Monday, May 31, 2010

Trinity Sunday

Yesterday was Trinity Sunday, the Sunday following Pentecost. For the small gathering of worshipers at Alpine Elementary School in East San Diego County, Trinity Sunday is an important day: the Feast of Name for Alpine Anglican Church of the Blessed Trinity.

I've written about Trinity Sunday before, listing the Propers (Collect, Epistle, and Gospel), but today I want to write about this little church named for the Blessed Trinity.

Nearly six years ago, I stepped into a beautiful little church I had seen from the freeway as I drove through the hamlet of Alpine halfway up the mountain to our small town. The Church of Christ the King pulled me in, and after perusing their website, I attended a Wednesday night service then a Friday morning healing service. I was hooked--on the 1928 Book of Common Prayer, on the simple services focused on the reading and praying of Scripture, on the meditative aspect of worship, on the plain adobe walls of the mission-style small church with its red Spanish tiles and stunning crucifix. The priest, Father Keith Acker, was quiet but welcoming.

A year or two later, when the San Diego Diocese gained a new bishop who began pushing a liberal view of Christianity, Father Acker was the first of nine pastors in San Diego County to take their congregations and leave the Diocese. And thus Alpine Anglican Church of the Blessed Trinity was born in December 2005, meeting in the auditorium of Alpine Elementary School ever since.

I greatly admire Father Acker for his willingness to stand firm for the Gospel as expressed in God's Word, for his compassionate care of the elderly and housebound, for his training of young people through the Free Teen Guitar Class ministry, and for his care of our family. When we couldn't continue to meet on Fridays because the elementary school was in session, he built a small chapel onto the back of his garage with a single pew, an altar, and icons on the walls. On Holy Days when more people attend or when the weather is too cool to meet in the chapel, we gather in the Ackers' dining room which also has a display of icons and a beautiful crucifix over the fireplace. Father has always involved the kids in the services, training the boys, B especially, as acolytes and giving them bells to ring at prescribed times and candles to light and extinguish.

I continue to find great meaning and a deep sense of contemplative worship in the Anglican tradition, and a true evangelical zeal in the conservative branch of the Anglican church. Scripture takes a greater precedence in Anglican worship, especially when Morning Prayer precedes the Holy Communion service. I also greatly value learning and following the Christian Year. I appreciate the focus on Biblical saints, praying for us to follow their examples of imitating Christ our Lord and Saviour.

So thus as Ordinary Time follows Trinity Sunday, we prepare for the long summer and autumn of Ordinary Days--of growing in our faith (thus the liturgical color of green) and allowing ourselves to be molded into the love and service of Christ our Lord.

Friday, May 28, 2010

The Janet B. McCabe Poetry Prize

Today I swallowed my fears, bucked up, and did it. I sent off three poems to Ruminate Magazine's Janet B. McCabe Poetry Prize. This is my first time sending off poems to a literary magazine. I love Ruminate; if I had the spare change to buy a subscription, I definitely would. It's a wonderful Christian arts and writing journal, and I was fortunate in meeting the editors at the Ad Lib Christian Arts Retreat in Colorado in 2006.

So I sent in slightly revised versions of "Tone-deaf?", "On Rosetti's La Pia de Tolomei", and "Easter Life." I like the latter poem best, but with a September publication date, I was reluctant to send it but did it anyway--I think it's one of the best poems I've yet written.

I've been published by friends; I've read my work in church services as well as a reading as Featured Artist for our local arts council and at Ad Lib. But really, I've only been published in high school and college literary magazines, in a local Mensa newsletter, and in one "poetry business" anthology (back before I knew better).

So I send up a prayer, cross fingers, and send off my little word-children to see if they can make their way into the literary world alone...and if I can make my way into the literary world as well.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Alas, Poor Spring--I Knew It Well...

(our front years past)

Spring usually peeks her comely face around the corner of the fence around mid-March. She may flit in and out of our small mountain town a few times in the month to come, often chased away by seasonal frosts and the occasional snow.

But this year spring has been extremely shy. Here it is, a week before June, and despite pansies and Sweet Williams in my porch flower pots, I am bundled in sweats and two cardigans with a space heater humming at my feet. The sun is weakly shining outside today, but the highs are forecast for the 50's and a slight chance of rain looms for the afternoon. Last week the temperatures dipped below freezing several nights in a row, and I was regretting the change from flannel to cotton sheets in our often too-warm-in-spring upstairs bedroom and wished for my down comforter. Reluctantly, the boys were back to hauling firewood and stoking the stove to keep the house above sixty each morning. Our high temperature on Sunday afternoon was in the 40's.

Fortunately, the delphiniums, Sweet Williams, lobelia, snapdragons, poppies, and larkspur that I've potted and tucked into flower beds thus far are all frost-resistant; I never plant my more delicate friends until mid-June when all chance of frost is behind us. This year, however, I may be waiting until July 4th to tote home cosmos, parlsey, cilantro, mint, and other assorted flowers and herbs. I love a wildflowery garden, mixing herbs and flowers into untidy borders, and I hope to do more with my little garden areas than I have in the past, mostly because our boys are big and strong enough to tend to the difficult work I can't do.

So spring hasn't fully arrived in our little hamlet which is nestled into a cozy valley halfway up the mountain, within an easy hour of San Diego beaches and another easy hour to desert dunes. Spring flirts with us still, beckoning with a come-hither look one day, then is completely obscured by threatening gray clouds and the sharp scent of snow the next. And we remain watching the uncomfortable tango as winter refuses to yield the lead and fade into the background, and spring seems too timid to whirl us into summer days....

Wrapped in sweaters and sweats, I wait for the dance to become one of decided passion and zing, declaring that spring is truly here to stay, bringing her beauty and sunshine to grace our little valley once more.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Need More Spoons....

As some of you know, I struggle with autoimmune issues. Eight years ago (and after 12 doctors not knowing what, if anything, was wrong with me), I was first diagnosed with fibromyalgia, then with chronic fatigue syndrome, then with rheumatoid arthritis. Whether I have one, two, or all three of these illnesses has never been clear, but I have to parcel out my energy with the utmost care.

And lately, I haven't been careful at all.

Over the past two months I have been overworking myself to the point of insanity--up until 2:00 AM many a night, and up until four and even five in the morning a time or two--and I had to teach two co-op classes the day after the 5:00 Am "bedtime." The combination of two brand new Brave Writer classes that I've had to prepare from scratch and which overlapped for for first two weeks of May has been the main reason for the late nights, but my two co-op classes with Heritage Christian School, our homeschool private study program, has added to the mayhem. The high school writing class is one I've taught many times--it's just the grading that consumes my time and energy--but the 4th-6th grade poetry course is requiring more of me than I thought it would. It's been wonderful and fun, but it also needs time and energy (and creativity) infused into it to make it enjoyable for the students as well as an adequate learning experience.

Add these four courses to already home educating our four young people, including our first high school graduate next month--which includes designing, ordering and addressing graduation announcements, planning a 1950's sock hop graduation party, and signing her up for her final go at the SAT so that she can receive an academic scholarship from PLNU where she will be attending college in the fall--and life gets dicey for anyone.

But especially for me.

You see, I only have so many "spoons" for each day. If you aren't familiar with the Spoons Theory, check out this link: But You Don't Look Sick. It's the very best explanation for how people like me--people who don't look sick but who have to "measure out [our] life with coffee spoons," to quote T.S. Eliot's "Prufrock".

And I have used up so many spoons in April and May that I'm not sure I'll be caught up and restocked by mid-August when we restart school--with only three students rather than four. (Sob! But that's a whole 'nother post....) I'm hoping to rest much--sit in the sun and read mystery novels, go to the beach and read mystery novels, relax at the park mystery novels. But please notice the "I'm hoping" phrase....

Because I have a book to write this summer. Well, not really a BOOK book, but a small handbook written to homeschooled teens on writing an MLA research paper for Brave Writer. I taught the six-week class in the fall and suggested writing it up as a book to Julie who seemed somewhat interested. And then she used my materials to teach the MLA research paper to her co-op...and now she's quite enthused about a downloadable book edition. So really it's a matter of revising my already-written lessons and formatting them into a PDF file. So it's not like I'm having to start from scratch or anything, but still, it's work. I'm planning to do it in July, after resting for a couple of weeks in June and before I have to pull together our own homeschooling materials for late August.

I suppose we'll see if I have enough "spoons" to carry it off.

Today I woke to one of the "bad" RA days--when every movement makes me wish I hadn't, when taking a shower saps my energy for 3-4 hours. And I have a great deal to do for my online Shakespeare course which is in its last week. I'm also finishing my MLA rough draft conferences with my Class Day high schoolers in which I meet with them, one-on-one, and read through their rough drafts together, catching formatting, content, grammar, spelling, and other problems before they turn in their final drafts this Thursday. Fortunately, the class is small--only ten students--but it's still an exhausting process when one is already running low on "spoons." I have one more student to meet with tomorrow, then two more next Tuesday as they received a deadline extension due to their debate schedule.

So that's where I am: spoonless and desperately in need of a spoon or two (or three) to get me through today--in writing the lesson plans and handouts on Free Verse for my poetry class on Thursday, in writing and posting information on my Shakespeare class' exploratory essay assignment due Friday, our last day of class, and in responding to their Discussion Question replies on Acts IV and V of Hamlet.

I don't know where I'm getting the "spoons" to do these things today; I think I'm borrowing from September's spoons right now....

The "spoonless" one,

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Happy Birthday, Christian Church!

Today marks the fiftieth day after the Resurrection of our Lord and Saviour, called Pentecost--the day the Christian Church was baptized in the Holy Spirit and sent forth to share the Good News of Jesus Christ with a world that needs Him so much. People flocked to Him, seeking His peace, His love, His strength, His compassion, His holy Fire, His simplicity, His grace. And we still need Him--in fact, now more than ever. And Pentecost marks the day that Christ sent the promised Comforter to blanket us in His Holy Spirit and set our hearts afire.

One can read the origins of Pentecost at John Armstrong's blog right here: Feast of Pentecost.

On this day, after many weeks of overstrain and overwork, of being up half the night working, my body has finally waved the white flag and surrendered. I have abused it beyond its strength, so today I remain at home while the rest of the family heads out the door for church, trying to let my body rest while pain rockets. I still have work to do for my online Shakespeare class at Brave Writer today, but at least I graded the last essay for my Literary Analysis course yesterday and am now officially finished with that class.

So while I worship quietly at home on this wintry day, with snow threatening our little mountain valley this late into May (very strange weather for Southern California!) and icy winds gusting, chilling to the very bone, I pray from the 1928 Book of Common Prayer:

O GOD, who as at this time didst teach the hearts of thy faithful people, by sending to them the light of thy Holy Spirit; Grant us by the same Spirit to have a right judgment in all things, and evermore to rejoice in his holy comfort; through the merits of Christ Jesus our Saviour, who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the same Spirit, one God, world without end. Amen.
The Anglicans call Pentecost "Whitsunday" from the white robes worn for the baptisms traditionally performed on this day.

And the readings of the Epistle and Gospel I'll translate into the English Standard Version for ease of reading--I know not everyone adores the more archaic language of The Great Bible of 1540 used in the 1928 BCP:

The Epistle: The Second Chapter of The Acts of the Apostles, beginning at the First Verse (1-11):
2:1 When the day of Pentecost arrived, they were all together in one place. 2 And suddenly there came from heaven a sound like a mighty rushing wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. 3 And divided tongues as of fire appeared to them and rested on each one of them. 4 And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance.

5 Now there were dwelling in Jerusalem Jews, devout men from every nation under heaven. 6 And at this sound the multitude came together, and they were bewildered, because each one was hearing them speak in his own language. 7 And they were amazed and astonished, saying, “Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? 8 And how is it that we hear, each of us in his own native language? 9 Parthians and Medes and Elamites and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, 10 Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, 11 both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabians—we hear them telling in our own tongues the mighty works of God.”

The Gospel: The Fourteenth Chapter of the Gospel According to Saint John, beginning at the Fifteenth Verse (15-31):

15 “If you love me, you will keep my commandments. 16 And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, 17 even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you.

18 “I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. 19 Yet a little while and the world will see me no more, but you will see me. Because I live, you also will live. 20 In that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you. 21 Whoever has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me. And he who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and manifest myself to him.” 22 Judas (not Iscariot) said to him, “Lord, how is it that you will manifest yourself to us, and not to the world?” 23 Jesus answered him, “If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him. 24 Whoever does not love me does not keep my words. And the word that you hear is not mine but the Father's who sent me.

25 “These things I have spoken to you while I am still with you. 26 But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you. 27 Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid. 28 You heard me say to you, ‘I am going away, and I will come to you.’ If you loved me, you would have rejoiced, because I am going to the Father, for the Father is greater than I. 29 And now I have told you before it takes place, so that when it does take place you may believe. 30 I will no longer talk much with you, for the ruler of this world is coming. He has no claim on me, 31 but I do as the Father has commanded me, so that the world may know that I love the Father.
Wishing the Church of Christ a very Happy Birthday and many, many more to come,

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Fascination with the Alcotts

Today's post on the American Literary Blog on the anniversary of the 1863 publication of Louisa May Alcott's Hospital Sketches reminded me of my grad school days. While taking a course studying the theme of nature in American literature, my interest in Louisa May Alcott and the Alcott family in general was rekindled.

When I was a child, my favorite book, bar none, was my mother's copy of Little Women. I also had my grandmother's copies, passed down to her, of Little Men and Jo's Boys, part of a slightly water-damaged set published in 1903. (My love of old books started young!) Then at the library which we visited each week, I unearthed more Alcott treasures: Eight Cousins and its sequel Rose in Bloom, An Old-Fashioned Girl (my second favorite Alcott book), and Jack and Jill. I eventually discovered books of her short stories for children as well, including "An Old-Fashioned Thanksgiving," and also A Garland for Girls and Flower Fables, the latter of which was published when Alcott was 17, a gift for Ellen Emerson, daughter of Ralph Waldo Emerson, the famous Transcendentalist and also the Alcotts' neighbor in Concord, Massachusetts. I was in my late teens when I ran across Hospital Sketches, the first of her books written for adults. I found her writing for an adult audience very different from her works for children; there was a pungency of sorts, a realism unshadowed by the idealism that marked her books for children.

Once in graduate school and especially in the abovementioned Nature in American Lit course, I was introduced to Transcendentalism in more depth, particularly to the works and philosophy of Emerson, Henry David Thoreau, Nathaniel Hawthorne, and Bronson Alcott, Louisa's father (all of these neighbors in Concord), plus Theodore Parker and Margaret Fuller. The lives of these seemingly larger-than-life figures intertwined beautifully, as if dancing a complicated minuet. Hawthorne's Blithedale Romance is based on Fruitlands, the commune experiment that was attempted and later abandoned by the Transcendalists, led by the Alcott family. Louisa wrote about the nine months of the experiment in her journals with a true lack of enjoyment and some bitterness.

Louisa's forays into the philosophy and high ideals of Transcendentalism left her with a yen for the practical, and she writes very autobiographically about how her writings helped to support her family in Little Women: "Jo...fell to work with a cheery spirit, bent on earning more of those delightful checks. She did earn several that year, and began to feel herself a power in the house; for by the magic of a pen, her 'rubbish' turned into comforts for them all. 'The Duke's Daughter' paid the butcher's bill, 'A Phantom Hand' put down a new carpet, and 'The Curse of the Coventrys' proved the blessing of the Marches in the way of groceries and gowns."

The foremost authority on the Alcott family, Madeleine Stern, in collecting Louisa's journals and letters which were published in the late 1980s and early 1990's (the height of my own Alcott research), made a great literary find. From the 2007 In Memoriam web page marking Stern's death at age 95:

In 1942, doggedly investigating rather unusual and elusive references in Louisa May Alcott’s correspondence and journals, Miss Stern and Miss Rostenberg found evidence at Houghton Library in Harvard University that Alcott -- best known for her treasured children’s classic, Little Women (1868) -- had also written racy potboilers, or “blood-and-thunder tales.” Published in popular periodicals anonymously or under the mysterious pseudonym of “A. M. Barnard,” these stories dealt with seamier aspects of life and love that excited the reading public and, more importantly, provided Miss Alcott with badly needed money to help support her family.

Miss Stern oversaw the publication of these risqué stories in several anthologies beginning in the 1970s -- Behind a Mask: The Unknown Thrillers of Louisa May Alcott (Morrow, 1975); Plots and Counterplots: More Unknown Thrillers of Louisa May Alcott (Morrow, 1976); A Double Life: Newly Discovered Thrillers of Louisa May Alcott (Little, Brown & Company, 1988); Louisa May Alcott Unmasked: Collected Thrillers (Northeastern University, 1995); and The Feminist Alcott: Stories of a Woman’s Power (Northeastern University Press, 1996). With Professors Joel Myerson and Daniel Shealy, Miss Stern co-edited Miss Alcott’s journals, letters, and selected fiction in the 1990s.
And thus was discovered a whole new Louisa May Alcott--a woman who wrote Gothic romances containing passionate and violent relationships, murder plots, women who spoke their mind and also were passionate and real--so much the opposite of her children's books which she once referred to as "moral pap for the young." Elizabeth Lennox Keyser comments:

Some believe that anonymity [in Alcott's thrillers] permitted what acknowledged authorship, especially of books for children, did not—the revolutionary rage and rebellion necessary to produce compelling work. These scholars value her career primarily for what it tells us about the constraints operating upon talented, ambitious women, especially women artists, in nineteenth-century America. Others feel that anonymity encouraged self-indulgence and escapism or, at best, provided catharsis, whereas the extraordinarily popular and lucrative children's fiction, if not great literature, enabled Alcott to promote reform and even envision a Utopian society.
Alcott's novel A Long Fatal Love Chase was first published in 1995 and made it onto the NY Times Bestseller list for a short time. Written in 1866, two years before Little Women, it's an impassioned Gothic romance that chases itself across Europe and ends in tragedy. It's not the best-written novel I've read (by far), but the plot is intriguing even if the characters are a bit flat--of course, these elements are to be expected in a novel that remained in first draft condition (although it seemed that Alcott wrote extremely quickly and rarely revised, often churning out a chapter a day, at least in composing her children's books). Her short stories and novellas in Behind a Mask, Plots and Counterplots, and A Double Life are far more intriguing--the characters more deftly drawn, more subtly nuanced; certainly these collections are very worth one's while.

I've nearly written an article here, so I'll stop and turn to checking all the Twitter and Facebook status updates on the double earthquakes that occurred while I wrote this post (according to prelimary reports by the USGS, a 5.3 earthquake occurred at 10:30 AM PST along the Mexican border between Tecate and Mexicali, followed by a second 4.8 earthquake three minutes later; the first earthquake felt like two separate ones, the first one rolling, the second jolting, but there was probably just a mellow middle to it that we didn't feel.). And I also need to change hats from literary researcher to evaluator of student essays as I complete the grading of my online Literary Analysis course with Brave Writer.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Multitude Thursday???

So it's been six weeks since I posted on my Attitude of Gratitude as part of Ann Voskamp's Holy Experience journey to One Thousand Gifts. So I will continue, even on a Thursday, to wend my way to Number 1000....

So today, even on a Thursday, I thank the Lord for...

171. ...a successful surgery for my former student, Michelle, who had a stroke on her wedding night last month--a stroke resulting from a benign tumor in her heart. Although she's been recovering slowly from the effects of the stroke, today she underwent open heart surgery to remove the tumor and close the hole in her heart. And she was out of surgery in record time and is recovering well.

172. ...the cool nights and the fragrant, warming days, lilac-scented, of a mountain spring.

173. wonderful husband who loves me despite me.

174. ...our beautiful daughter who will be graduating from twelve years of homeschooling. This weekend we'll be sending out graduation announcements and party invitations to her graduation 1950's Sock-Hop.

175. ...a busy month at Brave Writer, complete with a glowing letter from clients about me.

176. ...poems that flow from one's soul, somehow, during National Poetry Month--some poems that sucked, some that were fairly good. But the process of writing, of putting nib to paper and allowing heart to Priceless.

177. ...incredible poets in my 4th-6th grade poetry class at our homeschool co-op who adore words and can't stop writing. Bliss!

178. ...shining stars in my online classes who make me adore teaching...and almost enjoy grading essays.

179. ...lined paper, begging to be written upon.

180. ...and last, most importantly, my dad survived a double bypass surgery while on vacation in Hawaii--where he is recovering with my mom.

holy experience

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Back on Schedule....

Now that the vast majority of the craziness of online teaching is past--yes, I still have a stack of final essays in my inbox and two more weeks of teaching Hamlet, but my schedule is nearly manageable now--I hope to get back into blogging again. I am dismally failing at a "no guilt" policy over the 800+ unread blog posts in my Google Reader which I hope to get to soon, but at least I'm back to nearly-daily blogging.

And with blogging comes my favorite writing prompt: Carry On Tuesday. Here a short quotation is posted each weekend, and by Tuesday we are to write a poem or other shorter piece of writing based on part or all of the quotation. These prompts have pushed my poetry into new areas and subject matter, producing some fairly insightful work--if I do say so myself. ;)

So when I went to Carry On Tuesday, I was surprised to see that it hadn't been updated since the last week in March. After heading over to Keith's Ramblings, the main blog of the man behind the wonderful prompts, I discovered the new site for Carry On Tuesday and am now all set. But the last prompt on the old site had engendered a rough draft from me that I never posted, so I thought I'd post a reworked version of it before heading over to the new prompts. I actually started writing a new poem off this prompt today as well--I may post it, too. I'm thinking about it, but I rather like my old poem better.

So my response to Carry on Tuesday's Prompt #46: The opening of Andrew Sean Greer's 2004 novel The Confessions of Max Tivoli:
"We are each the love of someone's life."

The Love of His Life
Her voice,
weakened by days, by years
of calling children and grandchildren for supper,
of choir singing each Sunday
.....since she was twelve,
of late night whisperings with him.

With her voice
.....unable to rise pathetic whimper,
her eyes confide her love to him.
Grasping his farm-worn hand
.....with strength belied by
.....shallow breaths,
.....uneven rhythm of heart,
their eyes
speak more clearly
.....than words ever could--
of their life cherished together,
.....memories vivid in the silence.

Then he feels
her grip weaken--
.....eyes glazing,
.....heart quieting.
One last, faint sigh...

and then--

Copyright 2010 by Susanne Barrett

Okay, and here's the rough draft of the one written today to the same prompt:

each of us
is the center
of the universe--
the earth dizzingly slants
on its intangible axis,
yet perfectly choreographed:
a tango in the heavens.

each of us
is designed to dance--
scooped from auburn dust
and molded into His image
between His scarred palms.

each of us
is the love of His Life--
His Spirit breathed into
our virgin lungs--
as if

each of us
were His only one.

Copyright 2010 by Susanne Barrett

Monday, May 17, 2010

Quotation for the Week

While I adore older translations of the sacred Scriptures, especially the King James Bible and the Great Bible of 1540 which is used in the 1928 Book of Common Prayer because of their archaic and poetic language--yes, I'm a big fan of Middle English (the language of Chaucer)--and simple beauty, I'm also a big fan of Eugene Peterson's modern translation, The Message. I was fortunate to see and hear Eugene Peterson speak at the annual Writers' Symposium by the Sea at Point Loma Nazarene University several years ago. In fact, you can watch his interview with Dean Nelson, the Journalism Chair at PLNU, right here: Eugene Peterson Interview.

Although I'm not fond of the translation of the Psalms, I love the Epistles--they're beautifully done. And one of my favorites is this:

"The person who lives in right relationship with God does it by embracing what God arranges for him. Doing things for God is the opposite of entering into what God does for you."

--The Third Chapter of Saint Paul's Epistle to the Galatians, Verse 11

Sunday, May 16, 2010

When Lilacs Last on My Kitchen Table Bloom'd....

(Lilac in our backyard last spring)

As I finish lunch on this beautiful Sunday afternoon and prepare to hunker down and work on my online Shakespeare class at Brave Writer, the bountiful bouquet of white and lavender lilacs fill my kitchen with their distinctive sweet-n-spicy scent. With apologies to Walt Whitman and his lovely poem from which I stole my title, I can't help feeling a quiet joy each time I inhale the lilac-perfumed air.

Yes, 'tis the blessed season for the mountain lilac which blooms fragrantly all over our small town--in front yards, over fences, along back decks, even wildly in the few vacant lots around town. Their appearance is all-too-brief; in another week or two they'll be gone, shriveled brown reminders with the merest whiff of fragrance remaining. Because our two lilac bushes are in a very shady spot in our yard, they're among the last to bloom in town, often several weeks after the sunny-climed bushes have long lost their white and purple blossoms.

Mountain weather is so changeable. On Tuesday night I wore heavy jeans, a long-sleeved sweater, boots, and a suede jacket to our monthly writers' workshop meeting and the mercury dropped below freezing overnight while today the front porch thermometer reads 90+ and after church I donned shorts, tank top, and flip flops. The boys flopped onto the sofa, claiming how hot it they will do every day throughout the summer.

Today also marks the official "changing of the guard" from winter to summer as I stripped off the uber-warm red flannel sheets from our bed and laid out crisp, palest blue cotton sheets, perfectly fit for summer. Off goes the red-flowered and green-leaved cream flannel duvet cover, buttoned around our down comforter, and on goes a thin cornflower-blue and white quilt. I plumped the feather pillows, removing red flannel pillow slips and replacing with eyelet-edged white slips. The green electric blanket will be packed away and replacing it is a thin blue blanket for cooler nights. Soon the oscillating fan will be turned on as we face the four-five months of summer heat which are blessedly relieved by cool mountain nights. This seasonal change is unheard-of "down the hill" in San Diego where the weather so rarely changes. The joke is that native San Diegans claim that temperatures under 65 are cold, and temperatures above 75 are hot. Spoiled rotten, we are.

My fingers itch to be out in the garden today, pulling weeds, trimming and tying back roses and "hockey pucks" (what Keith calls my hollyhocks). The boys managed to get the lawn mowed yesterday--we had to replace the battery and pump up the tires to get it working; meanwhile, our yard turned into lush jungly grasses--savannah-like, actually. It's a relief not to have to bushwhack my way around the yard any longer. The boys will do more weed-eating this afternoon after the temperatures cool--and after they clean the house while E is at work, housekeeping at the nearby Bible camp. But Shakespeare calls, so to work on Hamlet shall I go.

So now, with lilacs blooming on my kitchen table, a lovely arrangement we used on our Pine Valley Community Gardens bake sale table at the plant sale yesterday, I will hie me off my blog and back to discussions of Hamlet's apparent insanity. I leave you with the Collect for the Sunday after the Ascension from the 1928 Book of Common Prayer:

O GOD, the King of glory, who hast exalted thine only Son Jesus Christ with great triumph unto thy kingdom in heaven; We beseech thee, leave us not comfortless; but send to us thine Holy Ghost to comfort us, and exalt us unto the same place whither our Saviour Christ is gone before, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the same Holy Ghost, one God, world without end. Amen.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Gardening in Community

Right after Christmas, my dear friend and community bringer-together-er Judith finally put into play a long-time dream of hers: a community garden for our small town (pop. 1200). She put up flyers around town and we gathered a fairly good group of gardeners, and the group has slowly been growing over the months. I started a blog for the group: Pine Valley Community Gardens with information about meetings, seminars, work days, etc.

Our group was hugely blessed when we were joined by Linda Hooty and her Agricultural Science students from the Pine Valley Academy of Julian Charter School. At least once per week, Linda has her high school students at our gardening site--a 30 X 30 garden on horse acreage, complete with plenty of composted horse manure and water right at site. I volunteered my own boys to work at the site since I'm a flower and herb gardener, not a vegetable grower, and the critter issues--the rabbits, gophers, moles, birds, and squirrels--have kept me from investing time, energy, seeds, and, most importantly here in Southern California, water. And yes, our own garden needs a LOT of work, but the boys need an opportunity to work with the community and the chance to do hard, physical work. They've worked with the charter school students, with older community members and younger ones, and they've learned a great deal about how to pest-proof the garden.

Our 15 year old son T has been the most enthusiastic gardener, volunteering happily to bicycle over to the gardening site on Mondays to work with the charter school students and spending several hours each Saturday with the adult volunteers working on the structure. Ten-year-old B has also been an enthusiastic volunteer--but J, almost 13, hasn't found gardening as much to his taste as the other boys have. He spends an hour or two on Saturdays but hasn't been joining the boys on Mondays very often.

Today B and I drove over to the next town where the Descanso Gardening Club was holding their annual plant sale, and Pine Valley Community Gardens hosted a booth selling homebaked goods, apple butter, cold drinks, and heirloom beans and seeds. We increased our scanty kitty quite a bit, and we also thank The Mountain Empire Men's Club who recently donated $500 to Pine Valley Community Gardens --we'll also have a similar booth at next Saturday's Run to the Hills Car Show #8, hosted by The Mountain Empire Men's Club.

Soon the pest-proofing structure (called a "pod") will be completed, and we'll be able to plant the seedlings started by the charter school students...and our garden will be well underway. Up here in the mountains, we don't dare plant frost-sensitive seedlings until late May/early June. So we hope to be well on our way, gardening together as a community very soon.

I love being part of a small town community!

Friday, May 14, 2010

Ascension Day (one day late!)

This morning at Morning Prayer and Holy Communion at Victoria House, we celebrated Ascension Day, one day late. But as we're still within the octave of Ascension, we're fine.

Ascension Day occurs the 40th day after the Resurrection of our Lord when Christ ascended from earth to the right hand of the Father on High. We read about this event in the first chapter of the Acts of the Apostles, which is also the Epistle reading for today's service:

The Epistle: Acts 1:1-11:
In the first book, O Theophilus, I have dealt with all that Jesus began to do and teach, 2 until the day when he was taken up, after he had given commands through the Holy Spirit to the apostles whom he had chosen. 3 He presented himself alive to them after his suffering by many proofs, appearing to them during forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God.

4 And while staying with them he ordered them not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for the promise of the Father, which, he said, “you heard from me; 5 for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.”

6 So when they had come together, they asked him, “Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” 7 He said to them, “It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority. 8 But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” 9 And when he had said these things, as they were looking on, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. 10 And while they were gazing into heaven as he went, behold, two men stood by them in white robes, 11 and said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into heaven? This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.”

The Gospel reading is from the Gospel according to Saint Luke.

The Gospel: Luke 24:49-51
49 And behold, I am sending the promise of my Father upon you. But stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high.”

50 Then he led them out as far as Bethany, and lifting up his hands he blessed them. 51 While he blessed them, he parted from them and was carried up into heaven. 52 And they worshiped him and returned to Jerusalem with great joy, 53 and were continually in the temple blessing God.

The Collect for the Octave of Ascension:
GRANT, we beseech thee, Almighty God, that like as we do believe thy only-begotten Son our Lord Jesus Christ to have ascended into the heavens; so we may also in heart and mind thither ascend, and with him continually dwell, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Ghost, one God, world without end. Amen.

So enjoy the Octave of Ascension, remembering the glory of our Lord this very moment...and the fact that "He is coming again in glory to judge the quick and the dead [as] His kingdom has no end...."

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Symptoms of a Busy Life

These last few days have been the longest I have gone without blogging since I started this blog over three years ago. The reason: two concurrent Brave Writer classes that are eating up all my time--and I mean ALL my time. I basically pulled an all-nighter last night evaluating rough drafts for my literary analysis class; my head finally hit the pillow just before 5:00 AM this morning. I was up at 7:30 and was at our homeschool co-op Class Days before 10 AM. Fortunately, my dear friend and incredible poet Kathryn Belsey was Special Guest Poet for my 4th-6th grade Poetry Class, and my high school writing students were doing read-arounds with the rough drafts of their MLA research papers. After running errands, I came home, put away groceries, changed clothes, and was back on my laptop, working on my Brave Writer classes again, posting responses to my Shakespeare class which is studying Hamlet and replies to my Literary Analysis students.

I have never worked so much for any class as I have for the Literary Analysis course--six weeks of 4-5 hours per day minimum, six days per week. For the past two weeks with both classes running concurrently I have been working 12-15 hours/day, seven days/week. We've been "unschooling" so that I don't have to be actively involved in the younger two kids' home schooling; we'll pick back up this coming week when I only have my Shakespeare class to teach. And perhaps I'll have a chance to sleep...sometime in mid-June.

Rough draft conferences start next week; I'll be meeting with all ten of my high school co-op students to go over their MLA rough drafts with them, one-on-one. I also need to grade the incoming essays from the Literary Analysis course at Brave Writer plus keep up with the third of four weeks of the Shakespeare class.

My dreams of lying on the beach watching the kids surf and swim out of one eye while reading a mystery novel with the other seem rather distant. E and I have a plan to head to the beach for a weekend soon--although I will most likely have a stack of MLA research papers to grade while she cleans my parents' home in preparation for their homecoming from Hawaii after my dad's open heart surgery earlier this month. But even grading essays at the beach is practically a vacation compared to watching lovely spring days slip by, one after the other, while I work on my online courses for twelve hours or more each day.

So I hope to be back to posting here soon--and I wish you all a blessed Ascension Day!

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

National Teacher Day

The e-mail I received this morning from the American Academy of Poets celebrating National Teacher Day immediately brought a flood of memories.

One of my very few reservations about home education is that my own life has been so strongly influenced by many incredible, dedicated, impassioned teachers, and I feel like I am depriving our children of that bond between teacher and student that can change a student's life--that changed MY life.

From Miss Beal in first grade--not a beautiful woman but one who was self-possessed, unflappable, and unstintingly kind, to third grade with Miss Wells (later Mrs. Reynolds) with her hip blond shag and her permission to play records from home while we worked ("Puff the Magic Dragon" always brings memories of multiplication tables and "Sunshine on My Shoulders" of discovering the true delight of reading story after story after story), my elementary years were more about teachers than students. I was painfully shy, often picked upon by playground bullies. But I had a few friends to play hopscotch and jacks with--so I managed to survive. I was bright but not bright enough to be moved to the "smart class."

In fourth and fifth grades I discovered one of my favorite teachers, Mr. Glen Paul. An avid outdoorsman who spent summers fishing in Wyoming and Montana, Mr. Paul knew how to handle a class with aplomb and the appearance of freedom, occasionally resorting to the dreaded boy-girl-boy-girl seating arrangement when we took advantage of his kindness. I remember most clearly coming in, sweaty and breathless from afternoon recess and dropping into our seats, welcoming the coming quiet and peace of being read aloud to. With overhead lights off, Mr. Paul would open a book and read us a chapter from Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing, Harriet the Spy, or The Great Brain. While his pleasant tenor voice read, we all caught our breath and often rested our heads on our arms, allowing the cool wood-grained formica of our desks to soothe our overheated faces.

Fridays were the best days, though. After math and reading, we were allowed to do art for the rest of the day and to have the entire afternoon to play outside--an extended recess. And just before we were let free for the weekend, we were allowed to rearrange our desks into any configuration we liked. We all loved gentle Mr. Paul who took such joy in science experiments, who brought in special art teachers for us, who taught us how to draw in perspective, who was an environmentalist long before it was "cool." During my 7th and 8th grade years, I came back to Mr. Paul's classroom as a teacher's aid, walking across the wide asphalt playground between the elementary and middle schools each day to grade spelling tests and math worksheets, carefully recording the grades in his blue grade book.

In eighth grade, I discovered one of my favorite teachers of all time: Millard Stanforth who taught English and American History. He passed away two years ago from Lou Gehrig's in his early 80's, and I was his only former student invited to attend the celebration of his life. I wrote about him here: Mr. Stanforth. From Mr. Stan I learned a love of both the English language and of American History--so much so that I wrote a research paper on The Battle of Gettysburg that received a perfect grade. When I graduated as Valedictorian from the middle school, Mr. Stan handed me my award at our graduation ceremony.

Then after I moved up to the high school across the street, I daily walked across the dew-damped soccer fields of Kennedy Park to be a teacher's assistant to Mr. Stan during 9th, 10th, and 11th grades. While at Granite Hills High School, I met an incredible trio of English teachers: Roberta (Bobbi) Jordan, Bea Jones, and Peter Sebastian. Mrs. Jordan was my freshman English teacher, and with her we walked through many of the short stories I now teach: "The Cask of Amontillado" by Poe, "The Most Dangerous Game" by Connell, "The Necklace" by Maupassant--all of which I'm currently teaching in my online Literary Analysis Class at Brave Writer. Mrs. Jordan wanted me to move up to the honors English track, and when I refused, she called my mother behind my back and wedged me into that AP class against my will--and to my benefit. She also taught an elective course in Shakespeare that stands me in excellent stead as I teach my One Thing: Shakespeare courses at Brave Writer each May; I always loved how she would insist on taking the juiciest parts for herself when we read the plays aloud in class--she was so passionate about the Bard, even to having us draw names and handmaking a gift in honor of Shakespeare's April 23rd birthday. From Mrs. Jones I learned to write a solid essay, despite papers bleeding with red inked corrections--and also learned to appreciate Dickens. And Mr. Sebastian taught me a passionate love of poetry as he leaned back in his chair reciting Frost, T.S. Eliot, and Poe by heart. He also taught me how to write poems, and my first verse was published in Granite Hills' literary magazine Reflections which I edited my senior year; my poetry also appeared in our yearbook as well. Because of the influence of these three passionate teachers, I knew I would also teach literature and poetry...some day.

My engagement to Keith occurred at our high school's senior prom, and I remember the concern in Mrs. Jordan's and Mrs. Jones' faces when I flashed my ring; they were afraid I wouldn't attend college and "have a life." But one can do both: I married Keith at the end of my freshman year at Point Loma Nazarene University, and in the Literature Department there I met my next group of incredible teachers: Art Seamans, the Romantic; Jim DeSaegher, the consummate editor, and also outside of the Literature Department I discovered kindred spirits in Dwayne Little in American History and Sam Powell in religion and philosophy. My senior year brought me another teacher, a mentor in fact, in Maxine Crain Walker, the professor who gently kicked my butt into graduate school--an option I never would have considered without her nudgings.

In graduate school at the University of San Diego, I found a couple more of those incredible teachers in Dr. Elizabeth Walsh, known affectionately as Sister Betsy to all and sundry, a tiny nun who received her doctorate from Harvard, and lesser influences in Joanne Dempsey (who passed away during our Milton seminar) and in Irene Williams who taught me a whole new way to write--exploratory, rather than academic, as a way to open us to fresh perspectives. Sister Betsy employed me as her research assistant, and together we worked on a project that was eventually published: Light of Learning: The Selected Essays of Morton W. Bloomfield.

And since graduate school I have discovered other teachers and mentors: Sue Edwards in developing my faith at Lake Murray Community Church, Judith Dupree and Kathryn Belsey in developing both faith and poetry, and online friends in Julie, Carol, Eve, Susan, Beth, Tia, Rachel, Carolyn, Lisa, Dalissa, Carrie, Sandy, Sandie, Suzy, Devin, and others who have taught me more than I can ever express.

Teachers are everywhere--in our childhood memories, in painful pubescent growth spurts, in fond college days, in grad school stress, and in years of young motherhood, now in the present, and, I pray, far into the future....

We only have to be teachable....

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Fourth Sunday After Easter

The Propers for the Fourth Sunday After Easter, from the 1928 Book of Common Prayer:

The Collect
O ALMIGHTY God, who alone canst order the unruly wills and affections of sinful men; Grant unto thy people, that they may love the thing which thou commandest, and desire that which thou dost promise; that so, among the sundry and manifold changes of the world, our hearts may surely there be fixed, where true joys are to be found; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

The Epistle: Saint James 1:17-21, ESV
17 Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change. 18 Of his own will he brought us forth by the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures. 19 Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; 20 for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God. 21 Therefore put away all filthiness and rampant wickedness and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls.

The Gospel: Saint John 16:5-15, ESV
[Jesus sais to his disciples,] "But now I am going to him who sent me, and none of you asks me, ‘Where are you going?’ 6 But because I have said these things to you, sorrow has filled your heart. 7 Nevertheless, I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you. 8 And when he comes, he will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment: 9 concerning sin, because they do not believe in me; 10 concerning righteousness, because I go to the Father, and you will see me no longer; 11 concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world is judged. 12 I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. 13 When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. 14 He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you. 15 All that the Father has is mine; therefore I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you."

Yesterday, May 1, was also the Holy Day of Saints Philips and James, Apostles. We celebrated their day of remembrance on Friday morning with Father Acker at Victoria Chapel. I won't list all the Propers here, but I do wish to leave the prayer of the Collect with you, as it's a prayer I pray for myself and for my family:

The Collect for Saints Philip and James
O ALMIGHTY God, whom truly to know is everlasting life; Grant us perfectly to know thy Son Jesus Christ to be the way, the truth, and the life; that, following the steps of thy holy Apostles, Saint Philip and Saint James, we may stedfastly walk in the way that leadeth to eternal life; through the same thy Son Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Wishing you all a most peaceful, restful, and blessed Lord's Day,

Saturday, May 1, 2010

"Me" Time....

It's been a very busy and stressful two weeks--well, a stressful month, really. I'm amazed that I managed to complete the NaPoWriMo challenge and composed 30 poems in 30 days (yes, I stooped to a few haiku, but only a few)--as rough-drafty as they are, I do plan to work on them, revising and editing and pushing and pulling, reshaping and all that. But several of the ideas are solid, and I'm willing to put in the time to buff and polish them to a patent-leather shine.

As (most of) you know, I teach online courses to homeschooling families at Brave Writer. On Easter Monday I began teaching a literary analysis class dealing with six short stories: Poe's "The Cask of Amontillado," Maupassant's "The Necklace," Mary Wilkins Freeman's "The Revolt of 'Mother,'" Connell's "The Most Dangerous Game," Salinger's "A Perfect Day for Bananafish," and Amy Tan's "Two Kinds." As the class lasts for six weeks, I still have two weeks left of the class as we finish up Salinger and move onto Tan in the coming week, then work on a closed-form literary analysis comparison/contrast essay with the class for their final week. And this Monday, May 3, I'll be starting the May tradition of One Thing: Shakespeare, focusing this spring on his tragedy, Hamlet: Prince of Denmark.

If I were only working on homeschooling and online courses, my life would be busy and stressful, but manageably so. But add the shock and stress of my dad requiring open heart surgery a week ago, a favorite former student having a stroke at age 20 on her wedding night--a stroke caused by a tumor in her heart which they can't remove until she improves from the stroke that has affected her left side, and the 12-year-old daughter of a dear friend from grad school losing her five-year battle with leukemia. Any one of these events would be traumatic, but all three happening within two weeks is simply too much.

I sobbed my way through yesterday's Anglican service, finally allowing the stress and sorrow an escape. But after laying in bed a short while reading Breaking Dawn this morning, today I was back to work, gathering sources for one class, exploring the best essay approach, and replying to student responses. But tonight I laid aside the laptop and enjoyed a little "me" time--with E and Keith helping me to do a manicure and a pedicure. So I now have lovely mauve fingernails with little white flowers on each finger, and navy-blue toes with a rhinestone and flowers on each big toe. So I finally took a little time for myself rather than staying up working until 2:00 AM--as I did last night (and the vast majority of the previous week, including one stint until 3:30 AM.

So tomorrow morning we'll attend church, and while Keith heads to the beach to work at my parents' house, the kids and I will return home, and I'll continue to work on my classes while the boys clean the house and their rooms, their usual Sunday tasks. I'm seriously considering a couple of weeks of unschooling for the younger two--it's not an option for the high schoolers--in which I'll just track what they do as far as math and reading and whatever else "educational" they choose to do. As long as they don't turn the XBox on until 4:00 PM....

Wishing you all a blessed and restful Lord's Day,


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