I have a poem delivered to my Inbox every morning, thanks to Poets.org and I'm always grateful for the beauty this sleek little package adds to my day. I consider, at times, what a mess the internet can be -- the ugliness it puts on display, the unkindness that can be spread, the fights that are started on its playgrounds, the temptations it can stir up in us to prove to the whole world that we are right and they are wrong.
But then, but then ... it can also do this.
It can bring me a poem a day. Gently drop off a bit of loveliness, a dash of magic.
And I love it for that. Because you can never have too much coffee (no, coffee's not mentioned in the poem -- that's my addition), too much poetry, or too much magic.
This Magic Moment
by David Kirby
Poetry does make things happen. A friend says, “I wanted
to let you know that my stepfather is chattering like
a schoolboy about a poem of yours on my Facebook page.
This may not seem like much to you, but this guy has been
giving me a hard time since I was two. You built a bridge
between people who never understood each other before.”
How’d that happen? Magic, that’s how. I know the poem
Ramona and I just finished reading The Twenty-One Balloons, which we both found delightful. Written and illustrated by William Pene du Bois in 1947, it won the Newbery Medal in 1948, and has endured to become a classic.
Set in 1883, the novel is part science, part fantasy, part light social commentary, and partly appealing to introverts ("As you know," says Professor William Waterman Sherman, near the beginning of the story, "I was a teacher of arithmetic for forty years. Forty years of being surrounded by a classroom of healthy prankish students. Forty years of spitballs. Forty years of glue on my seat, Sal Hepatica in my inkwell, and other devilish tricks. Long about my thirty-sixth year, I started yearning to be alone.")
Professor Sherman builds a fantastic balloon home in which he plans to travel around the world. (Cue the Jules Verne references! Cue Up talk, and Dug imitations!) The introduction tells us that Professor Sherman's travels will take him to the Pacific island of Krakatoa, and that he will somehow be involved in the volcanic explosion that really did take place in 1883. How did he end up there? And how did he escape?
Lots of unschoolish detours to take with this book -- the science of hot air balloons (though Ramona and I occasionally got a little bogged down in some of the descriptions of the inner workings), diamonds, mentions of the salt mines of Poland and the crystal caves of Bermuda, which had me sending Ramona to Google. Volcanos, the history and geography of Krakatoa ... plenty to talk about and explore on top of a good read. And it made us hungry! You'll have to read the book to find out why.
My favorite quote:
"It seems strange to me that mechanical progress always seems to leave the slower demands of elegance far behind. With all of the peace and spare time on this lovely island, why should any part of your lives be speeded up?"
I once took a hot air balloon ride and it was lovely. Now I just need to figure out how to get Ramona in a balloon one of these days. A quick Google check for companies and prices tells me that I'd better start the savings fund now. :)
It is decidedly not an April day in November here in Nebraska, where it was an unseasonable three degrees below zero when I woke up this morning. But, I can imagine, feel, grip, remember, and dream of the kind of day that Norman MacCaig wrote about in "April Day in November, Edinburgh." We've had those days here; today is just not one of those days, but that's okay.
And, too, I can imagine, feel, grip, remember (in a fascinatingly powerful genetic memory sort of way) and dream of Edinburgh itself, which I will probably never see, at least not until I see it from heaven's vantage point. But that's okay, too. Because today I have these words, this poem, and a new-to-me poet to love.
That's what I'm doing this year for the first time ever.
Yeah, sure, in a way I had just one "student" when we first started homeschooling. Anne-with-an-e was seven years old, Betsy just four. Anne was (I'm sorry, sweetie) my experimental student. I tried out different methods on her, tinkered with ideas, approaches, math curricula. But Betsy was always there, soaking in the atmosphere, listening to the books, playing with the manipulatives, eating the cookies. I never felt that I was homeschooling only one daughter -- we were living a homeschooling life together.
But, now that my older daughters are out in the world, taking classes from other people, I am finally, truly, homeschooling just one child. Anne and Betsy don't need me, which is really great in its way. There's real fulfillment in knowing that my daughters were well prepared for the stage of life they're living now. And, there's relief in knowing that their academic work is their business. (I couldn't answer a Chemistry question if you paid me in chocolate and coffee. Truly, Anne's Chemistry homework is a mystery to me on a par with the Trinity. Intricacies unseen, combinations that produce whole new entities ... it boggles my mind. If it isn't explained on a Jesse Pinkman level, I don't understand it.)
And that leads me to the present, in which I am homeschooling only one daughter. Over the summer, I wondered about how this year would proceed: What would it be like for the two of us to be on our own? Would we get bored with each other? Would we feel as if we were rattling around the house, waiting for others to join us? Or would we dig in, full of anticipation and excitement, ready to tackle hundreds of projects and take on every academic challenge?
The answer is (as it always seems to for me) in the middle. Yes, we miss Anne and Betsy, but Ramona and I have settled into The New Normal and we are loving it. There's a delightful balance to our days. There are outside activities (a weekly art class, another monthly art class, piano lessons, choir), as well as group activities that we both participate in (her writing group, swimming weekly with other homeschoolers.) And then there are the treasured days when we don't have to leave the house -- we tackle math, read aloud, read aloud, read aloud, write, read poetry, participate in NaNoWriMo, watch Food Network together, make carrot cake, learn about extracting DNA from saliva (hmmm, was it deliberate that I followed up the food references to the saliva reference?), create art, and crafts, and minions.
Sometimes we can even plan activities or outings that work with Anne and Betsy's schedules as we did last Friday when we made a last-minute plan to see Big Hero 6 together (review from Ramona coming soon), or getting to daily Mass together.
Yes, I'm homeschooling just one. But it's a rich, full life.
Today's poem is a sad, lyrical, beautiful one by Ella Wheeler Wilcox. It's about grief and loss, and these things are especially on my mind today -- tonight I'll be appearing with Donna-Marie Cooper O'Boyle on her new EWTN show, talking about miscarriage. We filmed this episode of Catholic Mom's Cafe months and months ago, but the topic is timeless.
Donna and I talked about miscarriage, grief, loss, and healing. We talked, too, about "a peace too wonderful to understand" (the last line of Wilcox's poem).
I think my favorite lines from the poem are:
And I have waited for these autumn days, Thinking the cooling winds would bring relief. For I remembered how I loved them once, When all my life was full of melody.
For more details from Donna about the show, which airs tonight at 6:30 Eastern time, see her blog.
An Autumn Reverie
Ella Wheeler Wilcox
Through all the weary, hot midsummer time,
My heart has struggled with its awful grief.
And I have waited for these autumn days,
Thinking the cooling winds would bring relief.
For I remembered how I loved them once,
When all my life was full of melody.
And I have looked and longed for their return,
Nor thought but they would seem the same, to me.
The fiery summer burned itself away,
And from the hills, the golden autumn time
Looks down and smiles. The fields are tinged with brown—
The birds are talking of another clime.
The forest trees are dyed in gorgeous hues,
And weary ones have sought an earthy tomb.
But still the pain tugs fiercely at my heart—
And still my life is wrapped in awful gloom.
The winds I thought would cool my fevered brow,
Are bleak, and dreary; and they bear no balm.
The sounds I thought would soothe my throbbing brain,
Are grating discords; and they can not calm
This inward tempest. Still it rages on.
My soul is tost upon a troubled sea,
I find no pleasure in the olden joys—
The autumn is not as it used to be.
I hear the children shouting at their play!
Their hearts are happy, and they know not pain.
To them the day brings sunlight, and no shade.
And yet I would not be a child again.
For surely as the night succeeds the day,
So surely will their mirth turn into tears.
And I would not return to happy hours,
If I must live again these weary years.
I would walk on, and leave it all behind:
will walk on; and when my feet grow sore,
The boatman waits—his sails are all unfurled—
He waits to row me to a fairer shore.
My tired limbs shall rest on beds of down,
My tears shall all be wiped by Jesus’ hand;
My soul shall know the peace it long hath sought --
A peace too wonderful to understand.
Whither has October fled? It's gone missing and I'm left wondering if one of my favorite months met all her obligations before she took off for a year's sabbatical.
At least one obligation was clearly fulfilled -- October brought us, as it has for twenty-one marvel-filled years now, the birthday of Anne-with-an-e.
I'd never before bought a daughter a margarita for her birthday, but I can no longer make that claim. And she likes my favorite red wine, too. Yes, I am a good homeschooler indeed. I know how to teach all the important stuff.
Lots of good geography stuff happening as we read these books, too.
What am I reading these days? The epic and wonderful Kristin Lavransdatter. Granted, I am only one book into the trilogy (I almost typed "three-book trilogy" ... more coffee, anyone?) but I have already dubbed it Wonderful and More.
What am I watching on the laptop these days, while I work out? Gilmore Girls. It is wonderful in a different way, and strangely connected to Kristin.
Colleague and dear friend, Donna-Marie Cooper O'Boyle, is hosting a new show on EWTN called Catholic Mom's Cafe. I spoke with Donna about dealing with miscarriage, and that episode is scheduled to air this Friday, November 7th, at 3 a.m. and again at 6:30 p.m. (Eastern time.)
To launch the show this week, Donna is hosting a giveaway -- all the details are on her blog. A complete schedule of the show can be found here.
Cecilia's lovely site, Magnolia Sweet Healing, offers women in need a free copy of my book. I'm so touched that this ministry is generously funded personally by Cecilia, and I am immensely grateful for her help in getting the book to women who need it.