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

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
that they will see
once their part of the earth
circles round.

in the Ugandan dry season,
the Snow Moon hides
thick, white clouds
that will
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


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.

Saturday, January 14, 2023

Reading Update

Here are the first four books I've finished in 2023.

Book #1 of 2023 was something I found at the grocery store. I'm trying not to buy paper books any more, after the traumatic experience I just had of getting rid of a couple of thousand. Books are heavy, hard to move, gather dust. Nobody wants them when you're done with them. Instead I try to download and borrow. But I just can't stop looking at all the books everywhere I go. Here in Uganda there are odd collections on the street, in second hand stores, and even in the grocery store. I wonder why those particular books. There are a lot of business titles, self-help books, a few novels. This one has an obvious connection to the country. It's called Ivory, Apes & Peacocks: Animals, Adventure and Discovery in the Wild Places of Africa, by Alan Root. Root was a wildlife photographer who moved to Kenya as a child when his dad got a job at a meat-packing plant producing "bully beef" for Britain after World War II. He spent his life in this region of the world exploring and making movies. This fascinating book tells the story of all of it. Here's a quote: "The great documentary maker Robert Flaherty once said, 'All art is a kind of exploring. To discover and reveal is the way every artist sets about his business.' This is particularly true of wildlife filming, when every new project means learning to see all over again, to pick up the clues and signs that lead to an understanding of this new and different territory. Today it means googling the subject and getting buried under a mass of information; back then it meant looking, listening and finding out for yourself."

Book #2 was The Inheritance Games, by Jennifer Lynn Barnes. This is clearly destined to become a movie. It's a fun, puzzle-filled romp. I enjoyed it and have the second one on hold at the library.

Book #3 was The Queen's Choice, by Cayla Kluver. It's a story of succession in the fairy world, mystery, and quest. This time the second one isn't as easy to come by, because the library doesn't have it. Grr.

Book #4 was Sea of Tranquility, by Emily St. John Mandel. I've had this one on hold at the library for a really long time, probably almost since the moment it first came out last April. I finally got to read it. It's a very quick read, mind-bending and full of time travel and pandemic. It's the kind of book you want to reread as soon as you're done, to figure out all the connections again. I recommend it if you're into the kind of books this author writes.

Wednesday, January 04, 2023

SJT and Poetry Friday and OLW, all in one!

As my break from school barrels to a close, I am taking some time to write down the thoughts that have been going through my mind about my OLW (One Little Word) for 2023. That's the theme for our SJT (Spiritual Journey Thursday) group for January, and I'm going to include a poem so that this post will do double duty for Poetry Friday, too. So Happy New Year to you and to me!

In 2022, my OLW was BEGINNER. I knew it would be appropriate because I was moving to a new country and a new job. What I didn't know was that I would do that again in August, when we moved to our current home, Kampala, Uganda. Do I recommend making two international moves to two different continents in one year? I do not. But did my focus on being a beginner and giving myself grace to be OK with being a beginner help me deal with the intense stress of the year? Yes it did. 

As I thought through the events of 2022, there was a lot of heaviness in my memories. A lot of grief and loss happened. But the year was also full of incredible adventure and fun. 


2022 was the year I became a cyclist again. Since I joined Strava in April, I rode over 1900 miles (over 3000 kilometers), mostly with my husband on one of three tandem bicycles in three different countries, but also some on a single bike. Cycling burned stress, helped me see an enormous amount of beauty, and made me stronger and happier. 


In 2022 I continued my birding habit, seeing an unbelievable 407 species in five countries. I've written a lot on this blog about what birding means to me, so I won't go into that again, but birding brought me so much pleasure in a year when I needed that! I sometimes observed on my own, and sometimes with others, and both were fabulous. And I learned so very much! 

I also spent time with wonderful people in 2022. I said many goodbyes, but at my age and with my international background, I am well aware that goodbyes go with the territory. They hurt, but somehow I find the strength to move on and make new friendships. 

So, I wondered, what did these good things about 2022 have in common? What OLW could I choose so that I could have more of these good things in 2023? I know I can't make the year have no pain in it, because I will be living this year on Planet Earth, and pain is part of life. But I would like to have a year of joy and fun, as much as possible. I'm so tired of heaviness and struggle. The opposite of heaviness is lightness, and I gave serious consideration to Light, or Lightness, as my OLW. But then I started thinking about things that are light, like bicycles and birds and easy, non-stressful relationships, and I settled on a word with some more metaphorical resonance: FEATHER. 


Lightness doesn't come very easily to me. I have lived for many years in Haiti, which is now in free fall. It's hard to focus on delight and fun with that knowledge in the back of my mind at all times. As alluded to above, I have some heaviness in my recent past. And I know it's shallow of me, but I've also learned more and more this past year that I am not a minimalist, and I miss my possessions lost this year, my cupboard full of mugs for my tea, my array of teapots, my thousands of books that surrounded me, my kids' rooms even though the kids weren't in them any more. Now we live more lightly, in a small apartment with only a few books, most of those borrowed. There are good things about this lighter life, but it's also an adjustment. 

Feathers are light, but they aren't flimsy and they aren't trivial. They are perfectly designed for their purposes, which are several. They are strong. When lost or molted, they grow back. They are gorgeous, in all the colors of the rainbow and more, with iridescence and improbable patterns. Feathers are glorious. 

And Hildegard of Bingen, the twelfth century mystic, called herself "a feather on the breath of God." That's how I want to think of myself this year as I learn to embrace this lighter life. 

In addition to aiming for lightness this year, I want to read and write more about feathers. This poem by Ross Gay includes both feathers and the idea of focusing on delight. 


Sorrow is Not My Name

by Ross Gay

—after Gwendolyn Brooks


No matter the pull toward brink. No
matter the florid, deep sleep awaits.
There is a time for everything. Look,
just this morning a vulture
nodded his red, grizzled head at me,
and I looked at him, admiring
the sickle of his beak.
Then the wind kicked up, and,
after arranging that good suit of feathers
he up and took off.
Just like that. And to boot,
there are, on this planet alone, something like two
million naturally occurring sweet things,
some with names so generous as to kick
the steel from my knees: agave, persimmon,
stick ball, the purple okra I bought for two bucks
at the market. Think of that. The long night,
the skeleton in the mirror, the man behind me
on the bus taking notes, yeah, yeah.
But look; my niece is running through a field
calling my name. My neighbor sings like an angel
and at the end of my block is a basketball court.
I remember. My color's green. I'm spring. 

      —for Walter Aikens


Sunday, January 01, 2023

Reading Update and What I Read in 2022

Here are the last few books I finished in 2022:

Book #75 of the year was Worlds of Ink and Shadow: A Novel of the Brontës, by Lena Coakley. This fantasy is based on the juvenilia of the Brontë sisters and brothers. What if the worlds they invented in their writing really existed?

Book #76 was African Town, by Charles Waters and Irene Latham. This is a verse novel in fourteen voices, telling the story of the last slave ship to arrive on the shores of the United States, after the slave trade had already been abolished. I am late to reading this one, but I'll join my voice with everyone else who said it is a wonderful book. Highly recommended!

Book #77 was The Swimmers, by Julie Otsuka. I read Otsuka's previous novel, The Buddha in the Attic, back in 2017 (the link is to my review). This book has a similar kind of voice, and I had to go back and figure out where I had seen the second person plural voice used before. Sure enough; it was in another book by the same author. This one is about a group of swimmers, and also about dementia, family relationships, and aging. It was very sad and also very worth reading.

Book #78 was Mary B., by Katherine J. Chen, a novel told in the voice of Mary, the Bennet sister made to look most ridiculous in Pride and Prejudice. It was fun to see Mary have a full life of her own, and it didn't work out the way I expected.

Book #79 was a middle grade novel, The Seventh Wish, by Kate Messner. This novel has a touch of magic realism in it, as Charlie catches a fish who offers her a wish. But it's mostly realistic, exploring a serious issue affecting Charlie's sister, a freshman in college. I enjoyed this and will read more of Messner's work. 

Book #80 was Henri Nouwen's You Are the Beloved: Daily Meditations for Spiritual Living. I reviewed it here.

Here are the rest of the books I read this year:

Books 1 to 6

Books 7 to 10 

Books 11 to 18

Books 19 to 26 

Books 27 to 32

Books 33 to 36 

Books 37 to 43

Books 44 to 58 

Books 59 to 68

Books 69 to 74