Category Archives: books

The singing life with boys.

I landed in Colorado with Soldier’s family four days ago. The airport and airplane were fun for me and the boys because it was their first experience, and because it was a short trip, to and from smaller airports and on Southwest Airlines which seemed to me much more easygoing and helpful than my usual United travel.

We have been in this Airbnb house in Colorado Springs for four nights. It has plenty of room for three wild Indians (as my mother’s generation would have called them, but I try not to) to race up and down stairs and roughhouse, yelling, shouting, and laughing. If I can get them to sing with me it’s sometimes possible to channel this exuberance into plain laughing, which carries less risk of maiming. 

Sing Through the Seasons from the Plough Publishing House has been for our family a wealth of children’s songs that are joyful music for all ages. I have been singing many of the original 99 songs of the first edition for over 40 years, but I’ve never introduced so many in as short a span as during this last week.

I found a copy of the later edition I had bought used, and brought it along in my suitcase, and the three brothers and I have sat on the couch for long periods singing, “Nibble, Nibble,” “Where Are the Froggies When the North Wind Blows,” and many other favorites. “Trot Along, My Little Pony” by Marlys Swinger was a lullaby I used to sing to the babies, leaning over their cribs to pat them to sleep. Even 2-yr-old Brodie sings in his husky voice with “Nibble, Nibble,” and anticipates the ending when he can chime in with, “And the rabbit in my heart is you!”

Last night while the boys were waiting for dinner I taught them “Three Little Puffins.” They giggled through the song at the idea of puffin birds stuffin’ themselves with muffins, but the giggles turned to hilarity when I started calling them my own Three Little Puffins.

We’ve been on a walk around Palmer Lake just to the north of us in the community with the same name. A few bits of snow were still on the ground from Sunday, the day we arrived right after a snowfall, and I wished I had brought my wool scarf against the wind. We “did school” the very first morning here, because their mother Joy is incredibly organized, and have watched videos on Grandma’s laptop about Deep Sea Fishes, Dragonflies, and How Deep Can We Dig Toward the Center of the Earth?

At the closest public library, in Monument, Joy was able to get a library card, and we brought home lots of books. Not only that, but behind the library is a lake or pond where ducks swim, and the librarians give free cups of cracked corn for feeding the ducks.

At this house there are toys and games; Liam found a turntable Scrabble board and tiles, and wanted me to play with him. I would rather play Bananagrams, but most of his family’s belongings are in storage, so we don’t have that game here. Yesterday he and I drove to Walmart to pick up a few things, including Bananagrams, but the store had just stopped carrying it. I told the salesperson, “I bet Target has it!” We substituted a bunch of bananas, and a new Scrabble game that had all its parts. Liam took to this more complicated word game with enthusiasm. We love words!

I am nearly hoarse from all the singing and reading, but still want to do more, and usually at least one of my “puffins” is more than willing. This evening while dinner was cooking I read to dear Brodie four of his favorite books, including What Do You Hear, Angel?, by Elizabeth Crispina Johnson. It has plenty of repetition to please the child’s ear, but the message conveyed is a fundamental truth of the cosmos that is lifelong sustenance: Things seen and unseen are singing the same song. The illustrations by Masha Lobastov confirm that idea with images of a happy child engaging with, you might say, earthly and heavenly messengers.

That’s what we are living every day.

 

 

 

The sweetest flower is here.

This morning I wished I had gloves on my hands, as I looped my loop through the fog that was lifting as I went. It was the time when many mothers are walking their kindergarteners to school and pushing a younger child in a stroller. Middle-schoolers congregate in the saddles of their bicycles, and then speed off at the last minute to get to class on time. I encountered four neighbors with three dogs, Nino, Corky and Maverick.

And flowers! Maybe because the edges of the walking paths were sheared in September, a few Queen Anne’s Lace flowers have opened near the ground. This thistle caught my eye, the first I had seen all year, contrasting in color and development with pyracantha already in the berry stage. Above it, the shrub with yellow flowers is one I don’t know, but it looks like it may originate in the southern hemisphere… I say that only because the leaves remind me of bottlebrush. Does anyone know it?

Less exotic is the lower creek path and the creek, seen from the bridge, my “same ol'” favorite scene.

Birds are very busy in the runaway tangles of berries, vines and ripening seeds, such as in the patch of sunflowers in my front yard. I wish I knew who the little ones are that flit about there every day and fly away as soon as I get near.

I am listening to One Wild Bird at a Time by Bernd Heinrich, a man after my own heart, who spends days and weeks at a time in every season, tracking the behavior of birds in the Maine forest around his a cabin. He climbs trees to look into nests of woodpeckers and digs in the snow to count the fecal pellets of grouse, keeping detailed records in hopes of solving what to him are fascinating Why questions of the avian communities and society.

I also find this kind of detective work much more compelling to engage in or to read about than the kind of mystery novel many people enjoy, Agatha Christie or P.D. James or the current favorites. I don’t have the time Mr. Heinrich does to follow the owls and nuthatches through the woods, or to befriend and tame a starling; I also don’t have the vast background knowledge of birds and insects that informs his research, so I really appreciate his sharing the joy of his lifelong love in action.

Busy as my days have been, full as my house already is with books, when I returned a book to the drop slot at the library I succumbed to the temptation to look into the five ! 4-foot cube containers of books out in front, evidently what was left over from a book sale, books that were intended for thrift stores but — the truck had broken down, or what? We who were rummaging through only knew that the library staff had told us to take what we wanted, and yes, for free.

Wouldn’t you also have at least looked? I don’t know how much time I spent there, and I don’t know if it was the right thing to do… It was a strange situation, to be outdoors where several of the people were chatting as they tried to dig down at least a couple of feet toward who-knew-what treasures, the deepest of which were completely out of reach, unless someone wanted to dumpster dive.  One woman said, “These are some great books!” and later I heard, “These are all worthless.” Another seeker examined one volume after another and said to whoever would listen, “I never look a gift book in the mouth,” which seemed not the right proverb for what she was actually doing.

I talked to a third-grade girl who had come to the library with her grandfather. I showed her a few books I thought she might like, including Lemony Snicket and Beverly Cleary. She said about Cleary, “I only read the new books,” and told me she was looking for books for her baby sister.

I still had a bag of books in my car that I had taken from a box at church, left by a friend who used to sell books online and now is joining a convent. The picture above shows most of what I brought home from the two sources, less a couple of cookbooks I’d already put on the shelf; the book at the bottom right with the embossing worn off is How Green Was my Valley.

The Art of Loving I have an interest in because I had read it on my own in high school, and then at an interview for a college scholarship the interviewer wanted me to talk about why I liked it; I was completely unprepared for that and dumb. (I did get the scholarship anyway.) Many of these books I chose thinking of the possible interest of various of my very large and growing family. But I suspect I will end up giving at least a few to the thrift store myself!

I’ve cooked a couple of new things lately, first, some homemade dry cereal as inspired by Cathy and adapting the method she uses, developed by The Healthy Home Economist. I’ve made two batches now, and I really like it. I decreased the amount of maple syrup in my second batch and used both chickpea flour and rice bran in my recipe, and it was still good 🙂 Cathy’s picture made it look very good, and mine doesn’t seem as appealing visually, but here it is.

My housemate Susan taught me this summer to enlist the aid of Saint Phanourios when I lost something important.  The second time it was my keys, including the remote key to my car, that I lost, and when I found them I decided to bake the traditional cake in his honor, for both findings. It’s a yummy spice cake that Greeks might eat at any time, baked with orange juice and zest, and walnuts.

I was anticipating the arrival of grandsons Liam, Laddie, and Brodie this week, and decided to revive my traditional Oatmeal Bread recipe to serve them, which was our sandwich, toast, snacking bread for twenty years or so when we fed a houseful of us. For a time Pippin was the baker. We had to turn out a batch of five loaves a little more often than once a week. (Not quite as often we added a batch of the sourdough bread.)

This is Liam giving a sniff to the loaves that had only just come out of the oven when they arrived, with their mom and tiny baby sister — ta da! — Clara. She is my favorite fall flower of all.

 

As the opium smoker to his pipe.

“Some people read for instruction, which is praiseworthy, and some for pleasure, which is innocent, but not a few read from habit, and I suppose that this is neither innocent nor praiseworthy. Of that lamentable company am I. Conversation after a time bores me, games tire me and my own thoughts, which we are told are the unfailing resource of a sensible man, have a tendency to run dry. Then I fly to my book as the opium-smoker to his pipe. I would sooner read the catalogue of the Army and Navy Stores or Bradshaw’s Guide than nothing at all, and indeed I have spent many delightful hours over both these works. At one time I never went out without a second-hand bookseller’s list in my pocket. I know no reading more fruity.

“Of course to read in this way is as reprehensible as doping, and I never cease to wonder at the impertinence of great readers who, because they are such, look down on the illiterate. From the standpoint of what eternity is it better to have read a thousand books than to have ploughed a million furrows? Let us admit that reading with us is just a drug that we cannot do without—who of this band does not know the restlessness that attacks him when he has been severed from reading too long, the apprehension and irritability, and the sigh of relief which the sight of a printed page extracts from him?—and so let us be no more vainglorious than the poor slaves of the hypodermic needle or the pint-pot.

“And like the dope-fiend who cannot move from place to place without taking with him a plentiful supply of his deadly balm I never venture far without a sufficiency of reading matter.”

-W. Somerset Maugham (1874-1965), “The Book-Bag,” Collected Short Stories, Vol. IV

Shame or no shame… Middlemarch.

I had a brilliant idea for my concluding blog post about Middlemarch, which I read as part of an online read-along that Arti initiated. We were pretty much finished by the end of June. Even I had read the last page before the last day of that month, but I’ve been ruminating and composing in my mind for weeks more now, with nothing substantial to show for it.

The title of my article would be “Shame-Bearers of Middlemarch,” and I had in mind Dorothea, Lydgate, Mrs. Bulstrode, and probably some others. But I have decided that I don’t know enough about shame or about the characters of Middlemarch, even if I have read the book twice, and read a few articles by Fr. Stephen Freeman on the subject of shame, and… well, nothing more, really.

The world of this novel is so vast and deep, it gives me the feeling of having only passed through briefly, and making the barest acquaintance with the rich characters. Eliot has been generous to let us listen in on conversations, even within the townspeople’s own hearts, but I find I still don’t have don’t have enough material to give me confidence in my thesis.

I don’t feel any shame in admitting my paucity of wisdom, though I do feel a little embarrassment at my feeble farewell. I am humbled in the face of this magnificent book. It really is worth reading many times, but I fear that I didn’t get started early enough in life. Thank you, Arti, for prompting this read, which has been so worthwhile, and thank you to Pippin for letting me revisit and use her lovely photos of England; now I think I will watch the TV series!