Monday, August 14, 2023

Reading Update

Book #37 was Five for Sorrow, Ten for Joy, by Rumer Godden. Godden wrote several novels about nuns and convents, and this is one of them. It's darker than the others. I liked this, and I'm continuing to read/reread as much of Godden's fiction as I can.

Book #38 was Cold Tangerines, by Shauna Niequist. I've read this several times since I bought it in 2012, and I enjoyed rereading it.

Book #39 was another reread, Prodigal Summer, by Barbara Kingsolver. I used to have a copy of this, and I let someone borrow it and never got it back, but I was able to borrow it from the library. Since the last time I read it, I've learned much more about birds, and I was happy to see that there were many birds in the book that I hadn't really noticed before!

Book #40 was Apples Never Fall, by Liane Moriarty. While there are some serious themes in the book, it ends up being quite the feel-good read.

Book #41 was So Many Beginnings, by Bethany C. Morrow. This is billed as a "remix" of Little Women, but I heard the author interviewed and she said she'd never read the original novel. The girls in this version are African Americans, living in the Freedpeople's Colony of Roanoke Island. I'm quite curious to know how much the presentation of this place really mirrors how things were during Reconstruction. It was an interesting retelling, for sure.

Books #42, #43, and #44 were all comfort reads, rereads of The Horse and his Boy, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, and The Last Battle. I'll never stop rereading these books, especially in times of stress.

Book #45 was The Road Away from God: How Love Finds us Even as we Walk Away, by Jonathan Martin. This was a reread, and here you can read what I wrote about it the first time I read it.

Book #46 was How to Be a Good Creature: A Memoir in Thirteen Animals, by Sy Montgomery. I found this in a list of comfort reads, and I enjoyed it.

Book #47 was Unwinding Anxiety: New Science Shows How to Break the Cycles of Worry and Fear to Heal Your Mind, by Judson Brewer. This is very good. Recommended.

Book #48 was When God Breaks Your Heart: Choosing Hope in the Midst of Faith-Shattering Circumstances, by Ed Underwood. This had a lot of good stuff in it, but I didn't like Underwood's suggestion that it's about finding the right kind of formula for your prayers.

Book #49 was Comfort Ye My People, by Kay Bruner. This reread is a devotional based on Handel's Messiah. It's really good!

Book #50 was Of Green Stuff Woven, by Cathleen Bascom. This was an entertaining novel about an Episcopal church faced with some choices about whether to sell land for which they've been offered a lot of money. It's about grasses, the environment, and people.

Book #51 was Nice Girls Don't Change the World, by Lynne Hybels. Hybels is the mom of Shauna Niequist (who wrote book #38 and many others), so it was interesting to read something from her point of view!

Book #52 was Breathing Room: Letting Go So You Can Fully Live, by Leeana Tankersley. Here's what I wrote about it the first time I read it.


Book #53 was Penmarric, by Susan Howatch. I've read this novel before, but it must have been pre-blogging, since there's nothing about it here on the blog. It's classic Susan Howatch: lots of characters, many points of view, complex relationships.


Book #54 was another reread, How to Survive a Shipwreck, by Jonathan Martin. I've read it several times. Here's what I wrote the first time.


Book #55 was Seeing Through the Fog: Hope When Your World Falls Apart, by Ed Dobson. This is Dobson's book about his diagnosis of ALS and how he continued living. This was published in 2012 and ALS finally killed Dobson in 2015. He lived 15 years after his diagnosis, which was way longer than the doctors predicted. This is a great book.

Friday, June 16, 2023

Poetry Friday: Summer, Finally!

Yesterday was our last day of school, and we've been packing for travel and moving house, but I don't want to skip yet another Poetry Friday, so I'm sharing a poem I shared for the last day of school back in 2017 (you can read that post here). The poem speaks of how "another circle is growing in the expanding ring" in the center of a a tree. As I look back over this year, I see ways the kids grew, and ways that I grew, and that makes me happy. I'm excited to come back for my second year at this new-to-us school in Uganda.

The Work of Happiness
by May Sarton

I thought of happiness, how it is woven
Out of the silence in the empty house each day
And how it is not sudden and it is not given
But is creation itself like the growth of a tree.
No one has seen it happen, but inside the bark
Another circle is growing in the expanding ring.
No one has heard the root go deeper in the dark,
But the tree is lifted by this inward work
And its plumes shine, and its leaves are glittering.

So happiness is woven out of the peace of hours
And strikes its roots deep in the house alone:
The old chest in the corner, cool waxed floors,
White curtains softly and continually blown
As the free air moves quietly about the room;
A shelf of books, a table, and the white-washed wall—
These are the dear familiar gods of home,
And here the work of faith can best be done,
The growing tree is green and musical.

For what is happiness but growth in peace,
The timeless sense of time when furniture
Has stood a life's span in a single place,
And as the air moves, so the old dreams stir
The shining leaves of present happiness?
No one has heard thought or listened to a mind,
But where people have lived in inwardness
The air is charged with blessing and does bless;
Windows look out on mountains and the walls are kind.

Reading Update

Book #26 of the year was Scandalous Risks, by Susan Howatch. I've been rereading the whole series.

Book #27 was Friends and Strangers, by J. Courtney Sullivan. I really enjoyed this novel about a woman and her relationship with her college-aged babysitter. 

Book #28 was a re-read of Shauna Niequist's I Guess I Haven't Learned That Yet. I wrote about it when I first read it here. In fact, I've been rereading all of Shauna's books, and book #31 was Present Over Perfect and book #37 was Bittersweet. Since I'm rereading them from newest to oldest, I continued the pattern and am now rereading Cold Tangerines. There's something about Shauna's voice that really speaks to me. I wrote more about that, and her, here.


Book #29 was Yellow Crocus, by Laila Ibrahim. I bought it for my Kindle back in 2014, but for some reason had never read it. It's the story of an enslaved woman who becomes a wet-nurse for a white child in Virginia. While Mattie's life is hard to read about, the sweet relationship that develops between nurse and baby is the focus of this novel. Saying it's "sweet" suggests perhaps that it's romanticized, but that's not at all the case. The author is able to show us the beauty of their bond without suggesting that it's anything less than heinous that Lisbeth's family legally owns Mattie. But the long-term effect of Mattie's love on Lisbeth is truly beautiful. The author is a birth doula and gets details of childbirth and breastfeeding right.

Book #30 was All My Knotted-Up Life, Beth Moore's memoir. The line to read this at the library was very long, but I finally was able to download it. I really loved it. It's written with so much honesty about the hard things Beth Moore has suffered in her life, and yet it's funny too. Her personality comes out loud and clear.


Book #32 has been on my Kindle a while too, since my daughter and I used to share an account. I bought it for her back in 2013. It's Un Lun Dun, by China Miéville. I enjoyed this YA title about two girls who travel from London to its abcity, Un Lun Dun, a kind of un-London. 


Books #33 and #34 were both by Addie Zierman, as I started wondering what has happened to her. I liked both of her books, When We Were on Fire: A Memoir of Consuming Faith, Tangled Love, and Starting Over, and Night Driving, when they first came out, and I like them still. (I wrote about them upon first reading here and here.) I never missed Addie's blog when she used to write there regularly (you can see it here). I think she's a really fine writer and I look forward to her publishing something else, but I also found this podcast interview with her, explaining the wilderness she's been going through creatively. (The link may just take you to the general page for the podcast, but if you search for Addie Zierman you should find the interview -- it's from July 2020.) What happened to Addie is what everyone who tries to write honestly about their lives always dreads; she was kicked out of her community -- in her case a church -- with her words used as a reason to condemn her. 

Book #35 was They're Going to Love You, by Meg Howrey. This novel is the story of a daughter and how her parents' lives influence and change her own. It's also about ballet and choreography and creativity. It's complicated and ultimately redemptive.

Book #36 was Gentle and Lowly, by Dane C. Ortlund. I read this with a small group of friends, and we unpacked Ortlund's ideas every week over snacks. We found the book comforting, nourishing, and thought-provoking.

Sunday, May 14, 2023

Reading Update

Book #22 of the year was Beauty, Robin McKinley's retelling of the fairy tale. This was a reread, but it had been a long time and I'd forgotten many of the details. It's as wonderful as ever.

Book #23 was Our Missing Hearts, by Celeste Ng. I tried several times to stop reading this devastating and painful book, but I couldn't. It's so well written and harrowing and convincing. 

Book #24 was The Urban Bestiary: Encountering the Everyday Wild, by Lyanda Lynn Haupt. I enjoyed this book immensely and I recommend it. I heard about it on a podcast in which it was one of a group of books suggested for motivating people to go outside. Given its information on coyotes, raccoons, rats, etc, it might be more useful for motivating people to stay indoors, but it is filled with fascinating ideas on how the wild encroaches on urban spaces. Of course my favorite part was the section about birds, but there are gems in all parts of the book. Below you'll find some pages I photographed from it to send to a friend. They are about how soil has bacteria in it that works on human mood to make us happier. The book is referring to gardening, but it seems to me to work the same when I get splashed with Kampala mud while cycling and birding.

Book #25 was Absolute Truths, by Susan Howatch, part of my rereading of this series, which I love.

Friday, May 05, 2023

Poetry Friday: Flower Moon


(I found this graphic on Facebook, but you can buy it as a poster here.)

Edit: Looking again at the graphic on Saturday morning, I can see that it says the Flower Moon is in June. But when I looked it up on the internet on Thursday night (and again just now), I found that May's full moon is called the Flower Moon. I don't know which is correct, but I wrote about the Flower Moon!


Tonight is a full moon. I took the photo last night, when it looked full already, and enjoyed thinking about the Flower Moon. It's the end of our school day here in Uganda, and I have a student in my room making up a French listening test. As I sit here babysitting the recording that's playing for her, it's the first opportunity I've had today to write something about the photo.

Fresh from the garden,

Flower moon (dusted with dirt,

Dew-soaked) smells of life.


©Ruth Bowen Hersey


The lovely Linda has today's roundup here.


Thursday, May 04, 2023

Spiritual Journey Thursday: Shall We Dance?



Our host this month, Chris, has asked us to write about the theme "Shall we dance?" for our May SJT. At that link you can see what others have written on this topic.

Ecclesiastes 3:4 says that there's a time to mourn and a time to dance. A few years ago I read Henri Nouwen's book Turn my Mourning into Dancing: Finding Hope in Hard Times, and I've reread it several times since.


Nouwen writes about how we can learn to dance even in hard times. So often, the time for mourning and the time for dancing go together, both in the same day or even the same hour. Here's some of what Nouwen has to say:

"How can we learn to live this way? Many of us are tempted to think that if we suffer, the only important thing is to be relieved of our pain. We want to flee it at all costs. But when we learn to move through suffering, rather than avoid it, then we greet it differently. We become willing to let it teach us. We even begin to see how God can use it for some larger end. Suffering becomes something other than a nuisance or curse to be evaded at all costs, but a way into deeper fulfillment. Ultimately mourning means facing what wounds us in the presence of One who can heal.

This is not easy, of course. This dance will not usually involve steps that require no effort. We may need to practice. With that in mind, this little book shows five movements of a life grounded in God. These will not make the pain disappear. They will not mean we can expect to avoid shadowed valleys and long nights. But these steps in the dance of God's healing choreography let us move gracefully amid what would harm us, and find healing as we endure what could make us despair."

The five movements, also the chapter titles, are:

1. From Our Little Selves to a Larger World

2. From Holding Tight to Letting Go

3. From Fatalism to Hope

4. From Manipulation to Love

5. From a Fearful Death to a Joyous Life

I really recommend this Nouwen book for anyone who is wanting to dance but finding that a time to mourn sometimes interferes.

Thursday, April 27, 2023

Poetry Friday: Pull Up a Chair, the Roundup is Here!


It's been sort of a poetic week around here. Tuesday I added my line to the Progressive Poem, and Sunday was my blog birthday. Seventeen years old, my little corner of the Internet. I looked up the appropriate gift for a seventeenth anniversary, and it's furniture. So below you'll find two poems with chairs in them. The first one came to my mind immediately and the second one showed up on the Poetry Foundation when I went looking for another chair. 


This is my second time hosting Poetry Friday from Uganda, and the last time I had poems about tables. Today I'm inviting you to pull up a chair and sit a while. My porch is quite small, but some people can sit there, and the rest can cram into my tiny living room. Come to think of it, you might want to bring a chair with you, maybe one of those camp chairs people keep in the trunk of the car, just in case. My husband will whip us up something to eat, I bet.

Just a word about the time zone: we're seven hours ahead of Eastern time here, so keep that in mind when it may seem as though I'm taking a while. I might be asleep! Just sit quietly, there in your chair, and I'll be up soon. Leave your comment and I will round up the old fashioned way, as fast as I can. I've enabled comment moderation, so you won't see your comment right away.

The Patience of Ordinary Things

by Pat Schneider

It is a kind of love, is it not?

How the cup holds the tea,

How the chair stands sturdy and foursquare,

How the floor receives the bottoms of shoes

Or toes. How soles of feet know

Where they're supposed to be.

I've been thinking about the patience

Of ordinary things...

Here's the rest.



Shaker Chair

by Jeffrey Harrison


To make a chair an angel would want to sit on 

is an intimidating proposition,

even though a jewel-encrusted throne

or wingback armchair with cloud-soft cushions

is not called for, only a simple rocker.

Besides, most of the work is done: I bought a kit.

But I still may not be equal to the task.

Will I be patient enough? Or will I splinter,

in haste and frustration, some crucial element?

Will I be able to make the chair a form

of worship, as the Shakers did, even though 

I'll only be fitting pre-made parts together?

If I fail at this it's even worse

than if I'd tried to make a chair from scratch

and failed. Afraid to begin, I avoid the box

where it's learned against the bookshelf for a week.

Click here for the second stanza.



In Uganda, I think the most commonly used sentence is: "You are welcome." Everybody says it, even the security guard who's searching your car. You are welcome, friends! I'm so glad to have you here! And I'm looking forward to a whole bunch of great poetry! (And it's also Poem in Your Pocket Day on Poetry Friday this week - tell us if you've got a poem in your pocket!)


Jama has an interview with Charles Ghigna about his new book, The Father Goose Treasury of Poetry. This link will go live at 6 a.m. EST on Poetry Friday. Can't wait to read it, Jama!

It's Friday morning in Uganda, and I just woke to an inbox full of links! Happy day! 

Anastasia's in with a haiku asking a question to which I'd really like an answer. 

Michelle has a poem in her pocket today, and it's a beaut! She even has instructions on a good way to fold your pocket poem. Plus, she's written a poem in imitation of Pablo Neruda, and since that's the Poetry Sisters' challenge for this week, I'm sure it's the first of many! Looking forward to reading them all! 

Ramona's written a poem called "Adoration," and it's illustrated with a bounty of gorgeous spring photos. Ahhhh, lovely! 

Laura has been having a busy NPM, but she's in with a poem about Smaug (shiver!) and a challenge. 


Janice  is sharing a haiku and a video of the moment that inspired it. It's a breath of spring!

Linda sent a lovely surprise! I had been regretting that today's roundup didn't have any feathers in it, since Feather is my OLW. I decided that I'd leave it that way, but now a Feather Letter has arrived from a friend! I had never heard of these, and I love the idea and Linda's gift. Thanks so much, Linda! 


If spring is here, summer must be on its way! Tabitha has news about this year's Summer Poem Swaps! I won't be participating this year due to distance (it takes approximately three months for a letter from the US to get here), but I have loved this experience in the past. Tabitha also has a Denise Levertov poem about a broken sandal, plus a great story about what happened when Levertov took a risk as a child and sent her poems to a famous poet.

Laura has a post full of riches, too. She's shared a link to a conversation on teaching poetry (sounds so good!), plus a read alike to go along with her new book, Welcome to Monsterville.

Once again I'm very sad to find that somehow my network won't let me visit Jone. But I hope you won't have the same problem! She has an interview with a poet who's just published a book of haiku about trees. I would love to read both the post and the book! (Edit: Jone thoughtfully sent me pdfs of her post, and it's definitely one you shouldn't miss!)

I finished posting everything that was in my inbox when I woke, and I was just about to go eat breakfast and watch some birds on the porch, but two more came in while I was posting, so here they are before I go!

Mary Lee's nailed the Neruda challenge, and she's even got birds! Welcome, Mary Lee!

And Karen's appreciating pencils today! Pencils are indeed wonderful, and Karen's going to use hers tomorrow to write the second last line of the Progressive Poem.


7:20, and I'm at my desk in the back of my classroom. I got eleven species this morning during breakfast, and then some parrots while I was heading out to work. I always think a bird checklist is a kind of poem, so maybe I'll share it later, but right now I have to update with the three posts that came in since Karen's.


Lou shared a post on the right to read. I'm with you, Lou, being grateful for the chance to get to learn to read, and the opportunity to read whatever I want. And she also wrote a lovely triolet called "You."

Linda is plaintively asking, "Is it spring yet?" She's also generously sharing the poetry postcards she's received this month!

Denise has written a powerful poem about gun violence, and she's also sharing a Carl Sandburg poem on the same topic. 

Well, I just got done teaching. The sixth graders and I were wrestling with that age-old question, where is the cat? (See photo.) Now the question is, where am I? I got evicted from my classroom for a math lesson (maths as we call it here), and evicted from my normal work spot in the library because they're getting ready for a poetry and music event this evening, so I've found a corner in the dining room and lugged my grading here to spend my free period. 

But before I start my grading, I need to share Bridget's link that came in while I was teaching. She's got a poem in her pocket, and she shares the poem - and the pocket! - with us.

Karin has today's line for the Progressive Poem! Only two more lines after today! 

Catherine is continuing her hope alphabet, and today T is for Hope. And T is also for Taproots. Lovely, Catherine!

Molly has been thinking about Shel Silverstein and idioms, and she's got a limerick to share that came from those musings.


Rose's NPM didn't go quite the way she had planned, but she did end up making some progress on a writing project. She shares some poems from her work in progress.

Margaret says, "My students, when they hear the word poetry, breathe a sigh of relief and joy. I am lucky they are young and haven’t been stained by the bee that says poetry is hard." I always love it when she shares her students' work!


Irene's in with a wonderful interview with Zaro Weil, a French poet, as well as one of her poems. She also has an original poem based on a painting. It leaves me singing a "blue-sky kind of tune"!

Carol has a whole lovely collection of spring poems for us! Head on over to enjoy the bounty.

Amy is continuing her NPM project. She's been writing hourly poems in the voice of an old barn. Today's is 11 PM, and the barn is remembering moments from the past. So vivid and beautiful! 

Heidi is Neruding (she invented that verb and I like it!). Writing in the style of Pablo Neruda, she's produced an "Ode to Resistance." My favorite line is "disturbing the path/ of the ants/ on their way/ to the honey." What a perfect image! 


Liz is Neruding too, plus she has a haiku for us. Her Neruda poem asks the great man a whole bunch of questions (like "Is exile a way to be lost?/ Is exile a way to lose yourself?"), and I sure wish he were still around to answer them!

I always like to share a Tiel Aisha Ansari poem whenever I host. Here's one she posted in February called "Sleep." I can't decide which of the metaphors I like best!

And now that I'm done teaching and meeting with students and posting all the links that have come in so far, here are the birds I saw at breakfast and while leaving for work this morning. I think their names alone are a poem:

Red-eyed dove

Eastern Plantain-eater

Hadada Ibis

Black Kite

Woodland Kingfisher

Broad-billed Roller

Fork-tailed Drongo

Pied Crow

Rüppell's Starling

African Thrush

Northern Gray-headed Sparrow

Meyer's Parrot

Patricia has written a yarn (Y is for Yarn) about Huck and Gila and their encounter in the desert. Check out Patricia's NPM project: 30 poems in 30 days with 30 forms! 


Sarah has a giveaway today of the book My Paati's Saris, by Jyoti Rajan Gopal. Head over and leave a comment to be eligible to win.

JoAnn's sharing pictures and a poem about milkweed. Like others in the roundup, JoAnn has been doing an NPM project with a daily poem! Way to go! 

There's more Neruding from Tanita, who wrote a sonnet to her upper arms. What a fabulous topic, and I think I'm going to be reading this poem to my upper arms. Wow! 

Susan has a bird haiku, and it's not just a generic bird, but a Louisiana Waterthrush. Inspired by Susan's poem, I went to eBird and listened to its sound.

I just got home from our evening poetry and music event at school, and now that I've rounded up the rest of this evening's links, I'm pretty tired. It's been sixteen hours since my alarm woke me, so I'm going to close down for the night, but don't worry -- you can keep sending links, and I'll post them in the morning!

Good Saturday morning! I slept in (it's 8:30 now), but here I am to add more links!

Tricia has an "Ode to a Basket of Trinkets" in the style of Neruda. I've really enjoyed all the Neruding!

Carol is in with a subject close to my heart: miscarriage. Her poetry post is here and it links to her touching prose narrative here. She's also celebrating her 1900th post!

Matt's joining in on Poetry Saturday. He's at a conference and hasn't been able to post, but he has an interview with Ryan Van Cleave about his new book The Witness Trees.

Monday, April 24, 2023

The Progressive Poem is Here Today!

It's the beginning of my work day here in Uganda, and I'm sitting in the library with a pile of grading on the table in front of me. But before I do any of it, I have to add my line to the poem! It's been raining all night here, and as I look out the window, I can see the flag on the flagpole and the kids kicking a soccer ball in the yard. 


I'm wondering if there's something slightly menacing about the party waiting for our protagonist. Oh my, indeed. The note said "Enter if you must," which isn't exactly a delighted welcome. Was the note for someone else? I don't think it's necessarily wise to just sit down and start consuming. Remember Alice in Wonderland? Remember Titania and Oberon?

Fortified with a cup of tea (Mukwano, not apple blossom, and on a table, not a mushroom), I wrote my line.


The poem so far is below, and my line is in bold at the end.


Over to you, Patricia!

Suddenly everything fell into place
like raindrops hitting soil and sinking in.

When morning first poked me, I’d wished it away
my mind in the mist, muddled, confused.

Was this a dream or reality, rousing my response?
The sun surged, urging me to join in its rising,

Rising like a crystal ball reflecting on morning dew.
I jumped out of bed, ready to explore the day.

My feet pull me outside and into the garden
Where lilies and bees weave…but wait! What’s that?

A bevy of bunnies jart and dart and play in the clover.
A dog barks and flash, the bunderstorm is over.

I breathe-brave, quiet. Like a seed,
as the day, foretold in my dream, ventured upon me.

Sunbeams guided me to the gate overgrown with wisteria
where I spotted the note tied to the gate.

As I reached the gnarled gate, pollen floated like fairy dust into my face.
Aaah Choo!
Enter, if you must. We’ve been waiting for you.

Not giving the curious note a thought, I pushed the gate open and ran through.
Stopped in my tracks, eyes wide in awe- can this really be true?

Huge mushrooms for tables, vines twined into chairs,
A flutter of fairies filled flowery teawares. 


With glazed nut cakes and apple blossom tea,
I heard soft whispers from behind a tree. Oh my! They had been “waiting for me!”


Still brave, but cautious, I waited for them.