Take Me Down


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!


10 Things about June


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


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



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



 No dimples today. That’s okay.



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



How to eat peanut butter and honey with sacramental gladness.



 Garlic scapes: attractive parabolas



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



 My farmer grandson ready for showmanship.


My young friend with a beguiling smile.

Okay for Now

okay for now

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


“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!

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.

DSC_0728Brother and sister bringing supplies.

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.


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.


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.


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.



Comparing L.M. Montgomery

DSC_1607(Katie, another Anne-girl model)

A distinct joy of the reading life is in making connections. Ah, we say, this is like that! This is true of unfamiliar words: we meet and greet; then that new friend appears at someone else’s party. Hey! we exclaim. I know you! It is true also of authors. We chortle—at least I do—when an author is referenced and, instead of shrugging in ignorance, we know that name. Oh joy! Montgomery writes of Dan King in The Story Girl “he had a new Henty book he wanted to finish.” Twenty years ago you wouldn’t’ve known Henty, I remind myself, smiling.

This summer as I’ve read through most of L.M. Montgomery’s fiction, I’ve been thinking about connections.

L.M. Montgomery writes much about the landscape: trees, orchards, the ocean, the light, the color. Two other authors write great descriptions of vastly different geographies. Gene Stratton Porter and Willa Cather.

Rainbow Valley, full of adventures of the Blythe kids and the Meredith kids reminds me of other books revolving around siblings: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, The Railway Children, and  Meet the Austins.

I’ve been reading books set before the Great War (aka WWI); though I find it hard to articulate, there is something different in the flavor of daily life. A clear-eyed view of rustic simplicity is portrayed both in Maud’s books and in Lark Rise to Candleford.

Emily Starr, in Emily of New Moon, a young writer coming of age—with a supreme desire to be published— reminds me of Jo March in Little Women.

Though Prince Edward Island is almost a character itself in Montgomery’s books, there is a Scotch Presbyterian element that makes me think of Scottish books, particularly O. Douglas’ Penny Plain.

Orphans? Oh, man. There are times, particularly with the Emily books, where the adults were so brutal they were positively Dickensian.

I don’t want to get too obscure (e.g. books set on islands: Anne of Green Gables was like Robinson Crusoe! — wink) but it has been fun to retrieve a few of the random thoughts that wandered around my head while I read through L.M. Montgomery’s books.

Reading Lucy Maud, Part 2

DSC_5238 (We do not lack for red-headed beauties in these parts.)

This was my summer of Lucy Maud Montgomery. I want to share thoughts and a few choice quotes from each of the Anne books in this post..

Anne of Green Gables The themes of imagination, wonder, friendship, drama and belonging come together in the person of Anne Shirley. Anne has eyes to see and the heart to be stopped by the beauty around her. All that exuberance is counter balanced by the clear-eyed, practical Marilla Cuthbert. And who doesn’t love Matthew Cuthbert, the buyer of puffed sleeves?

“Oh, Marilla,” she exclaimed one Saturday morning, coming dancing in with her arms full of gorgeous boughs, “I’m so glad I live in a world where there are Octobers. it would be terrible if we just skipped from September to November, wouldn’t it?”

All things great are wound up with all things little.

Anne of Avonlea Anne begins teaching at the Avonlea school. Can you imagine our schools today hiring sixteen-year-olds to teach? The cranky neighbor, Mr. Harrison, plays the curmudgeon, adding spice to the story. Marilla adopts the Keith twins, Davy and Dora, but their characters didn’t capture my interest.

I believe the nicest and sweetest days are not those on which anything very splendid or wonderful or exciting happens but just those that bring simple little pleasures, following one another softly, like pearls slipping off a string.

Anne of the Island Anne leaves PEI for Redmond College in Nova Scotia. Anne is coming of age; she is going away, Diana is staying—their friendship will change. The book is framed by Anne and Gilbert’s relationship: from comfortable comrades at the beginning through the awkwardness of rejected romance eventually to true love.

Humor is the spiciest condiment in the feast of existence. Laugh at your mistakes but learn from them, joke over your troubles but gather strength from them, make a jest of your difficulties but overcome them.

There is so much in the world for us all if we only have eyes to see it, and the heart to love it, and the hand to gather it to ourselves—so much in men and women, so much in art and literature, so much everywhere in which to delight, and for which to be thankful.

Anne of Windy Poplars Anne is teacher/principal at a school in Summerside, back on PEI. Every Anne book needs a crank: Katherine Brooke fills the role, a woman who made being disagreeable into a fine art. Katherine is transformed by Anne’s patient and pursuing friendship.

Anne had a horror of being petty.

Even the commonplaces had been made lovely. Every bit of wire fencing was a wonder of crystal lace.

Anne’s House of Dreams The book begins with Gilbert and Anne’s wedding, a small quiet event in the apple orchard at Green Gables. They move to Glen St. Mary where Gilbert begins medical practice and Anne gets involved in the stories of the people around her. Instead of a crank, one of the main characters, Leslie Moore, is tragic. And Miss Cornelia Bryant, who has strong opinions about Methodists and Presbyterians, provides comic relief. The spinster maid, Susan Baker—one of my favorites—is introduced.

They had a sort of talent for happiness, them two.

I LIKE to be alone now and then, just to think over things and TASTE them. But I love friendship—and nice, jolly little times with people.

Anne of Ingleside Five Blythe children have joined Gilbert, Anne and the maid, Susan, at Ingleside. It is their stories we read: Jem disappears, Di learns about false friends, sensitive Walter has a long dark night; Nan cheats God.  Grouchy Aunt Mary Maria Blythe plays the part of the crank. She so resembled one of my long-departed relatives that I snorted a few times in sympathy with Anne.

Susan’s mince pies are poems, just as her apple pies are lyrics.

Only sneaks, Jem had said once, tried to get out of bargains.

Rainbow Valley This book is dear to my heart. The Reverend John Knox Meredith, the new minister, is a widower with four children. The Meredith kids get all the good stories in this book. I bonded with Rainbow Valley, of course, because my mom died when I—the youngest of seven—was ten and my dad was the same kind of absent minded minister as the Rev..

Every LMM book needs a cranky reprobate: enter Norman Douglas. Spunky Faith Meredith challenges old Norman Douglas and the sparks fly. it’s a jolly good time.

Where can folks get better acquainted than over a meal table?

The more we love the richer life is—even if it is only some little furry or feathery pet.

Rilla of InglesideLucy Maud’s final Anne book comes up to the level of Anne of Green Gables, and may even surpass it. Bertha Marilla, aka Rilla, aka Rilla-my-Rilla, is one of Montgomery’s most well-rounded, multidimensional characters. Like the Dowager in Downton Abbey, Susan Baker—the maid who is a part of the family—has the best quotes.

So much that is satisfying can be found in this book: the growth of Rilla; her fostering of the infant Jims, a war-baby; the understanding and affection between Rilla and her brother Walter; the long vigil of Dog Monday waiting for his master to return.

Rilla, published in 1921, offers a clear view of life in Canada during the war. This title belongs on more WWI lists.

When we have to do a thing, Mr. Dr. dear, we can do it.

I am not, proceeded Susan firmly, going to lament or whine or question the wisdom of the Almighty any more as I have been doing lately. Whining and shirking and blaming Providence do not get us anywhere. We have just got to grapple with whatever we have to do whether it is weeding the onion patch or running the Government. I shall grapple.

Reading Lucy Maud, Part 1

Unexpectedly Amusing

41UwXfZZFJLIt started with a Klutz Pop Bead Critters Activity Book that I got for visiting kids to play with. Seldom is there a toy, game, book or activity that has universal appeal. But every kid that has crossed our threshold has had a blast putting the beads together. They find the different textures, sizes and colors appealing.

When I saw the small success of the beads that came with the book, I got this bucket of B. Pop-Arty Beads. Gracious! I now know what it feels to be a rock star! My husband and I try hard to buy toys without batteries. Especially fun toys without batteries. And this fits the ticket.

Because I am in essence a second-grader whose hand flies up when the teacher asks who wants to be first at show-and-tell, I am compelled to share this with you. I don’t think I’ve ever before written a blog post about a toy.

Two things:

1)  For folks without children in the home, it always helps to have a space for things that interest kids. In my growing up years there it was the bottom drawer of a sideboard in our dining room. It can be a bag, a tote, a box, a basket or a bin. Something for the kids says “You are welcome!” in a language they can understand.

2) Christmas is 12 weeks away. Just sayin’.