Sunday, January 31, 2021

Far Away From Home

 I'm over here, a stone's throw from the Mississippi River. Mississippi feels vaguely familiar still - a memory of a home -- but it's not home anymore. Still, I'm enjoying my time here so much. The pandemic makes it so that I pretty much stay in the house, a comfortable place for us introverts. 

On my way to Mississippi, I stopped in Tennessee to see another sweet grandbaby boy who I had not yet seen (because of the pandemic). I spent a whole DAY with him myself, and what a dear, precious blessing he is. This is John:

He is just as sweet and even-tempered as he can be. Don't you love that little shirt they bought for him? (MELT....)

Anna had her baby this weekend, little Ellie Kate. We are all pleased as punch! She has a head full of very dark brown hair like her mommy did all those years ago. She needed a little extra time in the nursery at first, but is coming along nicely. Right now I'm at home with Isaac by myself because Gramm is not allowed to go in-and-out at the hospital, of course. Covid makes everything just that little bit more difficult!

I've been cooking like mad, and I'll throw those photos in here somewhere. I spend hours playing with Isaac, or watching him entertain himself with his toys, which he is masterful at. He's a good sleeper, a good eater, a good player, a generally happy little boy -- just like John! I'm so thankful to have this time with them, real one-on-one time. They won't remember this particular visit, but it still goes into the whole pot of soup that will be our relationship. They will remember me each time they sees me, and at some point they won't remember life without me. Isn't it supposed to be thus, with a grandmother?

We've gone on several walks with Isaac. (I walk; he's in the stroller.) That always calms him down. He loves the outdoors. He loves objects, handling them, figuring out how they work. He concentrates well. 

I've cooked: beef stew, chicken and dumplings, spaghetti, chicken and rice (twice), Clementine Chicken, chocolate chip cookies, and peanut butter cookies. 

And lest I forget, Anna and Gramm have a gorgeous rag doll cat, Chauncey.

I don't know when I'll go back home. Nanas stay where they are needed 😀 Blessings to all you dear friends out in blog land. Keep heart! Stay safe and keep hope in your hearts.

Monday, January 18, 2021

I Keep Forgetting About Those Youtube Videos ....

 I was wondering why my youtube view numbers were down a bit, and then I remembered: "I haven't shared them with my blog friends!" Duh! 😀

So here are some of the more recent videos from my channel, if you're interested. Don't forget to click on the big red "Subscribe" button, if you want to find my channel more easily:

Spending some lovely time outside:

A little crochet project:

A little road trip to see the water near our house:

I finally finish the Advent Calendar and show how to knit a little baby doll:

A little review of our Christmas and presents:

I knitted a hat! It looks better on Julia though:

Thoughts on Frost, and Being an Ear-Reader

 I've always loved Robert Frost's poems, and feel that anyone who thinks them simplistic hasn't studied them well. For many years I always had my students read them aloud. Somehow his poems (especially his long, narrative ones), like Shakespeare's work, must be read aloud. Now I know why.

Frost is all about the sounds of words and sentences - their tones and rhythms, what he calls "sound posturing." He says the best readers are the slow ones who sound out everything on the page to hear -- really, I think, to taste with the mind's ear -- the lusciousness, the flavors of the words. Just as flavors are spicy, sharp, creamy, sweet, bitter, so are words. Frost knew this deeply. It bothered him that most writers had little understanding of the importance of sound; they wrote for grammar and technical meaning. He calls this the "distinction between the grammatical sentence and the vital sentence." The real life of the sentence is in its sound.

If you want to read more of Frost's thoughts on this wonderful, freeing, enlivening idea, here is a link:
Robert Frost on the 'Sound of Sense' 

This piece was written by Dr. Karl Maurer, I think, of University of Dallas. If you don't want to read the entire 19 pages, here's an excerpt from a letter Frost wrote:

"It is so [by listening to sentence-sounds] and not otherwise that we get the variety that makes it fun to write and read. The ear does it. The ear is the only true writer and the only true reader. I have known people who could read without hearing the sentence sounds and they were the fastest readers. Eye readers we call them. They can get the meaning by glances. But they are bad readers because they miss the best part of what a good writer puts into his work.

 "Remember that the sentence sound often says more than the words. It may even as in irony convey a meaning opposite to the words.

 "I wouldn’t be writing all this if I didn’t think it the most important thing I know. I write it partly for my own benefit, to clarify my ideas for an essay or two I am going to write some fine day (not far distant.) 

"To judge a poem or piece of prose you go the same way to work—apply the one test—greatest test. You listen for the sentence sounds. If you find some of those not bookish, caught fresh from the mouths of people, some of them striking, all of them definite and recognizable, so recognizable that with a little trouble you can place them and even name them, you know you have found a writer."

This concept rang true like a clarion bell the instant I read it! I am not a bad reader because I sound the sentences out in my head. Rolling them around on my tongue and appreciating the voice of the writer is not a waste of time. Frost would say that's what reading is all about -- I am extracting additional meaning from the sentences that other people are sadly missing. What a thought! 

All the writers I dearly love, I love for their voices. I hardly care what they write about. They can write about their potatoes in the garden, or a murder most grisly. Only give me their voice. What irony happens when a writer with gorgeous sounds describes a horrific scene? Faulkner shows us this in all his glory! What does that depth of irony in his novels tell us about the world he's painting for us?

Think of the times that language is stripped of its technical, grammatical meaning, and you are left only with sound: listening to a foreign language spoken, or listening to a nonsense story or poem. (Go read "Ladle Rat Rotten Hut," for instance - it's hilarious!) The words themselves give no meaning at all. All meaning must come from the sound ... and not just inflection. We humans communicate so much meaning by that "sound posturing."

I don't know if I have any good poems left in me; I may have aged out of the poem-writing years. But if I do, I hope they will be gleaned from sounds. As Frost says of writing poems, "And unless we are in an imaginative mood, it is no use trying to make them, they will not rise." Perhaps I should start listening.

For more of Frost's lovely poetry, click here.

Wednesday, January 13, 2021

Is It a Story Worth Dying For?

 I'm now reading books #5 and #6 in my "Literary Life Reading Challenge" for this year. I tend to read books in pairs in case I get bored with one; I can switch to the other.

In the Literary Life group, there's a little saying: "Stories will save the world!" The members of this group believe this, and they share accounts that they think demonstrate the salvific nature of stories. I'm inclined to agree with them.

Take a few minutes to read this article, if you like: "What Neil Gaiman and My Secret Agent Grandmother Taught Me." In the article, the writer reminds us that books and stories can inspire both noble goodness and horrific evil. He suggests, when you've finished reading a book, "take a moment to consider what that story means, what larger narratives it fits into. Is it something you would die for? Is it something you would die to prevent? Who might suffer, and who might be empowered, if it were to come true?"

I cast my mind back to the four books I've finished:

Knock at a Star
84 Charing Cross Road
The Guernsey Literary and Potato Pie Peel Society

What deep life truths are those authors speaking to? Are they truths that resonate with my soul? Do I think people should die for them? Would I die for them?

Knock at a Star is a book of widely varying poems for children (and adults). I feel strongly about the power of poetry, about its significance in human history and its unique power to convey story. I need to ponder how those questions apply to this book.

84 Charing Cross Road is about the power of book-loving to connect people who never meet each other except through the written word, and how much love can be conveyed in that way. Is that type of communication worth dying for? How important is it?

Guernsey is precisely about this very topic: the power of stories to save people's lives, to save their inner world in the middle of crushing German occupation in WW2. The members of that literary society would die for each other. Books united them and saved them not only from their misery but for each other.

And Antigone. Oh, how I love that story! I think I could read it each year, and I don't feel that way about any other story. Antigone dies for what she believes, for fidelity to her brother and to her religious beliefs. She defies the king (her uncle) and the laws. I love Antigone's courage, her unyielding adherence to her highest ideals, her devotion to her brother.

Perhaps that's one definition of courage: knowing what you will die for, and doing it if push comes to shove. 

Now I've moved on to Alice's Adventures Under Ground by Lewis Carroll (which I never finished before, really never began) and The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins. I wonder if those books will present any deep thoughts along these lines? I'll get back to you on that.

Sunday, January 10, 2021

Peace Is a Calling

If then you have been raised up with Christ,
keep seeking the things above,
where Christ is seated at the right hand of God.

Set your mind on the things above,
not on the things that are on earth.

For you have died
and your life is hidden with Christ in God.

But now, put all these things aside:
anger, wrath malice, slander,
and abusive speech from your mouth.

As those who have been chosen of God,
holy and beloved,
put on a heart of compassion,
kindness, humility, gentleness,
and patience, bearing with one another,
and forgiving each other --

Beyond all these things
put on love,
which is the perfect bond of unity.

Let the PEACE of Christ 
rule in your hearts,
to which also you were called
in one body;
and be thankful.
(selected verses from Colossians 3)

For He Himself is our peace,
who made both opposing groups into one,
and broke down the barrier of the dividing wall,
thus establishing PEACE,
reconciling them both in one body to God
through the cross.

He came and preached peace 
to you who were far away,
and peace to those
who were near.
(from Ephesians 2)


I had never thought of peace as a calling before. Jesus died on the cross to make a truce, not only between God and humans, but also between various groups of humans that had previously been in conflict with each other: Jews and Gentiles, masters and slaves, men and women, one nation and another. He sacrificed His body, and then called out to us: "Be at peace with each other! My death will transform you into people who love instead of people who hate!"

Do you hear Jesus calling us to peace right now, when the world is screaming war? I don't want to listen to the angry mobs that insist I hate someone. It is so, so much harder to love. 

We are the body of Jesus, a strange and wonderful, miraculous unity of people who used to hate each other. We are bound together with the glue of love. Peace is our calling.  


Tuesday, January 5, 2021

How My Reading Is Progressing:

 Hello, all! Gretchen and Mags, it's a happy thought that you might be joining me in this reading endeavor, however far any of us get in it. I imagine I will get distracted, and at some point decide I'd rather paint or garden than read ... but that's life!

Gretchen, yes, you DO have a small poetry volume: Knock at a Star. You recommended it strongly on your blog at some point, and I ordered a used copy, and I just read it through the other day as the top book on this challenge list. Hooray! I think a book of children's verse is a good way not to get bogged down in that category. In fact, children's books in general might be wise. I'm like a person who had a reading catastrophe/wreck in the past few years, and is just back into rehab and learning how to read again, if you know what I mean. I need short and easy.

So for the "Letters" category, I chose Helene Hanff's adorable, tiny book, 84 Charing Cross Road. I read it many years ago, and finished it last night.

I knew right away that I'd want to read Antigone as my Greek item, but I don't think I have a copy anymore. (I used to teach is often from an anthology.) So I found a nice copy translated by Fitzgerald online and will read it there. I ADORE Antigone.

But first, I needed a book from my To-Be-Read stack, so I launched into The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. You may recall that I read that only a few years ago. You man recall it ... but sadly I did not, AT ALL. In fact, as I read the first few letters (-- it would qualify in the "Letters" category, btw --) I was certain I had never, ever read this book before. It was not vaguely familiar; the movie, yes, it was familiar. And then I went to check on my blog and found that I had indeed read it before and had a lot to say about it! Sheesh. Might as well read it again then, since my memory is non-existent!

I just returned from the thrift store, where I found these:

These were all half off! Wait ... did I promise to read only from my own shelves, and not buy more books? Surely not.

I've never read Wilkie Collins, but he would qualify as a Victorian novelist. The Woman in White is well-known. Lost Laysen is a novella by Margaret Mitchell -- who knew? And the category "Literary Biography" should allow for autobiographical writing too, right? That's where the William Styron comes in. A passage he wrote about Nat Turner's rebellion captured my mind many years ago, and has never let go. How someone can write so beautifully about such a terrifying event, is a miraculous skill, so I knew I'd appreciate this short book.

That's the key. So many of the books I'm finding for my challenge list are very short, manageable, not-intimidating. And like you Mags, if somehow I find myself unable to complete it, I shall turn from the list without a pang. 

The A. M. Smith is just for fun. His Botswana books are sheer delight. He doesn't need a category.

Here's the challenge list again:

Friday, January 1, 2021

My 2021 Reading Challenge

I'm an occasional visitor to a Facebook group, "The Literary Life Podcast Discussion Group." Yes, there's a podcast that I never listen to, I'm sorry to admit. I'm not a podcast person. But I enjoy their discussions about various books and writers. In 2020, they presented a reading challenge: 20 categories of book types, and you fill in one book in each category to commit to reading. I knew there was no way I'd get through a regimented list like that, so I opted out.

But this year I'm tempted. Should I do the "192021" Reading Challenge? That's "19 books to read in 2021." Here's the category list:

What I'd love to do is fulfill as many of those selections from my own shelves as I can, probably rereading many of them. I'm sure I could find a book for each category from my own collection! Wouldn't that be a fun thing to do? And I'd choose short books, to ensure that I can finish the challenge. I'm also wondering if I should designate one day each week as "Reading Day," and eschew screens and devote myself primarily to reading. I'm looking at some of those categories and anticipating already the books I'd love to reread.
Is that a list that appeals to you? Would you like to join me? Or if 19 is too many, perhaps select 10 categories that you like most, and do those?