Monday, March 30, 2009

Treasure

It was a reading kind of day at my house. I nibbled at some Henry James, some F. Scott Fitzgerald, and some Elizabeth Barrett Browning poetry. Treasures, all.
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Books, books, books!
I had found the secret of a garret room
Piled high with cases in my father's name;
Piled high, packed large, where, creeping in and out
Among the giant fossils of my past,
Like some small nimble mouse between the ribs
Of a mastodon, I nibbled here and there
At this or that box, pulling through the gap,
In heats of terror, haste, victorious joy,
The first book first. And how I felt it beat
Under my pillow, in the morning's dark,
An hour before the sun would let me read!
My books! At last, because the time was ripe,
I chanced upon the poets.

~Elizabeth Barrett Browning

Friday, March 27, 2009

Training Wheels

This week, Corban decided he was ready to ride his bike without training wheels. He was actually ready at the end of last summer, but we didn't rush him. There was a sense of security he felt with them attached. But when they came off on Sunday, he was elated. He was ready. With his dad running behind the bike and holding onto the seat, you could see in Corban’s face the moment he acknowledged and embraced the commitment, that point of no return. He dove into this new experience with glee!

I had tears in my eyes. I was so happy for him, so proud of this deliberate step of his. But this is the last of my children I’ll watch give up training wheels. There is a realization that certain things are behind me for good now, and that leaves me a little sad and joyful at the same time. As I contemplated my surprise tears on this occasion, I thought about things in my life I may be holding onto, my own training wheels, things that provide comfort and security like a safety net, allowing me to try things out without ever really committing, caught between the dream of action and fear of failure.

Could I dare to take off my training wheels? Could I do it with as much joy and excitement as Corban had? Passivity makes no demands of me. The world is full of endless possibilities there for the taking. That world is my stage, and I can chose to give the performance of a lifetime or sit in the audience. As I watch my son’s wild and exhilarating bike ride, I recommit to the ride of my life and launch forth gleefully on two wheels.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Heroes

Poetikat challenged me to compile a list of 25 of my literary heroes, those authors who made me realize the magic and power of literature and words, and who inspired me to write. Here is my list:

Youthful impressions: Beverly Cleary, EB White, Lucy Maud Montgomery, Mary Norton, and Mildred Wirt Benson (Carolyn Keene) awakened my mind's eye and developed my imaginative muscle.

The Conjurers: Madeleine L'Engle, Ray Bradbury, George Orwell, Margaret Atwood, Marion Zimmer Bradley, and CS Lewis introduced me to speculative fiction, alternative worlds, and mythopoeia.

The Bard: William Shakespeare taught me how delicious words can taste.

The Dame: Margaret Mitchell began my love affair with historical fiction.

The Songwriter: Carly Simon's confessional songwriting taught me that music is what feelings sound like.

The Poets: Carl Sandburg, Robert Frost, Emily Dickinson and TS Eliot made me aware of something immense running through me, and forever rearranged the furniture of my heart.

The Naturalist: Henry David Thoreau helped develop my capacity for wonder, self-reliance and simplicity, and continues to send me out to chase the wind.

The Storytellers: Whether exploring the hidden motivations and psychology of human nature, creating unforgettable and rich locations through traditions and folklore, exploring themes of aspiration and lost innocence, or weaving threads of fate, hope and social observation into a literary tapestry, my most influential storytellers have been Karen Blixen (Isak Dinesen), Mary Shelley, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Thomas Hardy, Leo Tolstoy, and F. Scott Fitzgerald.


I, in turn, offer this challenge to Colonel Brandon at Nature's Diary, Bee at Desk of Bee Drunken, and Carol at The Writer's Porch. Who have been your author influences?

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Gratitude

The man strode toward me this morning—one in a long string of mornings. The energy and purpose in his stride was unmistakable. I felt myself tense. He is our neighborhood connoisseur of woe, the grandfather of one of the children at the bus stop. You can accurately predict the amount or depth of his woes merely by watching him walk toward you. The worse the complaints, the more energetic the walk and the longer the stride.

With little apparent drive and motivation to his life, he does have a mission. He is on a treadmill accumulating misery at every step, and he is intent on savoring and sharing every shred of it. It seems he stores up morsels of morose news to share, delighting in disgorging a mighty torrent of wretchedness that threatens to sweep away everyone/thing in his path in an assault of negative and angry words. He refuses to be diverted—working relentlessly to maintain his wet-blanket mode.

There are so many broken people in the world, infected with dark, brooding clouds over their lives blinding them to the good around them. Negative people not only harm themselves; they harm the world. They cease to make a contribution to it. Instead of helping, they spread gloom and doom everywhere, robbing themselves and others of happiness.

A sure cure for this condition is the Appreciation Diet. Every morning, write down on paper five things you’re happy about and five things you’re grateful for. This helps you focus on the positive things in life. At the end of each day, write down five things you did well that day. This forces you to appreciate your strengths and not to be so hard on yourself.

Thornton Wilder said, “We can only be said to be alive in those moments when our hearts are conscious of our treasures.” How true! Surely, if negativity cripples the human spirit, appreciation and gratitude give it wings.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Inheritance


It is not enough to prepare our children for the world;
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we must also prepare the world for our children.
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~Luis J. Rodriguez

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Wilma and Betty, Revisited

I'm recycling a post from last November in honor of my daughter, Lindsey, who is planning a trip to see her best friend. Separated by distance, they remain close. This picture is of Lindsey and Maria in costumes Lindsey made. Who knew she'd still like to play dress-up in her 20s?!


I had to laugh recently when I heard someone say that the cartoon “The Flintstones” was really promoting Marxism, and that there were ideological messages about the individual’s place in society hidden within the cartoon. That sure wasn’t the message I got from watching “The Flintstones,” a staple in my Saturday morning lineup of cartoons while growing up.

I watched as Fred and Wilma and their neighbors, Barney and Betty, dealt with stone-age suburban problems, work issues, difficult bosses, friendships, crises, out-of-control pets and children, and their primitive versions of modern conveniences. They got caught up in the same things we do today: fads and crazes, celebrity idolization, dreaming of the ‘good life’. They struggled through mistakes and misunderstandings, bad decisions and anger. They laughed and cried, fought and made up with one another, always learning important lessons about life and relationships along the way.

But it was Wilma and Betty I admired most. They were the level-headed ones. They were strong female voices of reason. They served to check and balance the harebrained schemes Barney and Fred dreamt up. Most of all, they were best friends for more than 30 years. My very favorite Flintstone episode was when Wilma and Betty took Judo lessons to protect themselves from a neighborhood prowler. I loved their practical responses to things (most of the time!) and their mutual support. I still think they’re great role models for girls, teaching us the importance and endurance of friendship. It takes a long time to grow an old friend, and every minute is worth it. Yabba-Dabba Do, Lindsey and Maria!

Friday, March 20, 2009

Spring Fever






"It's spring fever. That is what the name of it is. And when you've got it, you want—oh, you don't quite know what it is you do want, but it just fairly makes your heart ache, you want it so!"
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~ Mark Twain

Thursday, March 19, 2009

A Mother's Lap

My seven-year-old is outgrowing some of his books, most of which we’ve had for over 20 years. One last time, I leaf through these wonderful and familiar books, read and loved by all three children. I remember the lovely hours spent with a child on my lap reading. We all acknowledge the power and benefits of reading to our children, but add in the lap component and magic happens. We’re donating some of the books to our local library, but there are some classics I’ll hang onto even when my last chick has left the nest, and Dr. Seuss is among them.

Earlier this month, schools across the country celebrated ‘Cat in the Hat Day’ in honor of Theodor Seuss Geisel, our beloved Dr. Seuss. As a child, he too was introduced to the love of reading and words on his mother’s lap. She read and recited rhymes to him; in fact, he credited her with his ability and desire to create his famous and well-known rhymes.

Brilliant and playful, Dr. Seuss changed the nature of children’s books and helped four generations of children learn to read. His stories march at a rhythmic pace, full of tongue-twisters, word play, inventive vocabulary, and imaginative hybrid beasts. Even after his death in 1991, Dr. Seuss continues to be the best-selling author of children's books in the world. I always enjoyed reading his stories as much as my children loved hearing them. I’ve heard reading his books described as an amusement park for your mouth! Isn’t it nice to know you’re never too old to read a Dr. Seuss book?

And now we’ve come full-circle. As Ted Geisel learned to love words and rhymes on his mother’s lap, I’m hoping to impart similar lessons to my children on my lap. Read-aloud time is always a special experience marked off from ordinary by a parent's lap and a Dr. Seuss book. Corban may be outgrowing some of his books, but with many stories to be told and lessons to be shared, even at seven, he still fits perfectly in my lap.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Idita-Walk

Along with a few family members, I’ve joined the 832 participants this year in the annual Idita-Walk. Created to coincide with the Iditarod, the 1,049-mile sled dog race between Anchorage and Nome, Alaska, completing the Idita-Walk requires walking 1,049 minutes between February 1 and March 31.

Although I don't have to brave the same harsh conditions as those indomitable sled dogs and their mushers, walking for 1,049 minutes in Michigan in February and early March is not for the fainthearted! In fact, I use ski poles for balance and stability while I log my miles. I can walk about four miles in an hour as I clomp along in my UGGs, the only boots I've ever owned that keep my feet warm.

After a long winter season of exercising indoors, how delicious it feels to pull that cold, fresh Michigan air, straight off the lake, into my lungs. And the walking trail that begins two blocks from my house is sublime. It’s lined with mature oaks, maples, cedars and pines that hold hands over my head to form a canopy; picturesque even in harsh conditions.

I’ll earn this snappy little lapel pin when, this next week, I complete the Idita-Walk. Now I’m off to hit the trail again. Mush!

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Winter's End

Those who know me have heard me lament over the past months about how long our Winter season has been this year. We’ve had snow on the ground since the end of October, survived two bona fide blizzards, and dug out from under 110-plus inches of snow. With another four to six weeks of winter under our collective belts, we’re anxious for Spring in this neck of the woods.

In other parts of the world, and even here in the United States, people measure Spring’s proximity by various means. It is heralded by robins, budding leaves, crocuses and daffodils. However, here in these northern climes alongside Lake Michigan, we know Winter is almost over when we can see the deer wandering around!


Absentee Blogger


I've been away tending to some work-related projects that, as it turned out, required more of my time and energy than I'd anticipated.
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Having brought that area of my life back under relative control, I'm looking forward to getting back to blogging and visiting with my bloggy friends. Give me a few days and I'll catch up with everybody's blogs!

Friday, February 27, 2009

Forgiveness, Part II

A happy, healthy 22-year-old college student with a loving family, Immaculee Ilibagiza’s life was transformed during 1994 Rwandan genocide when, as EM Forster so aptly put it, “the spirit of evil strode abroad and carried men forward over a new precipice.” She weighed 115 pounds when she went into hiding in a tiny bathroom from those who wanted her dead, those infected with collective madness. And she was one of eight Tutsi women who survived, all starving, in this tiny room. When she left the room 91 days later, she weighed 65 pounds, her family had been brutally murdered, and her country had been destroyed.

Later coming face to face with the killer of her mother and brother, she said to him, “I forgive you.” So often our human response is to punish in return, to rail against the storm without to attempt to quell the storm within. Rather than being crushed by the enemy and remade in his hateful image, she released him, and it released her. Immaculee realized retaliating would only add fuel to a fire that would destroy them both.

After reading things terrible to think about but impossible to forget, I’ve come to the conclusion that forgiveness requires great courage. It’s been said that courage is fear that has said its prayers, but it’s not something you can just grab for in a time of need and expect it to be handy; it has to be something you build a life around. Courage, faith, and love gave this remarkable woman an inner security against which all outside battering was powerless. Her forgiveness was an act of self-healing not tied to this man’s response, but essential for her to move forward with hope, courage and peace.

She immigrated to the United States in 1998, told her story in a book, Left to Tell, in 2006, and now works with the United Nations heading a charity to help children of that tragic genocide. She sets such a wonderful example for us in how to live extraordinarily during horrendous times and how to be truly forgiving. But most impressive to me, she reminded me of our obligation, once over our own hurdles, to help others. What a lesson! Immaculee, I’m in your debt.

“If every man would mend a man, then all the world would be mended.” –Anonymous

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Forgiveness, Part I

Forgiveness is a funny thing. It's a quality most people would like to think they possess, but true forgiveness seems curiously lacking in many—and even in myself on occasion, truth be told. When we've been harmed or wronged, to forgive seems the proper thing, and we think our ability--our willingness--to do this says something about us as a person. But sometimes we become so preoccupied with being wronged that true forgiveness can't happen. Tennyson captured a common attitude toward forgiveness: Forgive! How many will say “forgive” and find a sort of absolution in the sound to hate a little longer? Truly, words of forgiveness are nothing without truth behind them.

What prompted my contemplations on forgiveness? Two things: A very precious and dear friend of mine has been terribly betrayed by her husband, and has remained both strong and truly forgiving; and I just finished an amazing book about the best and worst of humanity, the undefeatable human spirit in the darkest of times, and the power of forgiveness.

Through both, I'm reminded that forgiveness is not a self-righteous, self-sacrificing gift I bestow upon another, as though I'm generously offering something out of a superior heart. Rather, it's a releasing of wrongs and their attendant feelings in myself. It's as though I'm forever relinquishing my right to hurt someone for hurting me. True forgiveness is an act of self-healing not tied to another's changing, apologizing or acknowledging that they've caused me pain. In fact, it requires no response on their part at all. It's giving up the possibility of a better past, and facing the future with hope, courage, and love. I'm inspired by my best friend's example, as well as by an incredible book, which I'll post about tomorrow.

Monday, February 23, 2009

February Gifts

We returned home from our out-of-town getaway just in time for my seven-year-old's 110th day at school. Each student was given 110 sunflower seeds to feed the birds. What a wonderful idea! With at least a month left in our Winter here, it reminded me to refill our birdfeeders for our colorful little backyard visitors.

I gave one-hundred and ten presents.
One-hundred and ten, did I say?
I gave one-hundred and ten presents
one cold and wintry day.

I didn't put my name on them
or any other words,
because my presents were sunflower seeds
for the February birds!

--Aileen Fisher

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Suitcase in Hand...


How incredibly thoughtless of me to go traveling out of town without some sort of goodbye to all my bloggy friends! I'll be back on Friday, February 20th. I wish everyone the happiest and healthiest of times until then!
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Photo, Marianne McCoy

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

The Tempest


Winter is losing its grip. We were gifted today with a blue sky, a bright sun, and 60-degree temperatures. It was so lovely you almost didn’t notice the 50-mile-per-hour winds scouring the landscape. Intense and volatile weather is not unheard of along the shores of Lake Michigan, where the water seems to enhance whatever the weather throws at it. Storms are born over the lake and rush toward us with wild abandon, flinging themselves eastward like supplicants toward Mecca.

The unbroken horizon over the lake is a panoramic canvas for the vast and ever-changing cloud formations. Because the lake and the weather are so interconnected here, when the wind is as high as it is today, so are the waves. Their frenzied assault on the pier and the shore can be heard from a distance, a brutal and exhausting roar. There is storm building even now. The beautifully portentous clouds are bunched and herded by the relentless, strident wind. Darkly dramatic, Nature looks glorious in all her wild raiment. In respect and awe, I reluctantly take shelter.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Inspiration

On her blog, Joanne recently asked about where we go for inspiration. I didn't even need a moment to think about it. One of my favorite places to be is in used bookstores. It’s about more than just a love of literature. It’s about holding a book someone else has owned, a book someone cared enough about not to throw away. It’s about being in a place that connects generation to generation, culture to culture, and age to age.

Sometimes I’ll crack open a book to see a cache of forgotten keepsakes: an old bookmark, an old letter, a note in the margin, a name on the inside cover. Once I bought a used book simply because there was a loose photograph of a woman inside. I felt an odd but instant kinship with this woman, choosing to believe she was the previous owner of the book. A hotel cocktail napkin fell out of a book once. It had a name and room number on it. Was there a story there?

Even the term, ‘used bookstore’, conjures up for me instant atmosphere: dusty, un-inventoried, and overflowing shelves to the ceiling; creaky floorboards and irregular lighting; controlled chaos; the lovely musty and heady smell of old books; tilting towers of lettered spines. It’s like a treasure hunt, this browsing and searching for idle hours in a place that seems detached from the rest of the world and where the pace is slow motion. You never know exactly what you’ll find, but the longer you stay, the more you’ll leave with.

I know some who feel used bookstores are beneath them. I, on the other hand, love their worn, disheveled, slightly shabby interiors. As I wander down their treasured aisles of out-of-print books and lost knowledge, it seems to me that more life is able to take root and grow there. When I have to leave, it's always reluctantly.
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"It was clear that the books owned the shop rather than the other way about. Everywhere they had run wild and taken possession of their habitat breeding and multiplying, and clearly lacking any strong hand to keep them down." — Agatha Christie (1963)

Thursday, February 5, 2009

The Art of Living


“All the art of living lies in a fine mingling
of letting go and holding on.”

Quotation: Havelock Ellis
Painting: Ride, Don McAfee

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Einstein's Folly, Part II

After his expulsion from school, Einstein also had a two-year stint as a first-chair violin playing with the London Symphony Orchestra under Maestro Sir Neville Mariner. Even in this dignified setting, Einstein's antics abounded. He would improvise musical embellishments, often from other songs, into the music he was playing, and he played when he should have been resting. He simply couldn't stick to the score.

Therein lies my fascination with Albert Einstein. This quirky comedian with unruly hair and rumpled clothes couldn't stick to the “score.” While this wouldn't serve him well in an orchestra, I thought it was a smashing tribute to a man whose early life gave little evidence of his sprawling genius or the destiny he would fulfill. Thinking outside the box, being open to new possibilities, and seeing fresh ideas through new eyes served him well, this man who fundamentally changed the way we see our physical world.

He experienced so much, followed his heart and dreams, ignored critics, and retained his sense of humor. What wonderful lessons for us. One of the many wise things Einstein said was, “There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle.” I choose to believe he was not speaking solely of things scientific. And so this has become my mantra, as well, as I stray occasionally from my “score” to discover more about myself and life.


Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Einstein's Folly, Part I


Albert Einstein. What a brilliant mind. What a complex man. Arguably the most recognized scientist in history, he won a Nobel Peace Prize for physics in 1923. But there was a funny side to this serious man that many are unaware of. We've glimpsed it here and there, like in the famous photo of him sticking out his tongue, which was actually part of his vaudeville act. Vaudeville? Yes, vaudeville!

After being expelled from school in Rotterdam, Germany for classroom pranks involving bats and skunks—which resulted in the injury of seven students—Einstein performed vaudeville in New York under the unlikely moniker “Fuzz Ball,” surely a reference to his wild hair. His outrageous and physical comic act brought him into the company of Harry Houdini, WC Fields and the ventriloquist, Edgar Bergen. Bergen's dummy, Charlie McCarthy, was stolen one evening. In the ensuing investigation it was discovered that Einstein, a kleptomaniac, had collected hundreds of “souvenirs” from his fellow performers, including Bergen's dummy. The response to Einstein's scandal included an offer of treatment from Sigmund Freud, and The New York Post dubbed him the “Comic Kleptomaniac.”

Although his antics and practical jokes were not always well received by others, and compulsive behavior aside, this was a man with a hearty sense of humor. Here was a man who loved to laugh. We can’t, of course, know how much of an impact, if any, Einstein’s sense of humor had on his brilliant mind. But when I look at pictures like these, I’m reminded of Jean Houston’s profound words: In the height of laughter, the universe is flung into a kaleidoscope of possibilities.” How much richer we are today for having been shown the possibilities. Thank you, Mr. Einstein.

Einstein's Folly, Part II

Monday, February 2, 2009

(Silent) Poetry Reading



Go from me. Yet I feel that I shall stand
Henceforward in thy shadow. Nevermore
Alone upon the threshold of my door
Of individual life, I shall command
The uses of my soul, nor lift my hand
Serenely in the sunshine as before,
Without the sense of that which I forbore—
Thy touch upon the palm. The widest land
Doom takes to part us, leaves thy heart in mine
With pulses that beat double. What I do
And what I dream include thee, as the wine
Must taste of its own grapes. And when I sue
God for myself, He hears that name of thine,
And sees within my eyes the tears of two.

--Elizabeth Barrett Browning



Here are a few other blogs that are participating:

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Reminder


This is a reminder that Monday, February 2nd is the Fourth Annual Bloggers (Silent) Poetry Reading. Post your favorite poem (your own or someone else's) on your blog anytime on Monday. Visit Reya's blog for the details.

Friday, January 30, 2009

Castles



“The shattered wall,
the broken tower
have a story to tell –
from the touchstones of ruins
and ancient texts
we make a pilgrimage.”

–David Day




What is it about castles? The word alone conjures up images and feelings that seize my imagination. Mysterious and immense, they’re full of fragments of history and myth. How lasting, how permanent these structures of stone arches, marble chambers, great halls, secret passageways and dungeons; this realm of kings and queens, maidens and knights, giants and gods, dwarves and faeries, heroes and bards.

The drama of old tales seems close at hand while these structures remain standing, as though the structures themselves strain to share all that went on and all who went before. They seem to hold out a beckoning promise of ancient wonder to me. Still so filled with the past, still so saturated with history and myth, I could almost be transported back to the age of fantasy, romance and myth. I’d step in to find myself in the midst of daily bustling life within those enclosed outer walls. What a lovely dream come true for a girl who never gave up dreaming of a long-past time, real or imagined, when castles and dreams were born of rock and took shape in my heart and imagination.


Illustrations by Alan Lee, concept artist for The Lord of the Rings movies.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

A Lost Art

I was reading a blog the other day of someone who still loves writing hand-written letters. The act of putting pen to paper is considered an art form by some, but it’s a dying art. In our day of Hallmark cards, emails, and texting with short comments punctuated by abbreviations, penmanship and authorship are eroding. It wasn’t so long ago that sending and receiving a handwritten letter was a savored pleasure in life.

Throughout history, handwritten letters have recorded moments big and small, feelings high and low, things mundane, tragic, poetic, romantic. This used to be such an important part of people’s lives. Today these letters are links to the past, echoing of hurts, disappointments, joys, loves, excitements and experiences, pulling us into the writer’s life, if only for a few moments, as we realize they cared enough to put it on the page. They are gifts of the writer’s time and energy.

I’ve had some remarkable letters in my life: A letter my father wrote to his four young children. A flurry of letters between my twin brother and me while he was stationed in Iraq during Operation Desert Storm 18 years ago. A collection of letters my cousin wrote to a French nurse before being shot down over France in 1917 at 30 years of age. I treasure these gift-wrapped memories—powerful and palpable signs of love and life constructed one word at a time—and I reread them often.

I’m inspired to send thoughtful letters in 2009, reaching out to those I care about with handwritten sentiments that share a part of me. Combining solitude with good company, letter writing can allow me to go places while moving nothing but my heart.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Feast of Color



Except for the dark trunks of trees, there was hardly any color outdoors. I yearned for something to break up the white-and-black bleakness. And then a cardinal, a feast of color and light, alit on a branch.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

For the Love of a Child


Carol at The Writer's Porch has bestowed upon me a gracious and lovely recognition for my "Worry Dolls" post, the Compassion Award. I thank you, Carol, from the bottom of my heart and proudly display this on my sidebar. And I thank Corban, too, who was the subject of this post. For all the challenges he presents, he continues to make it so easy to be a good mom.

Worry Dolls

Yesterday’s post explained Corban’s recent scare and the curious resultant behavior of circling me. In order to allay his anxiety, soothe his fear, and help him re-find his center of gravity—which, as you can imagine, is more pronounced at bedtime—I did two things. Regarding the first, thank you, Reya, for the wonderful suggestion (see her comment on the “Running in Circles” post). Second, I got him a set of Worry Dolls, which we’re carefully calling Worry People in front of our perceptive and discerning seven-year-old boy.

I don’t remember when I first heard or came into contact with Worry Dolls, or Trouble Dolls, but the whole concept delights me. Originally from Guatemala, they’re made for children and come in boxes or bags of six. According to folklore, a child can express his worries to a doll and place it under his pillow before going to sleep at night. The doll is thought to worry in the child’s place, thereby permitting him to sleep peacefully. The child is given one worry doll each night and instructed to tell one trouble or fear to the doll. The next morning when the child wakes up, the worry doll is gone from the bed (I’ve got to remember to do this part!), taking that worry with it. To introduce Corban to this whole concept, I read him Trouble Dolls, a wonderful book for children by Jimmy Buffett.

We know, of course, that there’s no magical element involved here, and that this is comparable to many of the myths we have for kids. I believe intention, faith and belief play an important role in a child’s ability to deal with anxiety. And it seems, from a psychological standpoint, using Worry Dolls is quite sound; in point of fact, some hospitals use them with children to relieve anxiety. I thought this would be a good-sense way to help Corban voice his worries and fears and to promote better sleep. We’re on the second night here; two dolls down, four to go. Pleasant dreams, Corban.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Running in Circles

An image frightened Corban the other day, and he’s not even sure what he saw. Usually very independent and confident, my seven-year-old’s response to this has been an interesting one. He’s been circling me. He’s been running, walking and moving in circles around me while we’re talking, while I’m making dinner, after we eat. He’s outwardly calm; there is no hurry to his movements and motions. He doesn’t look anxious or upset. But something got into his head; something left an imprint.

He isn’t glued to me as though he’s too frightened to step away. It’s as though he’s lost his own center of gravity and is drawn by my apparent gravitational pull. He’s always been a mover, a boy with an abundance of energy spilling over into impatience; a pure intoxication of motion. Nothing has changed there. Now, though, it’s manifesting as this circling thing. I’ve become the hub with this young life revolving around me, trying to calm and comfort himself by wrapping me with this new energy. It was intriguing at first, then worrisome, then annoying (especially while making dinner). Now it’s just interesting.

But just as I have to go to my own sources to keep myself centered and balanced, I must now help Corban re-find his center of gravity. In the world around us, there are a lot of things that can impact a child, leaving him feeling unsettled and unsure, so I know this is not the last time I’ll have to help him through making sense of his world. And even though life often gets better all by itself, I’m going to give Corban a special gift to help him in this so we can return from our foray into this valley of curious behavior. I’ll write about that in my next post.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

The Overcoat

I was inspired yesterday at the blog of my friend, Derrick, whose posts are full of historical signifcance and wonder. It got me thinking about my own love affair with history, which began, oddly enough, with Margaret Mitchell's Gone with the Wind.

So it was, when I was 14 years old, that I found history all wrapped up in a wonderful novel about the American Civil War. I was hooked. Enthralled, I read about places I'd heard about and studied in other, drier contexts. With sudden clarity of mind and heart, I finally grasped that history is not made up merely of facts and events, but of people whose lives and decisions are shaped, impacted, affected by all that happens around them. I was seeing history-in-the-making through the eyes of those to whom it mattered deeply. Because my beloved characters cared deeply, I began to care deeply, as well.

There is a weight and comfort and substance I feel when reading/studying history. What has gone before shapes us all in large and small ways; it is our constant shadow. The significance of history deserves a poem, and so here I share my hands-down favorite.


The Lesson

In the morning when I found History
snoring heavily on the couch,
I took down his overcoat from the rack
and placed its weight over my shoulder blades.
It would protect me on the cold walk
into the village for milk and the paper
and I figured he would not mind,
not after our long conversation the night before.
How unexpected his blustering anger
when I returned covered with icicles,
the way he rummaged through the huge pockets
making sure no major battle or English queen
had fallen out and become lost in the deep snow.

--Billy Collins

Friday, January 23, 2009

An Award For Me?

Three months ago I started this blog as a personal exercise and shared it with my family. In a short 90 days, it's astounding how many people I've met and friends I've made. One of these, Kat at Poetikat's Invisible Keepsakes, has presented me with a "Superior Scribbler Award." I humbly accept this award from her, honored to join the worthy bloggers who've come before.

Daily, I'm intrigued, enlightened and entertained by the creativity and perspectives of others who've crossed my path in this wonderful world of blogging. And I thank them for allowing me to see the world through their eyes, and sometimes giving me a creative well to draw on. In that spirit, I, in turn, pass this award on to a few friends who, through their writing, have told my heart things it knows are true and who have given me a taste for possibilites that aren't found on the everyday menus of life.

Barry @ An Explorer's View of Life -- A wonderful storyteller, handling even heavy subjects with a light hand and an ever-faithful canine at his side.

Joanne @ Whole Latte Life -- Her posts are written to encourage thought and dialogue, but they go so much deeper. I'm shocked into truthfulness for a few minutes each day at her site.

Bee @ From the Desk of Bee Drunken -- A Texan in England, she makes the place she lives the place she loves and shares it generously with us through her thoughtful writing style.

Larkspur @ Garden Mother -- She shares her love of beauty, wrapping even the mundane in inspiration that is a delight to read.


If you choose to accept this award, here are those pesky rules:

  • Each Superior Scribbler must in turn pass The Award on to 5 most-deserving Bloggy Friends.
  • Each Superior Scribbler must link to the author & the name of the blog from whom he/she has received The Award.
  • Each Superior Scribbler must display The Award on his/her blog, and link to Scholastic-Scribe, which explains The Award.
  • Each Blogger who wins The Superior Scribbler Award must visit this post and add his/her name to the Mr. Linky List. That way, we’ll be able to keep up-to-date on everyone who receives This Prestigious Honor!
  • Each Superior Scribbler must post these rules on his/her blog.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

The Red Balloon

I was in the third grade when I saw my first “art” film, a sweet masterpiece of French cinema called “The Red Balloon” (Albert Lamorisse, 1956). Short, simple, and almost wordless, this is the story of a young Parisian boy named Pascal living an ordinary life in the dull gray of postwar France. And then he finds a shiny red balloon tied to a lamppost...

Each time I see this movie (or read the book with my children), I laugh, I cry, and I’m filled again with the impossible joy of being a child. What a beautiful and hopeful lesson this is about believing in dreams and avoiding those who would puncture them. At the end, as the balloons lift Pascal above the gray ordinariness into the air, they seem to ask him, “How high?”

Watching this as an adult, I wonder how many had passed by the balloon tied to the lamppost that day. How many never even looked up, so focused on the dailyness of their lives? I want to live looking up, noticing the balloons around me, grasping at their strings and running wildly after beauty and dreams, sometimes with fear at my back, but always asking “How high?”


"And all the balloons of Paris came down to Pascal, dancing around him, twisting their strings into one strong one and lifting him up into the sky.”

Monday, January 19, 2009

Inspiration

I was contemplating inspiration this morning when a poem of Longfellow’s nudged my memory. While not my favorite American poet, I’ve always related to Longfellow’s fascination with the sea and find it intriguing the way he used it as a narrative device to explore the nature of creativity and inspiration. Who can’t relate to a tired poet lacking, and thus looking for, inspiration? A broken oar, so useless to the rower, would inspire the poet. Well done, Mr. Longfellow.


The Broken Oar

Once upon Iceland's solitary strand
A poet wandered with his book and pen,
Seeking some final word, some sweet Amen,
Wherewith to close the volume in his hand.
The billows rolled and plunged upon the sand,
The circling sea-gulls swept beyond his ken,
And from the parting cloud-rack now and then
Flashed the red sunset over sea and land.
Then by the billows at his feet was tossed
A broken oar; and carved thereon he read,
"Oft was I weary, when I toiled at thee";
And like a man, who findeth what was lost,
He wrote the words, then lifted up his head,
And flung his useless pen into the sea.

--Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Fireside

We’re driven inside today by snow and cold. It’s a perfect day for reading and sipping cocoa by the fire. Here’s a wonderful poem by Longfellow that so well reflects my sense of traveling and adventure when I open a good book.

Travels by the Fireside

The ceaseless rain is falling fast,
And yonder gilded vane,
Immovable for three days past,
Points to the misty main,

It drives me in upon myself
And to the fireside gleams,
To pleasant books that crowd my shelf,
And still more pleasant dreams,

I read whatever bards have sung
Of lands beyond the sea,
And the bright days when I was young
Come thronging back to me.

In fancy I can hear again
The Alpine torrent's roar,
The mule-bells on the hills of Spain,
The sea at Elsinore.

I see the convent's gleaming wall
Rise from its groves of pine,
And towers of old cathedrals tall,
And castles by the Rhine.

I journey on by park and spire,
Beneath centennial trees,
Through fields with poppies all on fire,
And gleams of distant seas.

I fear no more the dust and heat,
No more I feel fatigue,
While journeying with another's feet
O'er many a lengthening league.

Let others traverse sea and land,
And toil through various climes,
I turn the world round with my hand
Reading these poets' rhymes.

From them I learn whatever lies
Beneath each changing zone,
And see, when looking with their eyes,
Better than with mine own.

--Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Friday, January 16, 2009

Dress Rehearsal

I mentioned in my post on December 12th about Lindsey being among the handful of students at Marymount University selected to submit designs for Michelle Obama's inauguration gown. This was a project initiated by USA Today, and the girls' designs were featured in a two-page spread in that paper on December 31st. The project went through several incarnations at USA Today, including the late-hour addition of judging by Tim Gunn of “Project Runway” (who I personally think of as the Simon Cowell of fashion, but I digress).

Since her newspaper “debut” in December, the story has been picked up by MSNBC and a number of regional/local newspapers, including The Indianapolis Star and The Grand Rapids Press. She completed an internship in London (England) this last summer, and has been invited to participate in another in Malawi (Africa) this summer. She's found the river and is saying yes to its flow!

There is no question we're proud of Lindsey. We've been her faithful audience for years and years, enjoying this child full of passion and enthusiasm who is following her dreams and finding the art in the everyday. She's found a way all her own to make the world a more beautiful place.


Lindsey is third from the right. If you want to follow her story, here's her blog.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Interview

I always enjoy getting to know other bloggers: idiosyncrasies, little things that make them tick, hopes, dreams. What better way to learn about others in Blogdom than by interviewing them?! My friend, Kat, over at Poetikat's Invisible Keepsakes has interviewed me. To follow are my responses to her questions:


What made you decide to start a blog?

I can't remember a time when I didn't love to write things down. I’ve kept journals for years, but there were actually two reasons I started a blog. In September of this last year I was going through Julia Cameron's The Artist's Way again, and I set a goal to write something thoughtful each day. My blog posts, incidentally, are a pretty fair representation of my journaling.

My problem has never been putting words to paper; my issue has been sharing it with others, actually letting people read what I've written (a throwback to a mean-spirited grade-school teacher). Facing my “monster,” I decided to brave it and post my thoughts on a blog as a daily exercise. Initially, it was only going to be for me; then I expanded that to family, which was my second reason for starting it. Spread all over the country, this has become a way of staying connected with my far-flung family and of re-tying the threads that time and distance keep trying to unravel.

What began as an exercise soon took on a life of its own as I've met friends in Blogdom—those who have similar passions and interests, as well as those I don't have as much in common with but who intrigue and enlighten me daily with their viewpoints and perceptions of the world.

What is your fondest memory of when your kids were growing up?

My three children are each eight years apart. (I know! What was I thinking?!) Lindsey was in high school before Corban was born. Because of that age span, it's hard to choose one favorite memory that incorporates all three of them. Of all the places we've gone, things we've seen, adventures we've enjoyed, and family time we’ve shared, there is one thing I've enjoyed with all of them—read-aloud time.

This has been a constant in our family from the beginning, an undercurrent, a continuous cadence. As a young mom, armed with Jim Trelease's Read Aloud Handbook, I set out to pass on my love of books, reading, and words to my children. This might seem a tame choice to an observer. After all, there are no fireworks to report; no ribbons, parades, applause. There is only that soft and lovely time spent close to my children imparting a love of books. My fondest memory? It’s when my children are with me, all at ease on a down comforter of well-being, opening a book together.


If money/time/political situations were no object, where in the world would you like to travel?

Eighteenth-century Scotland. What? No time travel allowed? Oh, sorry. I'm not much of a traveler. I detest tourist-crowded places and the commercial sameness that seems to infect so many places today.

Having said that, I’d love to visit Scotland and Ireland. I not only have genealogical roots there, but enjoy immensely novels and historical fiction set in these locales. The history, lore, castles and myths all intrigue me. They seem the perfect destination for someone, like me, who is drawn to wild, remote places of extraordinary beauty.


If Fahrenheit 451 were a reality and you could only save one book, what would it be?

This is a cruel question to ask a serious reader! Only one book? I can't do it. I gave this a lot of thought, and I just can't do it. Like in Fahrenheit 451, my air vents are big enough for at least three books, so here are the three I would risk saving:

The Complete Works of William Shakespeare – Reading Shakespeare aloud, giving voice to his words, is, as Frank McCourt so well put it, “like having jewels in my mouth.” I would save this book for the sheer beauty and expression of language.

The American Heritage Dictionary – Ever the optimist, we’d need a plan to rebuild from a book ban of that magnitude. With a dictionary in hand, we'd have a sure source of words, meanings, definitions, pronunciations—all things we'd need to turn people back into readers and writers. Before we can have readers and writers, though, we need thinkers. And for people to use their minds in this way, they’d first have to stock them. This would be my re-stocking tool of choice.

Bible – Unlike the downriver vagabonds in Fahrenheit 451, I could not memorize this book, so I would risk hiding and saving it. It includes so many of the things I enjoy—poetry, history, genealogy, wise quotations, prophecy—and I can read it over and over and always get something more out of it. But mostly I’d choose it because it has a power to show people who they are, what they've become, and what they can be (a true mirror, which fans of F-451 will understand).


If you could be any age, which age would it be and why?

I can easily identify certain times in my life when I made point-of-no-return decisions that closed some doors while opening others. What would be different in my life today if I could relive those moments and choose differently?

Although worthy of contemplation, I don't want to go back and have to repeat anything, and I certainly can't go back to remake decisions without irreparably altering my present, which I would never want to do. I love my life and adore my family. Over the last two years, some pieces of my life have come together in interesting ways, resulting in a happier and more complete me; more content and appreciative. It’s taken years to accomplish what Thoreau calls ‘making a whole of the parts’. I’ll stay, hopefully with more wisdom and grace, right here at 47.



Would you like me to interview you?

1. Leave me a comment saying, "Interview me."
2. I will respond by e-mailing you five questions (I get to pick the questions).
3. You will update your blog with the answers to the questions.
4. You will include this explanation and an offer to interview someone else in the same post.
5. When others comment asking to be interviewed, you will ask them five questions.

I will post a list of those who have agreed to an interview so everyone can follow along.