Monday, December 30, 2019

Reading Update

I doubt I'll finish any more books this year; if I do, I'll add them to the bottom of this post.

Book #115 of 2019 was The Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo. I really enjoyed this verse novel about Xiomara, her twin Xavier, and the boy, Aman, she's starting to like.

I wanted to tell her that if Aman were a poem
he'd be written slumped across the page,
sharp lines, and a witty punch line
written on a bodega brown paper bag.

His hands, writing gently on our lab reports,
turned into imagery,
his smile the sweetest unclichéd simile.

He is not elegant enough for a sonnet,
too well-thought-out for a free write,
taking too much space in my thoughts
to ever be a haiku.

Book #116 was Opening the Stable Door: An Advent Reader, by Dale and Jonalyn Fincher. I last read this one in 2013.

Book #117 was The Lacuna, by Barbara Kingsolver. I had read it before, ten years ago (here's my review from back then), but this time I read it aloud to my husband. We both enjoyed it immensely.
Book #118 was The Most Fun We Ever Had, by Claire Lombardo. I loved this story of siblings and their parents' marriage. It took me a while to get into it; I didn't like the first few pages at all and almost didn't continue. But I was very glad I didn't give up. I am not sure how she managed it, but Lombardo structured this book so brilliantly. It jumps all around in time and from character to character, but without confusing the reader at all (once you get past the beginning). We see major events through the eyes of each of the daughters, and we see the relationships as living, growing organisms.
Book #119 was a reread of Turn My Mourning into Dancing: Finding Hope in Hard Times, by Henri Nouwen. I bought this in January and I've already read it three times (it's short). Highly recommended.

Book #120 was Comfort Ye My People: The Real World Meets Handel's Messiah, 26 Readings for Advent, by Kay Bruner. I've read this a couple of times before during Advent, and it's so good. Each reading includes a link so you can listen to a YouTube video of the section of the music she's referencing.

Book #121 was a Christmas gift from my son, Consider the Birds: A Provocative Guide to the Birds of the Bible, by Debbie Blue. This reminded me of Lauren Winner, and, bingo, Lauren Winner wrote the Foreword. I am a sucker for this kind of midrashy reconsidering of familiar texts. The lovely woodblock illustrations by Blue's husband, Jim Larson, are a bonus.

This was an excellent reading year. Being unable to go out for days at a time makes for prime reading conditions. One thing I especially enjoyed was how many books I read with my husband. We have always read books together, since our dating years, but this year we had a lot of extra time at home together, and this was one really nice result.

Here are links to my previous Reading Update posts.

Books #1-#5
Books #6-#11
Books #12-#16
Books #17-#29
Books #30-#35
Books #36-#41
Books #42-#50
Books #51-#61
Books #62-#71
Books #72-#79
Books #80-#92
Books #93-#100
Books #101-#114

What did you read this year that you think I should add to my list for next year? Where did you disagree with my opinions? I love to talk about my reading almost as much as I love to read! Talk to me in the comments, here or on Facebook!

Friday, December 27, 2019

Poetry Friday: The Last Thing

I'm ending the year with this poem by Ada Limón, "The Last Thing."

The Last Thing
Ada Limón

First there was the blue wing
of a scraggly loud jay tucked
into the shrubs. Then the bluish-
black moth drunkenly tripping
from blade to blade. Then
the quiet that came roaring
in like the R. J. Corman over
Broadway near the RV shop.
These are the last three things
that happened.

Here's the rest of it, leading up to my favorite part, the last three lines...

I can't help it. I will
never get over making everything
such a big deal.

Michelle Kogan has the roundup today. See you in 2020!

Friday, December 20, 2019

Poetry Friday: OTR and Me

I just counted, and this is my fifty-first Poetry Friday post of the year. Once in July it was only a link to the roundup, but all the other Fridays of 2019 (so far, and there's just one week left after this one), I posted some actual content for Poetry Friday. To be honest this was kind of a crummy year in most ways, but that's a little achievement, right there.

I was listening this week to some Advent/Christmas/Winter music, and this Over The Rhine song caught my attention and made me think of a poem I wrote a few months ago. So I'll share both of them with you.

Worry Poem

“No need to worry,” he told me.
“You never need to worry.”

I wondered what would happen
if I listened, and never worried again,
calmed and relaxed,
knew deep down I’d always be safe,
breathed in and slowed down my heart rate
submerged myself in a warm bath of love,
rising up shiny and clean,
snorting and blowing bubbles
like a mama hippo.

I wondered what would happen
if I kept on worrying,
fretted and agonized,
built worst-case scenarios in the air,
clutched with sweaty fingers
all that I fear losing,
rolled myself up in a stressed-out ball,
raising my scaly defenses
like a mama pangolin.

Which shall I choose,
I asked myself,
like a mama person,
accustomed both to the kindness of others
and my own insecurities,
longing for worry-free living
and peaceful serenity,

Ruth, from

Buffy has today's roundup.

Friday, December 13, 2019

Poetry Friday: Reflections on Gardening, Growing, Teaching

I've been grading, and that's always a bit depressing, because I focus on how far short I fell of my teaching goals. This quarter that feeling is multiplied by a billion, as we're wrapping up our distance learning, forced on us by riots and peyi lok (locked country) here in Haiti. (I've been writing about it for weeks and weeks, so you can get more information on the details by scrolling down on my blog.)

In the midst of these thoughts, I read Amy Ludwig VanDerwater's post from last week about planting bulbs in November. Six hundred bulbs, to be precise. Can you even imagine how wonderful that's going to be in the spring? Amy's title was "Choose Good Work, Write About It." That started me thinking about a poem I wrote two years ago comparing teaching to gardening. Here it is.  I talked about how growing is mysterious. We do our part, like Amy, but then there's the magic that takes place out of sight.

As part of the self-evaluation I had my seventh and eighth grade students do at the end of this quarter, I asked them to write about something they had learned during this time that they wouldn't have otherwise. That's due today, so I've only read a few of the responses, but so far I've found they learned about how hard it is to do your work when the external structure is taken away. One said he learned about how to keep his mom from being mad at him: by doing his assignments! One girl simply wrote that she learned to be grateful.

Here's a poem that came out of all this ruminating:

Distance Learning, Fall 2019

This growing season,
it felt as though I took the seeds to the window
and just flung them out,
and the wind blew them away,
or the birds ate them,
or they landed on the road and got trampled.

Did any even hit soil, I wondered,
as, each day, I opened the window
and chucked out another bucketful of seeds?

And so I am happy
to see, here and there,
plants springing up.
I don’t know what they are,
if they came from the seeds in my bucket
or from somewhere else entirely.
I don’t know how they’ll do next week
or next month
or at the harvest.

All I know is that I didn’t hoard the seeds
in brightly colored Tupperware.
I sent them out.
I did.


Liz Steinglass has the roundup today.

Saturday, December 07, 2019

Reading Update

Book #101 of 2019 was Ask Again, Yes, by Mary Beth Keane, the story of Peter and Kate, who grow up next to each other outside New York City with their cop fathers and their suburban families. There's trauma in this book, but it's ultimately uplifting, and I enjoyed the believable character development.

Book #102 was Soaring Earth, by Margarita Engle. This is a verse memoir by the current Young People's Poet Laureate, originally from Cuba. It covers her adolescence during the Vietnam War. Here's a taste from an early poem in the book, "Daydreamer."

After those childhood summers in Cuba,
when my two-winged freedom to travel
was lost on both sides of the ocean,
I learned to imagine wholeness
by settling
into the weight
of motionless

But the world isn't heavy, not really,
it flies
through the galaxy
orbiting around the sun, spinning
on an invisible axis and soaring far away
all at the same time, while floating people pretend
that we feel safely

Book #103 was a teaching book, Focus Lessons: How Photography Enhances the Teaching of Writing, by Ralph Fletcher. I was so excited when I first read about this book, because I have done a lot of thinking about the connections between photography and writing, and even written some posts here on the topic. Fletcher's book is gorgeous (filled with his photos) and helpful; he writes about some of the same things I had thought of, and also goes in directions my mind hadn't taken me yet. He's a way more accomplished photographer than I am, for one thing, as well as being a widely published writer. The book includes a wonderful collection of Craft Lessons, ready to use with kids. Highly recommended for teachers, no matter what age your students are.

Book #104 was Lizzie Bright and the Buckminster Boy, by Gary D. Schmidt. This book has been in my classroom forever, and I am Gary Schmidt's #1 fan, so it's surprising I hadn't read this yet. I have had students read it at various times, and it's been well-received. It's so good, but also so sad. It's based on a true story, and set in 1912; the main characters, Turner Buckminster and Lizzie Bright Griffin, are compelling and memorable. I'm glad I finally read it.

Book #105 was Save Me the Plums: My Gourmet Memoir, by Ruth Reichl, the story of Reichl's connection to Gourmet magazine, of which she was the editor in chief. This is beautifully written, and Reichl's narrative voice is irresistible, so even though it is about a world in which I'm frankly not that interested (glamorous food publishing from 1999 until Gourmet magazine's demise in 2009), I loved it. My favorite part is towards the end, when Reichl goes to Paris on a shoestring, though I strongly suspect her idea of a shoestring differs quite a bit from mine. And while I will never make any of the recipes, it's fun to read almost anything about which the writer is this enthusiastic.

Book #106 was the first draft of a novel by someone in my writing group. It was really good but I can't say more about it yet!

Book #107 was The Last Romantics, by Tara Conklin, a story about siblings navigating crisis together, and then the way the rest of their lives unfold.

Book #108 was Summer of '69, by Elin Hilderbrand. While this one was a less serious novel than the last (it even has a beach scene on the cover, as opposed to the twining plants of The Last Romantics), I actually enjoyed it more and found the characters more believable.

Book #109 was Turn My Mourning into Dancing, by Henri Nouwen. There was a quote from it posted on Facebook that caught my attention, and it turned out to be just what I needed to be reading right now. So much so that in addition to being the 109th book of the year, it was also book #114. And I'm reading it again.

Here's a quote from it: "For in our suffering, not apart from it, Jesus enters our sadness, takes us by the hand, pulls us gently up to stand, and invites us to dance. We find the way to pray, as the psalmist did, 'You have turned my mourning into dancing' (Ps. 30:11), because at the center of our grief we find the grace of God."

Book #110 was a re-read, Naked Spirituality: A Life with God in 12 Simple Words, by Brian D. McLaren. I wrote about it before here and here.

Book #111 was Second Nature: A Gardener's Education, by Michael Pollan. This book has a lot of fascinating thoughts in it, but since I'm not a gardener, I'm not sure I fully appreciated it as it should be appreciated. It was my first Michael Pollan book. Here's a quote I underlined: "Proust wrote somewhere that the reason beautiful places sometimes disappoint us in reality is that the imagination can only lay hold of that which is absent. It traffics not in the data of our senses, but in memories and dreams and desires." Hmm. I'll have to think about that one some more.

Book #112 was The Illusion of Separateness, by Simon Van Booy. This was another book full of fascinating thoughts, in this case about how we are connected with other people by the past. I think I was too distracted while reading it to appreciate it fully, and I hope to reread it some day when I am in a more focused state of mind.

Book #113 was The Next Right Thing, by Emily P. Freeman. I listened to almost every minute of the podcast on which this book was based, so it wasn't new material to me, but I still found it helpful and beautiful and calming. Plus, I could hear it in my head in Emily P.'s soothing voice.

Thursday, December 05, 2019

Poetry Friday: Blessing in the Chaos

Things have been pretty chaotic around here lately. In the world, and also in my heart. This poem by Jan Richardson helps. 

Blessing in the Chaos
Jan Richardson

To all that is chaotic
in you,
let there come silence.

Let there be
a calming
of the clamoring,
a stilling
of the voices that
have laid their claim
on you,
that have made their
home in you,

that go with you
even to the
holy places
but will not
let you rest,
will not let you
hear your life
with wholeness
or feel the grace
that fashioned you.

Let what distracts you

Here's the rest at Jan's blog, The Painted Prayerbook, plus some of her thoughts about the poem.

Tanita has the roundup today.

Spiritual Journey Thursday: OLW 2019

Our theme this month for Spiritual Journey Thursday requires us to revisit the One Little Word we chose for 2019. So the first thing I did was go back and read my post from the beginning of the year. Here it is. My OLW was Possibility. I quoted Henri Nouwen and Nichole Nordeman and Emily Dickinson and Pharrell Williams and the Bible, and just generally went on and on in a fashion that now makes me roll my eyes at the irony of it all. A better word for 2019 would have been Impossibility. As I start to consider words for 2020, perhaps Impossibility should be my choice, or Despair, or maybe Futility.

I mean, sure, we made the best of it this year. As we went through week after week of lockdown and political unrest and stress (just scroll through the year's posts for evidence), we, my colleagues and I, did our best to keep teaching (in disrupted days, then half days, then distance learning). We learned about the intricacies of Google Classroom and adapted lessons. I read lots of books and watched birds in my yard. I wrote updates in email and on Facebook and tried to keep Haiti in people's minds. I spent extra time with my husband and son and rode the exercise bike and attempted to maintain my mental health. I invited near neighbors over and served them chai. I wrote poems and short stories. I encouraged my students and their families as much as I could.

And last week, a lot of schools in Haiti opened, some for the first time this school year. (Here's an article in English about it and here's one in French.) And that's great. But only about a quarter of the kids were there; parents were cautious and scared, and there were still threats against the safety of students venturing out. Schools recommended that their pupils not come in uniform, since uniforms draw attention. Are you getting the picture that schools opening doesn't mean that things are back to normal?

While I recognize that difficult times help us grow spiritually, I am also sad that so many children have missed so much school this year. Children get one childhood, and it's already short. And school is only one aspect of the disruption in Haiti. Health care and the economy have been affected, too. There's a looming food crisis. There's been violence and fear. I'm not quite ready to wrap up this year with a bow and say it was all OK. (Please don't hear me making political statements or taking sides; I don't know the solutions to Haiti's problems, of which there are many.)

If you read my post from January, you'll see that I wrote about how some of the possibilities for the year were always negative. I used the metaphors of tornadoes and earthquakes (and earthquakes are not always metaphors in these parts). It didn't take any prescience to envision yucky possibilities for the year; we were already in the throes of political crisis when 2019 began. It just kept getting worse, and as the year ends, it's not resolved.
And yet. It isn't wrapping it all up with a bow to say that God never let go of me in 2019. In spite of everything. Even on the worst days. Listen to Andrew Peterson's song (and read the lyrics on the screen in the video), and that's my testimony too.

Irene has our roundup today.