Friday, February 25, 2011

Poetry Friday: "O Frabjous Day!"

'Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
Did gyre and gimble in the wabe;
All mimsy were the borogoves,
And the mome raths outgrabe.

"Beware the Jabberwock, my son
The jaws that bite, the claws that catch!
Beware the Jubjub bird, and shun
The frumious Bandersnatch!"

My husband, an amateur actor, loves to recite these lines (and all the rest of them) from Lewis Carroll's remarkable poem "Jabberwocky." People who only know my husband's everyday persona -- gentle, shy -- are often astounded into silence when they first get a glimpse of his confident, humorous acting persona. I've long since reconciled the two parts of his personality, loving them both, but I still delight in seeing jaws drop when my husband moves into actor mode. It's one reason I enjoy this poem so much.

And now here's another...the other day I came across this delightful ASL version of the poem. "O frabjous day! Callooh! Callay!" I must confess I have never heard of ASL poetry until recently, and I am completely fascinated. It seems to combine all sorts of skills: poetry making, translation, performance art.

Today's poetry roundup is at Read Write Believe.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Language Arts Laughter

Yesterday we did a language arts lesson about punctuating direct quotations. One of the optional activities involved reading pairs of sentences that have the same words, but different punctuation -- the point being that punctuation matters to the meaning of the sentence.

Although she punctuates well, apparently this had never fully occurred to the sweet girl -- that one little comma or a pair of quotation marks can make all the difference in how one reads or understands a sentence. She thought it was hilarious!

The children cried today.
The children cried, "Today!"

I thought she was going to fall off the couch she laughed so hard.

Her favorite pair, however, were these two sentences, which I read with great flair and drama:

The duke declared I am now the king!
The duke declared, "I am now the king!"

She thought it was hysterical that I was reading those words. She loves to play with literal meanings. What a silly duke, she teased me, to declare *me* the king -- he should have noticed I was a girl and therefore declared me a queen.

She told her dad all about the lesson last night. And then she got out a piece of paper and wrote with a flourish:

Dear Duke
I think somebody should teach you how to puckcheate.
Love S

Reminding me, of course, that we need to tackle the spelling of punctuate. And where to put commas when writing letters. But mostly making me laugh.

I think we have "Eats, Shoots, and Leaves" in our future.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

The Power of Stories

I love reading stories about stories. That is, I love reading stories about the way stories affect people's lives, both as readers and writers.

I stumbled upon two of those I thoroughly enjoyed yesterday. I recognized my reader/writer self in both.

The first was in yesterday's entry from Anita Silvey's Children's Book-a-Day Almanac. If you haven't checked that website out yet, you're in for a treat.

Yesterday's entry was, fittingly, about a children's biography of Lincoln. It's one I haven't read yet but now plan to. What struck me about her description of the book was this piece of an anecdote about her first read-through of the book:

The first time I read this book, I was flying to Washington, D.C., to give a speech. When I came to the end, I was sobbing, and the attendant came to me and said, “Miss, is anything wrong?” “Oh yes,” I blurted out, "Lincoln has been shot!”

Yes! The best stories pull us into their narrative with that sense of immediacy. It doesn't matter how old a grief is, we experience it anew as we walk through it again. It's one reason why I often feel bereft when I've finished a truly great biography, because I've just spent a season in the company of someone I've come to love and admire (or understand more deeply) and usually I've walked through their death toward the end of the tale. Sometimes the juxtaposition of living through a life and death, so close together, can leave you a bit breathless. Or in tears on an airplane.

Then there was this bit from a book I'm reading about the life and work of Katherine Paterson. I stumbled upon it when looking for other books by Gary Schmidt; I think it might be his first book and might even have started life as a dissertation. I confess I am becoming a huge fan of Gary Schmidt's (I'll save that for another post) and of course I've been a great enthusiast about Kat Paterson's work since I was twenty. So the combination of author/subject was too good to pass up.

In the introductory essay, Schmidt is exploring Paterson's childhood, and how she was deeply affected by her family's many moves. Her parents were missionaries in China during a time of great tumult there, and they kept yo-yo'ing back and forth between the States and China. Paterson had been born in China and spent her first five years there, and was in many ways more deeply at home in Chinese culture than American culture. When they moved to Virginia in 1937, not long before she began school, she recalled how much she hated it and how terribly displaced she felt.

"When I was in the first grade I didn't get any valentines. I don't think I was disliked. I was totally overlooked," he quotes Paterson as saying. And then Schmidt goes on to say "This incident, too, was to become part of the gathering of stories: 'My mother grieved over this event until her death,' (he quotes Paterson again) "asking me once why I didn't write a story about the time I didn't get any valentines. 'But mother,' I said, 'all my stories are about the time I didn't get any valentines.'"

I had a lump in my throat at the end of that line. It not only rings so deeply true to the best of Katherine Paterson's work (she writes more eloquently of displacement and childhood longing than almost anyone I know) but it rings true to my writer's heart. I suspect there are certain formative moments in most of our childhoods, some of them joyous and some sad and lonely, which we are always writing "out of" no matter what else we're writing. We don't have to describe an actual event or memory to have that moment at the back of what we're doing in a story.

I'd like to spend more time with the Paterson book (and Schmidt) in another post. And maybe more time thinking through what sorts of moments are the formative fountains of my own stories. I'll bet you have some of those moments too.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Notes from a Reading Life: Alcuin of York

So....I'm tired. You can probably tell by the paucity of my posts here lately. Or maybe you are imagining me living a life of leisure, eating bon-bons and reading mystery novels. (Not! But doesn't that sound nice?)

In the midst of a crazy-busy life, I am doing a lot of reading. Some of it by necessity, since I'm assisting this term in three sections of a course in Medieval and Reformation Church History. The prof. I'm assisting sometimes piles on the primary source readings for our students, giving them the option to choose which sources they read according to what ressourcement lens they're working with (theology, worship or catechesis). But since I'm supposed to be responding to papers across all levels in the online section, I'm trying (note I said trying) to keep up with reading across all three tracks.

Since I often don't have time until late in the evening to tackle this reading, sometimes it feels like physical plowing. Read a few pages, get up and stretch and try to wake up. Read a few more pages, pop a hershey's kiss after unwrapping it from is pink foil blanket (ha! see, you were right...I *am* eating bon-bons). Listen to some lecture bits, record a few quiz grades, check in on facebook. Then back to the primary source readings, where I plow further ahead, trying to keep those furrows straight (that would be the furrows on my brow, as I try to exercise a very tired brain that's spent the day helping my third grader parse sentences, or figuring out what to cook for dinner, or answering missions committee related email, or mostly likely all three things at once...)

So though I am reading great quantities, I don't often have time for huge a-ha moments. I'm more in scribble-like-crazy-in-the-margins mode, or put-a-really-big- asterisk-next-to-this-important-thought and hope I'll be able to find it again mode.

So it's lovely when something I'm reading stops me in my tracks. Such was the case with Alcuin of York this evening.

Alcuin lived mostly in the eighth century (730 -804). He was Northumbrian by birth, influenced by the world of Bede, but he spent a lot of his life on the continent, where he became an important teacher/administrator/liturgist/writer in the court of Charlemagne. I could have gone on listing things he did, you get the drift. This was an important man whose thinking, writing, praying and teaching lay a lot of the groundwork for later medieval thought and practice.

He was also a poet. Do you know how blessed and happy it made my right-brain to happen upon his poetry in the midst of a long night of left-brain activity? Especially when I came across lines like these:

"Teach us faith, awaken hope, and fill us with love.
Give me the purity that comes from you and cannot come from me,
That I make forsake earth and seek heaven.
My soft plumage is weak without your help:
Grant me the wings of faith that I may fly upwards to you:
For I confess faith in you, through you and from you.

I confess that you are one in substance and Trinity in persons:
You are always the same, alive and all comprehending.
I confess the three in one and the one in three --
The Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit: O blessed Trinity.
You are God, the Lord, and the Paraclete.
You are love, grace and communion:
For God is love, Christ is grace, and the Holy Spirit is communion:
Begetter, begotten and regenerator: O blessed Trinity.

The true Light, true Light from Light, and the Illuminator:
The fountain, the river and the refreshing stream:
All things are from one, through one and in one: O blessed Trinity."

I confess my heart soared (on wings of faith!) when I read these words. My tired eyes snapped open, my heart stood to attention and saluted. I fell into the words like someone who did indeed need to step into a refreshing stream. O Lord, I so need the language of poetry and prayer.

This is why -- and I say it as I've said it to students of all ages and stages over the years -- this is why it's so important that we spend time reading for formation and not just information. This is why we need the language of prayer and poetry and not just analytical prose (as much as I can delight in well-written history, biography, theology). Once in a while, we need to step out of words (even really good ones) that are written *about* and step into words that are *addressed to* the Word. We need to step out of mere thinking and into full-bodied, full-brained, full-hearted worship.


I think we've got a new word for "very loved" at our house. The sweet girl coined it yesterday. It's "neck-skinny."

She's been playing a lot lately with some stuffed dog toys, including one we found last year at a church sale with some other used stuffed toys. It's an adorable dog, light brown with a red collar and floppy ears. Its fur is slightly worn in that loved way only an old stuffed animal can be. And its neck, underneath the red collar, is extra floppy -- mostly because it looks as though he once spent a lot of time getting his neck squeezed.

The sweet girl hugged him fondly yesterday. "He's all neck-skinny," she told me. "You know, really loved so really squeezed hard around the neck."

Monday, February 14, 2011

The Valentine Mailbox

In a little while, my dear husband will be home for lunch, and our family will commence to open the valentine mailbox.

Yes: THE Valentine Mailbox. Your family may have one -- and I'm sure it's a lovely one -- but our family has THE mailbox.

It's the one my dad made for my family when I was a little girl. His printing company was doing some sort of advertisement for the post office so the front looks like the front of an actual mailbox from my childhood (complete with "zippy" the little zip code guy...remember him?). The box itself is an old flat kodak film box, reinforced with tape. It opens for easy mail distribution, but Dad also put a slit in the front so you can slide the cards in.

When the sweet girl was tiny, my folks passed the mailbox on to us. We have loved it and every year fill it with homemade Valentines (and sometimes a few store-bought, but those aren't the main attraction) to give to each other. This year the sweet girl begged to get it out a couple of weeks early, so she's been stuffing it for a while. It's going to be fun to see all the homemade love that spills out.

I've been so swamped that I didn't have a chance to make my beloved's card until a little while ago. While the sweet girl moaned through some math ("products again!? why do I have to do products?") I gathered scissors, glue stick, colorful scraps of paper, a magazine, a computer graphic I liked, and a velveteen bag of crayon rocks. It's amazing what simple things you can use to say I love you.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Happy Land

At the end of this hard week, how wonderful was it to open up a musical treasure from the library hold shelf? This morning we played songs from Happy Land: Musical Tributes to Laura Ingalls Wilder. I was entranced as these wonderful songs (all of them referenced in the Little House books) rolled out of the player, some of them sounding just like I imagined them sounding when played by Pa Ingalls. A few I know from other sources, but many I only know because of "hearing" Pa play and sing them in the books.

Dancing in the kitchen to "Arkansas Traveler" with my husband at lunchtime, inventing harmonies for the "Sweet By and By" while listening with the sweet girl this morning...I just really needed this today. Beautiful fiddle music, beautiful bright bits of Americana.

You can see the disc I'm talking about here.

And oh, I needed the old-time hymns especially. Doesn't this lyric make your heart soar?

To our bountiful Father above, we will offer the tribute of praise;
For the glorious gift of His Love, and the blessings that hallow our days.
In the sweet by and by, we shall meet on that beautiful shore.
In the sweet by and by, we shall meet on that beautiful shore.

(Joseph Philbrick Webster - tune; Sanford Fillmore Bennett - words)

Monday, February 07, 2011

Long Overdue All Sorts of Ways

I didn't mean to fall off the face of the blogging world. It's just been a challenging and busy couple of weeks here at semester's beginning. Lots going on work-wise, but even more going on in our family and in my struggling heart. More about some of that later.

I realized today I was long overdue to write a blog post, and even more overdue to write a gratitude post. It's a multitude Monday! Given the levels of stress I've been experiencing (and surrendering over and over) in recent days, I know the "counting blessings" exercise is more important than ever. So here goes...

107. We weathered January. And we did "weather" it in almost every sense of the word!

108. Some recent email exchanges, cards and notes with/from farflung friends. These have been a bigger source of encouragement than probably most of them know.

109. Eric Metaxas' wonderful biography of Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Speaking of overdue posts...I am now many days overdue wanting to write about this deeply moving book.

110. My precious husband. As we go through hard times together, I am daily reminded of how much I love him...and all the many reasons why.

111. Music that's good for the weary soul. Desplat's Deathly Hallows score; Mahler's 7th; Jeff Johnson's Frio Suite; Patsy Cline.

112. Literary birthdays, which help add fun and celebration to ordinary days. Today we get both Laura Ingalls Wilder and Charles Dickens!

113. The continued sustaining of my dad's health.

114. My niece's beautiful January wedding...and the wonder of being able to see so photos so quickly after (one of those Facebook blessings).

I can't seem to find the Multitude Monday logo, but I did find this old photo I took a few years ago..and one that seems appropriate for counting blessings. Yes, that's the sweet girl's little hand in the sunlight - I remember those snowmen pajamas! I think she must have been around four or five when I took this picture.