Matched Sets

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You remember that Louisa May Alcott quote, She is too fond of books and it has turned her brain? Here is a corollary: She is too too fond of matching sets.

I have a birthday coming up. One that ends in zero and exceeds half a century. Since three of my family or origin (mother, father, sister) did not live to see the birthday that is 7/10 of a century, I gave myself permission to go for the gusto in making my wishes known.

It’s extravagant. Indubitably redundant. But, oh, so resplendent. And significantly pleasant!  Irrational and beautiful.

Reading all of Shakespeare this year has been such a positive experience that I plan an ‘all of {   } project’ the rest of my life. And surely one of those authors is C.S. Lewis. When I saw this set  I was conquered, subjugated, overwhelmed. In a season of releasing books, I gladly acquired these gems and will joyfully distribute the duplicates.

Something else made me deliriously giddy.

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This is my set of commonplace journals, beginning with 2007. (I have earlier commonplace books, but, alas, they don’t match.) I had a fright when the box store which shall not be named stopped selling these. Amazon sells them, but at more than twice what I had been paying. I discovered Staples now sells them! I’m ready for four more years of quotes, wedding invitations, doodles, news clippings, and recommendations. It’s a bullet journal (sort of) that focuses more on thinking than doing. And —joy!— they match!

More glorious matchingness

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The two on the left are the only remaining of the original set given me by my dad and mom, which I lent out with abandon and lost. My sister gave me the new hardbound set. It’s picky, I know, but don’t you think they could’ve made Laura Ingalls Wilder printed at the same place on the spine?

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Ah, Wendell. His Port Williams stories are top shelf. The publisher didn’t get the spine design uniform, but we’ll let it go.

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Barbara Tuchman makes history read like a novel. If you feel unsure about why World War 1 was fought, The Guns of August is the book to read.

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Reading a set of Churchill is like going on a diet. You need time to prepare yourself mentally for the challenge. But, oh!, the words!

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My sons and I gobbled up this Ralph Moody set. My oldest and I used to hide it from each other so we wouldn’t have to share it.

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No one in my circle of friends, neighbors, and acquaintances uses the word jonesing. Although I know jonesing is usually used in the context of recreational drugs (at least I think it is, but my middle name is Naïve), I can confidently say that I am jonesing for the complete hardbound set by Overlook. (You won’t believe how many greenbacks are needed for these hardbacks! Click on Overlook!)

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The Penguins. Friends. Hear me! Amazon sells 80 classics for $77.98!?!?!?  Be still, my finger. But, seriously, that is an amazing price, and would grace any bookshelf. This is quite the discovery for a sleepy Saturday…  Back to my shelf: you notice my Trollopes are divided? Yes, even the penguins editions must stay together. We can’t have top red stripes comingling with the lower white stripes.
DSC_3854 I found this Blackie and Son set at an Eagle River, Wisconsin antique store in 1996. I groaned because it cost $45; I wanted it, but $45 for books, beautiful watercolors notwithstanding, was not even [voice fades] blah blah blah. One of my siblings heard my groan, flipped me a fifty, and told me to buy it. This is what comes of being the youngest child, a habit I highly recommend.

Back to the CS Lewis set. Are you wondering with me about the spine on The Weight of Glory? (see top photo) Hello, Harper One? What was that about?

[In that x3-speed radio voice at the end of commercials: …affiliate links…no extra cost…helps my habit…thanks a million…]

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When Joy and Grief Cohabit

 

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I was telling a friend about a fresh grief, one with, potentially, a long shelf-life. About gripping tighter to joy. How joy and grief were now roommates in my soul. They share the same space, and even cross over the boundaries I’ve drawn for them.

I’ll never forget Josh and Katie’s wedding two days ago…how the beautiful and broken bits of life mingled.

The gnawing absence was Katie’s adored dad, who died two years ago. A loss most conspicuous those two minutes when the bride (usually) walks down the aisle holding her father’s arm.  Katie had no suitable substitute. Their solution to this dilemma was brilliant and heart-breaking.

Josh and Pastor Scott took their position at the front and the attendants walked forward. When the bride’s processional music began, Katie waited alone at the entrance. Josh picked up two red roses and approached Katie. Beside her was a table with a framed picture of her dad, his sweat-stained hat (which remarkably had her new last name on it), flowers and other reminders of his life.

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Josh and Katie placed their roses before her father’s photo and took a moment to silently acknowledge his contribution to their joy and the gap of his absence. Then Josh offered his arm and escorted his wife-to-be to the ceremony.

Joy and grief sharing every step.

Katie’s face was wistful, Josh’s somber.

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I loved the respect they showed in acknowledging her dad. How they faced the pain together. How their joy came in the mourning.

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A Scrabble Proposal

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By David Harper

I was struggling to find a text that would fit Margaret. My wife read this to me and I’d like to read it to you. Now the Proverbs are difficult, sometimes, to understand. I’ll give you my take on this particular verse.

All the days of the afflicted are hard,
but the cheerful heart has a continual feast.
Proverbs 15:15

You’ve already heard that Harpers like food…and you can tell! But, I think that the contrast here, as it ought to be interpreted, is the contrast of the afflicted in their person, in their soul.

I’m going to apply it to Margaret. She was afflicted and endured many days of difficulty. Difficulty that I don’t know anything about, and most of us don’t. She endured a lot of affliction in her person, but not in her soul. She was a cheerful person. I don’t think I ever heard her complain. She was a joyful person.

I remember when she came out to visit us, she had just graduated [from college] and it was December. She came out to Johnstown and I had gone over to pick her up. She had headaches then. She came to our house, and her headaches were so bad she was continually throwing up. It was that tough.

We didn’t know what to do. So, we took her to our family doctor who was on vacation; he had a substitute who couldn’t get rid of her fast enough. He thought it was bad, and it was. She went to a neurosurgeon in Altoona. He didn’t have any ability or didn’t think he could do anything about it.

So we took her to Pittsburgh to Montefiore Hospital. She was still in pain and they were arguing, as neurosurgeons and neurologists do. Arguing about what kind of tack to go with her. They couldn’t decide because they didn’t know what was going on.

The thing that gave her relief was a spinal tap to take fluid off her spine. It gave her relief for a day or two then they would have to do it again. The rest is the long struggle that she went through. She was afflicted, but I never saw her without a smile on her face.  Even when she was in that kind of pain, I still remember that.

But, she is now with the Lord and none of us would want her back. Well, maybe John would. But I think we all realize she is far better off now.

One of the things we did as a family —the John Harper family is large, in more than one way— as we grew up, part of our time was [living] out in the country. Dorothy, Margaret, and I went to the old Bogan School. That school was a two-room school house with four grades. Did you go too, John? It was a tough go. It was five miles from our house (or so it seemed) and it was uphill both ways.  It was hard! We went to this little schoolhouse and I just think about my mother who for three-and-half-years raised seven contentious children [alone].

Then we went to Bair Lake [Bible Camp] in the summertime, most likely because it was free room and board for seven kids. My dad was the manager of the camp and that’s where we got to know a lot of friends. We were there every summer and enjoyed it. Love for camp came from those days. Even when I was in high school we would go from Chicago back to Bair Lake. When I was in college we would do the same thing: go on weekends. And build things and do things. It was something I really enjoyed and I think all our family did.

One thing I want to remind all of us here, was one of those situations that was not dealt with happily by my sister. One of the services she performed for us brothers: more than once her girlfriends became our girlfriends. She was just a bit miffed about it. I remember that. It didn’t take except for Dan. That worked well. Real well.

One of the things I especially appreciated about Margaret was her happy spirit and this verse reflected that.

She loved food. We all loved food. But she couldn’t really appreciate the other senses of life. Walking around. Getting up. I sit for a while and I get kind of sore. And I think Margaret must have gotten a lot of soreness, too. And I appreciate what she went through to the limit and extent that I can.

I want to tell you about a time that Margaret was in Grand Rapids and was in the hospital. She had just had a number of mini-seizures and she was flat on her back.  I came in to visit her. I’m talking to her. She’s still her joyful and smiling person. Then she told me this thing that stunned me. She told me about this guy, John Walker, who had just asked her to marry him.

I said, really?

Yeah, but I am going to tell him no. (I don’t think she actually told him no, but she was planning on telling him no.)

He deserves far better than me, she said. Of course they became good friends, not only at River Forest, but playing Scrabble. (She could beat me. Whupped me.)

I said, Well, why would you say no?

I can’t give him children. He deserves far better than me. Look at me! I can’t do anything.

Margaret, it’s very clear that John loves you. He doesn’t love your body, he loves you as a person. And if I were you, I would get on the phone and say yes.

The way it turned out is that in Scrabble ‘YES’ is more points than ‘NO’. So Margaret said, I’m going for the big word!

As far as our family is concerned, John is a prince. I could not do what John has done. Over twenty-one years. Truly remarkable. And we thank the Lord for you, John.

Come Rain or Come Shine, The Book

I once prayed, Lord, please let Jan Karon live long enough to get Dooley and Lace married. The answer to that prayer was a whelming flood; I started crying on page 32 and sniffed and sobbed my way—punctuated by laughs—to the final page. Redemption, benediction, healing, holy amazement, connection. Reading this brings the satisfaction of resolution, the “two bits” after the “shave and a haircut”.

Weddings are my thing. Joyful solemnity, giving, sharing, joining, celebrating, laughing, crying, hugging, singing, dancing, rejoicing, thanksgiving. I love a good wedding and I’ve been to a few profoundly remarkable ones.

There was joy in the air; you could sniff it as plain as new-cut hay.

The focus of Come Rain or Come Shineis on the month before and the day of The Big Knot. Dooley and Lace want a small, intimate ceremony at Meadowgate Farm. Karon enjoys poking fun at the myth of a ‘simple country wedding.’  There are obstacles and annoyances. There are secrets and surprises. There is the unrelenting pressure of diminishing time to get the place wedding-ready.

DSC_0964The main character is Lace Harper. Her journals reveal her heart, her hopes, her fears, her loves. She wants to find a wedding dress for under $100; she is thankful for the callouses which document her hard work. She wants to get it—this whole starting a new family—right. I appreciated the ways Dooley and Lace honor the memory of Sadie Baxter (benefactor) and Russell Jacks (Dooley’s grandpa) in their wedding. Fun stuff: there is a Pinterest page for Lace Harper’s wedding!

Jan Karon and Wendell Berry are both skilled at portraying a community where giving, helping, and reciprocating are the norm. In their novels they don’t cover up the hurts, the anger, the tensions, the troubles. Weddings can be awkward with family drama. Karon handles the presence of Dooley’s birth mom, Pauline Leeper, in the same room as his siblings with utmost care. There is no easy resolution, no instant reconciliation, just baby steps, tiny beginnings towards the on-ramp to healing.

I connected with this book in many ways. This summer we went to a small, simple country wedding (see picture above) in a pasture. My son and daughter-in-law have a wind storm and fallen trees in their wedding story, too. I know what it is to be gob-smacked by blessings, reduced to silent tears of joy. Live music is the best for dancing the night away. I love the song in the title.

‘Why can’t life always be lived under the stars,’ she said, ‘with great music and family and friends?’

♪♫♪ Come Rain or Come Shine ♪♫♪ is a standard (music by Harold Arlen, lyrics Johnny Mercer) that has been covered by scores of recording artists. I used it ten years ago when I made a PowerPoint slideshow for Curt’s folks’ 50th wedding anniversary. In the course of my work, I listened to B.B. King and Eric Clapton on endless repetition. And I can honestly say, I never tired of it. But there are so many recordings of this song, that I put my listening of them in this post.

This book.

I finished it last night. I started it again this morning.

Winter Watch

I’m a fan of cozy mysteries. Miss Marple, Brother Cadfael, Mma Ramotswe, Alan Grant, and Flavia de Luce are guaranteed to bring pleasure. Especially if they are read with a steaming pot of tea while sitting on a leather couch with a fire snapping close by.

In Winter Watch, Anita Klumpers has written what I call a cozy-eccentric book. Barley, Wisconsin, is a isolated northern burg where the Justice of the Peace is also the dog catcher and where a few crazies reside. Bernice, a miscreant referred to as the resident killer, is the battiest of them all. After a family member dies, Bernice gets meals and kindness and concerns. And wouldn’t you know, she likes the perks of grief. More relatives mysteriously die. Sympathy can be mighty addicting.

Like Alexander McCall Smith, Klumper weaves humor into the warp and woof of her prose. Blizzards are snowstorms with enthusiasm. A woman was proud to give her son a Biblical name—Tubal—until the nurse told her it sounded like a female medical procedure.

DSC_7902There is comfort—I like a woman who knows her way around an egg—and a passage about joy that is flat out lyrical.

Joy arrived unbidden and unpredicted to pour from heart to fingertips to toes. She held her breath, everytime, to preserve and examine it but it forever danced just out of her grasp and slipped away. Claudia stayed still, focusing, her heart ready to burst. At the last crucial second joy seeped through cracks and crevices of her being until her every extremity and pore rejoiced before the evaporation worked backwards and she sat in the afterglow.

The focal point of the narrative centers on an old watch. The prologue and epilogue added more layers of history regarding the watch. The story line had me eagerly turning the page, and a bit annoyed with life’s beckoning demands when I needed to put the book down.

In short, this is a satisfying and entertaining read.

15 New Words

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In writing I am seduced by the sound of words and by the interaction of their sound and sense.

— Barbara Tuchman in Practicing History

I read all books—even borrowed ones—with a soft-leaded pencil in my hand. When I come across a word I don’t know I put a √ in the margin. When I copy quotes into my journal, I add the words I’ve learned. I also add to my collection of be– words (beguiled, bewhiskered, betake, etc.), but that’s a story for another day.

Here are a few of my favorite 2013 additions to my treasure chest of words:

taradiddles — lies
shrammed — benumbed with cold
virago — loud, overbearing woman

flibbertigibbet — silly, flighty person
semaphores — visual signaling with flags or light
boulevardier — man who strolls on Paris boulevard

billyho — unimaginable large amount
fortnight — contraction for “fourteen nights”
carnival = carne vale = goodbye meat

aptronymic — suitably named
debouched — to cause to emerge
snuggery — a snug, cozy place

smeddum — spirit, energy, determination
plaint — expression of grief
puling — whining, whimpering, crying plaintively