Friday, December 31, 2010

Poetry Friday: Day, and Year, Are Done

On this last day of the year, it seems fitting to jump aboard Poetry Friday with a poem by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow that exudes quiet reflection. I'm dedicating this to my friend Stefani, who found the poem and sent it to me after reading an allusion to it in my (and now her!) beloved Betsy-Tacy books.

I'm also dedicating it to fellow lovers of words, to my much-appreciated readers and encouragers, and to those who, like me, look for the benediction to be found in songs amidst "the restless pulse of care." May your nights be filled with music.

Day is Done

The day is done, and the darkness
Falls from the wings of Night,
As a feather is wafted downward
From an eagle in his flight.

I see the lights of the village
Gleam through the rain and the mist,
And a feeling of sadness comes o'er me
That my soul cannot resist:

A feeling of sadness and longing,
That is not akin to pain,
And resembles sorrow only
As the mist resembles the rain.

Come, read to me some poem,
Some simple and heartfelt lay,
That shall soothe this restless feeling,
And banish the thoughts of day.

Not from the grand old masters,
Not from the bards sublime,
Whose distant footsteps echo
Through the corridors of Time.

For, like strains of martial music,
Their mighty thoughts suggest
Life's endless toil and endeavor;
And to-night I long for rest.

Read from some humbler poet,
Whose songs gushed from his heart,
As showers from the clouds of summer,
Or tears from the eyelids start;

Who, through long days of labor,
And nights devoid of ease,
Still heard in his soul the music
Of wonderful melodies.

Such songs have power to quiet
The restless pulse of care,
And come like the benediction
That follows after prayer.

Then read from the treasured volume
The poem of thy choice,
And lend to the rhyme of the poet
The beauty of thy voice.

And the night shall be filled with music
And the cares, that infest the day,
Shall fold their tents, like the Arabs,
And as silently steal away.

- Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Thursday, December 30, 2010

The Voyage of the Dawn Treader

Loved it!

Admittedly, we're diehard fans of all things Narnia. The kids have probably seen The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe twenty times. 

Admittedly, a few movie clich├ęs come into play here -- you know, the requisite climactic-battle-with-large-monster scene. 

However! All caveats out on the table, I'd say it's definitely worth seeing. In fact, please do. Let's send the powers-that-be the message that there's a market for clean, adventuresome family entertainment that a) contains no fart jokes and b) works in layers of meaning that appeal to both adults and kids. 

Also, our teenaged heroine jumps right into the fencing scenes instead of cowering in the corner. 

Also, Eliza correctly observed that "King Caspian is nice to look at." 

Also, Plugged In, our go-to source for family-friendly entertainment, gave a favorable review. 

(As an aside, I'd choose to watch a movie with my kids that might be rated PG, might contain some mild language (which Dawn Treader does not) or purposeful violence (which it does) but has something worth saying, something uplifting about what it means to be human and alive, something with a theme that's not  hackneyed to death, something that gives them something to strive for --rather than a lame animated kiddie flick held together by sight gags and potty humor, G-rated thought it may be. And yes, I do appreciate well-done humor, so don't admonish me for being a stick-in-the-mud.)

Soapbox moment officially concluded. Hope you all are enjoying your holiday week!

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Snow ...

In the bleak mid-winter 

  Frosty wind made moan,

Earth stood hard as iron, 

  Water like a stone;

Snow had fallen, snow on snow, 

  Snow on snow,

In the bleak mid-winter

  Long ago.

- Christina Rosetti

May your noses be rosy, your fireplaces crackling, and your chocolate hot! 

Thursday, December 23, 2010

In Which I Run Completely Out of Gas

Hey friends, it's been a little quiet around this Quiet Spot (I NEED A NEW BLOG NAME IN THE WORST WAY -- SUGGESTIONS???). The busier the days, the quieter the Spot. And so it goes.

The other day, already late to a service project we were doing with a few other families, we ran out of gas completely. On the highway. Go me! We managed to get ourselves onto the exit ramp and then onto a stretch of grass where we'd be safe from marauding mini-vans. You see, the Professor has been spoiling me by filling up the van on weekends lately, and apparently I'm quite spoil-able, because I've already fallen out of the habit of checking the gas gauge. Go me!

As I awaited the arrival of my Knight with Shining Gas Can, I fought feelings of frustration over our lot. Who shows up an hour late for a service project? Us, that's who. Then, itching for a distraction, I reached down and grabbed my copy of Having A Mary Heart in a Martha World. It's been neglected since I last wrote about it -- why do we so often resist and procrastinate what we need most?

Here's something I read, waiting alongside the highway with my kids strapped into their seatbelts. It's a quote from C.S. Lewis:
"He seems to do nothing of Himself which He can possibly delegate to His creatures. He commands us to do slowly and blunderingly what He could do perfectly and in the twinkling of an eye."


I also read about Jesus ministering to all kinds of folks as He went on His way, as He went out of His way, and in all kinds of ways. And about how like Jesus, we need to love God's "rag dolls." Are you a rag doll? Even sometimes? Or know one of them? Maybe not the shiniest toy on the shelf? Maybe kind of like my old Polly, who for years was missing one felt eye? Maybe a bit beat-up, a bit cast-off by others? These are the ones for whom God goes out of His way. Others may lavish attention on the Madame Alexanders of the world, but God loves and pursues His rag dolls. And "slowly and blunderingly," in oneness with Him, we can too. 

Sometimes it takes a breakdown on the highway, amidst a flurry of doing-doing-doing, to get us to hear His quieting voice. 

Another thought. This Saturday some of you will gather with family or just your own small circle, sharing a special and long-anticipated time. For others of you, it's just another day. These verses really spoke to me this year: 

5 One man considers one day more sacred than another; another man considers every day alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind. 6 He who regards one day as special, does so to the Lord. He who eats meat, eats to the Lord, for he gives thanks to God; and he who abstains, does so to the Lord and gives thanks to God. 7 For none of us lives to himself alone and none of us dies to himself alone. 8 If we live, we live to the Lord; and if we die, we die to the Lord. So, whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord. (Romans 14:5-8)

Regardless of what you do or don't do for Christmas, I'll leave you with a prayer that burst from my son at his grandparents' table. It surprised me. "Lord, thank You that You laid aside Your position in heaven and became a mortal man." Amen, buddy. Amen. 

And last of all, this made me laugh ... and cry, because I am a Bonafide Sap.  It's hard to imagine a better day at the mall. 

Monday, December 20, 2010

Multitude Monday VIII

Good Monday Morning!

Our friend Melissa snapped a few shots of us this weekend. We shamelessly bribed the kids to cooperate and smile like normal people for the camera. So, my list today starts with her:

68. Melissa, for her generosity with her time and talents.

69. Dinner outdoors at a trailer park eatery, lit by a fire pit and glowing lights.

70. My kids' quirks, which help me be more patient and accepting of their quirkiest friends.

71. Piling on to the bed together to watch "Babies" ... again. My girls and I especially love this documentary, which says so much with so few words. And it's available for watching instantly on Netflix.

72. An Epsom salt bath after a long run.

73. Discounted Nutcracker tickets ... because I ran into an old friend whose two teenaged boys (yes, boys) are performing in it.

74. Reading Jotham's Journey together at dinner, candles flickering.

75. The sweetness between Eliza and her brother -- the way their differences complement each other, the way they rely on each other, the way she snuggles up to him while we're watching "Babies" on the bed and he doesn't mind.

76. A five year old who still crawls in with us some nights, warm and pink and golden-haired.

77. The way my brother Peter still invents new words in his text messages. Like, "disfortunately." As in, disfortunately despite my desire to do so my wife and I won't be able to join you in Boston for the holidays. (Note: not perceiving that last bit as a gift, quite frankly.)

78. My craftsy mother's helper, BethAnn. She even got Ian doing beady little whats-its, and her enthusiasm for building gingerbread castles out of graham crackers and sugar cubes knew no bounds. Full-time moms: I highly, highly recommend snagging a mother's helper for a few hours every week or two. Just do it. Seriously.

79. The grace, in parenting, to let certain things go. To ask myself, "Does it really matter?" To say "no" to myself and then "yes" to them. Ian was all excited to get Eliza a Christmas present, but then he just couldn't stand to leave it wrapped for another week. Having the decision foisted on her, she called me while I was out doing errands to see if she could open it (they both knew it was a Nerf gun, that bane of my existence). I wanted to say no, of course. I wanted to reiterate the lecture about "good things are worth waiting for" along with a cautionary "won't you be happier to have it to open during our family gift exchange?" Then I thought, "Whose need is that? How important is it? Isn't it the spirit of generosity that matters most here?"

She opened the gift. Life marches on. And my house is a minefield of Nerf bullets. Amen.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Letter to Santa

Dear Santa Claus,

So I'm hip to the fact that you don't actually, factually, exist. So are my kids, quite honestly -- although they've been told 'til the cows come home not to burst other kids' bubbles in this respect. But. If you happen to be swooping through the skies in my neighborhood next week, would you consider dropping off the following?

Carney's House Party/Winona's Pony Cart: Two Deep Valley Books (P.S.)Carney's House Party/Winona's Pony Cart: Two Deep Valley Books 
Emily of Deep Valley: A Deep Valley Book (P.S.)Emily of Deep Valley: A Deep Valley Book

I've had my eye on them quite steadfastly, as any good Betsy-Tacy lover should, ever since their reissue last month. I promise to only treasure them but also to share them with a friend. Just sayin.'

Why do I deserve such a token of good fortune? Have I been especially well-behaved? Well, Santa, consider this. This week I was part of an attentive audience of about fifty Book-of-Luke-reading children and adults when my kid blurted out, "What's a virgin??"

Santa, I rest my case.

Your long-suffering, still-blushing, disbelieving friend.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

I Saw Mommy Kissing Shutterfly

Hello, friends. Thanks for your sweet well-wishes; the return to good health continues apace. And now, on an entirely unrelated note (after all, who really wants to read about flu symptoms ad nauseum, pardon the pun?) ... let's talk holiday cards.

I LOVE getting cards in the mail. Some of them are from you guys! Yea for that! They're all beautiful. Well, guess what? We don't even have a family picture yet, so don't hold your breath for ours. It's coming, though. If you want one and I don't have your address, please email me.

So Shutterfly is running a little blogger promotion where they provide 50 free photo cards. Yup, that's right, FIFTY. All you have to do is post about why Shutterfly is the cat's pajamas, basically. And for me, that is no problem AT ALL. Because promotion or no promotion, I really do love Shutterfly. Here's why:

1. Calendars - Each year I make a photo calendar, using Photoshop Elements, for both sides of the family as a homemade gift. Does it take hours? Of course! But it's worth it, because not only do they seem super happy when they open their calendars and review the year's memories, but also we get a month-by-month reminder of pleasant times spent together -- or of just how weird we can look when we put our minds to it.  Here's a sample from last year's calendar:

 Of course, it doesn't need to take hours -- you can go really simple-but-elegant with Shutterfly's drag-and-drop options.

2. Service - So I finished my calendar project last Wednesday. I chose priority shipping, just in case -- but no fancy overnight express or anything. Guess when those things hit my mailbox??? Friday. As in, two days later. I was completely freaked out. I have no idea how Shutterfly worked this kind of magic. But procrastinators rejoice! If you're still casting about for a meaningful gift, they *may* work the same magic for you.

3. Photo books - It took months of stolen moments here and there, but I made a digital scrapbook of our trip to Mexico. Printed it at Shutterfly during one of their frequent sales. Here's a sample page:

4. Holiday cards - I love the designs churned out by their team of top-flight, artsy designers, love how easy they are to make, love how you can make them for Christmas, New Year's, Thanksgiving, whatever you want to do. And they come with envelopes. Oh, and I recently saw how someone turned a goofy wedding photo into a very respectable-looking thank you note. I think I may steal that idea for our thank-you notes this year and print up a batch.

What about you? Do you send out greetings at the end (or beginning) of the year? Have you finished yours or are you hearing time's winged chariot drawing near?

Monday, December 13, 2010

Multitude Monday VII

Wow, this was so not the weekend I had planned. Visions of family photos, church outing, neighborhood holiday party, Children's Meeting service, errands ... they all went up in smoke as I lay in bed, a slothful victim of something acting like the flu. So here we go -- thankful for ...

54. Enforced rest -- perhaps I needed it?

55. The knowledge that nothing, even inconvenient illness, happens by accident.

56. A functioning immune system.

57. Kleenex -- for the Weddell Sea of mucus that's still pouring from my sinuses. (Like the geographical reference? Like the mental image, which you'll try to erase from your memory next time you see me? Huh? Do ya?)

58. A husband who turns on the heating pad five minutes before I slide between the sheets at night.

59. The whispered words across the pillow -- and y'all, as God is my witness, I am not making this up -- "Mommy, you are mine and I am yours. Your banner over me is pure love." Garnished with a kiss. I am undone.

60. Running water, so easy from the faucet. I'm battling constant feelings of dehydration and yet, so aware that I don't have to walk a mile or more to the nearest well.

61. Books that carry a sickbed far, far away. (I read In the Company of Others in its entirety, and finished The Happiness Project)

62. Holiday cards arriving in the mail, alight with beautiful faces.

63. Pandora radio, for allowing me to listen to the transporting "O Holy Night" and "In the Bleak Midwinter" without having to put up with the barf-o-rific "Santa Baby" and its syrupy cousins.

64. Comforting soup delivered by Vanessa.

65.  A new read-aloud sent by my mom: The Fledgling.

66. Friends who share my love for books -- and like my book recommendations :-).

67. That mountain of laundry waiting to be folded and -- ah, herculean task! -- PUT AWAY. It means we have clothes, threads aplenty, to wear. Clean ones, even. Smooth, wrinkle-free ... wait a minute. Now THERE I'm getting carried away

Friday, December 10, 2010

On Reading Old Favorites

"How life affirming it is to find that the writing that held my attention as a young reader still could do that decades later. Good writing, good stories live on in the reader's head, and they are easily renewed and become once again unstoppable like the ocean; they offer readers and writers a kind of ... yes, immortality."
Ship of the Line (Hornblower Saga)                                                                   - Abraham Verghese, author of Cutting for Stone

Note: This quote, which I LOVE, came from an opinion piece on NPR in which Verghese discusses his lifelong love of C.S. Forester's Ship of the Line (Hornblower Saga). For those who've never discovered the Hornblower books, you might give them a try -- the Professor recommends them. (He loves books about boats, for some reason.) I haven't read them myself, but we own and have watched and re-watched the entire Horatio Hornblower Boxed SetRecommended for at-home date nights, in case your symphony tickets and exclusive four-star dinner reservation falls through. You know, just in case. 

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Tis the season

Hello, friends. Just a brief post tonight because I have a HORRIBLE head cold that has me basically imprisoned in my bed waiting for a sledgehammer to just polish me off. In short, I look, sound, and feel like I belong on a Mucinex commercial. Good times.

So my plans for the week's academics have gone up in wisps of smoke, but in a stroke of good fortune, I downloaded an iPad app (which you can also get for the iPhone or iPod Touch) called Stack the States. It's been huge hit around here today, combining plenty of U.S. Geography with a little Tetris-like strategic stacking. With each level passed, you earn a state for your map, with the goal of collecting all fifty. If I had the clever skills, I'd show you a screen shot.

Suffice it to say, we recommend with two thumbs up! And hooray for the flexibility of homeschooling when mom gets hit by a Mack truck!

Monday, December 6, 2010

Multitude Monday VI

We're a bit puny around these parts today. Eliza spent two days sick last week, one of them vomiting up everything that dared invade her gut (like water). Now I  have a cold, Ian's asleep on the couch, and we're lying low. Which just gives me extra time to count my blessings!

41. Bethany's continued improvement. In fact, she may get out of the ICU today! Note to self: Do not, under any circumstances, contract LeMierre's Syndrome.

42. Jayna, my buddy from Saturday morning running group. Not only has she stepped up to the plate to lead our pace group while our coach is injured, but every single week she has something genuinely encouraging to say to me. Like, "If you have to slow down to finish this week, just do it. I won't leave you no matter what." Or, "You're really improving on the hills!" Everyone needs a cheerleader like that. It's an awful lot like the Holy Spirit in our Christian race. Except He doesn't wear Dri-Fit T-shirts.

43. Glowing leaves collected on a morning run.

44. Moments like these:

45. A boy named Matthew Evans, for showing my watchful son what a bright, hardworking, responsible, patient seventeen-year-old with well-defined goals looks like.

46. This baby. Not just because I was there when he was born. Not just because he's cute and I love his mom. But because he reached out his arms for me today and let me hold him and snuggled his little head into my shoulder. Danger!

47. My friend Jenny. Five years ago I was recovering from double pneumonia with a newborn at my side. Jenny (another day I'll tell you how we met) and her husband Will and their two kids drove the hour and a half to our house and stayed for the weekend, catching us up on laundry and entertaining my two older kids. Four weeks later, they returned to help us pack up the house. They were the last ones to leave that fateful night when we left a dark, cold, completely empty house behind -- and we were too busy calling Poison Control about the substance her two year old might have ingested in our garage to think about looking back and weeping -- or becoming pillars of salt. I still miss her.

48. The way hot chocolate made from scratch in the morning warms little tummies and hearts.

49. My five-year-old's lingering faith in me. Yesterday, she asked me why we have eardrums. I attempted an explanation of how, y'know, the sound, like, travels through our ear canal? And, um, hits and eardrum and makes it vibrate? And that sort of sends a signal to the brain to interpret what we're hearing? Upon further questioning, I grew more vague, and just as I gave up all hope and began the "Ohmygosh, am I physically incapable of retaining scientific information???" routine, she gasped, "Mom! It's like you're a DOCTOR. You know so much about how our bodies work!"

50. Gathering around the table to sing:
            "Come, Desire of Nations, come;
              Fix in us Thy humble home.
              Rise, the woman's conquering seed;
              Bruise in us the serpent's head.
              Adam's likeness now efface,
              Stamp Thine image in its place,
              Final Adam from above,  
              Reinstate us in Thy love." (Hark, the Herald Angels ... verse 4)

51. My brother Paul, who always answers my emails, often with lightning speed.

52. Vanessa, my faithful morning prayer partner for over four years.

53. Lights on houses everywhere that remind me that He is the light of the world -- and this light shines in the darkness, and the darkness cannot overcome it. (John 1:4)

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Learning I'M Loving: The Teaching Company

Okay, folks, this one's just for the full-grown among us. You know how when you tear out of the halls of higher learning with that diploma, you think you've left your classroom days far, far behind you ... until the day you decide that maybe, just maybe -- you miss those days? Or you know how when you become a parent and your days turn into a litany of nursing, burping, diapers and Boynton board books, you feel the neurons in that certain part of your brain raising their hands in mass surrender?

(True statement: Until I had kids, I was a whiz with names and faces. And even people's phone numbers. I mean, not like a RainMan kind of whiz, but just, you know, above average. Then it all liquefied into breastmilk. Now my kids are reasonably smart, and I bumble and fumble my way along.)

ANYWAY. A few months ago, my sympathetic mom, still interested in providing for her kids' education, bought me a couple series of CD's from The Teaching Company. One was called The Art of Reading, the other Building Great Sentences: Exploring the Writer's Craft. I know, I know: I'm a woman of far-ranging interests.

The courses, available on DVD or on CD, comprise a series of lectures from professors who are not only experts in their fields, but also award-winning teachers. (As anyone who's ever been to school knows, an great expert and a great teacher ain't always the same thing.) The Teaching Company offers a huge array of fascinating topics, and best of all, they always have some titles on sale. Like, as in, 70% off kind of sale.

I listen to the CD's when I'm alone in the car -- so it's taking me a while to inch my way through them. But it's fun to engage the intellect as a student. Better yet, I'd love to listen with a group and discuss the ideas together. But for now, I get to be the top ten percent of my class! The brightest star in my minivan classroom!

By the way, these would probably make a pretty neat Christmas/Hanukkah/whateveryoucelebrate gift for someone brainy, wannabe-brainy, or used-to-be-brainy in your life. Just sayin'.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Learning We're Loving: This Day in History

I have a couple things in mind I'd like to share with you -- tools for learning,  if you will. And I don't mean just for the kids, either. Some are for big folks like us. I'm  helpful that way.

This one's really for both kids AND adults. Last month we discovered, and subscribed to, something called This Day in History from TJEd Online. This is a fantastically well-researched daily dose of what ends up being a springboard for discussion and learning. And the springboard is as springy as you want it to be. In other words, you do as much or as little as your audience has interest or attention span.

Basically, each day there's information about something or someone who's connected to that date in history. Today, for example, was the 55th anniversary of Rosa Parks' refusal to yield her seat on that fateful bus ride in Montgomery, Alabama. Yesterday was Mark Twain's birthday. You get the idea.

Along with the information, there's a picture or two, some links for further exploration, and prompts for discussion or further research. You could really follow some interesting rabbit trails, as "way leads on to way," (thanks to Robert Frost for that one), printing out word searches and heading to the library with book recommendations in hand ... or just stick with the basics and leave them hungry for more. (I'm a fan of not inundating children with more information than they ask for. If the eyes glaze over, we've gone too far.)

I think my kids are getting a fair amount of meaty learning out of this (we do it at the breakfast table, before or after Bible reading; yes, our breakfast time happens at a tortoise pace). And I KNOW I am!

Oh, and if you don't homeschool your kiddos, I could totally see doing this as a family dinnertime endeavor. Makes for tasty conversation.

And finally, I would tell you all this anyway, just because I'm excited about it, but in the interest of full disclosure, if anyone actually subscribes to the service and wants to mention my name, I think I get some sort of little reward. Somewhere between a lollipop and a new VitaMix. But lots closer to the lollipop. :-)