Friday Fave 5

This space has been neglected lately, thanks to a combination of busyness and my general ambivalence about being online. But I find myself drawn back to Across the Page, remembering the good things this discipline of daily writing provided. One of the best is the Friday Fave Five roundup, hosted by Susanne at Living to Tell the Story, that gives us an opportunity to survey the highlights of the past week.

1. Celebrations! This week I marked both 17 years of marriage, and 40-ahem years of life. Both are inestimable treasures! I am so grateful for my husband, and the life we’ve created together — a life which includes two children who celebrate in a grand way, weaving a labyrinth of streamers and balloons throughout the house, baking a beautiful cake, and making a card to go along with the beautiful placemats they gave me.

Sunflower cake and anniversary flowers
Sunflower cake and anniversary flowers

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2. Caterpillars. Yes, after a few years off, we are recapping our monarch butterfly hosting on a smaller scale than in the past. It’s always a wonder-inducing experience to observe their metamorphosis into gorgeous, fragile, astonishingly durable flyers who will travel much farther in the next few months than I will.

Caterpillar 1, day 3
Caterpillar 1, day 3
Caterpillar 2, day 2
Caterpillar 2, day 2
Countertop habitat
Countertop habitat

3. Sunflowers. Our garden has produced the usual bounty of beans, cucumbers and tomatoes, but in addition we have the pleasure of seeing sunflowers actually grow! Usually the chipmunks eat them when they are first sprouting, but this year they made it through and now tower over everything else. It’s fun to see the birds and butterflies enjoying them.

Waiting...
Waiting…
Relaxing in the jungle...
Relaxing in the jungle…
Sunbathing...
Sunbathing…
Humans enjoy sunflowers, too!
Humans enjoy sunflowers, too!

4. School supplies. I enjoy being poised on the verge of the new homeschool year, when I’m feeling rested and ready, and when all the supplies are shiny and new. A few months from now I’ll feel differently… but let’s just linger here for a moment!

Shelves full of promise
Shelves full of promise

5. Recent vacation. (I’m just under the wire here, since it ended last Saturday!) For years, we never really took a vacation; as small business owners it can be tough to get away. But for the second year in a row, we actually loaded up and left town together. In retrospect, the week flew by, but at the time it seemed relaxed and wonderful — a “still waters” season.

IMG_0506IMG_0419IMG_0495ed2As usual, I reach the end of the list feeling blessed. How was your week? I look forward to seeing others’ posts at Living to Tell the Story.

Lady of Shalott

JWW_TheLadyOfShallot_1888This week, Tennyson’s “The Lady of Shalott” was on my 6th grader’s reading list. She read it, then last night I read it aloud to both girls and basically we all registered our questions and observations; I was too tired to do any more than that. But this morning, I got up and started investigating in my old anthologies and online, and I found some great resources. This entry at “Shmoop” addressed most all of our concerns in a very direct way. And a google image search revealed countless illustrations (including the above one, from Wikimedia), confirming what this site had said about it being a popular poem among illustrators.

I have certain Tennyson poems I’ve studied before, but this wasn’t one of them, and I loved several things about this process. I loved the way reading the poem aloud sounded (it’s also a nice predictable poem to talk about rhyme and rhythm). I loved the way we did an in-depth, impromptu literature lesson at breakfast, rehearsing the research process with seeming effortlessness. I loved seeing my youngest sitting with her nose in my huge thick anthology, her Cheerios set to the side, poring over the poem and then getting pulled into the next one, “The Lotus-Eaters.” But most of all, I loved how much this was an example of literature driving the study of literature — “The Lady of Shalott” is Anne of Green Gables’ FAVORITE, after all, and “The Lotus-Eaters” is one that Laura Ingalls reads in the Christmas gift she finds ahead of time by accident. In some way we find ourselves entering into a deeper identification with these two loved characters even as we meet a new one in Tennyson’s mysterious, dream-like poem.

Not all of our schooling has this quality of delight, but it’s wonderful when it does. (*Edited to add: not all of our schooling is this off-the-cuff, either! This is basically a supplemental reading list, and not one of our core assignments. So I’m comfortable with the spontaneous way this all came together, even though it’s not the way I usually do things. In fact, I was planning to come back to this in a more structured way later on — which is part of why it was delightful that it came together this way.) I came upon this W.H. Auden quote in Alan Jacobs’ The Pleasures of Reading in an Age of Distraction, and you’ll understand what I mean when I say today feels like a holiday:

When one thinks of the attention that a great poem demands, there is something frivolous about the notion of spending every day with one. Masterpieces should be kept for High Holidays of the Spirit.

I’m sharing this at Read-Aloud Thursday, hosted by fellow Anne-fan Amy at Hope Is the Word. Be sure and drop by there to glean ideas about possible read-alouds from others!

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What’s On Your Nightstand: March 2013

NightstandI missed this roundup last month, but I wanted to take the opportunity to look back over the last month’s reading — and see what others have on their nightstands, too! Here’s my rundown, with excerpts from my reviews.

  • The Myth of a Christian Nation (Gregory A. Boyd): “I found it to be a challenging and thorough examination of the entanglement of evangelical Christianity with American politics, one which offers an attractive and restorative alternative to the ‘civil Christianity’ all too prevalent in America.” Read the rest here, and an excerpt from the book here.
  • Letters from a Skeptic (Greg Boyd): “The book represents the results of an invitation by Boyd, a theology and apologetics professor, to his father, who is not a Christian: let’s have a dialogue in which you ask me all your questions about Christianity. And wow, does Mr. Boyd senior ever have questions! They run the gamut from the personal nature of God, to the resurrection, to the inspiration of scripture, to the textual integrity and historicity of the gospels, to the presence of the miraculous, to the existence of hell.” Rest is here.
  • The Black Cauldron (Lloyd Alexander): “My brother-in-law says there are only about 5 stories out there, remixed over and over. I’m not sure if I agree, but I did find lots of connections between this story and others, especially Tolkein’s. Like The Two Towers, The Black Cauldron as the second book in the series is (in my opinion) the darkest. Its central mission is serious: to secure and destroy the cauldron Arawn uses to turn corpses into “cauldron-born” warriors who can never be killed.” Rest here.
  • The Castle of Llyr (Lloyd Alexander): “This tale included the further adventures of Taran and Eilonwy and their band of delightfully ordinary friends. They run up against a befuddled princeling named Rhun, a small-spirited giant named Glew, a giant wild cat named Llyan, and a few familiar heroes and enemies from previous books. Eilonwy is kidnapped and we had a few tense chapters while reading, but we came out on the other end completely satisfied.” Rest here.

I’ve started and set aside several stories lately: Les Mis, Elizabeth Goudge’s Towers in the Mist, Dickens’ Nicholas Nickleby, Greg Boyd’s Present Perfect: Finding God in the Now. I’ve settled into Goudge’s Scent of Water, a reread of the first of her books that I ever read, and I’m absolutely loving it. On the nightstand waiting are Speak (Laurie Halse Anderson), The Secret Life of Octavian Nothing (M.T. Anderson), and Juliet Barker’s biography of Charlotte Bronte.

How about you? What have you been reading — or looking forward to reading?

The Castle of Llyr

Image.ashxWe’re continuing to enjoy Lloyd Alexander’s Chronicles of Prydain, and we finished the third book, The Castle of Llyr, this morning after a few marathon read-aloud sessions. This tale included the further adventures of Taran and Eilonwy and their band of delightfully ordinary friends. They run up against a befuddled princeling named Rhun, a small-spirited giant named Glew, a giant wild cat named Llyan, and a few familiar heroes and enemies from previous books. Eilonwy is kidnapped and we had a few tense chapters while reading, but we came out on the other end completely satisfied.

I liked three things in particular. One is that this was a good book for girls because it involved consideration of what makes for a good princess. Eilonwy is not merely a fun, verbose, level-headed maiden in this story, but a royal princess with her own important destiny. Will she rise to the occasion?

Another aspect I continue to enjoy is the utter likability of the characters. Taran is impulsive but able to learn. Gurgi grows braver and wiser in every adventure, but he never loses his penchant for picking up twigs and leaves in his fur coat, or for quotable phrases. Fflewddur Fflam seems to embellish the truth (and therefore break harp strings) less and less, but he never loses his basic decency or bravado (or his spiky hair). And Gwydion, the noblest of princes, somehow comes across as real even though he never seems to misstep.

I think what I liked best about this story is that even the wicked sorceress Achren is given a chance at redemption. It’s one example of the depth of characterization that makes these tales more than just action-packed adventure stories. Both daughters took turns reading to give me a break, and now they are insisting on picking up both remaining books in the Chronicles of Prydain from the library — so that we don’t have to waste even an hour before moving from the end of one to the beginning of the next. I’d call that a success!

My reviews of the two previous books are here: The Book of Three; and here: The Black Cauldron.

I’m linking up to Read-Aloud Thursday at Hope Is the Word.

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Friday Fave 5: March 1

The truth is, I’m a little down today — feeling inadequate and blah.

At work, my husband was talking with a man here temporarily from Wyoming. The man’s company may keep him here for several years. “I don’t know if I can take it,” he said. “In Wyoming we have cold weather and snow, too, but we also have 337 days of sun a year!” Guess how many we have? 153. In fact we have the distinction of being in the top ten worst weather cities in America. Not to be overly simplistic, but I’m certain the lack of sunshine has a measurable effect on me!

Anyway, Martin Lloyd-Jones writes in Spiritual Depression, “Have you realized that most of your unhappiness in life is due to the fact that you are listening to yourself instead of talking to yourself?” So in an effort to turn the tide I’m going to jump in on the Friday Fave Five roundup at Living to Tell the Story. Because the truth is that there are many small wonders to be thankful for.

1. My new bathrobe. My mother-in-law made me one for Christmas, but it wasn’t quite long enough, and the material was kind of funky for my tastes. I would never have mentioned these things, but my husband did — and she responded by making me a new one! I feel like royalty wearing it: it’s thick polar fleece trimmed with gold and white braid, and it goes all the way to my feet. Hence I can stand at the door waiting for the dog with warm ankles. It’s wonderful! And of course, so is the generosity and love and talent I’m the recipient of every time I put it on.

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2. Two beautiful daughters who fill the house with creations. Older Daughter makes tiny horses out of clay — she calls them “Pennywhickers,” because they’re the size of pennies.

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This is the miniature horse and cart she works with for 4-H.
This is the miniature horse and cart she works with for 4-H.

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Younger Daughter makes things she knows I love and gives them to me… like this plump cardinal sitting on a nest.

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Or these…

hearts

Or this.

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3. Valentine flowers that lasted a long time and beautified the kitchen.

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4. A husband and daughters who eat even my failures with a good will.

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5. The generosity of people who share their time and their animals with my daughters.

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Now I’m really rolling… So many more “faves” are crowding my mind now. So, mission accomplished.

What are you grateful for this week? This roundup is one of the best things going in the blogosphere.

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Poetry Friday: The Man from Snowy River

But the man from Snowy River let the pony have his head,
And he swung his stockwhip round and gave a cheer,
And he raced him down the mountain like a torrent down its bed,
While the others stood and watched in very fear.

(“The Man from Snowy River,” by A.B. “Banjo” Paterson, 1890. Full text here.)

We like this movie, especially the scenes where the young horseman trains a thoroughbred using gentler methods. But only more recently have we discovered the narrative poem on which the movie is based. I read it to my daughters this week and they listened raptly. “It’s more like a story than a poem!” said my 9-year-old.

Then I found it on YouTube, read properly with an Australian accent by Frankie J. Holden, and with footage from the movie. I want to share it here.

Poetry Friday is hosted at Sheri Doyle this week.

 

A Little House Traveler

lhtI picked up A Little House Traveler by chance on the juvenile biography shelf last week. Barbara at Stray Thoughts hosts a Laura Ingalls Wilder Challenge this month, and when I saw this title it looked interesting.

It was a very quick-moving read comprised of Laura’s letters and journals from three of her trips: from DeSmet to Missouri as a young married woman; to San Francisco as a middle-aged woman to visit her daughter Rose; and back to DeSmet with Almanzo (and Nero the dog) for a visit as an elderly woman.

It was interesting to see her world narrow over the course of these writings. The first journey was filled with keen observation and literate reading of the landscape. I was struck by how very smart Laura really was, with an intelligence well furnished with practical knowledge. She can read the crops, know the prices they bring, identify the vegetation, and describe the lay of the land and its health. This first journey was the most interesting to me. The second journey registers her interest in developing her writing, but other than that it was slow going for me, perhaps because it doesn’t carry the drama of the first journey. And the final trip to DeSmet was anticlimactic, even depressing. We get no sense of her emotional response to seeing her sisters for the first time in 40 years, and almost no description of Almanzo or his reactions, but we get lots of detail about the food and how Nero the dog is doing. (This is fascinating, considering that at this point she has written Little House in the Big Woods and is at the very beginning of a very fertile period as a writer.)

We get a sense of the grimness around the edges in Laura’s personality. She can be loving, but she’s often critical and searingly blunt. I liked seeing the affection Rose seemed to have for her, though I felt the picture we get of Rose, and of Rose and Laura’s relationship, is quite incomplete here. (Then again, any biography is highly selective.) Laura and Almanzo’s marriage shared a very deep bond, forged through shared hardship and determination, and both were very gifted people in their own right. But it’s always interesting to me how little she actually says about him among the many words she’s written. Maybe that can be regarded as an achievement: even though she achieved a level of fame, her marriage kept its privacy from the outside world, and its mystery.

My favorite book about Laura Ingalls Wilder is Becoming Laura Ingalls Wilder by John E. Miller. I’ve read it twice, and reviewed it here. I also read The Wilder Life, which I liked less. This book falls somewhere in between. It was on the juvenile shelf, but none of the content was composed with children in mind. I can see how it would be useful for a school report, and it contains a few photos that would be of interest. I enjoyed reading it, especially the first section, and getting a glimpse of travel before the age of automobiles. I also liked being able to see Laura’s frame of mind as they traveled to Missouri in hopes of starting over after such a disastrous first few years.

I’ve written on Laura Ingalls Wilder in these posts, too:

The Laura Ingalls Wilder Reading Challenge

Read-Aloud Thursday: Parrots, Hamsters, Goblins, and American History

I’ve wanted to participate in Read Aloud Thursday for awhile now. It’s an opportunity to share the books your family is experiencing together. I have an 11-year-old and a 9-year-old, and as usual the reading we’ve been doing is all over the map. The one kind of book that’s lacking is — Valentine’s Day books! That’s really lame, considering that my husband and I got engaged on Valentine’s Day fifteen years ago… Yet here we are, still doing life together, rearing our two amazing daughters and growing old together. :-) You might say we’re writing our own Valentine story, right?

book-alex-the-parrotSo without further ado, here are some of the books the girls and I have explored lately. Alex the Parrot tells the story of an African gray parrot famous for his intelligence. His owner Irene Pepperberg worked extensively to test and document the scope of his learning for 30 years. There’s a Nova segment on him here. Both girls loved it, though we didn’t see the ending coming — Alex’s premature death from heart failure. For bird lovers or anyone interested in animal intelligence, this beautifully illustrated book provides a detailed look at a well-known, well-loved example. When he died, his loss was mourned by a whole community of scientists and other admirers.

mWinter According to Humphrey is the latest in Betty Birney’s series of books about this lovable classroom hamster. When we first came upon this series we owned hamsters; all four have passed on, yet we still have a soft spot in our hearts for these spunky little rodents. We aren’t quite finished with this book, but it bears the usual trademarks of Humphrey’s compassion for his human caretakers in Room 26, and his efforts to provide solutions for their problems and needs in family and school life. In this story he learns to play the piano! We love Humphrey.

005909The most challenging read of the week is Christina Rossetti’s “Goblin Market,” a narrative poem that was included in my 6th grader’s history reading list. Both girls felt it to be good and interesting, but “hard to explain.” Others would agree; Google it and you’ll find plenty of discussion, some of it unsettling when considering how to approach the poem with elementary-aged kids. There is lots of biblical imagery and thematic material, and also some sensual imagery that I felt strange reading aloud. Basically I tried to use their questions to model how a reader might tease out an understanding.

I’m interested in how captivated children are by a poem like this. It’s complex for them by just about every measure — syntax, vocabulary, form, allusions, meaning. It explores darkness and danger without simplifying it, and it struck me as having an odd blend of ambiguity and moralism. Yet kids are not intimidated by their own confusion in the way adults sometimes are.

On a much lighter poetic note, we’ve also enjoyed some animal poetry (my review here) and excerpts from Alice in Wonderland, also on Older Daughter’s reading list. My younger daughter has a reading list too, and she’s been reading Grimm’s Fairy Tales. Prior to this I had been letting her get lost in various short books about Star Wars and princesses (I love that combination!), but after doing some rereading in The Well-Trained Mind I decided it was time to reassert a more directive role.

We’ve been focusing on the American Revolution and the writing of the Constitution in history, and I decided we’d hang out in this period a little longer than originally scheduled so that we could read around and get a richer feel for it than we’d be able to if we simply dashed through it in a week. Inspired by Laura and Carrie in Little Town on the Prairie, we are working on memorizing the beginning of the Declaration of Independence. And equally inspired (and assisted) by Schoolhouse Rock we are brushing up on the Preamble to the Constitution.

Here are a few other books we’ve used, together or separately. Further suggestions are welcome!

  • Joining the Boston Tea Party
  • The Liberty Tree
  • Can’t You Make Them Behave, King George?
  • Ben and Me

On deck:

  • George Washington: Hero, Soldier, President
  • The Black Regiment
  • Benjamin Franklin

So there’s a glimpse into our reading week. To see what others are reading, or to share your own list, head over to Read Aloud Thursday at Hope Is the Word. Happy Valentine’s Day!

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Poetry Friday: Animal Poems

6301009I picked up this book of animal poems from the new books shelf at the library. Flipping through it as my two daughters buckled up in the back seat, I came upon a hamster poem. “Aww,” I exclaimed, holding up the book so they could see the picture. “Look at this!”

Over my arm
she softly flows —
cinnamon coat
and whiskery nose.

With marble eyes
she stops and peeks;
lets me stroke
her knapsack cheeks…

“Awwww!!” came the stereophonic echo from the back seat, followed by hands reaching expectantly for the book. All the way home I heard delighted chuckles and fragments of poetry: white-throated sparrows “with no necks,” huddled in the cold… A beaver in November, muttering incessantly, “Mud, more mud, add mud, good mud…” A pigeon, pleading for the traffic to hush so her newborn can sleep: “Please city have some pity…” The poems are by a variety of authors, and they are splashed against arresting, colorful photographs of the featured animals. There is an impressive mix of creatures ranging from homely to exotic, and the (mostly short) poems are similarly wide-ranging in their forms. The book concludes with a two-page spread on writing poems about animals, followed by a list of resources.

Surely a book that fills my car with poetry in young, delighted voices is a success. Surely the way the girls come running whenever I crack open the book is further proof. I’ve brought home poetry books before, but this one hits on the recipe for delight in my house. For a family of nature lovers, it celebrates the ordinary, rendering the familiar inhabitants of our back yard with fitting eloquence. It reminds us of others out there who admire and empathize with the creatures who have no words. And it gives us a glimpse of all we’ve yet to lay eyes on in the big book of nature.

Always, we return to “Hamster Hide and Seek,” by Avis Harley. It concludes this way,

Then ripple-of-fur
takes her leave
to probe new roads
inside my sleeve.

The girls have had four hamsters in all. Each one lived about a year, each had its own distinct personality, and each was loved. So this poetic portrait, along with its stunning accompanying photo, always brings a smile and a bittersweet memory.

I’m linking up (a little late) with the Poetry Friday roundup at A Teaching Life. Click over to see what poems others are sharing today.

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What’s On Your Nightstand? January 2013

NightstandToday it’s time for What’s On Your Nightstand? hosted at 5 Minutes for Books. I’ve read some interesting books over the last month and this is a prime opportunity to revisit them. Here they are, with blurbs and links to my reviews.

  • The Discarded Image (C.S. Lewis): “Lewis was a classicist, and I’ve always wondered: if he speaks so compellingly in these areas outside his field of expertise, how does he sound when he’s in his sweet spot? The Discarded Image provides the answer. Not being a medievalist myself, I found this “introduction to medieval and Renaissance literature” quite challenging because of the dense thicket of literary allusions. I’m more familiar with the literature of the Renaissance than of the medieval period, and Lewis ranges widely and deeply among the writers of both eras. But I found that I gathered momentum as I went along, getting better at harvesting the insights without having read all the works.” Rest of my review is here.
  • A Place In Time (Wendell Berry): “These stories went straight to my heart. I’ve been a Berry-reader since the mid-nineties and have read everything he’s written, but not since my first reading experience (The Memory of Old Jack) have I been so deeply moved by something he’s written.  A Place in Time offers twenty short stories about the people and events of Port William, the fictional community in Kentucky that Berry has been developing imaginatively since Nathan Coulter in 1960.” Read the rest here.
  • The Evolution of Adam (Peter Enns): “It’s a book about the Bible, one that challenges us to think about how our view of Adam needs to evolve in the face of the archaeological and scientific discoveries since the 19th century. I found it to be a fascinating, informative, sometimes destabilizing, ultimately exhilarating read.” Rest is here.
  • Holy Discontent: Fueling the Fire that Ignites Personal Vision (Bill Hybels): “I would put this book in the motivational/inspirational category. Hybels includes a number of stirring illustrations of people who have found their “one thing” and their life trajectories changed forever — and improved the human lot in significant, lasting ways. It’s the kind of book that sets a single idea before you and asks you to think about it long and hard.” Rest is here.

In addition to these I finished rereading Elizabeth Goudge’s Little White Horse, this time as a read-aloud to my daughters (ages 11 and 9). (My first reading from a few years back is reviewed here.) Even though Goudge can be a little long-winded at times she creates such an appealing imaginative world the girls absolutely loved the story. We’re entering a new era in our read-alouds, one in which my daughters occasionally do the reading, and this is a good thing because much though I love reading aloud, and committed though I am to doing it, it makes me very sleepy. (Oxygen deprivation? The monotony of my own voice? What?) I have been known to veer gently away into the narrative of my own dreaming while reading aloud, one of our funnier family secrets. So I’m quite happy that I get to be in the audience sometimes now. We need a new gripping chapter book to read aloud, so feel free to give recommendations!

Right now I’m revisiting an older book called A Place for You, about the significance of place, by psychologist Paul Tournier; I’ve also been enjoying N.T. Wright’s Luke for Everyone as an accompaniment to my Bible-reading.

I have some exciting reading to look forward to in coming days:

How about you? What’s on your nightstand? Click the button above to see others’ reading adventures.