Friday, April 17, 2015

Poetry Friday: Richard Wilbur (aka, He Who Never Fails to Bowl Me Over)


Although I have often commented on him, Richard Wilbur doesn't need my blather. Here he is, simply being his perfect, poetic self.

April 5, 1974
by Richard Wilbur

The air was soft, the ground still cold.
In the dull pasture where I strolled
Was something I could not believe.
Dead grass appeared to slide and heave,
Though still too frozen-flat to stir,
And rocks to twitch and all to blur.
What was this rippling of the land?
Was matter getting out of hand
....

(Read the rest here, at The Writer's Almanac.)

Monday, April 13, 2015

Recent Reading


Betsy had read this and enjoyed it. I was looking for something light and quick, so I picked it up, too. The Vigilante Poets of Selwyn AcademyKate Hattemer's debut novel, was a fun read. I liked the voice and the humor, the smart characters, the premise -- a small circle of rebels at a fine arts academy try to overthrow a reality TV show that has taken over their school. Their weapon of choice? A long poem in the tradition of The Cantos by Ezra Pound. Add a gerbil named Baconnaise (loved that a family named pets after condiments), and you've got an enjoyable weekend read.  

~~~~~

Over Lent, I read Deep Conversion, Deep Prayer by Fr. Thomas Dubay: 


Fr. Dubay is always worth the read and this one was no exception. He gets straight to the point and always challenges me to look at and better try to live what I believe. 

Also during Lent: Ramona enjoyed getting to know St. John Paul II a little better via Bringing Lent Home with St. John Paul II: Prayers, Reflections, and Activities for Families by Donna-Marie Cooper O'Boyle. 



~~~~~

Just finished today: 


Jeanne Birdsall's The Penderwicks in Spring was a read-aloud with Ramona. It took us awhile to get through it, only because my college girls vehemently insisted asked if we would read it only when they could listen in. With their schedules, that limited our read-together time, but it was entirely worth it to read with all the girls, given our Penderwick history, which stretches back nine years.

When we read the first Penderwicks book, Anne-with-an-e was 12 -- Ramona's current age. So, not only were we enjoying this new book, we were reminiscing about the others (and remembering when we'd named our triops after the Penderwicks and how that turned into a horror show.)

I don't want to say much about the book, because I dread spoilers. But I will say that though it was sadder than the other books, we did love it just as much as we loved the previous three.

Friday, April 10, 2015

Poetry Friday: How to Wreck Poetry (Inspired by Michael Rosen)

Inspired by Michael Rosen and "Dear Ms Morgan: your guidance is a mini-syllabus on how to wreck poetry",  and with an additional and lovely bit of inspiration from the follow-up letter, "Where Go the Boats? A poem in a little child's head."

{A disclaimer: This is not a shot at teachers. I know teachers would love the freedom to teach as they see fit. I live with and passionately love a particular English teacher who happens to be my husband. It's not the fault of teachers that they are often being cornered into teaching to tests.}

How to Wreck Poetry
by Karen Edmisten
(with apologies to real poets)

Force and enforce it, require and grade it.
Suppress the mind wandering,
stop all their pondering.
Find the right answer
(You know's there's but one!)
Dissect it and quiz them.
You're under the gun.

Never mind that the riches
of luminous words
now mean nothing to them.
Sublime's for the birds.
There are standards we've set.
It's your duty, you see.
You'll make them retrieve and infer
then they'll see.
No, it's not about beauty.
Oh, no, it is best
that they learn at a young age
it's all for the test.

~~~~~

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

~~~~~

And, courtesy of Atticus: 

Tuesday, April 07, 2015

When One Converts and the Other One is Atticus

Last month, when I talked with Haley and Christy on the Fountains of Carrots podcast, they asked a great question about when couples convert. Haley and Daniel came in to the Church at the same time; Atticus and I did not, so we talked a little more about that. What's it like when one spouse wants to leap and the other looks askance at the chasm?

I wish there were a definitive answer to the question, "What do I do when my husband/wife rejects the path I'm taking?" I'd love to say, "Do (insert wisdom here) and you, too, will have a converted spouse!" 

It's never that easy, of course. The only real advice -- like most advice -- sounds lame and ineffective at first: 

Pray. 
Be patient. 
Remain loving. 
Pray.
Talk. (Don't yell. Funny how yelling doesn't work.)  
Respect your spouse's choices. 
Pray. 
Follow God's promptings for yourself, but don't force anything on your spouse.
Pray. 

Atticus did not come into the Church until five years after I did. And when he finally made the decision to be received, it was just a few weeks before the Easter Vigil that year. I saw it coming and simultaneously was stunned that it was actually happening. But one thing I'd finally accepted: the decision had to be his. This converstion thing had to be between God and him, and I had no control over any of it. 

What follows is a shortened version of our Easter Vigil stories. 

~~~~~

When I was received into the Church, I was alone at the Easter Vigil. 

No, not entirely alone -- my sponsor, Carolyn, was there. Carolyn and I first met at RCIA, the night they told me she could sponsor me. A stranger as a sponsor? How weird is this? I thought. The whole class must feel sorry for me.

I'd wanted my friend, Jack, to sponsor, but a weekly two-hour drive for RCIA was impractical, so, Stranger Carolyn to the rescue!

For my reception and Confirmation, Jack came to the Vigil, and brought along a friend (to keep him company for the four hours he would be on the road that night.) Carolyn, Jack, and someone I barely knew. How weird is this? I thought. I am pathetic.

Atticus stayed home that night with 18-month old Anne-with-an-e. He didn't want to prevent my becoming Catholic, but he didn't want to be part of it, either.

That first Easter Vigil was an incandescent, frightening thing. Fear and awe mingled with an odd detachment, an observation of what was happening. At the last minute, I was tapped on the shoulder and asked to help to carry the gifts forward to the priest. I shook as I clung to the decanter of wine. This is going to become the Precious Blood of Jesus, I thought. And I will consume Him -- Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity. And I am alone.

No, not alone! I scolded myself, battled with myself. Your friend is here, and all these people are here. And God is here.

And yet, in a specific way, because I am a married woman, I felt alone. My husband was not there.

When I received Holy Communion for the first time, I did not experience magic. I wasn't immediately transported to a new destination brimming with giddy joy. Something I desperately longed for (spiritual unity with my husband) was missing. And yet, I felt ... what? Grounded. Firm. Certain. I did not have a single regret about what I was doing.

I wasn't sure how I could feel quiet exultation and deep sadness at the same time, but I did. I knew this was right.

Because I knew, down to my bones, this: I was not alone.

I walked out of my first Easter Vigil knowing that despite my sadness over my husband's absence, I had a steadfast companion. Jesus would not let me down.

I became active with RCIA as a sponsor, team member, speaker, teacher. I was gone (at the church, without my husband) every year during the Triduum as I helped candidates and catechumens on their way into the Church. I really loved it -- so much that when I began to feel that God was calling me away, I didn't want to listen to Him. He couldn't possibly want me to stop doing this good work, could He?

But, that nagging whisper kept telling me to pull back from "church work" -- pull back from witnessing to others and witness in my own home. To my husband. It was as if God was saying, "Show Atticus that your love for him and your family is your calling, your vocation, and the most important thing in your world." 

With a heavy heart I resigned from the team. When Holy Week rolled around that year, it felt strange to be home on Holy Thursday night. Instead of the gorgeous Mass I'd come to love, I was at home with my two little girls, creating a "Holy Family meal," coloring pictures of the Last Supper, and watching five-year-old Anne build a crucifix out of blocks. Instead of absorption in frantic, last-minute, RCIA prep, I was home, calm. And present. Instead of being out late on Holy Saturday night with people Atticus didn't even know, I was home with him. That year we went to Mass as a family, on Easter Sunday morning (though he was still adamant that he wasn't considering conversion, he was merely being courteous to me.)

I was also expecting another baby. We lost that baby the month after Easter, and I asked our baby to begin interceding for his father.

Later that summer, something in Atticus shifted. We'd been having a lot of conversations about faith and Atticus said he'd been thinking about the nature of evil -- about how it really comes down to being separated from God. I will never forget the next moment: "And I don’t think I want to be separated anymore," he said. "I want to be where you and the girls are."

That took my breath away. 

He wasn't ready to become a Catholic -- he insisted on that -- but Atticus wanted to explore things a little. 

Hmm. I happened to know an RCIA team that could use another member. I rejoined the team that fall, and the director and our priest allowed Atticus to sit in, an unofficial participant, for as long as he liked. (Of course, I knew it didn't hurt that this priest was the one who'd suggested he and I pray to St. Therese for Atticus's conversion.)

Through the fall and winter, Mr. Unofficial Participant listened, talked, questioned, read, and thought. And prayed. (He'd started praying! I always say, "Once you start praying, you haven't got a prayer.")

One Saturday morning just before Lent, when we woke up, Atticus asked me the name of the man born blind, from the Gospel of John. He said that man’s name would be his Confirmation name. If he joined the Church, he added. Fr. Joe came to dinner that night, and asked the question Atticus must have been tired of: "So, where are you? What, if anything, is holding you back?"

Atticus replied, "Nothing. I’m ready. Can we schedule something?"
And at the Easter Vigil of 2000, Atticus came into the Church.

~~~~~

There were so many times when I had no idea what God would do next. I couldn't see through the dark tunnel to the light at the end. I had to walk in blindness until He led me to the next step. And that's what faith is -- a series of steps in the dark. Wholehearted trust that my Guide won't let me fall.

God was at work:

When I converted alone
When I lacked unity with my husband
When I left a ministry I loved
When I lost arguments
When I lost every sense of firm footing 
When I lost babies
When I thought my husband would never examine Catholicism
When I felt alone
When I knew I had to hold on with all my strength to this truth: I am not alone.

The Lord was there, with me, every stumbling step. Through quiet exultation and deep sadness, He was there. 

"I will lead the blind on their journey; by paths unknown I will guide them. I will turn darkness into light before them, and make crooked ways straight."  

~~ Isaiah 42:16

Not every story ends as mine did. (In truth, of course, our story was just beginning.) Sometimes one spouse converts and the other never does. Every life, every soul is a deep mystery, and I don't know why things happen in some lives and not in others. But the bottom line is the same. It might sound weak and ineffective at first, but, hey, it's all we've got this side of Heaven: Pray and trust. 

"For I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, 
plans for good and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope." 

~~ Jeremiah 29:11

Monday, April 06, 2015

Happy Easter Monday! (Or, Why I Cried Saturday Night)

Posted on Facebook on Sunday morning:



Feeling so incredibly happy and humbled and blessed this morning. Beautiful Easter Vigil last night and, as always, I cried during the baptisms, receptions, and confirmations, remembering where Atticus and I came from, and where we are now. When the priest (to those being received into the Church) spoke the words, "His loving kindness has led you here," I almost lost it. I could hear the voice of the priest who received Atticus into the Church, saying the same words 15 years ago.

Friday, April 03, 2015

Good Friday, Poetry Friday

It is Good Friday, and Poetry Friday (and April ushers in National Poetry Month), and it's also Jazz Appreciation Month, which means our resident jazz expert, Atticus, will be weighing in next week.

For Good Friday (and for Poetry Friday): 

Thomas Merton's "Death" is a beautiful, evocative, sobering ("Take time to tremble lest you come without reflection/To feel the furious mercies of my friendship,/[Says death]) and ultimately hope-filled poem. It speaks for itself, so click on the link to read the whole thing.

In Googling around for Thomas Merton/Lent/Good Friday, I also found this post at New Wood. It's a quote from Thomas Merton's Raids on the Unspeakable and it's perfect for Good Friday. (And I'll be digging further into New Wood. I like his About page, and identify with his feelings of being something of a misfit.)

For More Poetry Friday:

Amy has the round up at The Poem Farm. There's more about National Poetry Month here, at Poets.org and here, at The Poetry Foundation.

For Jazz Appreciation Month:

More about jazz next week (thanks, Atticus) but for now I'll send you to the Jazz Journalists Association and the National Endowment for the Humanities JAM page.

Wednesday, April 01, 2015

Lent With Kristin Lavransdatter

 I didn't mean to go underground and neglect my blog for a week, but sometimes life is strong and busy stuff and the blog just takes a back seat.

And sometimes, I'm reading an 1,100 page book.

Recently, it's been a case of Both Those Things.


I still don't have enough time to do justice to a blog post today, but I couldn't let the day go by without mentioning The Book I've Been Reading. I started Kristin Lavransdatter just before Christmas (it's been on my To-Read list for years) and read the first book of the trilogy. I loved it, but for various reasons I put it down for a bit while I focused on other things. Just before Lent, I picked it up again. I finished it last night.

It's fitting that Kristin became my Lenten reading. It's a stunning novel -- an epic, really. And it is radiant and blazing with the mercy and glory of God.

Please forgive me, all you anti-dog-earers, but sometimes I just can't help myself. I don't keep pen and sticky-notes handy when I'm reading. I try, I fail. So I dog-ear, then later I go back and copy down all the quotes I want to keep, savor, remember.

I couldn't really dog ear the entire book, but sometimes I thought I'd come close:


Kristin deserves so much more than a quick blog post, and I'll work on that. But I decided this quick post was better than nothing. Make Kristin your Easter reading. Make it your summer reading. Make it your I-Will-Read-It-Before-the-End-of-2015 reading. Make the time -- it's worth the time, in so many ways. 

~~~~~

Commenting over at Facebook, too

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Ramona's Slippers May Not Be Glass, But ...


... they do make me think of another beloved movie. 

Monday, March 23, 2015

Bits and Pieces of Our Days: The Recent-Books-With-Ramona Edition


Ramona and I finished our read-aloud of Anne of Avonlea. We read it only over breakfast on the days when Anne and Betsy could join us, so it took awhile, but it was worth it to once again share a book about "that Anne girl" with all of my girls.  Such fun, and made for a delightful start to our day.

***


Also recently finished a read-aloud of The Castle in the Attic by Elizabeth Winthrop. 
Fun, adventure, and interesting ethical issues to discuss. 

***


Read-aloud in progress: The Cottage at Bantry Bay. It's Hilda van Stockum ... need I say more?

***


Twenty and Ten,  by Claire Huchet Bishop. The last, I think, of the WWII books for this year.

***

And, one that we can't wait to get our hands on 
(we'll be watching for the UPS man tomorrow!): 


The new Penderwicks! Cue the squees! We're all giddy! 

Friday, March 20, 2015

Poetry Friday: Deep in the Quiet Wood


Winter does, sometimes, leave me bowed down in heart. But, spring -- o lovely spring! -- is here. Even in Nebraska. And I am ready to "come away to the peaceful wood" and be restored.

Deep in the Quiet Wood
by James Weldon Johnson

Are you bowed down in heart?
Do you but hear the clashing discords and the din of life?
Then come away, come to the peaceful wood,
Here bathe your soul in silence. Listen! Now,
From out the palpitating solitude
Do you not catch, yet faint, elusive strains?
They are above, around, within you, everywhere.
Silently listen! Clear, and still more clear, they come.
They bubble up in rippling notes, and swell in singing tones.
Now let your soul run the whole gamut of the wondrous scale
Until, responsive to the tonic chord,
It touches the diapason of God’s grand cathedral organ,
Filling earth for you with heavenly peace
And holy harmonies.

("Deep in the Quiet Wood" is in the public domain. Thanks to Poets.org for the poetry that daily arrives in my Inbox.

~~~~~

The round up is being hosted today by Reading to the Core

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Lent With a Sensitive Child

This is a re-post from when Anne-with-an-e was younger:

~~~~~

When Anne-with-an-e was much younger, she was very sensitive. A picture of Jesus on the Cross could reduce her to tears. Singing certain hymns would leave her spent. The idea of forty days of sorrowful mysteries drained her. I sometimes wondered how someone so little could feel things so deeply.

Lent became a difficult time.

I, being an enthusiastic convert, looked forward to doing everything I could during Lent to challenge myself. But, I realized that my vision of Lent and the Lent I needed to provide for my tenderhearted daughter were two different things.

In a way, it was humbling to create a "more relaxed Lent," if I can call it that, than I had previously practiced, but that's what I needed to do. I pulled back, I stopped trying to do things such as Stations of the Cross for children. Anne just couldn't take it; it broke her heart.

One might argue that our Lord's crucifixion is supposed to break our hearts. Yes, it is. It does. But, a soul in formation has to be handled with the utmost care, and I knew that forcing certain practices on this child would not help her to love God more, and it may even have the opposite effect. Clearly, that was not my vision for teaching my child about how fabulous Jesus was.

All of the usual "Lent with Children" practices were good: baking pretzels, putting cottonballs on the Lamb, putting beans in the sacrifice jar for kindnesses and unselfish actions. But anything too raw, too harsh, too weepy, was just plain too hard. (And remember, Holy Mother Church doesn't technically require our children to abstain from meat on Fridays and fast on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday until they are fourteen years old.)

As Anne grew, our practices slowly grew and changed, too. Things that were once too hard are handled now, and I see an extremely sensitive child growing into a beautifully sensitive and perceptive young lady. Now in her teens, Anne chose her own penance for this Lent (and it's something she really loves, so I do believe she's challenging herself) and she also chose to take on a devotion that I hadn't even suggested.

I don't mean to suggest that Lent should be watered down. I offer all of this only to help anyone out there who has found that Lent is "just too much" for their sensitive child. You're not alone, and I can almost assure you that "pulling back" or "taking it easy" or tailoring Lenten practices to make them work for your particular child in your particular situation is not necessarily a compromise. In your case, it's sensitive parenting, and it can bear lovely fruit.

And, the beauty of the Catholic Church's teaching (that the parent is the first educator in a child's life) means that we can and should make careful, prudent decisions about these sorts of things.

Every house, every child, every soul is different.

So is every Lent.

At least, that's been the experience at our house.

"In essentials, unity; in non-essentials, liberty; in all things, charity."

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Ramona Tweets

Ramona: I'm hungry for freedom. From math.
~~~~~~~~~~
Me (to Ramona last night, helping her brush through her long hair): "Wow, where did all these tangles come from?" Ramona: "Life."
~~~~~~~~~~
Ramona: "What's for dinner?" Me: "Stromboli." Her: "Why didn't you tell me that before, when I was in a bad mood?!" Duly noted, child.

Monday, March 16, 2015

The Fountains of Carrots Podcast is Up


My chat with Haley and Christy is up on the Fountains of Carrots podcast page. (It's actually been up since last Tuesday, but I, as usual, am late for my own party!)

They were so great to talk to -- 90 minutes, and we still didn't exhaust every subject. Hope you enjoy it -- I sure did, even though we all cried. :)

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Rest

When Betsy was younger, before we had her asthma figured out, there were some long and terrible nights. She coughed. Miserably.  I felt helpless. Sleep wouldn't come although we had given her each and every medication that the doctor had approved. There was water on the nightstand, available for sipping. A cushy, cozy bed. Extra pillows that propped her troubled head and eased the air flow to her lungs.

Still she coughed.

And so I turned to the last weapon in my arsenal. I'd snuggle up beside her and she'd rest against me. I held her close, stroked her hair. Sometimes I sang. I was simply there. And she rested. It startled me every time, that my mere maternal presence eased her breathing, relaxed her limbs, opened a clenched fist, left her small mouth slack in sleep. A sweet reprieve it was, for both of us.

Sometimes I am like my daughter.  I have followed my prescription and everything is in its place. Bits and pieces of life have been comfortably settled, readied to deal with any situation that may arise. The water glass, the cool pillow ... we have done our best.

But my restlessness can be calmed by only one thing -- it is the presence of my Father that I need. I do not need any "thing" that He can grant me. I need only to rest in His arms, and that is my consolation. That is the sweet reprieve I need to wake up tomorrow and rise to another day.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Lent Has Changed. Or We Have?

When my daughters were young, I wrote about "Lent with Young Children."

We always did our Lamb of God calendar:


We put beans in the Sacrifice Jar for every tiny, kind act, and every prayer sincerely uttered: 



We made caterpillars from egg cartons, baked homemade pretzels, read about saints, talked about prayer, learned new prayers, went to daily Mass more often, and dropped iridescent purple stones into a teacup to count down the days until Easter.

And now? My girls have outgrown all the lovely, childish, beloved traditions they grew up with. Cotton balls, beans in a jar, and shiny stones are things of the past. But you know what? New traditions have emerged as young women have slowly appeared, replacing the children in this house.

Last night, Betsy gave a witness talk, about her relationship with Mary, to a group of 7th and 8th graders. It came about by chance (I mean the way in which she was asked to do it) but she saw God's hand in the timing, and she said yes, although she doesn't like to speak to groups. And as she chatted about what she planned to say, Ramona chimed in with her perspective, too:  "Do you know how I would explain it? It's like you have a best friend, but better than any friend you have on earth, and you can tell her everything." The talk went beautifully, by all accounts, and Betsy was so glad she said yes.

Lent with old children is nice, too.