Long After Piano Lessons


Why take piano lessons? Because one afternoon thirty-five years later, you will be sitting at your desk with your two monitors, analyzing inventory turns while Pandora plays in the background. And within four notes of a Chopin nocturne, you will be transported to an era you had all but forgotten.

You will look at your coworker, eyes wide. This, um, this piece, you will whisper, I played this for a recital…a lifetime ago. This. is. Chopin. You will be thinking: own this nocturne

Your thumb and finger will reach out to the volume knob of the speakers, intending to increase the volume, barely perceptibly. Then you will throw off tacit office etiquette and crank it up. Mercifully, no one is on the phone.

You will mumble, Please excuse my humming. But you will think I am one with this, how could I not hum it?  Your index finger will conduct the pianist playing through your computer.

Your hand will return to the mouse, and you will pretend to get back to the business at hand. You will abandon pretense, incapable of any action but soaking up the fragile beauty. Your coworker, younger by four decades, will pause and then stop what she is doing. She will listen to the delicate melody in G minor.

As the final notes linger in the air you will recognize that at this great distance from the discipline of daily practice, playing Chopin is beyond you. But you will make a note to find the music when you get home.

And you will remember the time when you practiced Opus 37, No. 1 until it was woven into the double helix of your DNA, when you could play this flawlessly, when your playing was capable of breaking even your own heart.


Shop Class as Soulcraft


Ken Myers at Mars Hill Audio Journal introduced me to Matthew Crawford, calling Shop Class as Soulcraft a hymn to the virtues of what he [Crawford] called manual competence and a lament for the decline of honor accorded to work with one’s hands.

My husband, a former high school shop teacher, captivated from the first page — in which Crawford bemoans the disappearance of shop classes from our common education — insistently interrupted my reading to read aloud a paragraph. Thus, he convinced me to read it myself.

Crawford has a Ph.D. in philosophy from the University of Chicago, but when he’s not writing he makes a living as a motorcycle mechanic. (While this is a rare combination, I know several carpenters who are conversant with Kierkegaard and Heidegger. My husband Curt (see photo below) can wield an ax, weld an axle and read Wendell Berry.)


Crawford’s book is part social history, part philosophy, and part memoir. The altitude of some of the metaphysical  musings were beyond my reach but within stretching distance. The history of transition from craftsmanship to assembly line and the degradation of blue collar work was absorbing. His personal ‘education of a gearhead’ was fun and fascinating reading.

Crawford laughs at the cubicle culture with teambuilding activities and speech codes. He urges learning a trade even if you go to college. Reading this book inspires me to pick up a shovel and dig in my garden.

If thinking is bound up with action, then the task of getting an adequate grasp on the world, intellectually, depends on our doing stuff in it. And in fact this is the case: to really know shoelaces, you have to tie shoes.




Getting Paid to Read


I have repeatedly said, I would love to get paid to read!

What I really mean is: I would love to get paid to read whatever I want on my own schedule. Basically, I want a stipend to breathe air.

Because having to read what someone else has chosen is too close to being back in school.

At times the promise of free books has tempted me to consider pursuing review copies from the publisher, but the obligatory nature of reviewing has slapped me on the cheeks and snapped me out of it.

Because of my reputation as a reader, I am often given books to read. People love a book and they want me to love it with them. Which obligates me to read that book. [This is fitting payback, because I’ve been that friend/acquaintance/stranger who pressed unsolicited books into hands with the words You. must. read. this. book.] Don’t get me wrong: I love gift books and I love loaned books. I love the discussions they engender. I just don’t like feeling disloyal to my books which migrate to the bottom of my pile.

Recently, I started following Anne Bogel’s blog Modern Mrs. Darcy. This girl reads for a living. She is fun and welcoming: a literary, book-loving version of The Pioneer Woman.  Anne’s content is beautifully linked to Amazon and I’m sure she gets sweet monthly referral fees. It hit me one day: She gets paid to read!

My next thought was But. She must read newly released books to get Amazon referral fees. You can’t recommend Anthony Trollope (whose books are free on Kindle) and make money. And I am quickly back to contentment. I get to read the books on my shelves, yay!

Anne has a podcast called What Should I Read Next? While I am probably 38% compatible with Anne’s picks, the moment I wait for is when she describes her guest’s reading pattern, based on 3 books loved and 1 book hated. These diagnoses are often Aha! moments; guests use words like uncanny, crazy, I’ve never thought of that before!  It’s as close to book therapy as you get. Here is a sample analysis:

You’ve chosen books about women who had to learn to be strong, because life threw some stuff their way. And they had to rise to the challenge. And they did. And whether the story is written in first person or third, these books show us these women’s lives through their own eyes. We get their side of the story, their version of events, and we, as the reader, have the privilege of walking alongside them as they get a little older and a little wiser and really come into their own.

I have my own What Should I Read Next? dilemma, but not in the way of needing a book recommendation. My question stems from having far too many choices staring at me from my bookshelves. I want to read them all. The job doesn’t pay well, but there are benefits.

England, Goudge, the Eliots

101_4570Elizabeth Goudge’s Eliot Family Trilogy?

First, it is English: paragraphs of appreciative comments on the comfort of tea; gallons of hot tea consumed; nine variations of rain—slanting, gentle, white, solid, gloomy, light, windy, misty, sparkly; logs added to warming fires; imaginative children; a country vicar; the pronoun ‘one’ put to good use (Eustace—dreadful name! One thinks at once of a parson’s dog-collar); ditto for the adverb ‘rather’ and the adjective ‘dreadful’ (Ben says it’s dreadful. They’re trying to do a telescoped version of ‘The Wind in the Willows’, and it won’t telescope.)

Then, it is Elizabeth Goudge. I find Goudge in a category of her own. She is spiritual, at times mystical, fantastical (Faerie, but just in cameo appearances), romantic in the sense of the woods being infused with symbolism, almost medieval.

But her characters deal with modern problems that most authors of her genre would avoid. One man falls in love (inexcusably, I’d say: one must recognize boundaries) with the wife of one of his relatives. This complex relationship is the focus of her first book, but isn’t completely resolved until the third. Goudge’s parents have favorite children. Some of the marriages lack love. One character’s violent past is haunting.

There is a strong sense of place. Damerosehay, a large eighteenth century house purchased by the Grandmother, home base for the Eliot family, is the focus of book one. The Herb of Grace—a Pilgrim’s Inn, where sojourners stay on pilgrimage to a sacred place—is more ancient, with deep history in its walls. George and Nadine’s restoration of this Inn is the focus of the second book. The third book adds Lavender Cottage, a small place where Margaret and Lucilla can retire.

Her themes resonate with me: determined contentedness; work as a sacramental offering; the mystery of small joys; beauty indoors and outdoors, interior and exterior; the inscrutable connection between twins; aging, grandparenting, and above all else, relinquishment.

“Relinquish.” It was a good word. It suggested not the tearing away of treasures but the willing and graceful sacrifice of them.     The Bird in the Tree

The twins mimic a blend of The Wind in the Willows, medieval crusaders, and pirates:

“Scrooge, scrabble and scratch.” repeated Jerry. “For the glory of God, my hearties. For the glory of God.” Pilgrim’s Inn

Hilary, wounded in the first world war, is stable, sensible, lovable.

Nevertheless, the tea was what he wanted. Heat, he thought, there’s nothing like it. All the best symbols have to do with light and fire and warmth. The Heart of the Family

Hendrickson has recently reissued the trilogy.

I took the top photograph at Shere, a picturesque English village. While I was in England, I darted into used bookshops looking for treasures. It is thence I found a first edition of The Herb of Grace (the English title for Pilgrim’s Inn), my favorite of the three books. I’d like to give away this book that has given me much pleasure. (It’s the first time I’ve used this widget. I hope it works.)

a Rafflecopter giveaway Congratulations, Di! You won the Herb of Grace book.

*It occurred to me that my definition of ‘treasure’ might not jive with yours. Here is a picture of the book. It is not a pretty book, but I love the inscription in the front “Jeanette Pound 1950” and I like old hardbacks.



I don’t understand Korea.  Why it is divided, why we fought a war, what distinguishes it from other Asian countries.  Helpful books are waiting on my shelf; If I Perish, by Esther Ahn Kim (Ahn E. Sook) was the first one I picked up. The setting of the book is Japanese-occupied Korea during World War II.   

Kim tells the compelling story of her six years of imprisonment for refusing to bow to a shrine. Like holocaust memoirs, it is incredible to fathom what a body and spirit can endure.  Her courage is huge, but so is her honesty: she was resolved to die a martyr’s death, but she was horrified at the thought of being cold.  She was, in short, perishable. 

The readiness is all. (Hamlet)  After her first escape from prison, Kim found refuge in an abandoned country home.  Expecting future imprisonment, she began a systematic preparation for persecution.  Did you read that last sentence?  She prepared for persecution

She memorized more than one hundred chapters of the Bible and many hymns.  She fasted to train her body to live without food and drink: first three days, then seven, then ten.  She barely survived the ten day fast.  The role of food in her life fascinated me.

Thoughts of food never left my mind. 146

The thought that I might die of hunger
and not be able to join the martyrs
made me gloomy.  Didn’t I even have
a little of a nature, or did I only have a
beggar’s stomach? 147

The only way I could show her my love, I decided,
was to give her my meals. However, determined as I
was, all the food went into my mouth when it was served.
What a despicable, ugly person I was.
I was upset and sickened at myself.
I rebuked and insulted myself more than I
had ever done before, but when the mealtime
came, I was again finding excuses. The battle
continued for several days, but each day I lost.
Then when I was praying, a ray of light touched my spirit.
“I will offer my meal to Jesus!”
I carried my food quickly to Wha Choon.
“This is Jesus’ meal. I have offered it to Him.
And He wants you to have it, so thank Him and eat it.”
192 (abridged)

Ahn’s mother is a great study.  She kept the view of eternity on the dashboard of her life.

“Whatever might happen to you,” she cautioned me,
“you should never forget the moment when you shall
reach the gate of heaven. Be faithful,” she said. 176

Mother couldn’t sing a tune, made some funny linguistic mistakes, but she could work. This next quote is going into my file on working to the glory of God:

Because her heart was pure, she always worked diligently
to make her surroundings clean, too, by washing, sweeping
and polishing the house. She was truly a living testimony of
God’s grace, strong spiritually, and very dependable. 128

Who wouldn’t desire to be described this way?

Wherever Mother was, it was like a
chapel of heaven around her. 129

Esther Ahn Kim’s faith was vibrant, vocal, bold.  Amazingly, she lived when many others died.  My favorite quote from this book illustrates the active nature of that faith.

I looked out the window and saw a bird trembling on a bare bough
that had long ago withered. I was just like that bird. Suddenly I shook
my head to the right and left vigorously. That courageous bird was
playing in a swirling snowstorm, ignoring her enemies. I had to be
such a bird. If she only perched on that withered bough with her
head stuck beneath her wing and feared the wind, snow, heaven,
earth, and everything else that might challenge her, she would only
freeze and die when night came. 135

Goodbye My Friend

One of the hazards of working with an aging and ailing clientele (I work at a local pharmacy) is facing that hideous monster death who snatches patients away. 

My favorite customer died yesterday.

We never met face to face; ours was a telephone relationship.  I used to cringe when he first called because he had a speech impediment which required very careful listening.  Eventually I tuned into his talk and we conversed freely.  Looking back, I am thankful for the billing problems that provided opportunities for regular phone calls.

He wore an overcoat of dignity, a suit of humility accented with a scarf of serenity.  And underneath was a heart devoted to the care of his Momma. 

His eyes were blind, but I tell you, they twinkled

His speech was garbled but his chuckle won me over. 

Though we only spoke, he touched me.

Oh, my friend, would you be surprised that I cried when I heard you were gone?

Rest in peace.

Found in the Laundry Room

Our cousin’s laundry room sports this sign.
Did her husband make it?
This looks like something her father might have made.
 It makes me smile.

Emily at “Not so idle hands” blog is giving away a sign she makes.
Crafters, you’d love this blog.
You can enter to win a sign by clicking on Emily’s name.

I love looking at this Degas when I’m scooping
up wet clothes from the washer.
Who knew ironing could look so romantic?
All it takes is watercolor!

Folk art from my sister-in-law.

The background picture at Nettie’s blog.
I love pictures of woman hanging the wash.

What’s in your laundry room/nook/space (beside stinky socks)?

Paper Boy No More

New Year’s Day was the first day in 15+ years that one of my sons didn’t trudge out to deliver papers.

One paper route passed down through three boys.  With their earnings from the route, they purchased:

Three cars
One truck
Three motorcycles
One mountain bike
A snowboard
A computer

The car was always the first big purchase.  Our only rule was “Pay Cash.”  By the time each guy was 15 and had a permit, he had found a car to buy and had saved enough money for it.  They all loved counting out those hundred dollar bills.

Sometimes the route was a pain in the patootie.  How many times did a son suddenly realize–the night before we were leaving for a trip–he had forgotten to get a substitute?  Frantic phone calls followed.  It has become harder than ever to find a reliable sub.  There were no Sunday papers.  The only other day off was Christmas Day.  Sports schedules and fun activities had to be worked around the daily need to deliver the (afternoon) papers.

But many great lessons were learned. 

The biggest lesson, I believe, was respect.  We have many older folks on our route, for whom receiving the paper is The Highlight of their day.  Each boy had to be taught to respect his customers even when he thought it was lame to be so attached to ink and paper.  Learning the preferences of 50-70 subscribers took patience and perserverance. 

Another lesson was courage.  One grouchy lady scared Chris so much, he didn’t collect from her for six months!  He would rather pay for her paper himself than ask her for money.  (We found that out waaaay after the fact!) One man-curmudegeon would be too kind of a word-opened the door, saw a young boy and never failed to respond: “What the #*$&% do you want?”  Carson inadvertently missed collecting from him for several months; with shaking knees he had to explain and ask for the back money owed.  Even I was scared; but I made him deal with it himself!

The boys also had to be taught discretion.  I checked the Sexual Offenders list to see who might be living on our route.  I wanted them to be wary of too-friendly neighbors. 

Organization is the key to life, my sister-in-law says.  Learning to keep track of payments was an important part of the job.  Carson did his best to convert as many customers to “Office Pay” before he handed the route to Collin.  “Collecting” was the bane of the boys.  I couldn’t believe the few folks who tried to stiff the boys, put them off, continually ask them to come back. 

Friendship was the biggest benefit. So often when I took my turn substituting, customers along the way would stop me to compliment the boys, ask about the older ones or just chat.  If Collin took longer than usual collecting, I knew that he was in the living room of one of our neighbors telling hunting stories. A while back when Carson and Taryn were home for a visit, we saw Mrs. Whitmore working in her front yard.  We stopped the car and said hi (she always liked Carson a lot) and introduced Taryn to her.  A few months later she died of a stroke.  We have enjoyed the kind comments and notes from customers.  I sigh; I say Yay!  The end of an era has arrived. 

Unswerving Fidelity

~ from the archives – and especially for my friend Hope at Worthwhile Books ~

This morning I grabbed a book to read while I worked out on the elliptical machine.  The biggest requirement was that it would lay flat on the little stand.  A hardback would do better, especially one with a loose binding.  A quick check of the stacks of books waiting to be read made Shadows on the Rock by Willa Cather my choice.  It is set in Quebec in 1697.  The main characters so far are the widowed apothecary and his daughter.

Many of you know that I lost my mom suddenly when I was 10 years old.  I read this passage with tender emotion.  I’ve abridged it here and there.

After she began to feel sure that she would never be well enough to return to France, her chief care was to train her little daughter so that she would be able to carry on this life and this order after she was gone.

Madame Auclair never spoke of her approaching death, but would say something like this:

      “After a while, when I am too ill to help you, you will perhaps find it fatiguing to do all these things alone, over and over.  But in time you will come to love your duties, as I do.  You will see that your father’s whole happiness depends on order and regularity, and you will come to feel a pride in it.  Without order our lives would be disgusting.”

She would think fearfully of how much she was entrusting to that little head; something so precious, so intangible; a feeling about life that had come down to her through so many centuries and that she had brought with her across the ocean. The sense of “our way,” –that was what she longed to leave with her daughter.

The individuality, the character, of M.Auclair’s house, though it appeared to be made up of wood and cloth and glass and a little silver, was really made up of very fine moral qualities in two women: the mother’s unswerving fidelity to certain traditions, and the daughter’s loyalty to her mother’s wish.

Isn’t that wonderful?  The last paragraph is so lovely.  Have any of you read Willa Cather?  My Antonia is my favorite, but this is perhaps the fifth book of hers that I’ve read.

Something Must Be Done

Thank God every morning,
when you get up,
that you have something to do that day
which must be done…

Work will breed in you temperance and self-control,
diligence and strength of will,
cheerfulness and content,
and a hundred virtues
which the idle never know.

~ Charles Kingsley

*photo taken from my kitchen window this morning

Idleness, laziness, sloth…
call it what you will,
it is one of my besetting sins.
Like a malignant tumor,
laziness grows tendrils deep within me.
I can sit here and write about it,
and not see the dirty floor around me.

Does this quote strike you as inspiring or judgmental?