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.)

Thursday, February 14, 2019

Poetry Friday: I Can't Get Enough of James Weldon Johnson

Before a Painting
James Weldon Johnson

I knew not who had wrought with skill so fine
    What I beheld; nor by what laws of art
    He had created life and love and heart
On canvas, from mere color, curve and line.
Silent I stood and made no move or sign;
    Not with the crowd, but reverently apart;
    Nor felt the power my rooted limbs to start,
But mutely gazed upon that face divine.

And over me the sense of beauty fell,
    As music over a raptured listener to
        The deep-voiced organ breathing out a hymn;
Or as on one who kneels, his beads to tell,
    There falls the aureate glory filtered through
        The windows in some old cathedral dim.

(This poem is in the public domain.)


The roundup this week is at Check It Out

Friday, February 08, 2019

Poetry Friday: Last Minute Effort

Last Minute Effort 
Karen Edmisten 

Life is busy,
(as you know.)
So this week something
had to go.

Poetry Friday?
(Yikes! No post!)
I'll send you elsewhere,
to the host.

Simple solution.
(Brilliant, I know.)
Laura's the best.
Go, now. Go!


Be sure to congratulate Laura on her new book, Snowman-Cold=Puddle: Spring Equations! And, if you feel so inclined, take up her challenge to write an Equation Poem.

Here's mine:

Busy week + Poetry Friday = Last Minute Inspiration 

Friday, February 01, 2019

Poetry Friday: Only This Morning

I love the immediacy of this poem by Dan Gerber, and its simple truth.

Wishing you a good morning, this morning, "the only day that matters."

Only This Morning
by Dan Gerber

In a hundred trillion years—
an actual number
though we can’t begin
to grasp it—the last traces
of our universe will be not
even a memory
with no memory to lament it.

(Read the rest here.)



*In case you missed it, last week I shared the poem that Insanely Talented Tabatha wrote for me last summer, for the Poem Swap. You can read it here

Tuesday, January 29, 2019

Thursday, January 24, 2019

Poetry Friday: Tabatha Wrote Me a Poem

Tabatha Yeatts knows how much I love Billy Collins.

Tabatha got my name in the Summer Poem Swap last year and wrote me a poem — a glorious poem — about a discussion with Imaginary Billy Collins.

Imaginary Billy Collins! 

Tabatha gets me.

Thank you, Tabatha, for getting me. Thank you for making me cry a little bit when I read this beautiful piece, when I realized you wrote it for me, that it's mine, and I get to keep this gem and sit down with Imaginary Billy (and you) any time I want to.

Imaginary Billy and Real Tabatha are treasures.

Imaginary Billy and I Discuss the Founding Documents
for Karen

by Tabatha Yeatts 

Did you know that Timothy Matlack
is the clerk who transcribed
the Declaration of Independence?
I ask Imaginary Billy Collins,
who is reading the paper
on the sofa across from me.

Imaginary Billy is polite enough
to put down his newspaper
and he looks at me over his glasses,
He did a lovely job of it,
he says. The title is especially attractive,
with all those flourishes.

I know, I say. People had better
handwriting then. Billy hmms in agreement
and goes back to his paper. I wait
until he finishes his article and say,
Did you know that every year 
more than a million people come to
the National Archives Building to see it?

Billy raises an eyebrow and says,
I didn't know, but I'm not surprised.
I see it every year, in my dreams,
but not everyone has my imagination.

I'm sitting there thinking about
the million and one people who see it every year
as Billy returns to his reading.

I am nervous about interrupting him again
but I do anyway.
Did you know that the Declaration
and the Bill of Rights and the Constitution
are sealed in titanium casement
filled with argon gas?

And they are kept 22 feet underground
when they're not on display?
And the ink is measured every day
to make sure it isn't fading?

Oh, I do that, Billy says,
finally putting his newspaper down. 
With my copy, the one I visit.
Except it's not 22 feet underground
exactly. I keep it in 22 places. 
I keep the Preamble in my mouth,
and I tucked the first amendment
into my fingers so it's there while I'm writing.

I put some of the other amendments
in my shoes so I can figure out
where I'm going. I tend to ramble, 
you know.

I'm not sure whether it is more polite
to agree with him or disagree
so I make a noncommittal head bobble,
which he seems to approve of.

Where do you keep it?
he asks me.

I feel like it's been camping out
in my tear ducts, I say,
wishing I had a better answer.

But he nods, like that's a 
fine answer anyway. 

As long as the ink isn't fading, he says.

It's not, I say. 


We're Going to Walden for the roundup this week. Thanks for hosting, Tara! 

Bits and Pieces of Our Days

Whew, it's been so long since I've posted an actual update that I may have forgotten everything we've been doing for the last four months.

Let's see what I can recall.

Much of 16-year-old Ramona's fall semester was consumed by community theater. (Did I just say she's 16? I did. People, I started blogging when she was three. Yikes. May I stop time, please?)

She auditioned for Peter and the Starcatcher and (dramatic drumroll....) got the lead. She adored playing the Starcatcher, Molly, and her British accent was, if I do say so myself, spot on. (Not that I can actually judge, not being British, but trust me. It was perfect. This is not a mother talking. Well, it is. But. Whatever.) There were six performances over two weekends (would have been seven, but one was canceled due to snow), plenty of family made it into town to see her, and overall, the entire experience delighted all involved.

As homeschoolers in a small town, theater opportunities can be a little hard to come by, so I'd been hoping something would work out soon for Ramona. Community theater to the rescue, and long live Molly -- the Starcatcher and the rising star. So happy for her.



Have I mentioned how much I love having a daughter who's a librarian? It's not only that Anne-with-an-e will pick up or return books for me (and I admit that I exploit that benefit far too often), but she absolutely loves her job, and knowing that I played a part in matchmaking the Anne-with-an-e/Library relationship brings me extensive happiness. 


I spent much of the fall semester learning how to shop for and cook meals that are AIP (Autoimmune Protocol) compliant. Betsy's Crohn's disease, as I mentioned last September, was not responding to the drug she was on. She switched to a new one that she has to inject at home (and I learned that I can actually give someone a shot. Who knew? Nurse Karen, here). Then she tackled the daunting challenge of the AIP elimination diet. When people asked what she had to give up and I named all the foods -- grains, nuts, corn, legumes, beans, eggs, spices, dairy -- that aren't allowed during the elimination phase, they asked, "What's left?" Well, mainly vegetables (but no potatoes -- who knew they were a nighshade?), fruit, and meat.

Sourcing can be a challenge, but we've been getting it figured out. I've learned so much in the last few months about how to cook this way. There are loads of gluten-free flours that I'd never used or even heard of (tigernut, cassava.) I learned that you can actually make a pretty tasty orange-cranberry scone without flour, eggs, or sugar, and that you can create a "chili" without tomatoes (which are also a nightshade and therefore off-limits) by creating a stew base with pumpkin. I've been introduced to roughly a gajillion coconut products that I didn't know existed and I learned that everyone actually likes beef liver when it's hidden in a stew created by McAngie at Autoimmune Wellness.

It's still a challenge to balance all the AIP stuff with my vegan-ish leanings and some restrictions that Atticus adheres to, but I'm no longer pulling my hair out. I've been making peace with the kitchen, something I thought I'd never do, and that's been a lovely surprise.


Latest reading:

I just finished How to Stop Time, by Matt Haig, and I absolutely loved it. It was so much more than I expected, and now I want to read everything Matt Haig has ever written.

Friday, January 18, 2019

Poetry Friday: Breakage, by Mary Oliver

Such a short poem, "Breakage," by Mary Oliver, is.

It begins, as so many of her poems do, in the natural world, and ends, as so much of her work does, in the life of the mind, in the midst of reflection.

Here are the final lines:

First you figure out what each one means by itself, 
the jingle, the periwinkle, the scallop 
       full of moonlight. 

Then you begin, slowly, to read the whole story.

(Read the whole poem here, at The Poetry Foundation.) 

And that, dear friends, is a tiny glimpse of the wonder that was Mary Oliver.

May she rest in peace.

Mary Oliver, 1935-2019


Tricia Stohr-Hunt at The Miss Rumphius Effect is hosting the roundup this week.