Merry Christmas

I had an entire post about purity of language and old literature. There were pictures, quotes, and calm, kind explanation. Now it is gone. I couldn’t undo whatever happened. I couldn’t find it anywhere. I don’t even know what button I bumped. I want to steam up and maybe break something, something cheap. Or burn something, something small. But Christmas is in a few days. This is a big deal. I want that joy. I want to relax. I want to feel the eternal, unconditional love that is continually pouring out over me. I want popcorn and old movies, even if we still have one more day of school. I want to move on.

So I’m going to go break a few eggs and make a luscious breakfast, and burn the wicks of some lovely candles. I wish everyone a Merry Christmas. May you feel God’s love in your life, because it is always there, and we often are distracted by stupid computer glitches and unimportant stuff like that. We think we know so much. But then it can be gone in a moment. What I do with the next moment is all I have to work with, so I want to make it good. Besides, with all the stuff I’ve forgotten, losing one little post hardly registers on the scale of Lost Things in my Head.

So here we go:

And a snow covered scene:

And a cup of tea:

(I suppose at this point I have to acknowledge that none of these images are mine.)

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Story telling

I have been missing in action from my own blog because while I enjoy it, I really must have a certain amount of energy to enjoy it. Life has a way of challenging a person, especially a mom, and between the holidays and the needs of teens (WHY do people think that teens are somehow ‘done’ by the age of 15? Like consumable baked goods??), I have been a very tired blogger. So here is my chance.

One of the things that gets my attention is book reviews. I loved reading them in the newspaper, when we used to get a newspaper. I love them on Goodreads. I love them elsewhere, like that other behemoth that recently bought Goodreads. Recently I’ve observed what I consider a total misunderstanding of the idea that a writer should ‘show, not tell’. We hear this from 5th grade on through adult life. It really is a good method of writing. But sometimes, telling a story has its own merits as just that: a spinning out of a yarn, a flowing monologue of memory, a passing of oral heritage from one person to another. Just telling the story can be a fine and blessed experience.

In the movie “Fried Green Tomatoes” this is exactly what happens. An old woman relates stories from her youth to the woman who visits her. Meanwhile, the second woman goes on with her own life in between visits and what develops is what is called a story within a story. This is one of my favorite ways of story telling. This is seen in a children’s book I recently read: “An Elephant in the Garden” by Michael Morpurgo. It’s very similar in that an elderly woman in a care home tells a boy and his mother her amazing experiences as a teen during the bombing of Dresden in WWII. There are two stories going on, although the story of the ‘here and now’ is not as heavily developed as the story of her memories. I enjoyed the story and my daughter and I enjoy discussing it. Next time it comes up, I’ll have to tell her that some reviewers gave the book bad vibes over this element. Reviewers had no patience, it seems, for the most original form of narrative- that of simply telling a story. I found it rich, compassionate, lively, and timeless. Of course, many people saw this in the same way I did. But I wondered about this demand for rules I thought I was seeing. Sure, we’re supposed to ‘show, not tell’. But we also have to fill the need for the way each story speaks to us. Rules exist for many reasons, and one of those is so that we can break them!

I have started reading Wendell Berry’s novel “Hannah Coulter“. I’ve read several of his non fiction essay books. This is my first try at his fiction. I peeked at some of the reviews online, and there it was again: a bit of a lecture that Berry needs to follow the mantra to ‘show, don’t tell’. What is this? Public school? Have our minds contracted this far?

The book is glorious. It is rich, gentle, and its tells its story. It feels as if I were sitting on an old lady’s porch watching the summer day drift by as she rolled word after word, sentence after sentence, off her tongue. It has been a beginning of what I hope will continue to be a wonderful reading experience.  A book like this shows that you really can tell.

Now back to baking Christmas cookies and trying a no-yeast bread stick recipe. Glorious Christmas wishes and more to all my readers!

Parenting by the book

Whatever the weaknesses and strengths that my parents brought to the table when raising their kids, there has been one that represents several others: reading. My father was a college educated bookworm, among many other talents, and he always had a pile of books by his night stand, tucked into his deluxe smoothed-to-the-softness-of-leather multi-layered paper bag ‘attache’ (he was a child of the great depression), or waiting next to his coffee by the couch. He read science fiction, spy novels, and a certain amount of philosophy. I often went and pilfered a book for something to read, at least, I did the sci-fi. Spy novels were so blech. Philosophy went over my head.

I didn’t get a lot of parenting when I was a child. But I did have examples in general right there in front of me, for me to pick and choose: which characteristics I would try, practice, and perfect. Reading became one of them. I was a sickly child who spent much of the hot humid summers before air conditioning in a darkish corner with a book. I read The Jungle Stories, I read Isaac Asimov, I read How to Train Your German Shepherd. There was Nancy Drew. I flipped through Dr. Spock, too, but I don’t remember much of that sinking in, which today I might consider a possible advantage. I read voraciously, but without discipline of any sort. I read the Alfred Hitchcock Tales of the Frightened which the school library had plenty of, kind of a forerunner to the Goosebumps series. I read Poe, and by the time I was 12 I was reading H.P. Lovecraft and any other horror or supernatural I could get my hands on. I tended to avoid much of mainstream childhood literature and most especially any books that sniffed of ‘good-for-you’. I listened to books and poetry on records borrowed from the library. I also watched tons of TV. And I wrote stories that pretty much reflected what was going into my head.

I studied pretty well in school and my reading supported me there as well. Spelling, vocabulary, story lines, Latin, and German, it was pretty easy. I liked declining nouns, conjugating verbs, and diagramming sentences, none of which they study in depth nowadays in school. It requires discipline that doesn’t fit in with today’s standards. My best friends tended to be fictional, even monstrous. The monstrous, I decided, was usually just the misunderstood.

In college I started experiencing the side effects of all that undisciplined reading. I simply didn’t see the point of reading certain things. They took more work than I was willing to give them. They didn’t read about vampires in college. Stephen King had vampires. I may have been a bit of a chore for some professors. I did get some good books on taking care of my pets.

Fast forward in this personal story to the birth of my first child. I was at a complete loss. I had very little mothering from my own experience to fall back on. But I had learned a love of reading, a love which survived public school and college. I found a book by Dr. Sears on baby care, and I often held my changeling of a child in one arm while reading that huge encyclopedic soft cover book in the other arm. Not an optimal form of parenting, but it worked. I discovered attachment parenting, which I found fit my heart. I read several other books on things women had once been taught by their mothers: breastfeeding, medical care, growth stages, food, sleep, and reading. Those books mothered me while I determined to be there for my children. I digested them, then acted as best I could, considering my parenting flew in the face of general society. This apparently is not something a new mother should do when she needs support in her early years as a mother. It may be what she has to do, but it comes at a price.Things have changed somewhat on this front, but I suspect I offended a lot of observing people with both my ignorance and my determination. I don’t really care anymore. Everybody survived.

Almost a couple of decades later I still love to read, even if it’s about reading. At present I’m reading Enchanted Hunters: the power of stories in childhood by Maria Tatar. Books represent some of the possibilities of relationships for me. They have also served as a source of truth and other information (ok, lies) that led me from one path to another until I came to the point I am at in my life now. I have learned to value truth, and learned from my mistakes. I have even developed a taste for non fiction.

And I love reading to my kids. We consumed books when they were really little. I read twenty books in one sitting, or one book twenty times. I got to the point where I would lie in bed reciting Goodnight Moon to my nursing child as we rested from the world, wrapped in the soft touch of our cozy dark night. Young children are a great gift of magic for us, one of the greatest resources the world will ever know. It was always assumed that they were a never-ending resource, but these days I mourn that they are becoming one of those fragile nonrenewable resources that activist groups demand legislative protection for. Except that experience shows how legislation tends to fail children. And childhood.

So I parented by books for a long time there.I also read most books before my children do. I’m sure to repeat myself on this topic, but I am amazed that so many people who declare that fruits and vegetables are far superior to twinkies or even white bread have no such sense of discrimination when it comes to what goes in a kid’s head. I don’t rely on books that carry the self-righteous whiff of good-for-you stuffiness that pretends to teach kids things of worth while surely teaching them to despise the good in the library. I mean the honestly good stuff. Some of this may change from family to family, but over all, the classics are classics because they have stood the test of time. So serve a heaping plateful of The Secret Garden, with some comic books on the side. Then break the rules and serve comic books all Saturday morning as the rain comes down.

Books are a large part of my life, a spiritual guidance, a mental stimulation, a historical perspective, a glorious two page art spread, a clever comic strip. They are my mistakes: when I was really into vampires, I stumbled across a book at the library titled The Book of the Dead and gleefully carried it home, thinking, “Oh, cool! The Egyptians wrote monster stories too!” Only when I cracked that tome open, I discovered something entirely different: a ‘new’ culture, a spiritual treatise, an ancient story from a real people. The English was lined up just below the hieroglyphics on each page. I very nearly, accidentally, joyously, turned into an archeologist right then and there. My inner linguist did begin to bud. I spent hours with that thing, feeling my mind open in ways I didn’t usually encounter. It was a delightful, heady experience. I was sorry to let that particular copy go back- I considered stealing it and telling them I had lost it. That temptation only happened rarely- another was the incredible copy of Treasure Island I checked out of the library one summer. Between the text and the illustrations, I was transported to salt smells and sweltering high seas and scarred, desperate pirates with their rough ropes and harsh language. Yeah, I wanted to steal that book, too. I didn’t, and I’m glad. If I really want to, I can do some pretty intense searches on the internet for lost books of my childhood- I got myself a copy of The Man Who Lost His Head, didn’t I? And Waldo, The Jumping Dragon? But while the book represents so much for me, getting a copy now would not necessarily work. The memory of the event, that book in that scratchy green chair with the summer drifting in through open windows, one skinny leg thrown over the arm rest, thick glasses curving my world, the edge of the binding digging into my leg, why, that IS part of Treasure Island for me now. It just is. The Book of the Dead I read flat on my stomach on the floor of the same living room. I made a fist for my chin to rest in, and eventually neck and hand and eyes tired. I was forced by my mortality to get up and tend to my body!

Now that’s books for ya. My kids have some pretty deep relationships with their favorites as well. They share a similar love for some of the same books, taught me to love new ones, and then on top of everything else we enjoy having different tastes as well. My husband was the one who got me seriously considering non-fiction as well. I don’t read the non-fiction he does (not into battles all that much, thank you), but a good author biography will soothe my mortal nerves when I need it.

Reading isn’t a hobby that elicits a lot of interest when you mention it at a party. Reading is usually pretty anti-social, unless it is a serious interest where two bibliophiles stumble into a discussion about the changes in character growth in something like Harry Potter and some other thing like the Earthsea series. Or how old they were when they finally discovered the Little House series. Or how series compare with stand-alones. Yeah, this ain’t football stats. It has its own world (worlds) to move between. It is tightly tied to the dock of childhood, and I feel strangely for children who sail off into adulthood without their proper consignment of fables and tales stashed below decks. The magic of childhood is magnified and transformed when we read; whether as children or as the parents, the effect is, not the same, but similar. Reading a book is like many aspects of life that have a two-edged binding. It has a beginning, and it has to end. It remains to be seen what we manage to take with us, and what we leave behind.

There are limits, and then there are limits

I’ve been so busy that I haven’t had a single chance to post on here. I have barely had a chance to consider what I would like to post on here. I have written no letters, watched little TV, listened to few things, risen early, multi-tasked for hours, made lists, plowed through the things on the lists, forgotten a few details from the lists, making bread for a friend, done laundry, paid bills, and begun to feel vaguely irritable. My phone rang at least two dozen times yesterday, and I received several emails that were school oriented. So I had a multitude of phone calls to make regarding church and emails to reply to and papers to sign and forms to fill out. There’s a surprise school meeting Thursday. Did I mention the growing irritability that made me wonder how some men are able to sock a hole in a wall? I was feeling jealous, on top of the rest.

So today I rose early yet again, and crossed off several things on my list that needed done. Phone calls, emails, and mailing a package. I told myself I would take care of only so many more chores today and then I would power down and idle my mind in warm and gentle places. Let my body rest. Soothe myself. Scritch some ink and pen across paper.

Except while I was watching my daughter shoot arrows for archery practice, there was one moment where neither of us happened to see where the arrow went. I thought I saw its general trajectory. Well, after nearly an hour of searching this morning and with plans for more searches this afternoon, I doubt every thought I ever had about this arrow. Except maybe the thought that I might like finding it if it spontaneously combusted and so showed where it had landed.

My daughter only has two arrows. She now only has one.

So I am trying to look at this in a good light: getting lots of fresh air. The weather is mild. It’s only an arrow. We are tested with the unexpected, and can plumb our depths in dealing with such things. We get to pray over an arrow.

Nevermind that the yard is about half an acre with red and yellow leaves all over it, the same colors as the fletching of the arrow. Nevermind the ache in my arms from raking. Or that my daughter tried using a magnet on a string to find the metal tip of the arrow…and now the magnet is lost in the yard. It’s actually kind of cute, that part, really. I was just hoping to power down this afternoon. Shes been sick lately so I didn’t let her stay out too terribly long. And she still has some classes to do.

This stuff happens. I’m dealing with it pretty well. I’m too old to lose a lot of energy and make myself sick over it. It will turn up, or it won’t. I will go out for one more hour, rake and search, and then come in for tea and an episode of some old TV show. Supper will be left overs. Errands tonight will now be the absolute minimal. Because of an arrow? Because I’m tired? Because the week is getting to me? Because I am trying to learn to NOT get myself painted into a corner? Yes. Yes, yes, and yes.

I’m going to adopt a little zen to help me get through, some Christian peace and hope.

I will end with a quote I read today, because I managed to get in twenty minutes of reading today, that’s all…but maybe it was just enough:

“It’s too early to despair. For despair,” he said vigorously, “it is always too early. Remember that, and keep up your heart.”

-from Ellis Peters’ 7th Chronicle of Brother Cafael, The Sanctuary Sparrow.

Hallowe’en Pet

kitty

This being a week before Hallowe’en I got all silly and conjured a poem. I like long poems that run on, and now I have mastered the art of clip art insertion, so y’all might want to look away.

house 1

Hallowe’en Pet

by Lora Reynolds

“Oh Mother oh Mother

come quick and come see:

I’ve just brought home

a little monster with me!”

cutie

“Sonny, oh Son

What’s got into your head?

This thing, it might eat us,

and kill us ’til dead!”

“No Mom, no way,

he’s just a wee thing

when he clenches his fangs

you can hear his ears sing!”

“Sonny, oh boy,

this just will not work.

The rules say ‘no pets’

and the landlord’s a jerk.”

“But Mom he’s so cute

and so awfully alone.

It’s dark out and rainy-

just one night? At home?”

“Why not a unicorn

like when I was a kid?

Or a useful sad elf

like your grandfather did?”

“Those live in forests

of magic and trees,

not behind thrift stores

in lonely alleys.”

“So that’s where you’ve been!

I’ve been calling all day.

You were in the back streets

where the weirdos all play!”

“They’re not weird, no,

just misunderstood.

They have lots of fun

in their magical ‘hood.”

“Fun is fine

’til someone gets hurt.

Stay away from them now

and wash off that dirt.”

“What about Frankie?

I want him here safe.

I want him to stay,

he’s just a poor waif!”

tear

“For one night tonight

and one night alone.

He’s still not your pet,

but I’ll throw you a bone.”

“Oh thank you dear mother!

I promise this much:

no bloodshed, no fires,

no screaming and such!”

“Now go do your homework,

now go do your chores.

Your dad’ll be home soon

to argue some more.”

“So help me, Mom,

make Dad for to see

how Frankie is very,

very good for me.”

“I suppose it’s ok.

I’ll do what I can.

Afterall, your dear father

once had a wolfman.”

wolf

“Oh Frankie, let’s run

up the stairs and go bide.

‘Til Dad says ‘ok’

you’d better go hide.”

“Frankie, oh Frankie!

Let go of the cat.

Dad says it’s ok now;

you’re home and that’s that!”

The End.

boo

Recipe: insta cake

>SEE UPDATE by scrolling down<

This is my chance to get some posts in before I get back into the regular school week. We have a day off to observe Columbus Day, which, like most traditional holidays, is under attack for being politically uncool. So today I finally made a recipe that has been tacked to my bulletin board for a few years.

These are the ingredients:

one box of flavored cake mix and one box of 1-step angel food cake mix.

Here are the instructions:

Mix both boxes together in a bag to mix evenly, then transfer to a container that seals well.

To make one tiny cake, mix 3 Tb mix with 1 Tb water in a microwaveable bowl. The mix will swell so use a bowl at least twice as big as the wet mix.

Microwave for 1 minute.

Cool, then eat.

This makes a tiny little yellow cake, very sweet and light. I finally made it today, and I think I am sorry. Everyone in the family is now able to make many, many tiny little cakes.

And now the sweet evil shall spread.

baker

This is how we do things at home. 😉

UPDATE:

After experimenting, I just want to shout out that this recipe NEEDS adjusting. The first issue we encountered is the wattage of our microwave- ours is high, and tends to burn every other insta cake. So we cook for about 50 seconds. Also, we think the ratio of dry to liquid is skewed- it seems to need more liquid. Finally, every other little cup or bowl seems to need its own cook time, depending on size and shape. I’m not really interested in developing a recipe for each and every size and shape of cup or mug stacked in the cupboard. The good news is this stuff tastes kinda good if it is a little burnt, kinda like burnt microwave popcorn. And we get to experiment some more. Sacrifices in the name of kitchen science must be made! 😉

Book review: Life is a Miracle

It’s been a while since I posted. I want to do creative writing, but haven’t had enough creative urge. I was tempted to add another older write of mine on here, and I will get to that eventually. But I took down a book from the shelf this morning and started reading through just for the parts I had underlined. This can be a real relief when a person wants to read but can’t focus at the moment. The book is Wendell Berry’s Life is a Miracle: an essay against modern superstition. Here’s the cover:

Life is a Miracle: An Essay Against Modern Superstition

Here are some of the extensive underlinings I wandered through as I revisited this book:

“To treat life as less than a miracle is to give up on it.”

“To trust “progress” or our putative “genius” to solve all the problems that we cause is worse than bad science; it is bad religion.”

“For things cannot survive as categories but only as individual creatures living uniquely where they live.”

“The hard and binding requirement that freedom must answer, if it is to last, or if in any meaningful sense it is to exist, is that of responsibility.”

“One cannot, in honesty, propose to reconcile Heaven and Earth by denying the existence of Heaven.”

“We should abandon the idea that this world and our human life in it can be brought by science to some sort of mechanical perfection or predictability.”

“Resist classification.”

“An idea of health that does not generously and gracefully accommodate the fact of death is obviously incomplete.”

And those are the short ones. I have plenty of paragraphs marked all the way through as well. Berry is either a naturalist poet or a poetic naturalist. He uses reason without ignoring emotion and in fact embraces emotion as part of the overall compass we use to navigate through life. I rarely hear this kind of respect towards listeners or readers from environmentalists or scientific minds. Berry is organic. He has a well rounded completeness to him that I don’t observe in many people engaged in the large public discourses over humanity, Earth, the individual, and freedom and responsibility. Berry also does not try and define my life by his rules. This alone makes me want to cry just from relief.

In conclusion, this is a fantastic book, one long essay with many facets. This is the kind of stuff I think about and this is how I think about it, except Berry expresses it so much more clearly. His is a vital, prophetic voice in our nation, and I cannot emphasize enough that everyone should become familiar with his writing. Not only does he present urgent warnings as a naturalist (not as an environmentalist!) but his writing by its very style breaks with resounding thunder the frantic rationalizations of our media-soaked Molotov cocktail version of democratic discourse.
Anyway, some of the absolute best writing I have encountered in a very long time. His writing will prove timeless as well, because it discusses timeless themes: man, nature, woman, seeds, soil, seasons, thought, writing, imagination, freedom, responsibility, connection, and so much more.
Stunning writing. He always makes me cry, or lose my breath, or want to run down the street shouting quotes to the neighbors.
A short book, a big keeper.