Friday, September 19, 2014

I'm Having Breakfast With Billy Collins

(Photo courtesy of Jan-Willem Geertsma, available at Free Images.)

A Portrait of the Reader with a Bowl of Cereal
by Billy Collins

Every morning I sit across from you
at the same small table,
the sun all over the breakfast things—
curve of a blue-and-white pitcher,
a dish of berries—
me in a sweatshirt or robe,
you invisible.

[Karen here...I'm skipping to the end]:

and you will look up, as always,
your spoon dripping milk, ready to listen.

Go on. Pour the milk and sit down with Billy here, at The Writer's Almanac. Collins is always worth the click.


Wednesday, September 17, 2014

It's the New Bumpoofle-Dee-Dee

I'm reading Hilda van Stockum's The Winged Watchman to Ramona as part of our World War II studies this year. Tonight, we were reading at the kitchen table while Anne and Betsy were doing the dinner dishes. At this point in the story, we're learning more about Hildebrand, a young man, a philosophy student, who is secretly staying with the Verhagen family. Anne and Betsy were listening in.

I had just read a paragraph in which Mr. Verhagen and Hildebrand are having a conversation, and as the two men are agreeing on a point, we learn that
At first he (Father) had thought that such a bookish person could not learn anything so practical (as helping with the windmill), but Hildebrand proved to be quite dexterous and Father was beginning to rely on him.
"Oh," I said, "he's bookish and handy. I wonder if he cooks, too?"

"Hildebrand might be the perfect man!" Betsy said, but I wasn't really listening. I had already moved on to read the next line:
"I know," Father sighed. 
The girls burst out laughing at my/Father's response and when I realized how it sounded I laughed, too.

"And thus," I said, "the grown-up girls' version of Bumpoofle-Dee-Dee is born!"

What's Bumpoofle-Dee-Dee? One of our most enduring family jokes.

It came up when I read The Winged Watchman to Anne and Betsy eight years ago. Here's the post from October, 2006:

While reading The Winged Watchman aloud the other day, Ramona suddenly stopped me and said, "What's a bumpoofle-dee-dee?"

I said, "A what? Where did you hear that, honey?"

"You! You just read it a minute ago."

"I did?"

"Yes. You said Bumpoofle-dee-dee."

Thoroughly confused, I skimmed back over what I'd just read and found this phrase: Some people think electricity is foolproof and easy.

"Oh! Honey, no -- " I corrected, "I said, foolproof and easy. Not bumpoofle-dee-dee."

Anne and Betsy were besides themselves with giggles.

But, oh, it got worse at dinner time. The girls were recounting the misunderstanding to Atticus. Anne said, "Daddy, can I tell you about Bumpoofle-dee-dee?"

"Huh?" said Atticus, understandably foggy after a day of teaching high schoolers. "One poopy baby?"

If I thought the girls had a good giggle at breakfast, it was nothing compared to this laughfest. Anne spit applesauce across the table onto Betsy, and Ramona latched onto the phrase, which she could repeat endlessly, sending her sisters into fits and guffaws.

When everyone finally quieted down, I told the origin of the story to Atticus, but it seemed to have lost its punch. We do, however, have a new family word.

Perhaps we need to add elocution to our curriculum?


And this is Reason #4,987,236 that I love read-alouds!

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Sean Herriott Has a New Show!

Sean Herriott's Faith as a Second Language is a terrific podcast and I'm delighted to say that I will soon get to be a part of it. I'll be talking to Sean in the very near future, so I'll keep you posted about the air date.

{Updated to note: My chat with Sean will be available tomorrow, September 17th!} 

In the meantime, check out some of the great stuff he's been doing:

"Letting Go of Worry" with Gary Zimak

Dr. Tim Weldon on Art, Faith, and the Future

... and loads more.

You can also check out Sean's blog, Holly Park, and his Facebook page.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Whovian Quote of the Day

Kahler-Jex: You’re a mother, aren’t you?

Amy: How did you know?

Kahler-Jex: There’s kindness in your eyes. And sadness. And ferocity, too.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Poetry Friday: To an Old Square Piano

Our very old, well worn, beloved piano. 

Just yesterday, I remarked to Ramona how lovely it was to hear her playing the piano again. She loves to play, but we all get either busy or lazy in the summer, and her regular practice time goes out the window. But we are resettling into autumn rhythms and Ramona's music is winding its way through the dining room again, into the kitchen, where I'm working, and thinking, and giving thanks.

To an Old Square Piano
by Robinson Jeffers

Whose fingers wore your ivory keys
So thin—as tempest and tide-flow
Some pearly shell, the castaway
Of indefatigable seas
On a low shingle far away—
You will not tell, we cannot know.

Only, we know that you are come,
Full of strange ghosts melodious
The old years forget the echoes of,
From the ancient house into our home;
And you will sing of old-world love,
And of ours too, and live with us.

Sweet sounds will feed you here: our woods
Are vocal with the seawind’s breath;
Nor want they wing-borne choristers,
Nor the ocean’s organ-interludes.
—Be true beneath her hands, even hers
Who is more to me than life or death.

(This poem is in the public domain.)


The round up today is at No Water River

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

"Oh! Homeschool moment!"

Thus spake Ramona, when she spotted this guy outside the kitchen window this morning:

Love these homeschool moments.* 

*Though she was slightly disconcerted when we looked up some facts about the praying mantis and she spotted the word "cannibal." 

Monday, September 08, 2014

It Was One of Those Days

Last week I had one of those days. Nothing horrible, just a day.

Betsy's asthma was flaring up, after a cold, for the first time in ... what? A year? Eighteen months? I went to call in a refill on her inhaler, but realized the prescription had expired. (That will happen, I guess, when one seems free of asthma for many moons.) So I called the doctor to see if he would phone in a new prescription, just to get her over this hump. The nurse said she would call me back only if there was a problem, and she thought I could plan on picking up the prescription in a few hours.

I moved on. I wanted to print out a couple of notes for an interview I'd be doing the following day. We'd just had the modem replaced the day before and suddenly the wireless printer didn't want to communicate with the new modem. Their temperamental little spat was not amusing. I tried to get them to make up, but the printer would have none of it. I couldn't print a thing, and Anne asked me why I kept yelling futile commands at the printer.

After lunch, (on break from Printer Battle Royale) I called the pharmacy just to make sure the prescription was ready to be picked up. I thought I'd run out quickly, grab it, come home, work out. Then I could enter the electronic war zone again while endorphins were coursing through my body and I felt supremely patient and in command of my forces.

The pharmacy had no record of the prescription being called in.

After heaving a sigh that was probably heard in southern Florida, I called the doctor's office again. I gave the long, plaintive version of Betsy's history. I pleaded with the nurse to relay to the doctor that it was imperative for them to believe that Betsy knows what she needs today. (Because she just does, that's all.) The nurse said she would talk to the doctor and see what was up.

While I was waiting for the doctor's office to call back, I ... I don't know what I did. I didn't work out, I know that. Because I was, you know, waiting.

The doctor's office finally called back, and I was told we could get the inhaler renewal called in and then was given a stern admonition that Betsy must be seen.

I needed to throw something on the table for dinner, so I did. I have no idea what we ate. I then embarked on another quick (I hoped, ridiculously) battle with the printer, but I didn't make any headway. I retreated. I needed to go pick up the inhaler, so I headed out to do that, thinking I'd make it quicker by going through the drive-through at the pharmacy. I sent my credit card through the ever-so-convenient pneumatic tube. But the poor girl at the other end of the transmission got a confused look on her face. Even over the Skype-y screen that we were talking on, I knew something was wrong.

"You ...  didn't send your payment through ... did you?" she asked, brow furrowed.


"Hmmm. It ... ummm...."

I could tell that she didn't know how to tell me this.

"It ... didn't make it."

Yes, people, pneumatic tubes sometimes gobble up credit cards.

Just because they can.

This had never happened to the nice lady at the pharmacy. It wasn't her fault. I knew that. I paid with another card. The pharmacy lady "heard something fall" at her end of the tube. She and I both got rather excited to know that my credit card was not eaten, but was simply in hiding. I got Betsy's inhaler, the lady explained that they'd get the maintenance guys into the store in the morning, and they'd dig my card out. I drove home, expecting to hit a deer.

(I didn't.)

It was one of those days. Frustration. Tears of frustration. Just one of those days.

I did battle awhile longer with the printer when I got home, finally Googled a hack to get the machines talking again, rejoiced when it worked, printed out some notes, reviewed them, and finally flopped in to bed.

Did you know that there's really no point to this post other than to share the day? And to remind myself (and others), I guess, that we all have days like this. Sometimes it's a mood, sometimes it's hormones, sometimes it's because everything really is going wrong and we're reminded that maybe Murphy's Law isn't just an expression.

I tell my daughters this kind of stuff regularly. When someone's had a rotten day, and someone is in tears, or someone is feeling ultra-stressed, I remind them: This is life. It's full of bad days, good cries, and new starts on the morrow.

It was just a day. The next day was better. Most days are better.

After one of those days, it's just nice to say that out loud and know that it's true.

Saturday, September 06, 2014

Caillou, Anne Dissects an Eye, and Welcome to Editing

Most recent FB posts/Tweets:

No, "Amazon Recommends" -- just because I liked Sponge-Bob Square Pants that does NOT mean I will like Caillou. *No one* likes Caillou.


Anne-with-an-e, after she got home from Anatomy lab: "I just dissected a cow's eye. I don't think I want to eat jelly for awhile."


From a boy who used to come to my Writing Group for teens, after his cousin edited and changed a short story: "He mutilated it. But then he made it better."

Welcome to having an editor, sweetie.

Thursday, September 04, 2014

Poetry Friday: Absolute September

I have mixed feelings about this poem. Or perhaps, more accurately, I have changing feelings about this poem.

First of all, I love it. I read it just last month for the first time and loved it immediately.

But then I thought, "No! Wait! I didn't always feel this way about autumn. That final stanza -- the mention of melancholy? I don't feel melancholy at the approach of fall. I love fall!"

So, yeah, what about that? What about the way I always celebrate the onset of autumn with an energetic little happy dance? The way I've used this Gatsby quote on the blog almost every year since I started blogging:

"What'll we do with ourselves this afternoon?" cried Daisy, "and the day after that, and the next thirty years?"

"Don't be morbid," Jordan said. "Life starts all over again when it gets crisp in the fall."

I still love that quote (I will never stop loving Gatsby.) I still live that quote -- I continue to wilt every summer (my constitution does not appreciate heat and humidity) and am revived in the fall. Revved up in the fall.

But over the years, apparently, I have come to love summer in a way I didn't used to recognize, or fully appreciate. I couldn't see what summer really gave me. And I think I know now what it is.

In summer, Atticus is home. (And it's not just that he cooks, so stop thinking that right now.) In summer, we amble along, living a relaxed rhythm and reveling in the lack of outside pressures. It doesn't feel like an overstatement to say that we feel like we experience a tiny taste of heaven every summer -- in each other's company, in the way life feels in the summer, together. And I don't want to let that go. The older I get, the more I appreciate my summers with Atticus, and those tiny tastes of a world to come.

Is there some sort of painfully cliched dynamic at work, something about entering the autumn of my life and no longer appreciating the things about autumn that I used to celebrate because I can no longer afford to idealize the downward slope that is inherent in the season?

Maybe. Or maybe I just really, really love my summers with Atticus.

Absolute September
by Mary Jo Salter

How hard it is to take September
straight—not as a harbinger
of something harder.

Merely like suds in the air, cool scent
scrubbed clean of meaning—or innocent
of the cold thing coldly meant.

(Read the whole beautiful, glorious poem here, at The Writer's Almanac.)


The Poetry Friday round up is at Author Amok

Getting Prayer Back on Track

I'll be on Relevant Radio's Morning Air this morning at 7 a.m. central, talking about prayer, and about St. Ignatius's Examen of Consciousness.

The article by Fr. George Aschenbrenner that I'll be referring to can be found here, and here is a short guide to making the examen part of your day.

Wednesday, September 03, 2014

Something to Remember As We Head Into the School Year

from an old post called "Cruisin' Down the Homeschooling Superighway":

Jennifer ... was looking for ways to reassure her husband (and herself) that she was actually spending enough time doing school work with their daughter. He was thinking that perhaps "school" should take from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m.

I put it this way:

Tell your husband to compare it to driving down the freeway at rush hour vs. off hours -- you reach your destination so much more quickly without all that added traffic. 

Tuesday, September 02, 2014

Getting Organized (In Which I Consider New Planning Systems and Just as Quickly Discard Them)

I like organization.

Yeah, yeah, I'm unschoolish and flexible but I need a plan. If I don't have a plan from which to deviate, how can I know where I began, where the deviation occurred, and where we are or will be when it's all over? (Atticus used to tease me that I was great at being spontaneous as long as I had some notice.)

I'm the Planning Unschooler, the Unschooler With a Plan, and I don't usually worry about how others go about doing stuff, I just do what works for us. I ponder, and make book lists, and put together a basic game plan for our year. Then I sit back and see what unpredictable stuff life has in store for us.

Though I have long-standing methods of organization, when it comes to systems, I occasionally start flitting around the internet and suddenly the planning grass looks startlingly green over the fence.

I peek over that fence, see something sprouting, and think I should try it out. The latest planner? "Oooh! It looks all-encompassingly perfect." All-Digital-All-the-Time organization? "That's an intriguing idea! Maybe it's time to try that." (Except that when I did, I ended up having my phone beep at me just as dinner guests were arriving. Guess what it was telling me? "Dinner Guests tonight!")

I don't know...whatever it is, whatever attraction I have to Planners-and-Their-Ilk, the sickness hits me the same way the Siren Song of Curriculum Catalogs seems to attack. It makes me want to window shop, dabble, and consider...sometimes I even try something new.

And yet, I always go back to my tried and true methods. I live and die by:

  • the white board in the kitchen
  • the wall calendar that the whole family can see
  • the To Do list that sits on the kitchen counter
  • small notebook in my purse at all times (anything that is scribbled on it while I'm out is transferred, upon arrival home, to the board, the calendar, or the To Do list.)

Organization Central is the dry erase board in the kitchen. For years, my girls have known that this is the place to go to get the scoop for the day.

This isn't my board, but it looks just like my board looked once upon a time. Clean, shiny, and new. 

Here's a past image of our white board in action on a snow day:

A more typical list on the white board might look like this: 

The left side of the board holds the daily stuff, the expectations, a class, some errands. "Behold, daughters: the plan for the day!" We all love this kind of stuff. It satisfies our OCDishness and helps us with our forgetfulness. The white board keeps me on track and gives me a place to send people when they say, "What are we doing today?" or, "What is someone else doing today?" 

The right hand side of the board is for those bigger "To Do" things that I'd forget if I didn't jot them down. These things sometimes end up in two places -- on the board (if, for example, I am trying to flag someone's attention ... ahem, Atticus) and on my paper To-do list on the counter. 

The other thing that keeps me organized is the wall calendar. It sits right next to my laptop and it holds everyone's appointments, meetings, book clubs, and library due dates. It's also where I make note of upcoming radio interviews, writing deadlines, and work-related tasks for me. The wall calendar satisifies my need to see the big picture. I like seeing the whole month at once, for a couple of reasons. One, I like to be able to see if I am overscheduling us, and two, I like to have a central location that shows me everyone's schedule (and where those schedules might overlap or conflict.) 

The white board and the wall calendar are Grand Central Stations, but the To-Do list on the counter is just for me. It's really a combination of short-term goals (errands, chores, appointments I need to make, school-related prep/thoughts, writing ideas, phone calls, emails to compose and send) and long-term planning (notes to myself for "Next Month" or "Before December" ... that sort of thing.) I love the wall calendar, but I need my own space, too! 

The little notebook in my purse is a substitute planner (and idea catcher) for me. I've found that it serves two purposes. It allows me to avoid carrying a master planner with me, and I like not having to haul my entire schedule with me wherever I go. If something comes up while I'm out, I jot it down in the notebook and promise the person I'm talking to (whether that's myself or someone else) that I will check my calendar at home and get back to them. That brings me to the second purpose of the notebook -- this method keeps me mindful of what I'm saying yes or no to. If I must wait until I get home to make a decision, I have granted myself time to think about a request or an opportunity, and I've given myself the space to see how it really fits into my schedule, my family, my life. I love my little notebook. 

Wow, this post got away from me. More than you ever wanted to know about my planning methods, methinks. 

Friday, August 29, 2014

Poetry Friday: Mike Aquilina's Terms and Conditions

Mike Aquilina has written about 5,237 books.

We-e-ellll, that may be a wee bit of an exaggeration, but he is admirably prolific. And he doesn't merely crank out information, he writes books that enlighten, inspire, entertain, and educate. Consistently. His output amazes me.

And not only does he consistently publish excellent non-fiction, he's a poet, too.

As in:

"I'll do the 'expert on the Fathers of the Church' thing on Monday, knock off an exploration of ancient Christian symbols on Wednesday, and come Friday I'll pen a charming collection of essays on family life. Saturday? A villanelle, I think."

Except he would never say any of that stuff because he's incredibly humble.

Terms and Conditions: Assorted Poems, 1985-2014Mike's recently published collection, is a treat. Formal forms abound (the title poem is a villanelle, the opening is "Sonnet in Spray Paint") but there is nothing stuffily distant about the work in any way. The content invites us to feast on the meat and wine of family, of spousal love (his poems to and for his wife are especially beautiful), faith and existence, and the everyday business of life, work, and poetry.*

I'm struggling about which poem to highlight, so I think I'll just share a few of my favorite lines:

from "The Poem of the Act of the Mind:"

Nearness is a thing the mind decrees
belying all statistics and the facts.
It scans the far horizons, and it sees
two scattered stars and instantly contracts
a billion miles to make a lion's mane.

from "Pilgrimage":

You are my map, you make a way
I could not know unless you stay. 

from "To Be, or Not":

I toil and spin to seem to have a heart
half-worth your love. To seem is twice the art. 

And if you click over to Dappled Things, you can read "Telecommunications."

I'd better stop there or I'll want to quote the whole book and Mike will have to sue me for copyright infringement. Trust me. You want this book.

Terms and Conditions is available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, or you can order it through your local indie bookstore.


Be sure to check out the Poetry Friday round up at Check It Out


*Poetry being, of course, an everyday thing for some of us.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Grateful: Deathbed Conversions won 3rd place in the ACP's Excellence in Publishing Awards

I tweeted and Facebooked this but I know that not everyone tweets or FBs, so I wanted to share the lovely news here, too.

The Association of Catholic Publishers (ACP) announced on Monday that Deathbed Conversions won third place in the biography category of the Excellence in Publishing Awards. I'm thrilled and humbled. Thanks so much to the ACP for the honor. (Of course, the honor and praise really go to God: He worked the conversions ... I simply had the fun of writing about them.)

The press release from the ACP is here.

Thank you, again, to the ACP, and thank you so very much to all of my readers.