Wednesday, June 19, 2019

Bits and Pieces of Our Days

June is doing its usual thing, and by "usual thing" I mean, "careening past me at an insane speed that should get it stopped by a state patrolman immediately and, possibly, it should even do some jail time."


We love our local arts center and last month Ramona got to sing at an arts center fundraiser. Her voice teacher is a dear friend of mine (and an amazing singer) and she had several of her students sing that night, which was lovely. Ramona sang "Stars and the Moon" (which I had never heard until her recital last month and now I'm obsessed with it. Beautiful song.)

When I started this blog, Ramona was three years old, and my reports on her went something like this:

from April, 2006, age 3:

She wanted a brownie last night. It was fine with me, and I started to cut one for her. She looked at the pan and an anguished look overtook her face. She threw herself down on the floor with a groan. 
"What's the matter? I thought you wanted a brownie!"
"I do-o-o-o," she whined from her pitiful spot on the floor. "But I was assuming they were frosted."

... and now she's singing about the men in her life. Well, okay, not actually in her life -- men in the life of the character singing "Stars and the Moon," but you know what I mean. Times have changed. The kid quotes are different these days. They still sometimes make it to Twitter or Instagram (because she's one of the funniest people I know and she can wickedly snark with the best of them), but I mostly try to respect her privacy. But some things never change. I posted this in January of 2006, and it's still true:

"Mommy, you'd be very sad without my fwiendship." 
       ~~ Ramona, age 3 
(Does she know she's providing me with material on a daily basis?)

Here's a recent, 16-yr.-old Ramona story:

Her: Mom, remember when we first watched Mary Poppins? When there was the run on the bank, I said I didn't know what that was, so we stopped the movie and for 15 minutes, you explained it to me, and we talked about the Great Depression, and then we finished watching the movie together. And that, in a nutshell, is my childhood.

Me: Oh! I'm sorry! Did I ruin the movie for you?

Her: No! I loved it. I meant that in a good way!

Indeed, I would be very sad without my daughters' friendship.


Recent reading: 

Oh, so many good books! They need their own post. I've read about 30 books so far this year, but when did I last blog about them? Where shall I start? Oh, dear, this is anguish on the level of a three-year-old who was assuming she'd get a frosted brownie. 

I'll start with a list of what I read in May, and thus far in June: 

Crossing to Safety, by Wallace Stegner (Beautiful.) 
The Silent Patient, by Alex Michaelides (Not what I expected, had hoped for something...different.) 
Macy McMillan and the Rainbow Goddess, by Shari Green (Lovely.) 
Harry's Trees, by Jon Cohen (Also lovely.) 
Introverted Mom, by Jamie Martin (Spot on and a fun read.) 
The River, by Peter Heller (Kind of a gut-wrench, but in a beautiful way.) 
The Plant Paradox, by Steven Gundry (Interesting. My family gets frightened, though, when I read a new book about food. They wonder what I'll be doing to our diet next.) 

I have not been doing justice to books here on the blog. I must remedy that. 


I'm teaching two classes for Brave Writer in the fall, and registration is already open. I'll be teaching The Writer's Jungle Online in September and Middle School Writing Projects (which is already filling up fast) in October. You can check out all the Brave Writer offerings here

Friday, June 14, 2019

Poetry Friday: June Light, by Richard Wilbur

I'm not sure what's more beautiful than an evening in June with Richard Wilbur ... 
and this one is particularly swoon-worthy. 

June Light
by Richard Wilbur

Your voice, with clear location of June days,
Called me outside the window. You were there,
Light yet composed, as in the just soft stare
(Read it here, at


Laura Shovan has the round-up this week, and it's a truly delightful one. 
She's poet-in-residence at Northfield Elementary School, and today she's sharing
first drafts from aspiring, third-grade poets. Join the fun here

Friday, May 31, 2019

Poetry Friday: Naomi Shihab Nye and The Creativity Project

Mary Lee, at A Year of Reading, has the round-up today. She's celebrating Naomi Shihab Nye, so I thought I'd join in that bit of poetic goodness.

Mary Lee played around with this delightful prompt (and wrote a delightful poem):

"Write a list of ten things you are NOT (not an astronaut, a perfectionist, a wool spinner, a butterfly, a name-caller). Then pick your favorite lines and develop, or embellish, them, adding metaphors, more description, whatever you like."

That's just one of Naomi Shihab Nye's prompts from this book (which just went on my wish list):

Edited by Colby Sharp, The Creativity Project is full of writing prompts, plus a huge bonus. Here's the teaser from Amazon: 

Colby Sharp invited more than forty authors and illustrators to provide story starters for each other; photos, drawings, poems, prose, or anything they could dream up. When they received their prompts, they responded by transforming these seeds into any form of creative work they wanted to share.
The result is a stunning collection of words, art, poetry, and stories by some of our most celebrated children book creators. A section of extra story starters by every contributor provides fresh inspiration for readers to create works of their own. Here is an innovative book that offers something for every kind of reader and creator!

You can see why it went on my list. I'll be using it in the fall for Ramona and her friends when we meet for our weekly writing group.

And to continue the Naomi Shihab Nye immersion, here she is reading her poem, "How Do I Know When a Poem is Finished?"


May has been such a busy month (my mom in the hospital a couple of times, but we think they finally found and addressed the problem, thank goodness ... teaching a class for Brave Writer ... keeping up with all of my daughters' and Atticus's goings-on) but summer is coming, and I'm hoping for more time for writing, poetry, and books, books, books.

Be sure to join Mary Lee for the round-up!

(Other posts about Naomi Shihab Nye are here.)

Friday, May 17, 2019

Poetry Friday: A New One from Ramona

The other day, Ramona and I were talking about the variety of perspectives on dandelions. She falls firmly into Camp-I-Love-Them. The next day, she needed to produce a piece of writing for our writing group, and she wrote this poem. I absolutely love it. 

The Dandelion Lady
by Ramona (age 16)

The Dandelion Lady sees beauty and light,
where others see nuisance and blight.

She loves the bright, yellow heads,
where others fear for their flower beds.

She picks a bouquet, and at the end of her day,
says, "Thank you, dandelions!" and throws them away.

Friends ask, "How is your crop?"
She replies, "It fills my heart to the top."

Neighbors ask, "How are your seeds?"
She chuckles and responds, "Why, they're growing like weeds!"


Where do you stand on dandelions? 

For more about the magic of nature and all things poetic, visit Margaret Simon at Reflections on the Teche, for this week's round-up. 

Sunday, May 12, 2019

Bits and Pieces of Our Days: The Catch-up Edition

The last couple of weeks have been over-the-top busy, and this past week was jam-packed, featuring four consecutive days of four hours on the road each day. But this week will be less travel-laden, and, at the moment, I have a little time to reflect on what we've been doing around here when we're not on the road.

Besty graduated from college! 

The graduation ceremony was held outdoors, on a gorgeous day and we were glowing with pride over our Summa Cum Laude graduate. All would have been well if I had remembered the sunblock, but alas, I did not, and we were all glowing in a different way later (though "blazing" might be a more accurate word.) But the important thing is that Betsy is done and is in the midst of a job hunt. Whichever elementary school snatches her up will gain a treasure. 

Atticus Ran Another Half-Marathon! 

Here he is, crossing the finish line. Betsy and I were watching his time on the tracking app, and saw him hit 13.1 miles at 1:54:50, but his officially clocked "cross the finish line" time was an hour and 56 minutes. He felt pretty good about that time, and felt even better when he saw his cancer surgeon last week (just a follow-up, no worries!) and found out that he beat his surgeon's son's time. 


No spoilers, in case you care and/or haven't seen it yet, but Anne-with-an-e and I had fun creating this manicure for her. I think there's a nail for every Avenger, but I won't say which nails did or didn't survive. 

Gluten-free baking! 

Paleo bread, which was a bigger hit with me than it was with Betsy. Still on the hunt for a better recipe. 

Gluten-free chocolate cake (thank you, Pamela's Products!) and homemade, dairy-free frosting. What was the occasion? It was called, "Look! We can make a gluten-free, dairy-free chocolate cake that tastes delicious!" The other occasion was: 

My birthday! 

And now we are 59. 

Well, Gumby's actually 66, but Ramona chose him as the bearer of greetings that day. We have a ritual of taking turns hiding Gumby where the other will find him. It was her turn, so she enlisted his help in wishing me a happy birthday and it was indeed a happy one! 

This is fuzzy because we took it with my phone (bleh, not a great camera), and then I cropped it (bleh, further worsening the quality), but I'm thinking of chopping off all my hair. What say you? 

Our School Year is Almost Over! 

No more math with candlelight (it does help, a little) and just a bit more of Hamlet to read and discuss, and then ... we're done! A sweet, math-free summer awaits. We. Are. Ready. 

And Finally, Happy Day, Whether You are a Mother or Not....

It's Mother's Day, and if you're a mom, I celebrate you. If you act as a Second Mom/Beloved Aunt/All-Around Awesome Woman to someone in your life, I celebrate you. If you desperately want to be a mom, but it hasn't happened yet, I've been there, and I understand. If you've never wanted to be a mom, I've been there, too, and I understand. If you are a mom to children lost through early or late miscarriage, stillbirth, abortion, infant death, or at any stage in life, I grieve with you, and I understand. 

Let's all support one another on this day that celebrates mothers, even as we acknowledge that motherhood (and womanhood) has a million faces. 

Thursday, May 02, 2019

Poetry Friday: Philip Larkin's "The Trees"

The Trees 

The trees are coming into leaf
Like something almost being said; 
The recent buds relax and spread,
Their greenness is a kind of grief. 

Hear Larkin read the whole, short poem here, at The Poetry Archive, and I promise you that it's beautiful and not ultimately dreary, as one might presume from the aforementioned grief. Promise me you'll go see (or hear) for yourself.


The round-up this week is being hosted by the one, the only, the incredible Jama Rattigan at Jama's Alphabet Soup.

Friday, April 26, 2019

Poetry Friday: first green flare

Yesterday's page from "A Year of Tiny Pleasures" calendar. 

I can't stop thinking about spring poems and feeling spring-y.

Spring is gloriously, finally, truly-madly-deeply here. We can get outside, walk, breathe, not freeze, feel a breeze, believe in promises again.

Enjoy the promise of this lovely little piece by Sidney Wade, and then visit the Poetry Friday round-up at Carol Varsalona's Beyond LiteracyLink.

first green flare
by Sidney Wade

the air

and dart

the throat

(Read the rest here, at

Friday, April 12, 2019

Poetry Friday: Resting Heart Rate

This is just a first draft, but I'm having fun playing around with this idea. 

Resting Heart Rate 
Karen Edmisten 

My Fitbit knock-off
(face it, I'm cheap ...
no, let's employ the more
poetic, "frugal")
blinks at me: my heart
is racing.

Worries, health, worries,
daughters, worries,
climate change, worries, friendships,
storms, politics, 

Is this number off the charts?
Is this number
even on the chart? Or meant to be?

Enter John Ashbery.
John Koethe, too,
(though, face it, he can prompt
existential worry. 
I love him anyway.)

Billy Collins would
dispatch my frugal knock-off
with a wry smile and a shake of his head.
So I open his book and sail alone
around the room.

Wordsworth. Words worth
savoring. Richard Wilbur (Oh!
Be still my heart! How I adore him.)
Wait ... what's that?
It is.
It is still.
It is resting.
It is
still resting.

Balm, salve, sedative.
Poetry, my remedy,
the tincture that calms,
prescription for my overzealous brain,
frugal economy of words,
hushing my heart.

Thursday, April 04, 2019

Poetry Friday: I'm hosting!

Why we write, why we read, and why poetry exists ...
All neatly answered in one short, perfect piece by John Ashbery. 

(I could use a day alone with my madness and favorite flower. 
Wishing you the same.) 

Share your links, please, by way of the ever-helpful Mr. Linky! 

Late Echo
by John Ashbery 

Alone with our madness and favorite flower
We see that there really is nothing left to write about.
Or rather, it is necessary to write about the same old things
In the same way, repeating the same things over and over
For love to continue and be gradually different.

(Read the rest here, at the Poetry Foundation.)

Friday, March 29, 2019

Poetry Friday: Spring (Again) by Michael Ryan

Spring (Again)
by Michael Ryan

The birds were louder this morning,

(Go here to read the other four lines of this short, splendid poem. The last sentence is perfection.)


The round-up this week is at Carol's Corner.

Monday, March 25, 2019

Nine Worries About Unschoolish Ways That I Needn't Have Worried About

I wrote this five years ago, when Anne-with-an-e was in college, and Betsy was on the brink of graduating high school. Now? Anne-with-an-e adores her job as a librarian, Betsy is student teaching (and interviewing for elementary school jobs), and I have one year of homeschooling left (really?!) with Ramona.

I've revisited these questions, worries, and concerns over the last year or two, and I can still say this:

Stop worrying. Keep loving your kids and giving them the best of you. All that love, concern, work, and effort you pour out for them will not be for naught.


Now that I have a daughter in college and a high school senior who has taken early enrollment/college credit classes (both girls did), I've seen some of the fruits of our relaxed homeschooling. I look back and recall the worries I had over the years, the ways in which I questioned myself, and wondered if what I was doing would work out.

So, here are some of the questions I used to panic wonder about, and the answers I've observed:

1. Will they ever learn how to adhere to an outside schedule if I don't impose a rigid schedule on them while they're growing up? 

Yes, they will. They learn this: you do what you need to do when you need to do it. Doing it sooner than you have to doesn't teach you to do it any more efficiently. Having a rigid schedule as a child doesn't necessarily translate into efficiency in adulthood, and sometimes it translates into burnout.

2. Will they ever learn how to get up early and get out the door to a class/a job, if I let them sleep in through all their school years? 

Yes, they will. They learn that it is not "years of getting up early" that teaches you how to get up early. It is "an alarm clock" that teaches you how to get up early. Whenever you have to get up early, all you need do is set an alarm clock. No training necessary.

3. Will they ever learn how to read/learn from textbooks if I use real and living books for their home education? 

Yes. They will sometimes find them boring (and I have sometimes used textbooks in our homeschool, so — Hey! Good for them? — they've already been exposed to the boredom) but they will know how to read, comprehend, and use these schoolish tools. They may not like them as much as the vibrant books they mainly grew up with, but they will be fully capable of using them.

On the other hand, they will sometimes love their textbooks. Anne-with-an-e loved her World Geography and Microbiology classes/textbooks and was thrilled to be hired as a tutor in both subjects.

4. If I allow them to pursue their own interests in their formative years, will they ever learn the self-discipline necessary to succeed in college classes? Will they know how to meet deadlines and finish assignments? 

Yes, because they have been taught and they understand basic concepts such as time management, goal setting, and doing what is necessary to achieve the desired result. These concepts can be taught in myriad ways as our children grow up and such concepts are easily applied to college classes. Trust your kids to use their brains.

5. Will they learn how to take a test? 

Yes. (See #1 ... i.e., "they will do what they need to do when they need to do it.") Also? It doesn't take that much practice to learn how to take a test. And you will learn that ACT scores and college grades show exactly what you always suspected: they excel precisely where you thought they'd excel, and they are weak precisely where you thought they were weak. Your suspicions (that you know your children very well) will prove to be true.

6. Will they know how to act in a classroom? 

Yes. They will understand the difference between sprawling on the couch at home and sitting at a desk in school. My daughters have never confused the two locations.

(I also taught them how to eat in public, sneeze in public, and find public restrooms. Problems solved.)

7. Will they learn how to tackle unpleasant assignments? 

Oh, yes. Family life is excellent preparation for general ed classes.

8. Will they resent me for hiding the truth from them -- that learning can sometimes be dull? 

No. They are thankful for years of a lively education, for all those days that we ate popcorn for lunch, read Little Women and Little HouseHarry Potter, and The Secret Garden together, discussed The Hunger Games at two in the morning, learned about history, science, and literature from life and marvelous books and experiments in the kitchen and discussions over dinner and museums and walks at the lake. They will look up from a history paper they are writing, and sigh, and say, "I'm so grateful to Samantha. I learned a lot about the progressive era from her."

Also? Without even trying — believe me — you will give your kids lots of opportunities to be bored by things they have to learn. (Math, cleaning the house, scooping up the dog poop in the backyard.) You've got this.

9. Will I ruin them? 

We all run that risk, whether our kids are in school, out of school, homeschooled with curriculum, or homeschooled without it.

But my guess — if you love your kids more than your own life, which I'm betting you do —  is that the answer to that question is, "No. A thousand times no."

Friday, March 22, 2019

Poetry Friday: The strange reason Jane Kenyon's "Happiness" feels like the right pick for this week

A cardinal, singing in our backyard this morning.

After Tuesday's post (in which I talked about the flooding around here), I thought we could all use some good news. And I have splendid news to share about Betsy's Crohn's disease.

She's been on her new medication for six months and has also been following the AIP (Autoimmune Protocol) diet (with some food reintroductions in the last four months). Last week, after the latest round of tests/scopes and biopsies, we heard back from her doctor, and she is ...

in remission.

She is in clinical remission (feeling good), endoscopic remission (tests show healing of inflammation), and biopsies did not detect other active signs of the disease, which theoretically indicates that she is in histologic remission. (One can get dizzy trying to decipher the medical literature and jargon, and of course, there's so much about IBD that we don't know.) We've been told that Crohn's doesn't have a cure, but for right now, we know this: she is in remission.

And yet, I have chosen for today this alternately optimistic and bleak poem. Why? (Oh, Karen, you melancholic, Enneagram 4, INFJ rascal, you!) Sorry. This is me. So, let's be honest. Jane Kenyon's brand of happiness is not a whimsical, charming sprite, skipping merrily down a sparkly, rainbow path with you. (Depression, as you probably know, was Kenyon's long-time companion.) The happiness of which she speaks is hard-won, fleeting. Life is hard, Kenyon knows. It hurts. Pain is very real and weighs us down, shackles us, leaves wounds. But as real as the pain is, so is its opposite: streaming light, freedom, elegant, translucent scars that commemorate the wounds ... reminders of what we've endured. Happiness, too, then is tangible: we clutch it, touch it, hold onto it with fierce gratitude and released breath. We know it's never here to stay, not temporally anyway, but neither is pain. They co-exist and, in their symbiosis, teach and shape us.

by Jane Kenyon

There’s just no accounting for happiness,
or the way it turns up like a prodigal
who comes back to the dust at your feet
having squandered a fortune far away.

And how can you not forgive?
You make a feast in honor of what
was lost, and take from its place the finest
garment, which you saved for an occasion
you could not imagine, and you weep night and day
to know that you were not abandoned,
that happiness saved its most extreme form
for you alone.

(Read the rest here, at the Poetry Foundation.)


The round-up this week is at Sloth Reads

Tuesday, March 19, 2019

Bits and Pieces of Our Days — The Flood Edition

* The bit, the piece, the lead story is the historic and devastating flooding in my state (and other states in the midwest.)  This article in The Washington Post covers it and there are more pictures here, in The Atlantic. My family was lucky, as was my town. Although roughly 8,000 people (a third of our town) were told to evacuate their homes (we didn't have to — we live two miles from the evacuation boundary), we didn't experience the devastation that many others are experiencing. To say that rebuilding and recovery will "take time" sounds weak and feels inadequate. Lives have been lost. It's horrible.

* I spent an anxiety-ridden chunk of Wednesday afternoon wondering if Atticus was safe. His school dismissed early (he has about a 20-minute commute, to a nearby town) but by the time kids left and he headed to his car, roads were quickly closing. Every route he tried was flooding and he was either told by law enforcement to turn back, or the water itself told him to do so. He told me later that he plowed through some water he shouldn't have, but his only other option at that point was to stay in that spot on the highway and watch the water come at him from all directions. He finally made it back to his school two hours later, and soon all roads in and out were closed. As that small town was flooding, too, the school was being turned into a shelter for those who needed to leave their homes.

* I don't like water. When I was seven years old, we moved to Alaska. My father had been stationed near Fairbanks, and we were temporarily living in a basement apartment until base housing became available. After much-higher-than-normal rainfall that summer, the Chena River overflowed. Fairbanks was inundated. I remember that we had to get out of our apartment (I don't remember packing a bag or even grabbing anything) ... I remember that we headed upstairs, to our neighbors (I don't remember their names) ... I remember seeing the water begin to flow over our feet in that upstairs apartment (I don't remember what my brother, sister, and I said to each other) ... and then I remember someone rowing us away from that apartment. We left our home in a boat.

* Wednesday afternoon was an exercise in both accepting and controlling my anxiety. (Thank you to my dear friend who listened to me cry when I imagined my husband out in flood waters.) Atticus was safe, he had made it back to the school. It was inconvenient, it wasn't perfect, but he was safe. That was all that mattered. I had just taken another deep breath (breathe in slowly through your nose, blow the breath out slowly through your mouth ... again, Karen, again, he's fine) when I heard the garage door opening. (What?) One of the roads out of the school's town had been opened for a short time. The principal told Atticus, "The road's open, at least for now — go!" He made it to the main highway, which was, while not dry, at least not flooded, and then he made it home. If it had been me in that school, I probably would have gone to the library, found a Harry Potter book, and curled up in a corner for the night. Not Atticus. He was going to get home to us as soon as he could.

* I don't like water. But we're okay. My family and friends are okay. Not everyone is, though. It will "take time." Weak and inadequate as it sounds, I'm praying for a lot of other people tonight.

Thursday, March 07, 2019

Poetry Friday: The Journey, by Mary Oliver

This one just feels so right for the first days of Lent, don't you think?

The Journey
By Mary Oliver

One day you finally knew
What you had to do, and began,
Though the voices around you
Kept shouting
Their bad advice‚
Though the whole house
Began to tremble
And you felt the old tug
At your ankles.
“Mend my life!”
Each voice cried.

(Read the whole poem here.)


The roundup today is at Reading to the Core.

Wednesday, March 06, 2019

Ash Wednesday: Rising from the Ashes

We had a priest friend over for dinner the other night, and I was talking about Fahrenheit 451, by Ray Bradbury. I was summing up the ways in which the book seemed prophetic: the electronic entertainment, the way the characters were constantly plugged into sounds, music, and interactive-but-unreal "reality" tv, and the fact that no one -- but a brave few -- cared about reading or critical thinking in a book-burning world.

"And it was published in 1953!" I said, with admiration for Bradbury's foresight.

Father shrugged and smiled, shook his head and acted not a bit surprised.  He said (I'm paraphrasing, but it was something like), "People will always look for the easiest way."

He's right, of course. It's not surprising that Bradbury could look at the world around him and figure out where it might be headed. It's always been true that one could examine just about any current trend and spin it out to the extreme.  With just a little knowledge of mankind's fallen nature, we can assert with a fair amount of confidence the paths we will undoubtedly take. Bradbury didn't have to look far to see people who didn't understand why poetry made them cry, who thought that children were ruinous and that politicians should be elected based on good looks and height.  He didn't have to stretch the imagination too far to predict relentless escapism consuming a culture. Nothing much has changed since the fall of Adam and Eve.

Our first parents had it all, didn't they? Still, they wanted things to be easier. (I get it, first parents. I really do.) They wanted to make the rules, define the world, create their own reality show. And they left us their legacy, left us seeking, always, what's easiest.

And, what is faith?

Faith is an ongoing reaction against what is easy.

Our justification is initiated by God and His grace, of course. Our salvation is impossible without Him.  But,
Justification establishes cooperation between God's grace and man's freedom ... When God touches man's heart through the illumination of the Holy Spirit, man himself is not inactive while receiving that inspiration, since he could reject it; and yet, without God's grace, he cannot by his own free will move himself toward justice in God's sight. ~~ Catechism of the Catholic Church, (para. 1993-94)
We can't be saved by our own actions and free will, but God, having touched us with His grace, does then ask us to employ our free will in His service.

He loves us enough to give us the freedom to reject Him each and every day.

And rejecting a life of faith is easy, really. I know how often I want to dig my heels into the world, avoid the pain of poetry, and seek new ways to forget and escape.

Accepting a life of faith is hard. There is truth, there are rules, the humility of admitting that I don't have all the answers. There is suffering, and the knowledge that God works through pain for our good.

But, having lived a life without faith, and a life of embracing it, I can say that what at first seemed easy — making my own truth, my own rules, and avoiding the bonds of religion — turned out to be a much harder (and unhappier) way to live. And the freedom I've experienced as a result of my faith has been more freeing than anything I tried to create on my own.

Near the end of Fahrenheit 451, a man named Granger explains to Montag, the former fireman, what a phoenix is, how the mythological creature dies and rises again. Civilization, these men know, has destroyed itself. The life that awaits this small band of people will not be an easy one. But, in another way, it will not be nearly as hard as the life they were living.

I think a life of faith is like that.

Like Granger's phoenix, we arise from the ashes of each day, to begin again to do what is hard. And what is easy.

(This post first ran in 2010.)