Monthly Archives: November 2009

Rejoice!

Merry Christmas everyone! It pleases me to the skies to have arrived in the season where I can say that. Here in the mountains, our tree is glitteringly up and there are candles galore flittering in every shadow of the house. The first Christmas party takes place tomorrow night, and the first Christmas visit trip (to Nashville!) begins on Thursday. I’ve mentioned my forays to KY before to visit Gwen, one of my favorite people in the world. She visited my family every year at Christmas from before I was born, and this year, we get to go to her and spend a couple of days in lovely old Nashville on the way. I’m breathless with the rush and fun of the season already.

Thank you all so many times over for your lovely comments and congratulatory emails and orders regarding my new book. Your sharing in this joy with me is the first of my Christmas gifts, I’m pink-cheeked with delight. Someone commented that for those who don’t live here in Colorado, I ought to post a bit of what I’ll be sharing and some of the books I’ll be reviewing at the tea. I think that’s a grand idea.

Now that the first wildness of the holidays is over, I’ll be posting again. I have so many thoughts stored up. For now, here’s a poem I read recently that gripped my spirit and wouldn’t let go:

Wild geese are flocking and calling in pure golden air,
Glory like that which painters long ago
Spread as a background for some little hermit
Beside his cave, giving his cloak away,
Or for some martyr stretching out
On her expected rack.
A few black cedars grow nearby
And there’s a donkey grazing.

Small craftsmen, steeped in anonymity like bees,
Gilded their wooden panels, leaving fame to chance,
Like the maker of this wing-flooded golden sky,
Who forgives all our ignorance
Both of his nature and of his very name,
Freely accepting our one heedless glance.

“A November Sunrise” by Anne Porter, from An Altogether Different Language. © Zoland Books, 1994.

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Book special for Christmas!

Happy Thanksgiving Monday!

I have to start by thanking you all so very much for your lovely comments of congratulation on my book publication a couple of weeks ago. I am most encouraged. You’re kind comments are so heartening! I love having friends to share the festivities of book release celebrations.

Which brings me to the festivity bit. Seeing as Read for the Heart is coming out at Christmas and all, I decided its only fitting to offer it at a Christmas special. So, if you happen to know anyone who would enjoy a foray into the world of literature, then hop on over to the Storyformed Project and get them a signed copy of my book. Your brand spanking new, hot-off-the-press first edition of the book will also come with a lovely Christmas card and a printed quote on the glories of reading, just for fun.

This is also my chance to very informally introduce you to the new site I’ll be running. I’ll still be posting here, but I’m setting up a sort of online literary world over at a new blog site called The Storyformed Project. It will be an ongoing blog conversation on books old and new (and for young and old), writing, words, anything literary at all. There will be reviews, quotes, research, links, and all things literary I can imagine.  It will also be the hub of the speaking, teaching (creative-writing, English, and “Inklings” classes), and literary tours (dates posted soon!) I’ll be doing. I’m excited. It’s sort of like creating a virtual old English library where anyone can stop in for tea. I’m having a ball. It will all be redesigned quite soon (oh yes, I’m going to be all professional about this and actually get someone to help me frame in that tricky code) but the site address will remain the same.

Last but not least, if you live in Colorado, my mom and I are hosting several Christmas literary events where there will be talks on reading, Christmas book recommendations, readings of favorite stories, and of course, hot tea and toffee pudding. If you are interested in attending, email me at itinerantidealist@gmail.com, and I’ll whiz the details your way.

Have a beautiful Thanksgiving my friends!

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Yesterday

I find my brain too knotted for serious thinking today.

I was going to review Lilith, and along with it, tell you more about George MacDonald. Can’t seem to find the words yet.

I was going to flesh out the bones of the essay I’ve been carrying in my head all week. Too many good directions it could go though.

So, I’ll just tell you the story of my yesterday afternoon. It was a good one, the sort that made me thank God for every one of its minutes when I got in bed last night. Nothing spectacular, just small graces mounded into a heap of good cheer in my heart. It started with a mocha as I scrunched into a corner table at my coffee shop. Reading was first (this always makes life better). A picture book of English landscapes for pure beauty, a few passages from The Celtic Christ by Philip Newell, to spur my dazed thoughts to dancing. Then a frenzied scribbling of notes in the margins of my journal, half of praise for what Newell spoke of, half in furious disagreement. Most stimulating.

And then I wrote. That might have been the best part. I had been wanting to all day because, without any sort of drumroll or inner trumpet, I’d known the love of God early that morning. Just like that. Sitting in my red chair in the the half light of a cloudy dawn. I’d been reading St. Teresa, with her spirited urging for all of us to seek the inner castle of our hearts. I love that image, this inner room where God watches, waits. I closed my eyes, seeking that place, and I was with my Father in a simple surety of love. More than anything in that moment, I knew myself and all people to be held. Something about reading George MacDonald again with his confidence in the great Father, Hosea too, has helped me to grasp the way we are all cradled in the active, inexorable love of God. Every goodness is of his heart, every pain is caught up in his redemption. Nothing can take us out of the circle of his mercy.  Christ over me, Christ under me, Christ beside me, on my left and my right, as the old Irish prayers say. I wrote three pages in a mental drive to capture the glow of that minute. I have no doubt that a future me will need it.

And then I walked. There is a little mountain lake nearby and I trudged through the red mud and sullied snow in search of silence. Dusk pooled, slow and navy above the eastern valley. Homelights flickered to life in the gloom. A line of gold rallied over the mountains, then died in a quiet, flickering crimson. A single tree, its roots deep in the frozen lake, lifted up his arms,  fingers etching a black poem against the sky. Chill air filled every inch of me. The rhythm of my steps was a chant of gratitude.

Then home. For an episode of Monk (yes, I must admit to this)  and quesadillas, and a fight for the last blackberry Izzy, and Nate on his Thanksgiving visit. We’re all home but one which makes for a good deal more noise. I usually enjoy this. The absent brother, of course, called at one point, just to be sure we wouldn’t forget him.  Kelsey, our truly pathetic golden retriever (what other creature on the face of the earth gets to think they have a meaningful existence by begging to be fed and petted?) was quite happy. There were extra hands to be nosed. And then, to bed. A warm bed, with many quilts on a very cold night.

All so small, all so good. I’m grateful. It’s a good way to start Thanksgiving.

May your week begin with a similar pile of small graces.

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Today, I love…

Maxing out my library holds list. I get in a book mood and order about a dozen. Two are ready today: A Simply Wonderful Christmas: A Literary Advent Calendar, and Brendan.

Being done with the business side of being a writer. Sales tax licenses and business acounts, bleh.

Riffling back through the pages of Lilith in search of my favorite quotes. (Book review on that one soon.)

My recent gift from a bookish friend: Tasha Tudor’s The Great Corgiville Kidnapping. Tasha Tudor is one of my heroines. Do you know what made it even better? Opening the first page and finding it was signed. Yes. (I did, in all fairness, offer it back to my friend. I mean, there are some things you just have to do. My friend responded with heroic self-sacrifice and the book is now on my highest shelf.)

Walking in the opalescent light of melting snow with a sapphire sky above.

This quote by George Eliot: Perhaps the most delightful friendships are those in which there is much agreement, much disputation, and yet more personal liking. Which reminds me. I have recently changed my “Quotes” tab to “Quote Box.” I am adding more quotes there all the time, and think it would be a great delight to have a community quote collection. So, if you have any best beloved quotes, leave them in a comment on the Quote Box page. Thank you!

Coffee with my two lovelies, Ellie and Joy (my sister). We will ostensibly be doing a Bible study, but we’ll add in a good bit of rambling chatter with healthy doses of mocha and laughter.

Laughter in general.

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Good Sabbath

When night comes on with song and tale we pass the wintry hours;
By keeping up a cheerful heart we hope for better days.
We tend the cattle, sow the seed, give work unto the ploughers,
With patience wait till winter yields before the sun’s fair rays.
And so the world goes round and round, and every time and season
With pleasure and with profit crowns the passage of the year,
And so through every time of life, to him who acts with reason,
The beauty of all things doth appear.

-Traditional English Song

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Slow-grown grace

I nearly cried in an auto shop the other day.

It started on a morning that felt like spring. There was sunlight clear as water, and an early wind that played on my skin and set the dead pine needles at my feet to skipping. I saw none of it though. I stood, eyes shaded, in the country lot of an auto shop and saw only the screwed up mouth and squinting eyes of my mechanic. He was circling my car, prodding my injured bumper with his foot, assessing the damage that my run in with a snowbank had wrought several weeks back. My teeth grit tight together. This repair had thrown a wrench in my careful budget and I knew that this car repairmen could easily get the better of me. I have no idea what mechanics are talking about and I have learned this the expensive way.

“Well,” he finally said, “You’re definitely going to need some work done. If you just want to drive it though, I can have my body work guys fix the bumper for now.”

I nodded, and then steeled my arms.

“How much will that cost?”

Quiet stepped into the space between us, and I thought he hadn’t heard me. I made myself look up to speak again, but found him already looking my way, head tilted.

“You know what, I’ll just do it for free. When you decide to get the major repairs done, come talk to me. This is on the house.”

That’s when I got tears in my eyes. I turned so he wouldn’t see. I had so dreaded all this; my incompetence at cars and the unexpected cost. The burden of one more detail I didn’t know how to handle. And then this grace walked in, this unassuming care handed over by a taciturn man in a gray jumpsuit. It struck me silent. My throat ached with thankfulness.

Part of it was that this was the third such kindness I had received in a week. Five days before, in minor crisis of trust and sick of my own fretting brain, I had outlined to God exactly what I needed and then, in an act of tremulous faith, dismissed my angst from my brain. I felt a little shocked when the next day, one of my prayers was abruptly answered by an unsuspecting neighbor. Then a friend presented me with an unexpected gift. And now this generous car man had answered yet another of my secret requests.

What struck me hard though, stung my eyes as I sat in the disorganized little waiting room of the auto shop, was the meek, sweet way these gifts had come. So unlike what I had expected. I think I am a bit of a two-year-old when it comes to prayer. I am insistent, direct, and occasionally throw a fit to be sure God notices my desires. I also have an image in my mind of how I think God ought to answer me. I want prosperity rained down, now, on my head. I want a flashy gift of ease to arrive on my doorstep and send my troubles packing. I want it free of strings too.

I find instead that God cares for me through the love of people. One by one, their friend-sized offerings of time, or care, or provision come to my life like seeds, and their kindness begins to grow, slowly, in the soil of my heart. The harvest is help in my trouble, yes, but also a comradeship that will bear fruit beyond this minute of need. I saw that, suddenly, in the auto shop. No supernatural bolt of ease could give me the friendship, the neighborliness that grows up between people who give and receive gifts in grace. God’s answers to my prayers don’t set me in an autonomy of blessedness, but instead bind me to the goodness of the people around me.

The auto mechanic with his repairs. The long love of my parents. A book given by a friend. Even my pet-sitting job, providing just enough extra to help with what I need and sparking rapport with my neighbor. I couldn’t have known to ask specifically for any of these things. My blind, toddler-like desire would have left me rich and friendless. God knows though, that I need love and fellowship, a humble heart, and a soul knit to my neighbors, just as much as help in practical matters. So, it wasn’t just the free car repairs that made me cry.  It was knowing that I had a double gift. I woke up to find a whole garden of kindness sown into my heart with each bit of help. Those gifts will bear fruit in my soul. I will be nourished by apples of friendship, and herbs of neighborliness far beyond this time. And out of that harvest abundance I will turn around and give a few seeds myself.

That is an answered prayer worth a few happy tears.

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Ramblings

I’ve rambled around the internet more than usual of late, and stumbled upon some marvelous artsy, literary sorts of things. I feel compelled to share them:

The Writer’s Almanac with Garrison Keillor
I’m having such fun with this. It’s basically a poem a day. If you subscribe to the free podcast, you get a dose of literary history for the particular day you’re on, as well as Garrison Keillor’s reading of the daily poem. Great literary stuff, and to hear the famous Mr. Keillor read the poems aloud in that strange, mellow voice of his. Well.

Remembering Esther Hautzig
When I studied WWII history, one of the first books my mom assigned was Esther Hautzig’s The Endless Steppe. This true, but oh so winsomely told memoir of a Jewish girl from Poland who was exiled to Siberia in 1939, captivated me from page one. I think I read it several more times during my growing up years because it was a book that managed to bring the worldwide forces of war and separation down to the level of a young girl, longing for home, yet making a new one in the midst of exile. I still remember how desperately she wanted a pair of Siberian boots, only to find that she’d never wear them once back in Poland. I didn’t realize that Esther later came to the States and worked in children’s literature. She died just this week, and the above link will take you to a list of several tributes to her work and character. Remarkable woman.

The Semicolon Blog – “Books we must have though we lack bread.”
I’m lovin’ this blog! If you want a plethora of excellent book reviews on all sorts of subjects with a bit of history and art thrown in for good measure, then head on over.

James A. Michener Art Museum
I love serendipity. I was checking out the membership benefits of a certain art museum and found a list of other museums into which said considered membership would gain me entrance. One of them was the James A. Michener Art Museum. An author with a penchant for art? This sounded interesting. I headed over and found what is one of my delights- a small art museum with a collection of beloved, hand-picked paintings. This one focuses specifically on the art of Buck’s County, PA, but they have an online gallery of their works, and oh my, you wouldn’t believe the luminescent landscapes, the country scenes, the portraits to be found in that collection. I spent an accidental hour being enmeshed in their beauty. And I am now determined to someday own some form of night scene print by George W. Sotter.

John Muir Writings
I watched the PBS documentary, The National Parks: America’s Best Idea, and wished I could meet the people behind the whole national parks project. They loved nature. John Muir was one of them; he was a naturalist who spent months by himself in the deepest wilds of the rockies. His love of nature, his awe of its Creator, and the writing he did to describe it formed a partial narrative to the documentary. Needless to say, I wanted all his books after hearing this quote: he who believes in neither God nor glaciers is the worst sort of unbeliever. I can see the wryness on his face as he said it. Imagine my delight to find the above online collection for free.

Is There Anyone Anymore Who Will Tell Us How to Write Well?
I sent this article to my editor. I thought she’d appreciate it. She recommended I get White’s guide to writing style. (Wonder why?!)

Charles Van Sandwyk Art
I’ve mentioned this artist before, but a recent book fair enabled me to hold a few copies of his priceless books and I just have to let the world know of his existence again. The intricate, fairy tale, folk tale sense to his art is charming beyond words, but the fact that he steadfastly maintains his own press and oversees every bit of his work from start to finish is equally wondrous. I have just a few notecards of his framed, but someday, I hope to get a book. A browse of his pictures is a hearty meal for the imagination.

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