Tuesday, September 30, 2014

My Work Here is Done

Tonight, while the girls and I were walking the dog, I realized that I can throw out any quote from The Office* and Anne and Betsy can finish it.

"Cool beans, man, I live by the quarry," I said.

"Hey, we should hang out by the quarry and throw things down there," Betsy said.

(She even got the emphasis on the right word.)

"Identity theft is not a joke, Jim!" I said earlier today.

"Millions of families suffer every year!" Anne dutifully replied.


I'm so proud.


*Or You've Got Mail or Ghostbusters or Parks and Recreation, or Doctor Who, or Lost, or Tootsie, or ....

Friday, September 26, 2014

Poetry Friday: The Continuous Life

(photo credit: freeimages.com

I have come to love the poetry of Mark Strand and poems like "The Continuous Life" are the reason.

Lately I find myself spilling the spoiler of a poem's ending. It's my strategy to tempt you to click through and read the entire poem on this busy day, at the end of a busy week in a busy month, which is wedged into a busy year in your busy life. We are a busy people. But I love to stop and ask myself what I'm  busy with, and does it matter?

Strand (I am learning, as I read more about him) was long preoccupied with the darkness and meaninglessness of life, though I find his wry response, recounted in this bio piece at the Poetry Foundation, amusing:
Strand’s early collections of poetry, including Reasons for Moving (1968), made his reputation as a dark, brooding poet haunted by death, but Strand himself does not find them “especially dark,” he told Thomas. “I find them evenly lit,” he continued.
Perhaps the distribution of light became a constant with his 1990 collection entitled The Continuous Life. In the same Poetry Foundation article mentioned above, I learned:
Strand published The Continuous Life, his first book of poems in a decade, in 1990. In the New York Times Book Review, Alfred Corn commented that the book “doesn’t strike me so much as a capstone of Mr. Strand’s career as one more turning in his development.” Corn pointed to changes in meter, diction and point of view. “This is a poetry written, as it were, in the shadow of high mountains, and touched with their grandeur,” he concluded.  

You be the judge. If you aren't too busy.

The Continuous Life 
by Mark Strand

                            ...Say that each of you tries
To keep busy, learning to lean down close and hear
The careless breathing of earth and feel its available
Languor come over you, wave after wave, sending
Small tremors of love through your brief,
Undeniable selves, into your days, and beyond.


Read the entire poem here, at The Writer's Almanac.


Laura Salas has the round up at Writing the World for Kids.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

King Oberon's Forest: A Book Club Post

Ramona and I just read King Oberon's Forest for her book club. It's Hilda van Stockum, so I was pretty sure we would love it and we did.

It's quite different (a fairy tale!) from her usual fare but we found it sweetly delightful in an old-fashioned, but still van Stockum-y realistic way. We love the variety of characters in a book like this -- the grumpy ones, the realism of souls who are imperfect but manage to grow.

I don't want to give too much away, but it's the story of three isolated, self-absorbed dwarves who live in King Oberon's Forest and are changed by the people and events (and fairies) in their lives. Full of humor and warmth, with lovely illustrations by van Stockum's daughter, Brigid Marlin.

For book club discussions we've sometimes had just a snack, other times a lunch (with my personal favorite being our Prairie Thief luncheon.) This one was a full lunch, with dishes inspired by the book:

Mac and cheese
Pumpkin bread
Apples and dip
Peanut butter and honey sandwiches
Cucumbers and carrots
Popcorn (which also provided the popcorn necklace stringing activity)
Cream puffs
Apple juice


Next up in book club: The Twenty-One Balloons by William Pene du Bois and down the road we'll read The Castle in the Attic by Elizabeth Winthrop. And thanks again to everyone who threw in suggestions (here at the blog and on Facebook) for this year. The TBR list is endless, and I love that. :)

Friday, September 19, 2014

I'm Having Breakfast With Billy Collins

(Photo courtesy of Jan-Willem Geertsma, available at Free Images.)

A Portrait of the Reader with a Bowl of Cereal
by Billy Collins

Every morning I sit across from you
at the same small table,
the sun all over the breakfast things—
curve of a blue-and-white pitcher,
a dish of berries—
me in a sweatshirt or robe,
you invisible.

[Karen here...I'm skipping to the end]:

and you will look up, as always,
your spoon dripping milk, ready to listen.

Go on. Pour the milk and sit down with Billy here, at The Writer's Almanac. Collins is always worth the click.


Wednesday, September 17, 2014

It's the New Bumpoofle-Dee-Dee

I'm reading Hilda van Stockum's The Winged Watchman to Ramona as part of our World War II studies this year. Tonight, we were reading at the kitchen table while Anne and Betsy were doing the dinner dishes. At this point in the story, we're learning more about Hildebrand, a young man, a philosophy student, who is secretly staying with the Verhagen family. Anne and Betsy were listening in.

I had just read a paragraph in which Mr. Verhagen and Hildebrand are having a conversation, and as the two men are agreeing on a point, we learn that
At first he (Father) had thought that such a bookish person could not learn anything so practical (as helping with the windmill), but Hildebrand proved to be quite dexterous and Father was beginning to rely on him.
"Oh," I said, "he's bookish and handy. I wonder if he cooks, too?"

"Hildebrand might be the perfect man!" Betsy said, but I wasn't really listening. I had already moved on to read the next line:
"I know," Father sighed. 
The girls burst out laughing at my/Father's response and when I realized how it sounded I laughed, too.

"And thus," I said, "the grown-up girls' version of Bumpoofle-Dee-Dee is born!"

What's Bumpoofle-Dee-Dee? One of our most enduring family jokes.

It came up when I read The Winged Watchman to Anne and Betsy eight years ago. Here's the post from October, 2006:

While reading The Winged Watchman aloud the other day, Ramona suddenly stopped me and said, "What's a bumpoofle-dee-dee?"

I said, "A what? Where did you hear that, honey?"

"You! You just read it a minute ago."

"I did?"

"Yes. You said Bumpoofle-dee-dee."

Thoroughly confused, I skimmed back over what I'd just read and found this phrase: Some people think electricity is foolproof and easy.

"Oh! Honey, no -- " I corrected, "I said, foolproof and easy. Not bumpoofle-dee-dee."

Anne and Betsy were besides themselves with giggles.

But, oh, it got worse at dinner time. The girls were recounting the misunderstanding to Atticus. Anne said, "Daddy, can I tell you about Bumpoofle-dee-dee?"

"Huh?" said Atticus, understandably foggy after a day of teaching high schoolers. "One poopy baby?"

If I thought the girls had a good giggle at breakfast, it was nothing compared to this laughfest. Anne spit applesauce across the table onto Betsy, and Ramona latched onto the phrase, which she could repeat endlessly, sending her sisters into fits and guffaws.

When everyone finally quieted down, I told the origin of the story to Atticus, but it seemed to have lost its punch. We do, however, have a new family word.

Perhaps we need to add elocution to our curriculum?


And this is Reason #4,987,236 that I love read-alouds!

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Sean Herriott Has a New Show!

Sean Herriott's Faith as a Second Language is a terrific podcast and I'm delighted to say that I will soon get to be a part of it. I'll be talking to Sean in the very near future, so I'll keep you posted about the air date.

{Updated to note: My chat with Sean will be available tomorrow, September 17th!} 

In the meantime, check out some of the great stuff he's been doing:

"Letting Go of Worry" with Gary Zimak

Dr. Tim Weldon on Art, Faith, and the Future

... and loads more.

You can also check out Sean's blog, Holly Park, and his Facebook page.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Whovian Quote of the Day

Kahler-Jex: You’re a mother, aren’t you?

Amy: How did you know?

Kahler-Jex: There’s kindness in your eyes. And sadness. And ferocity, too.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Poetry Friday: To an Old Square Piano

Our very old, well worn, beloved piano. 

Just yesterday, I remarked to Ramona how lovely it was to hear her playing the piano again. She loves to play, but we all get either busy or lazy in the summer, and her regular practice time goes out the window. But we are resettling into autumn rhythms and Ramona's music is winding its way through the dining room again, into the kitchen, where I'm working, and thinking, and giving thanks.

To an Old Square Piano
by Robinson Jeffers

Whose fingers wore your ivory keys
So thin—as tempest and tide-flow
Some pearly shell, the castaway
Of indefatigable seas
On a low shingle far away—
You will not tell, we cannot know.

Only, we know that you are come,
Full of strange ghosts melodious
The old years forget the echoes of,
From the ancient house into our home;
And you will sing of old-world love,
And of ours too, and live with us.

Sweet sounds will feed you here: our woods
Are vocal with the seawind’s breath;
Nor want they wing-borne choristers,
Nor the ocean’s organ-interludes.
—Be true beneath her hands, even hers
Who is more to me than life or death.

(This poem is in the public domain.)


The round up today is at No Water River

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

"Oh! Homeschool moment!"

Thus spake Ramona, when she spotted this guy outside the kitchen window this morning:

Love these homeschool moments.* 

*Though she was slightly disconcerted when we looked up some facts about the praying mantis and she spotted the word "cannibal." 

Monday, September 08, 2014

It Was One of Those Days

Last week I had one of those days. Nothing horrible, just a day.

Betsy's asthma was flaring up, after a cold, for the first time in ... what? A year? Eighteen months? I went to call in a refill on her inhaler, but realized the prescription had expired. (That will happen, I guess, when one seems free of asthma for many moons.) So I called the doctor to see if he would phone in a new prescription, just to get her over this hump. The nurse said she would call me back only if there was a problem, and she thought I could plan on picking up the prescription in a few hours.

I moved on. I wanted to print out a couple of notes for an interview I'd be doing the following day. We'd just had the modem replaced the day before and suddenly the wireless printer didn't want to communicate with the new modem. Their temperamental little spat was not amusing. I tried to get them to make up, but the printer would have none of it. I couldn't print a thing, and Anne asked me why I kept yelling futile commands at the printer.

After lunch, (on break from Printer Battle Royale) I called the pharmacy just to make sure the prescription was ready to be picked up. I thought I'd run out quickly, grab it, come home, work out. Then I could enter the electronic war zone again while endorphins were coursing through my body and I felt supremely patient and in command of my forces.

The pharmacy had no record of the prescription being called in.

After heaving a sigh that was probably heard in southern Florida, I called the doctor's office again. I gave the long, plaintive version of Betsy's history. I pleaded with the nurse to relay to the doctor that it was imperative for them to believe that Betsy knows what she needs today. (Because she just does, that's all.) The nurse said she would talk to the doctor and see what was up.

While I was waiting for the doctor's office to call back, I ... I don't know what I did. I didn't work out, I know that. Because I was, you know, waiting.

The doctor's office finally called back, and I was told we could get the inhaler renewal called in and then was given a stern admonition that Betsy must be seen.

I needed to throw something on the table for dinner, so I did. I have no idea what we ate. I then embarked on another quick (I hoped, ridiculously) battle with the printer, but I didn't make any headway. I retreated. I needed to go pick up the inhaler, so I headed out to do that, thinking I'd make it quicker by going through the drive-through at the pharmacy. I sent my credit card through the ever-so-convenient pneumatic tube. But the poor girl at the other end of the transmission got a confused look on her face. Even over the Skype-y screen that we were talking on, I knew something was wrong.

"You ...  didn't send your payment through ... did you?" she asked, brow furrowed.


"Hmmm. It ... ummm...."

I could tell that she didn't know how to tell me this.

"It ... didn't make it."

Yes, people, pneumatic tubes sometimes gobble up credit cards.

Just because they can.

This had never happened to the nice lady at the pharmacy. It wasn't her fault. I knew that. I paid with another card. The pharmacy lady "heard something fall" at her end of the tube. She and I both got rather excited to know that my credit card was not eaten, but was simply in hiding. I got Betsy's inhaler, the lady explained that they'd get the maintenance guys into the store in the morning, and they'd dig my card out. I drove home, expecting to hit a deer.

(I didn't.)

It was one of those days. Frustration. Tears of frustration. Just one of those days.

I did battle awhile longer with the printer when I got home, finally Googled a hack to get the machines talking again, rejoiced when it worked, printed out some notes, reviewed them, and finally flopped in to bed.

Did you know that there's really no point to this post other than to share the day? And to remind myself (and others), I guess, that we all have days like this. Sometimes it's a mood, sometimes it's hormones, sometimes it's because everything really is going wrong and we're reminded that maybe Murphy's Law isn't just an expression.

I tell my daughters this kind of stuff regularly. When someone's had a rotten day, and someone is in tears, or someone is feeling ultra-stressed, I remind them: This is life. It's full of bad days, good cries, and new starts on the morrow.

It was just a day. The next day was better. Most days are better.

After one of those days, it's just nice to say that out loud and know that it's true.

Saturday, September 06, 2014

Caillou, Anne Dissects an Eye, and Welcome to Editing

Most recent FB posts/Tweets:

No, "Amazon Recommends" -- just because I liked Sponge-Bob Square Pants that does NOT mean I will like Caillou. *No one* likes Caillou.


Anne-with-an-e, after she got home from Anatomy lab: "I just dissected a cow's eye. I don't think I want to eat jelly for awhile."


From a boy who used to come to my Writing Group for teens, after his cousin edited and changed a short story: "He mutilated it. But then he made it better."

Welcome to having an editor, sweetie.

Thursday, September 04, 2014

Poetry Friday: Absolute September

I have mixed feelings about this poem. Or perhaps, more accurately, I have changing feelings about this poem.

First of all, I love it. I read it just last month for the first time and loved it immediately.

But then I thought, "No! Wait! I didn't always feel this way about autumn. That final stanza -- the mention of melancholy? I don't feel melancholy at the approach of fall. I love fall!"

So, yeah, what about that? What about the way I always celebrate the onset of autumn with an energetic little happy dance? The way I've used this Gatsby quote on the blog almost every year since I started blogging:

"What'll we do with ourselves this afternoon?" cried Daisy, "and the day after that, and the next thirty years?"

"Don't be morbid," Jordan said. "Life starts all over again when it gets crisp in the fall."

I still love that quote (I will never stop loving Gatsby.) I still live that quote -- I continue to wilt every summer (my constitution does not appreciate heat and humidity) and am revived in the fall. Revved up in the fall.

But over the years, apparently, I have come to love summer in a way I didn't used to recognize, or fully appreciate. I couldn't see what summer really gave me. And I think I know now what it is.

In summer, Atticus is home. (And it's not just that he cooks, so stop thinking that right now.) In summer, we amble along, living a relaxed rhythm and reveling in the lack of outside pressures. It doesn't feel like an overstatement to say that we feel like we experience a tiny taste of heaven every summer -- in each other's company, in the way life feels in the summer, together. And I don't want to let that go. The older I get, the more I appreciate my summers with Atticus, and those tiny tastes of a world to come.

Is there some sort of painfully cliched dynamic at work, something about entering the autumn of my life and no longer appreciating the things about autumn that I used to celebrate because I can no longer afford to idealize the downward slope that is inherent in the season?

Maybe. Or maybe I just really, really love my summers with Atticus.

Absolute September
by Mary Jo Salter

How hard it is to take September
straight—not as a harbinger
of something harder.

Merely like suds in the air, cool scent
scrubbed clean of meaning—or innocent
of the cold thing coldly meant.

(Read the whole beautiful, glorious poem here, at The Writer's Almanac.)


The Poetry Friday round up is at Author Amok

Getting Prayer Back on Track

I'll be on Relevant Radio's Morning Air this morning at 7 a.m. central, talking about prayer, and about St. Ignatius's Examen of Consciousness.

The article by Fr. George Aschenbrenner that I'll be referring to can be found here, and here is a short guide to making the examen part of your day.