Gather Round {May 19th}

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{I truly wish we could all ‘gather round’ and chat about life, relationships, education, books, and our passions. Please grab a mug of steaming coffee or pour yourself a cup of tea, and get comfortable. I enjoy being a ‘fly on the wall’ so to speak, reading about people’s lives, plans, or just what’s generally happening. I’d like to share that occasionally (every, fortnight, or so) here under this title. I’m not sure how it will play out, but I’d like to give it a go. I will post headings so that if you only have a few moments, you can scroll right to what interests you. I love conversations, don’t be shy, please chime in.}

I skipped the May 5th Gather Round, but it couldn’t be helped.  Check out previous editions if you are interested in catching up round here.

Domesticity ~ Yesterday was my husband’s birthday and I had a lot of fun cooking meat and potatoes in different forms! Ha. It’s true. He loves plain, farm fare. The children helped me set the table nicely and we got a lot of farm/yard work done, as it was a gorgeous day. My seedlings are actually doing well. Just need to weed a bit more and transplant them out doors. I probably need some wood chips to help me keep the weeds down. I’m hoping to go to a nearby Amish greenhouse for a few flowers for my deck and maybe a couple perennials to plant, crossing fingers that one day Hearth Ridge will have a bower of flowers. I’m especially keen to plant peonies and lilacs. They might take a few years to really show up or bloom, but that’s alright. The anticipation will be worth it.

Education ~  We are continuing on for a few more weeks, working on finishing up our Civil War studies. We’ve been reading a few wonderful, thoughtful books together about Prudence Crandall, Abe Lincoln, and others.  My oldest has read Gone With the Wind and is finishing up Uncle Tom’s Cabin.  She also has read about Ulysses Grant and Robert E. Lee. It’s been a fascinating term, history wise. We will be getting into the World Wars in the autumn.  We have quite a few loose ends to tie up before we break for the summer.

Writing ~ I’m working on a poem about time and another essay piece I plan on submitting soon to a online journal. I’m hoping another poem I wrote will be included in a collection of local stories and poetry. I’m slowly moving forward on my fiction piece. I am basically character building and world building, muddling through the first draft with no clue what I’m doing. BUT I’m having fun, even though it’s extremely hard to craft. I was digging around online and found a lovely writer’s blog that I am inspired by deeply. I especially have been enjoying her essays on the Creative Process. Her photographs and collections of illustrations are beautiful. One thing that I find, is that I don’t write as much for here currently because all my brain power is turned to my other projects. I still LOVE writing here, my little home, so there’s that tension. However, all of life is a tension and a dance, right?

Reading ~ I’ve been mainly enjoying The Cloister Walk by Kathleen Norris and Cherry Cake and Ginger Beer by Jane Brocket. I have a huge stack of books that are essays about writing, writing fantasy, and writing for children, as well as nature lore and travelogue memoir types. I’m always way too ambitious with my reading piles. As long as I just determine not to let it me stress out, and weed it occasionally, that’s fine.

Sillies & Sundries ~  I found a fantastic lecture by author Susan Cooper that I very much enjoyed and wanted to pass it along to all of you. Brew a cup of tea and be prepared to be inspired, it’s about an hour long. Is anyone tuning into the Royal wedding today? I might peek onto social media, but for the most part, hope to read, grab a coffee with a friend, and garden with my daughter.

Cheerio, lovelies.

~

Mother’s Day Weekend: Do Something that Won’t Compute

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Happy Mother’s Day to all the mothers and to the beautiful women who serve day in and day out, even if they are not physical mothers. May you feel loads of love this weekend! I invite you all to listen to this inspiring and beautiful podcast:

Do Something That Won’t Compute

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To Begin Again

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What helps us start over? My daughter and I, feet dew-damp, chased a bit of fluffy fog this morning. Heads back, breathing in the heavenly fresh-after-rain scent of the air, the glint of diamonds off a nearby bush, catching us unaware. A light breeze tickles the ends of our hair, shafts of sunlight piercing through our worn, lone tree.

What does it mean to begin again? The swirl of brush in murky water, dabbing watercolors onto our papers together, I glance up at the blue Bell jar, the pussy willow stems beckoning to me, asking me to remember them on paper. Simple meals shared, tuna patties, lettuce, on wheat. Lanterns lit, orange juice pored from a tall, porcelain pitcher, catches the light just right.

How do we move forward from life’s bogs? I shake out a giant, geometric cloth, my hand smoothing, running the length of it, as I lay it on our table. A little orange gingham fabric piece in the middle, my lilac candle, lanterns, two pine cones, and bouquet. A quiet restart, reflection and hope for things to come, conversation, and relationship. Pausing over seasonal, springy, Tookish poetry, chuckling at Moomins, and dirty hands dropping their homemade bow and arrows on top, mussing it a bit.

What helps us breathe again, from the busy, harried, breath-sucking seasons? The steam rising from the pot of oatmeal, walnuts and raisins, sprinkling down over the top, a splash of milk added to the lot, pepper plants on the sill, a bit of spilled dirt, the curtain above, whipping in the wind from the window, fresh from bath, soap-smelling little boy, and soul-deep discussions over a chapter in Tanglewood Secrets.

What makes the ink of life, flow again? The pulse of our heart, beat again? A cool breeze, gray, slate-colored skies, epic soundtracks flowing along side the tide of feeling, bringing the outside in, the reality of knowing, seeing, drinking in the fact, that we are not really made for this world, and its darkness. The little dandelion, the moss, the way the birds sing, bringing in the dawn.  The first, hot cup of coffee, warming my hands, hip against the wood counter top, sipping in the morning.

What helps us start over? I’m not sure, but these small moments are essential ingredients. Humble gratitude for every little gift, no matter how small. Each moment is a new beginning.

~

 

 

April Reads

Vilma Reading on a sofa_ by Frantisek Tavik Simon (Czech 1877-1942)

“Vilma Reading on a sofa” by Frantisek Tavik Simon (Czech 1877-1942)

I was able to read some lighter fiction this month and finish some of the ones I’ve been dipping into for awhile now. The weather is turning glorious, so one must push oneself off of one’s backside and out of doors. 😉 I’m still plugging away at my selections for the Back to Classics reading community, but haven’t finished any more of them. I’ve been dipping into more Children’s and YA literature and I always fall back in love with it. Recently, I finally read a Moomin tale and found in charming. Do you enjoy Children’s or YA for yourself? WARNING: YOU ARE ABOUT TO BE SUBJECTED TO A VERY TALL PILE OF BOOKS. PROCEED AT YOUR OWN RISK. 

The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde (***) – I tend to rate books immediately upon completion very emotionally. I initially rated this a bit higher, but bumped it down a bit after I thought on it awhile. I’m not sure why I do this. This was silly and eye-rolling fun. I enjoyed the creativity of this story very much! It had a predictable plot, swearing, wonderfully wonky puns, and some ridiculous cliches, but the truth is, I just want to escape through a Prose Portal and visit with Jane and Mr. Rochester. The End.

Wodwo by Ted Hughes (****) – This is a collection of poems, short stories, and one play. It was weirdly wonderful. Hughes use of words is beautiful and he paints beautiful word pictures. I didn’t always understand the themes or subject of the pieces, but overall, I was enchanted by his word wizardry. My favorite poem of all, and one I’m super inspired by, is the title poem, “Wodwo”. I actually heard of this mythical creature from Robert MacFarlane’s Instagram account and googled the term. I was intrigued and chased it down, finding this book by Hughes.

Upstream: Selected Essays by Mary Oliver (***) – There were parts of this that just made my soul sing. I especially loved the opening essay, “Upstream”, and there were words and thoughts and phrases that were just so beautiful. The rest was just ok and a bit strange and rambly. I really should reread and jot down words and phrases for future contemplation.

Oath of Honor by Lynette Eason (***) – This was an inspirational thriller with a side of mystery and romance. This title was intriguing and fast paced. I suspect that there are many others in this series or previous books that introduced the family of law enforcement officials, because I felt a little confused about details about the main characters, like it was assumed I knew about them a bit already. Over all, very well done, the villain/mystery was well-hidden and the romance not too bad on the cheese-o-meter.

The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver (****) – This has taken me months to get through because it was heart-wrenching in many ways. Wow. I hated this book so much I loved it. This is an achingly beautiful account of The Belgian Congo and a family torn up by Pharisaical religiosity, racism, sexism, and as many other “isms” that Kingsolver could think of and fit into this book. This is the first book that made me cry in a long time and I will never forget it. Even though I strongly believe the author made sweeping, prejudiced (ironically, the very thing she eloquently rails about in this book) blanket judgments of things she abhors (or at least seems to based on this novel), there is SO much to appreciate about this and pull away from it. Highly recommend if you can read it with a grain of salt and a willingness to look at yourself, shaking off deeply ingrained things that aren’t right.

Hourglass: Time, Memory, and Marriage by Dani Shapiro (*****) – If you remember last month, I finished another of this author’s titles, Still Life: Pleasures and Perils of a Creative Life, and thought to try another soon. This was a short and easy stroll. Just subtle and lovely look at how fast time flies and longevity in marriage (ironically, this is the author’s third marriage, BUT I want to believe the best about people, right?! Marriage is hard, but that’s what can make it good). It was poignant and it made me think.

The Hazel Wood by Melissa Albert (**) – This was another Instagram FAIL. I was so disappointed after a promising beginning. Longer review here if you are interested, but slight spoiler alerts.

Crosstalk by Connie Willis (*****) – SLIGHT SPOILER! The daily workings of a telecommunications company may not sound fascinating, but oh wow, they are when you have Willis writing about them. The new craze is a medical implant supposedly to increase your emotional connection to your partner. Briddley, a young employee, is thrilled and astonished by the attention lavished on her by one of her bosses Trent, and now he wants to get this implant with her! The weird tech department guy won’t stop warning her about the dangers of this procedure, and her big crazy Irish family won’t leave her alone.  Continued review here!

Island Beneath the Sea by Isabel Allende (***) – (GRAPHIC CONTENT IN THIS BOOK – READ COMPLETE REVIEW BEFORE READING!) I have a bit of a book “hangover” from this title. Brutal and honest look at life during the colonization of Saint-Domingue (Haiti) and the Santo Domingo (Dominican Republic) by the French and Spanish. This follows the life of a young slave Tete and her masters and the people she encounters in her life from her mother’s origins in Africa, enslaved to Haiti, ending up in Louisiana. It touches on Toussaint Louverture and his impact on the Haitian Revolution.  Continued review here! 

The Lost Castle by Kristy Cambron (****) – A strong 3.5 stars! This was a beautifully written inspirational historic romance. Three different women’s stories carefully woven through the generations of the countryside of France. It takes you through the French Revolution, WWII, and modern day with ease and fluidity. The romance was SO well done, tasteful and slow, I’m so happy to find an Christian author like this. I can’t wait to read more from Cambron. This title reminded me a bit of Kate Morton’s style. The ONE thing I didn’t like was there were a few “neat” bows-tied up, but I’ll forgive it, because I really enjoyed it.

Plot & Structure: Techniques and Exercises from Crafting a Plot That Grips Readers from Start to Finish by James Scott Bell (*****) – I think that title says it all. No need for a review. Ha. This was simple, straightforward, and I loved learning about what it takes to craft fiction. Wowsers. Go shake an author’s hand, will you, please? This is a great resource, wonderful for revisiting parts over and over again, and I’m sure I will, as I continue to learn and grow.

Moomins and the Great Flood by Tove Jansson (*****) – This was absolutely charming story of a little family of critters searching for their loved ones and forever home. They meet a whole bunch of fascinating friends on their journey. Gorgeous, whimsical illustrations with just the right amount of creep.  I want to move into Moominvalley with them!

Yonder by Margaret Bell Houston (*****) – My dear friend gave me a copy of this book this past weekend and I gobbled it up. Written BEAUTIFULLY and with such a wonderful blend of mystery, romance, and creepiness. A young woman Olive lives through a horrible tragedy and needs to begin again. She ends up as a companion to a young woman suffering from acute mental illness brought on by a sudden horrific event in her life. She lives in a castle on an island in the Florida keys filled with old, hidden memories, creepy handicap sister, and old, withered father. A mysterious servant Ezra is always in the shadows, as Olive tries to help the beautiful Zoé, the atmosphere and place creeps into her being. Olive finds herself healing and growing through the most unlikely friendships. This is full of lovely atmospheric bits, delicious haunts, and old pirate ghosts floating through the halls. I could feel the salt spray on my face and taste it all. I dug around a bit I found out the author is the granddaughter of Sam Houston, of Houston, Texas fame. Interesting!

The Holy Bible (*****) – working slowly through Proverbs, Hebrews, James, 1 & 2 Peter, 1 John.

~

 

 

 

Bookmarked Bits

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An old Milwaukee Brewer’s ticket, a receipt for Goldfish crackers, and a yellowed photograph. Torn-edged Emily Dickinson poems, exotic postcards with black squiggly postmarks from long ago, and fluorescent hued post-it notes. Advertisements, crumpled bits of paper with phone numbers, and love letters. Thank you cards, a gallant knight hand drawn by my son. Bits of string, tags from a favorite store, shirt bought two sizes ago, and an old Valentine. Origami, playbills, and church bulletins folded accordion style. Bits of napkin, strips of paper bag, and special chocolate wrappers. Empty tea bag wrappers, coffee drink labels, and business cards. Strips of washi tape stuck together, ribbon, lace, and old empty envelopes. A friend’s obituary, a wedding invite, and pressed flowers. Metal book darts, watercolor flowers on card stock, and coffee stained cardboard. Fabric squares, old conference name tags, and retreat brochures. Cell phone case instructions, empty seed packets, and piano recital flyers.

Tangible memories of life in between the pages of my books.

~

Many Happy Returns, Gladys Taber!

Gladys Taber at Stillmeadow

{Gladys Taber on Pinterest}

I want to wish Gladys Taber, a very Happy Birthday! She is one of my top favorite non-fiction authors, her love of books, nature, and life’s minutia, find her a kindred spirit with me. She actually died a few months before I was born, but her observations and love of the dailiness of life are timeless. In honor of her wonderful writing, I’d love to introduce you to Michele, a wonderful online writer, who captures Glady’s spirit in her writing.  Go on over and visit Michele at The Rabbit Patch Diary and prepare to be inspired. Are you familiar with Mrs. Taber? Do you have a favorite classic memoirist and a favorite modern memoirist? I love to hear!

A cake and tea will be happening here later in memory and honor of  Gladys!

~

Old Friend

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Slashed straight across,

split, stacked, corded, loss.

No more gnarly, twisted limbs.

No more waves, nods, bare and slim.

Moving along that curvy road,

understanding grew between dead and souled.

Once weekly we acknowledged each other,

empty, dry, haunt-of-wood and I, sister, brother.

On the swoop of a curve,

a wide expanse, rattled one’s nerve.

Except for tall, weather-beaten giant,

he’d seen sun, wind, storms, and stood defiant.

The moment I saw him laid to rest,

a small pain spread warmly through my chest.

An ache, a prick, of beauty lost and gone,

wisdom, solace, and strength, now wind’s song.

The next pass I made the sadness was less,

still sat the bones, remnants, dusty mess.

However, a thought of Amish toes by a hot fire,

a child cheered with warmth, flickers to inspire.

My friend still lives, not gone forever,

memories and warmth, our lasting treasure.

~

 

A Minute of Life

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I just finished chopping green peppers. Thunk, thunk on my cutting board’s surface and juicyish-feel as I cut stands out in loveliness. I focus closely on this process. Chop, chop, and throw in crock-pot. The black-bean corn salsa lid comes off, salsa following peppers into pot.  A little bit of taco seasoning, frozen chicken breasts, knob flicked to low. Dinner is on. Do you ever do this? Follow minutely with what is at hand? I find myself trying to make this a habit. The beauty found in the curve and color of the peppers, the grain of the wood on my cutting board, the spicy, pungent aroma from the salsa and spices, and the satisfaction of knowing dinner is being prepared ahead of time. The reality is my schedule is a bit chaotic and my home is a mess.  Laundry is spilling over, clothing organizational project gone awry, Plutarch waiting to be read, Sunday school lessons to prep, sewing projects discarded in lumps, and greasy hair on my forehead. By zeroing down into what my hands are doing, my eyes are seeing, and opening up my senses to THIS second, I’m able to keep moving forward with grace.

~

March Reads

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April is here, spring is not. However, who’s complaining when we have loads of coffee and stacks of books? Here is what I finished in March. How about you? What did you finish?

When Death Draws Near by Carrie Stuart Parks (****) – This was a unique, quirky mystery with plenty of suspense. I did not figure out the creep before the end. Bravo. It was written well and the characters were drawn wonderfully! The snake handling church plot was slightly hard to swallow, but in the end, it overall worked. I’m looking forward to reading more from this author.

Letters from Eden: A Year at Home, in the Woods by Julie Zicklefoose (*****) This was a delightful memoir mixed with gorgeous nature paintings. Ziclefoose’s attention to detail in her paintings and writing captured the beauty of the birds and natural world around her. I really enjoyed this and found it soothing.

The Skin Map by Stephen R. Lawhead (****) – This is the first in a fantasy series called Bright Empires and Lawhead doesn’t disappoint. This took me a little while to get into, but then I was hooked. The premise is that there are ley lines all over the world that lead to alternate realities and time travel. Kit Livingston’s great-grandfather shows up in London one day, shocking Kit out of his regular life, sharing secrets, mysterious maps tattooed on skin,  and multi-layered universes.

Habitation of Wonder by Abigail Carroll (*****) – I would give this six stars if I could. Just lovely, haunting poetry, exploring the beauty of life, nature, and faith in an approachable, gorgeous, lyrical way. I’m on my third reread of it, it’s not long, it’s so life-giving and wonder-provoking. Carroll is my favorite modern poet and you can visit her here and read some of her words.

Still Writing: The Pleasures and Perils of a Creative Life by Dani Shapiro (*****) – this was a beautiful collection of essays, memoir-style about Shapiro’s life and process as a writer. She has such a beautiful way of looking at life with a slant, of appreciating the beauty, but still understanding the reality. Many times, I was nodding, and felt like I had found a sister with regards to understanding the mental battle writers are always facing. I really loved this one. Highly recommend.

Sidney Chambers and the Shadow of Death by James Runcie (***) – I found these six interconnected mysteries to be interesting and the perfect light read. Sidney Chambers is a priest with the Church of England and finds himself constantly intertwined with local crime solving. My favorite thing about this book was Sidney himself. He is constantly struggling with the tension between his duties to God and his parish and his strange ability to help the police solve crimes. His love of poetry, jazz, and biking and the gorgeous descriptions of England make these a delightful read. One story was a bit more disturbing as it involves a woman’s kidnapping by a twisted man, but for the most part these were intriguing. Not grisly or super in-depth crimes, definitely more inner character driven type writing. I enjoyed these very much and hope to read more.

The Masterpiece by Francine Rivers (***) – this was a sweet story of redemption for two people, one a single mother and the other a tortured artist with a dark past. I really enjoyed Roman, the artist’s, character.

The Holy Bible (*****) – Colossians, 1 & 2 Thessalonians, 1 & 2 Timothy, Titus, Philemon, and finished Psalms.

~

Monday Ponderings {April 2nd}

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Days pass and the years vanish and we walk sightless among miracles. Lord, fill our eyes with seeing and our minds with knowing. Let there be moments when your Presence, like lightning, illumines the darkness in which we walk. Help us to see, wherever we gaze, that the bush burns, unconsumed. And we, clay touched by God, will reach out for holiness and exclaim in wonder, “How filled with awe is this place and we did not know it.” Amen.

Hebrew Sabbath Prayer

(I became aware of the first line of this prayer in a book called Still Writing by Dani Shapiro and it touched me deeply. I dug around a bit online and found the rest of it. I’m thinking on it as we begin a new week and a new month.}

~

Monocles, Maps, and Minutia

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Slant snowflakes and slate gray sky, just outside the window. Today was a day of catch-up. I say that everyday around here. Lassoing laundry and slinging sud-soaked dishes was the first order of the day. George Gershwin’s cheery Concerto in F propelled us along. The pellet stove was extra hungry, the smell lingering in the air, not unpleasantly mixing with coffee. The children laugh at me and my Magic Elixir, mmmm, I’m brewing more now.  I must admit, I feel old and worn out with all the questions, hullabaloos, and to-dos. Yet, these beautiful people keep me from rusting, well-oiled am I with six of them. Wonder, amazement, and simplicity are alive and well here, and I have them to thank for that. The last page of a wonderful story was turned today, and how extra bittersweet it was to share it with other kindred spirits. All the dust and crumbs of this life, swirl, crescendo, into a lovely soup-y mix. The snowy boots and little mittens. Sweeping up the spilled sunflower seed, a tromp out to the feeders, a welcome respite. A new poetry book to crack open, the tang of the Emerald Isle air hitting me full salty-spray in the face, Yeats wooing me from afar. Arguing about a sewing project, a daughter recording her dreams on my iPhone, admiring two kerosene lamps from Valentine’s Day past, and not to mention a dirty football on the table, crumpled bits of everything, everywhere. Whispering the fortifying words of Apostle Paul, over and over again, whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus. Over and over again, I’m astonished that I get to live this life. It’s not romantic at all, in reality. It’s hard work, the same mind-numbing work, over and over again. But looking at it slant, looking at it through a monocle of love, what I see is an amazing journey in miraculous minutia. My back may ache, my right foot has been bothering me, I need a shower, and extra weight hangs around, but here I am. Discussing the American Civil War and Abe Lincoln with a group of interesting and intelligent people. They remind me of differences in the Union and Confederate flag, bring in the battle of Fort Sumter, and chuckle about Davy Crockett. I just sit and soak it all in. I laughed with them as we listen to the Taming of the Shrew, so much to learn through Will, that’s for sure. Good and bad. Heads get bonked, angry tears happen over messes to be cleaned up, and garbage knocked over. Snow ice cream, taco dinner plans, and endless noise. The sibling riots settle and we pour over maps of Africa, searching the web for information on Cameroon’s violence. Our hearts and souls fly upwards and outwards, beyond the walls of our little home, our state, flitting past our U.S. borders, over the ocean, and enter into the wounds and dusty tears of others. Snow is still falling as the evening envelopes us. My green mug is running on empty, my geranium is blooming, and I’m going to light my lamps for dinner.

Another gift unwrapped here and enjoyed. Good night.

~