Monday, June 22, 2015

Why I Like D.E. Stevenson's Books

1. Her heroines are full of grace and know how to hold their tongues in most all situations.

2. Most of her stories involve a trip to Scotland where good food, picnics, tea, wild landscape, and a doting elderly lady bring about revitalization to a tired woman.

3. She accurately portrays difficult people. And then she shows how they are pitiable and need love.

4. She understands how the presence of children, an absence of housemaids, and no vacations make a mother exhausted.

5. She is able to create women who talk abundantly and sometimes in silly ways, but are still kind, unselfish, and likable.

6. She shows how WWII affected the everyday life of the simple people of England who stayed home and continued trying to have regular meals.

7. The romances in her stories don’t dominate her pages. They take a backseat to the comings and goings of everyday life.

8. She inspires me to describe the simple things in life like the style of my furniture, the types of clothes I’m wearing, or the view of the hills outside my front windows.

9. She understands children, both well behaved and naughty, timid and boisterous, well taught and spoiled.

10. Her stories always have at least one relationship where two ladies or a man and a woman feel quite comfortable to be in one another's presence without having to fill the silence with talk.

11. People in her stories are always eating pastries and scones and things with jam and marmalade.

12. I can acquire just about any of her novels by walking a block to the wonderful Robin Cox library.

13. She expresses truths in the midst of her fiction.

14. Occasionally, something exciting happens in her stories like someone nearly drowns or gets shot or is kidnapped by Nazis. 

15. She understands the inner workings of an introvert.

“Mamie had withdrawn into herself (it was a habit of hers to withdraw into herself when other people were talking.)” — Music in the Hills

“He didn’t want to see anybody or to speak to anybody until he had got used to himself in his new circumstances.” — Music in the Hills

“It’s a fine thing to be engaged to be married. I remember when I was engaged I thought it was the happiest moment of my life . . . but there’s a better kind of happiness which comes later and grows with every passing year.” —Sarah Morris Remembers

“In new friends we start life anew, for we create a new edition of ourselves and so become, for the time being, a new creature. . . In creating a new Barbara for Jerry Cobbe, Barbara created a new facet of herself and was enlarged by it.” — Miss Buncle Married

“One need never be dull as long as one has friends to help, gardens to enjoy, and books in the long winter evening. And the hills. “ —Listening Valley

“[Escapes help one] return home with domestic worries in proper proportion.” — Mrs. Tim Christie

“It is a curious thing but true that those who make habit of saying unkind things are often the most easily hurt and offended when their victims retaliate.” — Music in the Hills

“Some people thought they would be frightened but were not frightened at all, and there were other people who were exceedingly brave in anticipation but who failed to maintain their courage when the testing time came.” —Spring Magic

"When you are young you are too busy with yourself—so Caroline thought—you haven't time for ordinary little things but, when you leave youth behind, your eyes open and you see magic and mystery all around you: magic in the flight of a bird, the shape of a leaf, the bold arch of a bridge against the sky, footsteps at night and a voice calling in the darkness, the moment in a theatre before the curtain rises, the wind in the trees, or an apple-branch clothed in pure white snow and icicles hanging from a stone and sparkling with rainbow colours." —Vittoria Cottage

Friday, June 19, 2015

The Faithful. The Reliable. The Hardworking.

I tell him that Rose is getting into Lee’s books. She’s pulling them off Lee’s bookshelf and tearing the pages. “I need a gate that Rose can’t open, but Lee can.” 


We come home from church, and Phil goes marching into the house, drops his things and says, “I’m feeling inspired to fix something.” And then the breakfast porch door isn’t hanging askew anymore.

He takes both children for a walk Sunday afternoon so that I can clean up the kitchen and make peanut butter cookies and drink tea while listening to celtic music.

He spends his evenings drafting on a sluggish computer so that we can have extra money to pay for insulation in our attic or tumbling classes for the children or a new rug in our bathroom.

After dinner when my love and patience for my children feels rather absent, he takes them into the front yard and throws Lee in the air or has Lee fetch the whiffle ball that he knocks into the air with a giant green bat. Or he’ll announce that he wishes to run an errand and means to take Lee with him.  He tells Lee the names of the trees and bushes on the way. And then they get ice cream for me on the way back home.

He knows how to change diapers and dress the children in clothes that match. He knows how to put babies to bed so I can have the night off. He can pack their bags and load them into their car seats too.

He wants to hear what we’ve been doing each day, what the children are saying or discovering. He lights up upon seeing them after work, and so do the children because they’re quite sick of me and I of them. 

Thank God for the homecoming of the faithful, reliable, creative, and hardworking Daddy of my children. 

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Library Finds: Great Books for Children

Once again our frequent library visits have supplied us with a number of excellent children's stories.  Here are our favorite library finds this month.

Wolf's Coming!  by Joe Kulka: A clever rhyming story about a scary but dapperly dressed wolf who is out for his evening stroll. All the innocent critters are fleeing before him. They hide in one animal's residence where they await wolf's arrival. He opens the door and SURPRISE! It's just a birthday party. Lee enjoyed this one over and over again. (Book Rating: 8)

20 Big Trucks in the Middle of the Street  by Mark Lee: Beautifully illustrated truck book, and believe me, I've seen my share of truck books. Excellent rhyming poem about a traffic jam outside a boy's house. Lee thoroughly enjoyed. (Book Rating: 9)

Ooops by Authur Geisert: Another Geisert disaster book. Disaster meaning the book is about a family of pigs who accidentally cause their house to collapse by spilling some milk at the dinner table. A table saw cuts through a load post. A boulder takes off the roof. A water pump explodes. What boy would like this? Excellent illustrations once again. (Book Rating: 9)

Chickens to the Rescue by John Himmelman: This is a book with illustrations to make parents laugh. Lee wasn't too interested in it unfortunately. It's about a family that has accidents and the chickens that rescue them. (Book Rating: 7)

The Lion and the Mouse by Jerry Pinkney: Wordless Aesop's fable with lovely illustrations. Excellent expressions portrayed on the animals. This could become somewhat tiresome on the reading parents because they must make up the script each read. Lee liked this one very much. (Book Rating: 8)

Drummer Hoff by Barbara Emberley: This Seus-like rhyming book compelled Phil to beatbox in between each page. It also taught Lee to say, "Ready. Aim. FIRE!" A Newberry Book Award Winner about the firing of a cannon. It has unique bold illustrations. (Book Rating: 8) 

Over the Hills and Far Away: A Book of Nursery Rhymes by Marks Alan: A book of traditional nursery rhymes—some familiar, some not—with gorgeous watercolor pictures. Parts of the pictures are done with black and white silhouettes. (Book Rating 10)

Little Red Riding Hood by Gennady Spirin: There was nothing exceptionally special about the retelling of this tale except that it didn't try to be creative or modern or censored. People get eaten. The wolf gets cut open. No gore in the pictures though. Detailed and exquisite illustrations. Lee liked this. (Book Rating: 8)

Where’s Walrus by Stephen Savage: This is a play off of Where's Waldo, but this is the ultra simplistic version for children under 2. Simple, clear, and bold illustrations. The wordless story is about a walrus that escapes from the zoo and is trying to hide from the zoo keeper. (Book Raing: 7)

The Diggers Are Coming by Susan Steggall: Yes, another truck book. But this one was worth mentioning. It had unique illustrations made through ripped up material, I believe. Unique rhymes about the demolition, excavation, and building needed to make a new community. Lee obviously liked it. (Book Rating: 7)

Gobble it Up: A Fun Song About Eating by Jim Arnosky: Lee often requested this book and that wasn't exhausting to us because the book is a short song. Our book came with a CD of highly tolerable music. No annoying children singing. No high pitched lady either. I like the reality explained in this book. We have to kills things and eat them. The chorus goes, "That's the way we all survive. We gobble food to stay alive. We eat the food we have and then we have to hunt for food again." (Book Rating: 8)

Those Building Men by Angela Johnson illustrated by Barry Moser: This poem-like story tells about the men who built America's structures. Striking watercolor illustration. (Book Rating: 8)

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Put in the Garage

I dug my dulcimer out of the garage the other night when Phil was working late. I brushed the cob webs off its trapezoidal case and slapped the padded sides to encourage the dust to go elsewhere. Then I brought it into the living room and laid it on the carpet. No one was stirring in their beds. No one knew about the treasure I was about to open. And I liked it that way. I wanted to peek at it by myself. So I unzipped the case.

 It was just as beautiful as I remembered. Those 102 lustrous strings glinted in the lamplight like a spider’s web stretched across the maple, rose inlays and the black-stained soundboard, smooth and polished. It’s like an instrument out of the past when carved furniture was passed down from generation to generation and when butter was made in a churn and women’s skirts showed off a lady’s wealth not her legs.

The strings are anchored at one end on a hitch pin and are stretched taut over the side bridge, under the treble bridge, over the base bridge, and finally wrapped around a tuning pin on the other side. Two strings for each note. Three octaves.

I think took it up in Junior High. It was either that or the harp. Everyone knew about the harp, but this was altogether different. People would ask me what it was when I used to lug it around. Even after placing it on its stand, people would look over my shoulder and ask how it was played.

I took pleasure in hammering out a tune on the strings across the bridges, light and dancing, so fast that no one could tell what strings I was hitting. It’s played by using two long and slender hammers to strike the strings not more than an inch way from each bridge. 
I set the dulcimer on its stand and took up the hammers. The grooved handles rested comfortably over my index fingers. I squinted at the ceiling trying to remember a tune or a pattern. 

It’d been over three years since I’d taken it out of its case. Maybe I’d lost the ability to play. At one time, I was ready to donate it to a worthy cause. But the cause didn’t want it, so back it went into the garage. 

My hammers struck one set of strings and then another. I expected it to sound tinny, thin and weak, like my old instructor’s dulcimer did because the strings were coated in Redondo Beach grim. But mine sounded clear and strong. The low notes reverberated deeply within the soundboard and the high notes pierced through the deep bass notes. 

The hammers plodded up and down the strings until my hands hammered three familiar notes. AHA! I’d caught a tune. “Morrison’s Jig”, the first song I’d ever learned. I knew it without thinking. It came so naturally, so effortlessly, so perfectly. My hands followed the pattern that I’d learned years ago and practiced again and again. They knew to hit the higher notes harder and the lower notes softer. 

It was like hearing the voice of an old friend over the phone or discovering something that you thought you’d thrown away.

After that came “Jesu Joy of Man’s Desiring” and “Scotland the Brave” and “The Skye Boat Song” and other songs whose names I couldn’t remember. The children slept. And Phil, far away at Land Concern, drafted. And I was here dancing and smiling to myself. Haha! I make melody! I make song!

It’s hard to say if the joy came from the beauty of the music or the discovery that I could still make it. The ability hadn’t been lost, just put in the garage for a few years. 

They say that’s how it is with children. But its hard to believe them when this time of caring for toddlers seems to last forever. When will I have a meal without getting up? When will I have the evenings for my thoughts? When will I write fiction again? When will Phil and I be able to work on projects together? When will we have a quiet walk? When will I see a floor clear of toys or a table without yesterday’s lunch still smeared across it?

I suppose all of it has gone into the garage for a few years, and when I get it out again, I will love it all the more for its absence.