's one of the side benefits or good fruits that will come out of this particular character trait!).

So I'm trying to let my own inner scheduler relax some mornings, and just take it easy. This morning we got a bit of a late start and S. was dawdling over breakfast, mostly because she realized it was the first day of a new month. This is always a cause for great rejoicing. We had to change the kitchen calendar and read about the new owl for October (a Western screech owl this time). We had to change the magnets on the refrigerator that spell out the month and day and date. This inspired her to put together all sorts of letters and play with sounds and decide what some of those sounds actually sounded like when you blended them.

Did I look at the clock? Several times. Did I consider telling her we had to hurry up and get dressed and get ready for "school"? Yes. But then I took a deep breath. I realized that we were "doing school." We were learning, we were enjoying learning. And we weren't, thank you, Lord, having to get ready to rush out the door (which is what we were doing this time last year).

So I relaxed. She chattered about letters; we talked about owls; I started a load of dishes and a load of laundry. And for a little while at least, we did our pajamas.

Just don't tell my Dad.

Sunday, September 30, 2007

Prayers for Journeyers

"Protect me, O Lord.
Your sea is so big,
and my boat is so small."
(Breton Fisherman's Prayer)

"Beyond these shores
Into the darkness
Beyond these shores
This boat may sail
And if this is the way
Then there will be
A path across this sea.

And if I sail beyond
The farthest ocean
Or lose myself in depths below
Wherever I may go
Your love surrounds me
For You have been before
Beyond these shores."

(Prayer to Christ, attributed to St. Brendan the Navigator)

Friday, September 28, 2007


I’m re-reading some scenes from Deathly Hallows again. After my initial two readings this summer, I needed to put the book aside for a while, just to savor the ending (and grieve some too). But lately I’ve brought it back out.

The sweet girl has been fascinated with this book since the morning of July 21st when we picked it up in the bookstore. I don’t know which fascinated her more: the size, the riveting (and colorful) cover, or the fact that Mommy was glued to the book for hours, reading whenever she could. At any rate, according to her Daddy, the book caught her eye again yesterday afternoon. He found her trying to sound out the words on the cover.

In the category of things I wish I’d overheard...

S: (trying to sound out the word): "Rrr-ow-ll-ing."(which she pronounced to sound like growling) "Rowling’s not a word!"

D: It’s a name.

S: (sounding amused) "A name for a lion!"

Which I actually thought was pretty fitting, considering it’s the name of the woman who invented the house of Godric Gryffindor. Long may those Gryffindor lions rr-ow-ll!

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Conversation Before Nap

Sweet Girl: Mommy, could we read The Flopsy Bunnies before nap?

Me: Sure, sweetie. I thought you might want to read one of your new books from the library, but we can wait and read one of those after nap.

S: Can't we read both?

M: No, Flopsy Bunnies is pretty long and it's getting late.

S: Can we please tell Beatrix Potter not to write such long stories when it's getting late?

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Literary Birthdays: Celebrating Robert McCloskey and Tomie dePaola

Two important birthdays on the literary calendar this weekend! September 14 (or 15th, depending on sources...I've seen both dates) marks the birth of writer and illustrator Robert McCloskey.

Ohio-born McCloskey was born in 1914 and passed away in the summer of 2003. Although born in Ohio (the setting of his book Lentil) he is probably most associated with Boston, the setting of his wonderful Caldecott award winning Make Way for Ducklings. And most of all, he is probably associated with Maine, a state I've never visited but almost feel as though I have through several of his wonderful picture books. It's hard to choose, but I think my very favorite will always be Blueberries for Sal. McCloskey was a wonderful story-teller whose old-fashioned illustrations help new generations envision what pockets of America looked like in the 1940s and 50s.

And happy birthday to Tomie dePaola, born today in 1934 so turning 73 (just a couple of years younger than my parents)! Tomie has enriched the lives of so many families through his many wonderful books. We've loved a bunch of them, but have especially enjoyed his illustrated Bible stories, folks tales, and stories of saints. He has a colorful, almost primitive style that children respond to with enthusiasm. One of the very first Christmas books my little girl ever enjoyed was Tomie's Little Christmas Pageant, a lovely introduction to the story of the nativity for toddlers and preschoolers.

Thank you, Robert and Tomie, for enriching our lives.