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.

 

 



Thursday, April 20, 2023

Poetry Friday: Eid Mubarak!

In Kampala we are waiting to see if we're celebrating Eid, the end of Ramadan, with a day off tomorrow or Saturday. If it's Saturday, you understand, it's not really a day off in quite the same way. But we don't know yet because there were confusing communiqués that went out today, and the way it stood when I came home was that we'd know by 8pm. We're waiting to see when the moon gets spotted. I'm not really clear if it needs to be spotted in Saudi Arabia or here, because I read a couple of different versions of what happens. Eid is always a public holiday here, but the date isn't set ahead of time, and apparently every year there is this waiting.


In Haiti we were often not sure if we'd have school the next day, though the reasons were different there. But that part feels familiar, the uncertainty. I came home with all my books just in case it was for the weekend. We used to do that, and tell the kids to, all the time in Haiti just in case the next day's classes got canceled. 

 

As I was writing the paragraph above, and wondering whether I really even know where or who I am, as I think about whether or not I will have to work tomorrow, the WhatsApp message came through: no school. 

 

I didn't fast, not being a Muslim, so the end of Ramadan doesn't mean a return to normal for me. But for so many around me, that's exactly what it means, the end of this special month.  I went looking for an Eid poem and I found one here from 2009, when it fell in April, like this year.


Eid Mubarak! And check out the roundup here.

Friday, April 14, 2023

Reading Update

Book #15 of the year was Glittering Images, #17 was Glamorous Powers, and #21 was Mystical Paths, all three by Susan Howatch and all three part of the Starbridge series. I wrote more about the series, which I've read several times, in this post from 2009.

 

Book #16 was Henri Nouwen's The Inner Voice of Love: A Journey from Anguish to Freedom. This is Nouwen's spiritual journal of a difficult time in his life, and while it doesn't go into the details of what he himself was going through, it does provide many deep insights into how to proceed through such a struggle. 

 

Book #18 was Extraordinary Birds, by Sandy Stark-McGinnis, the story of December, a foster child who's coping with her difficult past by believing she's a bird. Because of her own struggles, December is able to connect with Cheryllynn, a trans girl at her new school. December is put under pressure to join in with the bullies who are making Cheryllynn's life miserable, and at the same time she's trying to keep from getting too close to her new foster mom, because foster placements always end and December has too much experience with being abandoned. I found December a believable character, and of course what I liked best about this middle-grade novel was the information about extraordinary birds on every page. 


Book #19 was Tooth and Claw, by Jo Walton. I had read this book before (here you can read what I wrote about it in 2013), but this time I read it aloud to my husband. We both enjoyed it immensely.


Book #20 was Insignificant Events in the Life of a Cactus, by Dusti Bowling. Aven is a 13-year-old with no arms, and she's just moved to Arizona so her dad can take a job running a cowboy amusement park. While she was well-known at her previous school and didn't have to deal with being stared at, it's not quite the same in the new place. She has to make new friends and solve the mystery of what's going on at Stagecoach Pass. And she has to do it while facing treatment like this: "As Connor, Zion and I walked together down the sidewalk, I heard someone do that coughing thing when they sneak a word into the cough, but they're not actually being very sneaky about it at all. And the word was freaks."

Poetry Friday: Invisible Birds

This is the least involved I've been in National Poetry Month in many many years. I will have a line in the Progressive Poem, and I am signed up to host Poetry Friday at the end of the month, but other than that I have hardly had any poetry-related activity. I'm not teaching English these days, but French, and while we do have an occasional poem on the agenda, it's just not the same as my daily poetry habit of the past. I hardly have any poetry books with me here in Uganda, either, so I'm very thankful for the Internet! And I'm hardly writing at all, except for emails, texts, and lesson plans, as I go through the adjustment process to a new place and a new job. I keep telling myself that next year will be easier, but it seems as though I've been saying that for a while now.


One of the things I like least about living here in this gorgeous country full of amazing birds is the time difference. We are seven hours ahead of Eastern Time right now, so it's very hard to get together with people in the US, what with work and sleeping and stuff. But one good thing about it is that as I'm puttering about at mid-morning on this Friday of my Easter break, it's still barely even Friday on the east coast of the US, and there's still plenty of time to post something.


What's keeping me going these days is watching birds, in my yard for a few minutes in the morning before work, or sometimes -- like yesterday -- hours of fabulous birding in a place full of species I haven't seen before. So here's a Craig Arnold poem about Central America that gets at kind of the same thing, except that in this poem he's just hearing instead of seeing, and I get to do both. You can read the rest of it or listen to it at the link below.


The Invisible Birds of Central America

by Craig Arnold


For Alicia

 

The bird who creaks like a rusty playground swing

the bird who sharpens the knife         the bird who blows

on the mouths of milk bottles          the bird who bawls like a cat

like a cartoon baby         the bird who rubs the wineglass

the bird who curlicues     the bird who quacks like a duck

but is not a duck


Here's the rest.

 

Jone has this week's roundup! 


Friday, April 07, 2023

Poetry Friday, Good Friday

I shared this Emily Dickinson poem for Good Friday in 2017, and here it is again.


To know just how He suffered — would be dear —
To know if any Human eyes were near
To whom He could entrust His wavering gaze —
Until it settle broad — on Paradise —

To know if He was patient — part content —
Was Dying as He thought — or different —
Was it a pleasant Day to die —
And did the Sunshine face his way —

What was His furthest mind — Of Home — or God —
Or what the Distant say —
At news that He ceased Human Nature
Such a Day —

And Wishes — Had He Any —
Just His Sigh — Accented —
Had been legible — to Me —
And was He Confident until
Ill fluttered out — in Everlasting Well —

And if He spoke — What name was Best —
What last
What One broke off with
At the Drowsiest —

Was He afraid — or tranquil —
Might He know
How Conscious Consciousness — could grow —
Till Love that was — and Love too best to be —
Meet — and the Junction be Eternity

 

Margaret has today's roundup, and today's line for the Progressive Poem, here. Thanks, Margaret! 


Wednesday, April 05, 2023

Spiritual Journey Thursday: Origins

 

When I looked at the calendar at the end of last year, I saw that SJT would be on Maundy Thursday in April. This day is very important in Christianity because it's the day when Christ instituted both the Lord's Supper and the tradition/concept of footwashing, which some denominations do as part of a worship service. Here's some information on Maundy Thursday in case this is not part of your background:

What is Maundy Thursday?

All About Footwashing

The Timeline of Holy Week 


Because this is a day of origins, I thought of expanding the prompt to ask: What are the origins of one of your spiritual practices? (This could be the historical origin of the practice, or it could be how it came to be important in your own life.) You can write about Maundy Thursday or something totally different. And as always, feel free to ignore the prompt completely and write about something else entirely! Leave your links in the comments and I'll round them up! 


Origins: Maundy Thursday


A busy week,
full of
riding a donkey into town,
knocking over tables,
prophesying at the Mount of Olives,
praying in the Garden of Gethsemane,
getting betrayed,
arrested,
tried,
convicted,
tortured,
killed
and buried.

A busy week,
but still
Jesus made time
for dinner with friends,
during which there was awkward foot washing
and some confusing commentary
about eating a body and drinking blood.

Later, they got it.

And that’s what amazes,
all these centuries later,
that in the middle of such a busy week,
Jesus thought of later,
gave us language,
actions,
rituals:
thought,
in the middle of everything,
of us.

©Ruth Bowen Hersey

April 2023

Karen shares about breath prayer, with a traditional one and one she created herself. (I really love yours, Karen!)


Margaret reflects on Maundy Thursday. She has a recording of her choir singing, and a poem about footwashing. A nourishing post!


Arjeha's post is full of details of Byzantine Catholic Easter traditions. It's interesting and beautiful!

 

Patricia is thinking a lot about how her faith has grown and changed over the years. "To make present – memorial – ," she writes, "is something Jesus asks of us every day. Do this in memory of me. Feed the hungry. Clothe the naked. Aid the sick. Visit the imprisoned. I am searching for how to adapt my life so that these become a regular and treasured part of my days."


Chris, too, has experienced change in her faith, and her post reflects on what she's left behind and what she's kept.


Carol has chosen a couple of traditions from this time of year: Palm Sunday (what happens to those palms afterward?) and the washing of feet. She's written a lovely post!


The spiritual practice that Ramona chose to write about is singing hymns. She shares some of the hymns and the person who helped make them part of her heart.

 

 

Saturday, April 01, 2023

Progressive Poem 2023



Tuesday, March 14, 2023

Reading Update

Book #11 of the year was An Episode of Sparrows, by Rumer Godden. I have been gradually trying to read all of Godden's books, and I enjoyed this one. It has the kind of prose style that I don't think Chat-GPT could replicate, because there is so clearly a human storyteller brain at work. This is a quiet, old-fashioned story.


Book #12 was the 2023 Newbery winner, Freewater, by Amina Luqman-Dawson. This is the story of two children who escape from enslavement and discover that there is a community of escapees like themselves living in the swamp. This is based on true stories of a similar community in the Great Dismal Swamp of Virginia. At times this read like a superhero adventure, and at other times like a harrowing story of abuse. I can really imagine it being made into a movie, and I hope it will be, because I can't picture what the sky bridge described in the book might look like. 


Book #13 was the third and final installment of the Inheritance Games series, The Final Gambit, by Jennifer Lynn Barnes. I liked it, and it kept me reading, but the incorrect Latin irritated me. 


Book #14 was a re-re-re-re-re-read, Ultimate Prizes, by Susan Howatch. Sometimes you just need to read something familiar. I wrote more about this series here.

Sunday, March 12, 2023

Spiritual Journey Thursday: The Words We Fall Back On


It is not Thursday, and this post was supposed to be written by March 2nd. But the prompt was so good that I couldn't resist doing it, even though I am late.


This month's host, Karen, asked us to share some words that we keep returning to, words that are touchstones for us. I have a folder on my computer desktop called "Mantras," though that really isn't a very good name for what's in the folder. There's a whole variety of quotes and prayers, and even a note sent by a friend. These are all too long to be a true mantra, which is supposed to be very short and easy to repeat. 


Here are a very few of the items in my folder:


"You do not need to know precisely what is happening, or exactly where it is all going. What you need is to recognize the possibilities and challenges offered by the present moment, and to embrace them with courage, faith and hope. In such an event, courage is the authentic form taken by love.

" Thomas Merton



“Nothing worth doing is completed in our lifetime; therefore, we are saved by hope. Nothing true or beautiful or good makes complete sense in any immediate context of history; therefore, we are saved by faith. Nothing we do, however virtuous, can be accomplished alone; therefore, we are saved by love.”  Reinhold Neibuhr

 

 

"The world is full of dark shadows to be sure, both the world without and the world within, and the road we’ve set off on is long and hard and often hard to find, but the word is trust. Trust the deepest intuitions of your own heart, trust the source of your own truest gladness, trust the road, trust him. And praise him too. Praise him for all we leave behind us in our traveling. Praise him for all we lose that lightens our feet, for all that the long road of the years bears off like a river. Praise him for stillness in the wake of pain. But praise him too for the knowledge that what’s lost is nothing to what’s found, and that all the dark there ever was, set next to the light, would scarcely fill a cup." Frederick Buechner 



And here's one of my favorite Bible verses: “And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge--that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.” Ephesians 3:17



Thank you for this prompt, Karen!

Friday, March 10, 2023

Poetry Friday: Theater

In addition to my already full schedule, I've been helping with the school play, "The Tempest," complete with 80s music. It's been so much fun, and I've been thinking a lot about what a great thing it is for kids to be in a play, how it's making something together, something real. It's the closest I'll ever come to being part of a sports team. 


Here's a poem I found about a theater, and I especially love this line: "A false world ends in real debris." True, that.

 

 


For the Demolition of a Theater

by Elder James Olson

 

The player was neither king nor clown;

Of tragedy or comedy,

Truth is the last catastrophe.

 

Paper castles, too, fall down;

Spider and mouse have always known

A false world ends in real debris.

 

Here's the rest. 

 

 

 

And because I want to include a feather, for my OLW:




Heidi's hosting today's roundup.


Sunday, February 19, 2023

Reading Update

Book #5 of 2023 was The Hawthorne Legacy, by Jennifer Lynn Barnes. This is the second in the Inheritance Games series. I finished the first one last month, and the third one is on hold.


Book #6 was I'm Still Here: Black Dignity in a World Made for Whiteness, by Austin Channing Brown. The first chapter of this book is called "White People Are Exhausting." As an exhausting white person, I admit I had to fight feelings of defensiveness as I read this book. But I kept telling myself that it is a great opportunity to get such a clear picture of someone else's perceptions. I really get that it's hard to be in a minority, and the history of race in the United States is a brutal one. I will try to be less exhausting henceforth. 


Book #7 was Rescue, by Anita Shreve. There's lots of rescuing going on in this novel. The protagonist is an EMT, and he meets a woman in the course of his job who needs rescuing. Then later others need to be rescued from her, and in the end there are still more rescues. I like Anita Shreve's books, and I just found that I have reported on six of her others on this blog.


Book #8 was One Day, by David Nicholls. Dexter and Emma meet in 1988, and the "one day" of the title is July 15th of that year. The rest of the book takes us to July 15th of each succeeding year, and shows us the ups and downs of "Dex and Em." I did enjoy this book, and I liked the structure. It went in some directions I didn't see coming. I understand there's also a movie.


Book #9 was Of a Feather: A Brief History of American Birding, by Scott Weidensaul. This was a fascinating read, with lots of great bird stories and ornithological name-dropping. It's thirteen years old, so it's not up to the minute on current birding culture, and there's a tiny bit too much griping about people who are more interested in adding to their Life Lists than they are in actually learning about birds. I highly recommend this book for people who are as obsessed with the topic as I am.


Book #10 was one of the best books I've read in a while, Solito: A Memoir, by Javier Zamora. Wow! Wow! This is the story of nine-year-old Javier, whose parents are in the US while he has been left in El Salvador, and how he attempts to join them. It is so full of vivid detail and emotion that I felt as though I was along for the journey. There's a lot of Spanish in the book. I've been studying Spanish for just over a year now, and I was pleased with how much I could understand, but since a lot of the point of the Spanish is to show the different ways the language is spoken in the different countries Javier passes through and how that affects everyone, a little glossary in the back would have helped me out. I felt as though I missed out on some of what was going on, just as I would have had I really been in this group in 1999. But oh, what a read! I could hardly put it down, and my heart was with Javier each moment. I couldn't help thinking of the Haitian children living some version of this drama right now.

Thursday, February 16, 2023

Poetry Friday: Snow

Today I have some poems about snow. The first two are haiku based on photos sent me by friends last week (click on the picture to enlarge it). Then there's another snow poem, or at least a snow-adjacent poem, I wrote recently. I wanted to include the word Feather somewhere, since that's my OLW, so I went searching for a poem that compared snow to feathers, and the post ends with that.

 




Snow Moon, 2023


Here,
seven or eight hours in their future,
(depending on the time zone,
since my grown-up children
live in two separate ones),
I go outside
in the warm night
to look at the
Snow Moon.

I imagine myself
seeing the same
shining
full
orb
now
that they will see
once their part of the earth
circles round.

But
here
in the Ugandan dry season,
the Snow Moon hides
behind
thick, white clouds
that will
never,
no,
never,
bring snow.


©Ruth Bowen Hersey



I'm going to share one stanza of this poem; there are four. Follow the link to read the rest of it.


from The Snow Arrives After Long Silence

 

by Nancy Willard

 

...The cat at my window watches

amazed. So many feathers and no bird!

All day the snow sets its table

with clean linen, putting its house in order.

The hungry deer walk

 

Here's the rest. 



The marvelous Molly has today's roundup.

Thursday, February 02, 2023

Poetry Friday: Feather

Feather

by Lew R. Sarett


High in the noon's bright bowl of blue

I saw an idling eagle tilt

His suave white wings.  As smooth he flew

As water flows on silt.


He wheeled; a feather from his wing

Fluttered from out the clean clear dome

And sank on the grassy carpeting,

Soft as a moth on foam. 


The rest is here.


And speaking of light and beautiful things like feathers, here's a song I found this week by Pat Kalla & Le Super Mojo. The lyrics, in French, are in the comments on the video. My favorite ones:


"Pleurer, c’est une rivière au fond des yeux qui déborde quand il pleut  

Pleurer, c’est dessiner la mélancolie avec un pinceau tout gris  

Pleurer, c’est déranger les anges qui dorment sous tes paupières  

Qui secouent leurs ailes toutes mouillées 

 Et vont au soleil se sécher..."

 

My translation:

 

"Crying is a river deep in the eyes that overflows when it rains

Crying is drawing melancholy with a gray paintbrush 

Crying is bothering the angels that are sleeping under your eyelids

That shake their wet wings

And go into the sun to dry themselves..."



Laura has this week's roundup.

Wednesday, February 01, 2023

Spiritual Journey Thursday: The Colors of My Life

This month our host for Spiritual Journey Thursday, Bob, asked us to think about colors. He wrote, "We are all called to be shining lights for others to follow. Are your lights bright and bold so that others can see them in the distance or are they soft and muted so that others won’t notice them until they are near you? What color is your light?"

 

I am not sure how to answer what color my light is, but I do know that I have been loving the colors I have been seeing lately in Uganda, my new home. They are a beautiful gift. Here are some recent colors.

 

 




"Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows." James 1:17.


Check out other people's responses to this prompt here!

Thursday, January 26, 2023

Poetry Friday: Try to Praise...

My OLW, Feather, comes up in so many poems. Feathers are inherently poetic and beautiful: here are some links that illustrate that.  

 

In this poem, a lost feather from a thrush features. Sometimes lost feathers indicate an injured or dead bird. Recently we found a pile of feathers from a guinea fowl. A man nearby told us that he had found the bird dead; perhaps it had been killed by an animal. But birds do replace their feathers multiple times during their life cycle, and as long as the bird is alive, feathers do grow back. Not that the process of moulting is easy; this link from the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds explains more.


All of that to say that the "mutilated world" of the poem, while difficult and full of struggle, is still beautiful. After the poem, I'm including the Over the Rhine song "All of My Favorite People Are Broken," which quotes a line from the poem.


Try to Praise the Mutilated World

by Adam Zagajewski


Try to praise the mutilated world.

Remember June's long days,

and wild strawberries, drops of rosé wine.

The nettles that methodically overgrow 

the abandoned homesteads of exiles.

 

Here's the rest, including the part about the feather. 





Jan has the roundup this week.

Thursday, January 19, 2023

Poetry Friday: Kingfishers and Queenfishers

I really wanted to do a better job with Poetry Friday this year, but last week there were obstacles like exams and grades and such non-poetic things. I wanted to post about Kingfishers for last Poetry Friday, but here it is today instead.


The American Birding Association recently announced their 2023 Bird of the Year. It's the Belted Kingfisher, but, plot twist! It's the female Belted Kingfisher, which is slightly more colorful than the male, unlike in most bird species. So the artist commissioned to paint the bird called her painting Queenfisher! You can listen to a podcast interview with the artist, Liz Clayton Fuller, here. (And you can also see her beautiful painting.)

 

What's funny is that I had already thought, while looking through my bird list from 2022, that last year was my Year of the Kingfisher because I saw eight kingfisher species!

 

Below is a poem by Mary Oliver called "The Kingfisher." It perfectly captures the lightness of those birds, in spite of everything. Then I wanted to write about all the kingfishers I saw last year, the way they hover above the water before plunging to catch a fish, how colorful and debonair they are, and how much fun they always seem to be having, but instead I decided to give all their names in a sort of list poem. (That is, I'm not sure it's a poem, but it's definitely a list.) Neither of these poems (or one could say neither the poem nor the list) mentions my OLW, Feather, but in another way they are both full of feathers, many of them bright blue.



The Kingfisher

by Mary Oliver


The kingfisher rises out of the black wave

like a blue flower, in his beak

he carries a silver leaf. I think this is

the prettiest world -- so long as you don't mind

a little dying, how could there be a day in your whole life

that doesn't have its splash of happiness?

Here's the rest of it.

 

 

2022 Kingfishers


Belted Kingfisher

Ringed Kingfisher

Amazon Kingfisher

Green Kingfisher

Pied Kingfisher

Woodland Kingfisher

Malachite Kingfisher

African Pygmy Kingfisher



Here's the roundup.