Take Me Down

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My grandson, reading a Harry Potter book, came across this: “A shout rent the still air.”

Me: Do you know what rent means?

Him: Like rent a house?

Me: That’s one definition. But that’s not what this ‘rent’ means. Oh, hey, I have a story for you.

He’s an accommodating kid. I like him a lot. This is my story.

In my family, when I was growing up, we read a chapter of the Bible every night right after dinner. We each read two verses aloud until we finished the chapter. We read about people in extreme grief ripping their clothes and putting ashes on their head. The word our translation used was ‘rent’.  

In second grade, we were spelling ‘rent’. My teacher started to say that there was another meaning. My hand shot up and waved. I didn’t need to wave it, because no one else’s hand was up. “To rip or tear,” I cheerfully informed the class. “Very good, Carol!” the teacher said. 

The memory still makes me glow inside. And smile.

There was a small silence.

He glances at me, a smile starting to form on his mouth.

You were in second grade?

I nodded.

Wow, Nana, you’ve been holding on to this a long time.

I get a glimpse of what this is looking like.

Yeah, well, that’s kind of pathetic, eh? I loved knowing the right answer, I guess.

The smile has taken up residence in his eyes. He shakes his head.

No, Nana. You loved being the only one who knew the answer.

Boom! Busted! Sliced and diced!

 

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10 Things about June

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When she saw Reading Cookbooks , Donna at Quiet Life
recommended The Pat Conroy Cookbook to me.

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 Her hair is so fine, it won’t stay in line. Her aunt fixed this pixie.

 

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Hanging plants at my house: a cycle of death and resurrection.
When blossoms are perky, I take a picture.

 

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 No dimples today. That’s okay.

 

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 Penstemon: a happy perennial. The bee’s knees.

 

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How to eat peanut butter and honey with sacramental gladness.

 

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 Garlic scapes: attractive parabolas

 

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 Oh, beloved clematis, you always amaze and delight me.

 

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 My farmer grandson ready for showmanship.

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My young friend with a beguiling smile.

Okay for Now

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I enjoy persuading adult readers to read well-written young adult books. Gary Schmidt’s  book is one I recommend, perhaps even more for older readers than for a middle schooler. It made me snort with laughter and it turned me into a sobbing, sniffing mess.

Doug Swieteck has a lying, blustering, bullying, abusive father. His mom tries to compensate, neutralizing her husband’s venom to the best of her ability within the strictures of 1960’s mores. Doug’s older brothers are plain mean.

I tried to talk to my father about it. But it was a wrong day. Most days are wrong days.

So convincing is Doug’s voice that I could hear it. “Terrific.” “I hate stupid Marysville.” “You know how that felt?” and Doug’s trademark phrase, “I’m not lying.”

Perhaps we’ve all grown up with someone like Doug, a mixture of bravado and vulnerable. Someone outside the family takes an interest and tries to pull that kid up above his/her circumstances. Doug had his share of tormentors, but also four mentors who invested in him.

There are some things in this world that we cannot fix, and they happen, and it is not our fault, though we still might have to deal with them. There are other things that happen in this world that we can fix. And that is what good teachers like me are for.  — Miss Cowper, English teacher

A few things seduced me. One brother is only identified as “my jerk brother.” He is changed by a horrific situation — converted (not religious) — and Doug begins calling him by his name. It is a subtle but significant clue. The smile motif captured me. Pay attention to the smiles.

I listened to the audio version (5 stars for Lincoln Hoppe’s narration–except he mispronounced  Cowper— it’s Cooper), but was compelled to read the words.

And see the pictures. Doug Swieteck’s doorway to a better life comes through John James Audubon’s bird pictures. (The hefty Birds of America was the first gift I gave my husband after we married.) Each chapter is named after an Audubon bird; the audio experienced is diminished without seeing the prints.

There is a broad ranged of interests represented in this book: Audubon, Apollo 11, the Vietnam War, Jane Eyre, Periodic Table, baseball, and Aaron Copland. There is drama, devastation, and unexpected grace. I loved the book. Would a young teen love it?

Between Ewe and Me

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“Nothing’s happening with the sheep right now” were the parting words from the parents. Allrighty then, just make sure the regular chores get done, I thought. We were doing a grandparent gig out at our kids’ mini-farm. Just in case, I had the Lambing Crash Course stuck to the front of the fridge. Gulp.

I’m a suburban girl–the kind who gets squeamish about picking up dog doo. The plastic bag and steaming stuff…?? No, no, no, no, no. <gag> Not in my skill set. When I told my husband about the Crash Course, he chuckled. As if anyone thinks moi will be in the pen, let alone “pulling” a lamb.  I loved all the James Herriot books from the warmth of my pillow and down comforter. I just never imagined needing to use the word pulled in conjunction with any animal.

It was inevitable: Gavin (our remarkable pre-teen farmer/grandson) busted into the house and announced that things were happening. Of course, my husband was at work. I was the lone adult on site. We called the closest neighbor: gone. We called another neighbor (who, in this small-town-world happens to be my boss): gone. But beautiful Sue and her three girls came over to help. We failed to get Mama penned. She galloped across the pasture two or three times. Funny, I never could run like that right before giving birth. Finally, we formed a human fence and coaxed Mama into the lambing pen.

Our next job was to wait. Gavin monitored Mama every thirty minutes. The third time the timer buzzed, he wondered how necessary it was to check this time. I’ll go with you, I said. Solidarity, I thought. A younger brother joined us. As we approached the pens, Gavin started yelling, There’s two lambs!

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We were unprepared. No towels on hand to *Clean mouth & nose first. Gavin hiked off his hoodie, whipped his tee shirt off, put his hoodie back on and began wiping goojies from their faces.

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Even I knew we needed to get the baby lambs nursing. This was, um, complicated. Mama must have been the winner of Miss Woolly Oregon. And little Luke and Leia (as Gavin named the babies) couldn’t locate the teats.

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Gavin reached his hand in the nether-parts trying to find the udder and help the lamb attach. You are way too far back, I said, helpfully. You need to be closer to the front legs.

No, Nana, Gavin said with a firmness that belied his age. We held eye contact for a second. Then I looked pointedly at my chest and raised my eyebrows. I shrugged. We’re both mammals, n’est ce pas?

No, Nana, Gavin repeated with conviction.

And, it turns out, that 4H boy knows his anatomy. The udder of sheep, in case you didn’t know, is close to the groin.

I got in the pen (while wondering What is the etymological connection between pen and open?) and dried one of the little darlings with a towel.

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When nature was working, we left the pen and walked back to the house. As we approached the door, Gavin threw his arm around my shoulder and said, Good job, Nana! Praise I will treasure to my last breath.

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A Kid’s Book About Venezuela

I bought Roberto’s Trip to the Top because the authors are Katherine Paterson’s husband and son. And I’m happy that I did.

Roberto is a young boy living in Caracas, Venezuela. He is excited to ride up a cable car to the top of a mountain and hike around with his father. The story is told in English with Spanish words sprinkled on each page. An alert reader will understand the Spanish by the context, but there is also a glossary in back.

I like the way the authors present problems in the trip, letting them exist without facile solutions. Roberto’s disappointments are acknowledged, but he has to deal with them. It was refreshing to read about a hike along a risky path without guardrails. I think I like this book because its tone matches my parenting style.

Renalto Arlacao’s illustrations are vivid and engaging.

My only reservation is that I don’t know if the book will hold a child’s interest through multiple readings. It would be fun to quiz a primary child on the Spanish words. What does barrio mean? It is a good book for exposing children to other cultures and a few words of Spanish.

This post contains Amazon affiliate links.

E. Goudge’s Island Magic

0848813421When Hope at Worthwhile Books reviewed Elizabeth Goudge’s first novel, I wanted to read it.  The setting is St. Pierre, the capital of Guernsey, a channel island between England and France. Island Magic quenches two of my current fascinations: island culture and late 19th century rural life.

André and Rachell du Frocq are barely eeking out a living on a farm called Bon Repos (“Good Rest” or, as I like to translate it, “Sweet Tranquility”), a place that comes with a benediction written on stone outside the farmhouse:

Harbour and good rest to those who enter here,
courage to those who go forth.
Let those who go and those who stay forget not God.

The characters of André, Rachell, their five children, Grandpapa, and the stranger Ranulph— who is taken in after a shipwreck—, are vivid and unique; they linger in my thoughts days after I finished the book. Among the five siblings are a humanitarian, a poet, a failed academic, an adventurer, and a joyspring.

The story is sad and yet not without hope. The children have individual minor tragedies, they also have the confidence and security of being part of a bustling family. The tension resides between husband and wife as they begin to think about conceding failure at farming. The stranger’s assistance is helping the bottom line, but brings more marital conflict.

Typical of Goudge, there is a fairy element in the story. Themes of faith, bitterness, the value of beauty, hard work, service, gratitude, grief and sacrifice make the story shimmer. One point of the plot beggars belief. Of course I can’t identify it without giving away part of the story.

Rarely—and happily— I come across a sentence, with which I can fully relate, and about something I’ve never before seen in literature. Island Magic delivered! This is used to be me!!

How thankful she was for her one great gift—the gift of making her nose bleed at will.

Here is a great Christmas quote:

Christmas Day at Bon Repos was something terrific. The du Frocqs took the whole of December preparing for it and the whole of January recovering from it.

Goudge’s mother was a native of Guernsey; summer visits to the grandparents were part of Goudge’s childhood. Her final thoughts on island living in this book are a bit idealistic, but they reflect some of the necessities of interpersonal relationships in a closed society.

You can’t be an individualist on our Island. There’s so much magic packed into so small a space. With the sea flung round us and holding us so tightly we are all thrown into each other’s arms—souls and seasons and birds and flowers and running water. People understand unity who live on an island. And peace. Unity is such peace.