Reading in Summer

This summer we long for the days of yore when sharing strawberry soda with your domesticated raccoon was mostly normal. We drink in the ordinary, if not mundane adventures of Rascal and his boy Sterling. It is lovely to sit in the thoughts of this child growing up in Wisconsin, motherless, comforted by his pets and the wild world around him.  Here Sterling tells a bit about his grief of losing his mother.

"It seemed to me unfair that she could not have lived to see the pets I was raising - Rascal especially."

 I appreciate his voice.  I want Myles and Fiona to hear the narrative of a conscience in anguish between how things should be and how things end up.  Loss is all around us and while I don't want to burden my children, I also do not want them to be a stranger to sadness in themselves and in others.
 These thoughts remind me of a favorite picture book by Nan Gregory.  The father in the story, Pink comforts his daughter when her longing for something goes unfulfilled by saying among other words:
 "Wanting things makes great music." 

In August we will head to the land of the Pine Barrens in southern New Jersey. We have rented a cabin at a state park near my mother's childhood home.   In between visits with my grandfather we will soak in the best of the Atlantic ocean. But there is something else that has been added to our wish list thanks to our reading of Rascal. I want the kids to hear their first call of the Whippoorwill.  Read this book and you will join me in that desire. Its impossible not too.

I am devouring this book at the moment.  Again almost for the same reasons. The great chef Ripert talks openly and honestly about his losses on his journey to culinary triumphs. Writing about brokenness and food gets me every time.



Where the Lillies Bloom

This book I cannot put down.  The hardship is real, but the hope is determined. Exactly where I am at right now. Yesterday at the library I saw it from a across the room.  It looked at me with a smile and I knew.
It begins like this...

"Once in some near-forgotten time a traveler, making his way across these mountains on foot, wandered into our valley which is known as Trial.  Warm and dusty and over-wearied, he came to our door and eased his heavy pack and asked for refreshment and Devola brought him a pail of water from our spring, pure and so cold it made him clench his teeth."

I had never heard the term wildcrafting before reading this book. It is the art and labor of supplying botanists with the precious plants used in medicines and remedies. As the hero of the story Mary Call tells us, "It is not an occupation for the squeamish ones or for those who like to lie abed mornings or for anyone with weak feet or unwilling legs.  I do not consider myself squeamish therefore I am seriously considering picking up this craft for the summer ice cream fund. The time is now.


Happy Birthday, Beverly Cleary

"Rainy Sunday afternoons in November were always dismal, but Ramona felt this Sunday was the most dismal of all.  Even lunch, leftovers Mrs. Quimby had wanted to clear out of the refrigerator, had been dreary, with her parents, who seemed tired or discouraged or both, having little to say and Beezus mysteriously moody.  Ramona longed for sunshine, sidewalks dry enough for roller-skating, a smiling happy family."

Yesterday, Beverly Cleary turned 100 years old.  When I begin to think about what this author has meant to my family I feel like slamming my computer shut, flinging myself on my bed, burying my face in my pillow to weep, and then woefully looking up to whisper, "Thank you, Beverly."  I'm sorry. This is just where I am at right now and this is how much she means to me. Thank you for not glossing over the hardships of life. Thank you for not avoiding the difficulties of growing up. Thank you for making it okay to be upset.  Our family reaches for her books like we reach for our warmest blanket on cold and cloudy day.

When my mother died the pain and loss I felt immediately would be nothing compared to the waves of loneliness to be faced as I raised my children without her gentle guidance.  It was/is difficult for me to put the challenges of child rearing into their proper place without her.  Everything can feel like a mountain instead of a molehill.  It's not an exaggeration to say that Beverly Cleary helped fill my void.  Her books are as much about parenting as they are about what it's like to be a child.  In Beezus and Ramona I read about how Ramona scribbles her name on every single page of a library book. And so when one of my own children did this, I knew to smile inwardly before marching them back to the library desk.  I read of Ramona hiding from Beezus in the basement next to a pile of apples with one bite taken out of each and I know that when my own child hides and commits a similar foul that I have seen this all before.  If Mrs. Quimby can disallow Beezus from spending the night at a friends house only to come home grumpy and tired then by golly I know that I too can stand my ground.  "There are four people in the family, and she has no right to make the whole day disagreeable for the rest of us because she has been up half the night giggling with a bunch of silly girls.  Besides a growing girl needs her rest."  Hoorah, Mrs. Quimby.
I remember sitting on the couch with my mother as she read aloud, Ramona the Pest to my sister and me. I remember impatiently waiting for her to stop laughing so she could finish reading the part when Ramona asks her Father to turn on the, "Dawnzer."   I remember wondering why she thought it was THAT funny.  Now I know why she thought it was that funny.  A few years ago I was going through my mother's books and came across, A Girl From Yamhill, Beverly Cleary's first autobiography.  It felt like a sign.  Could it be that when my mom was raising us she depended upon Beverly Cleary for the same kind of therapy that it brought me? I began to read it.  I relished every page.  Beverly's mother always told her to, "make it funny" in regards to her writing.  Boy, did she nail that and then some.
Beverly Cleary is an honorary member of our family. As is Ramona and Howie and Willa Jean and Henry and Ellen and Beezus and even Susan Snoozin' with the boing-boing curls. We empathize with Ramona who must endure Mrs. Kemp's house and we secretly cheer her on when she crumples Susan's owl and flees.  What guts she has.  What spunk we all aspire to.  
We love you, Beverly Cleary.


Book Bag - no. 22

I fried chicken on Saturday night.  I do this once a year.  My internal clock starts loudly ticking at the eleven month mark and I start to looking for the right day to execute my plan.  Saturday night was the night and I enjoyed every moment of it; from the fact that I remembered the buttermilk, (and I can never remember the buttermilk) to making sure the dredge seasoning wasn't neglected.  I also remembered to stock enough fat.  Usually I assume that I have enough vegetable oil around and then reality checks in and only an inch is left in the bottle.  Each year my process gets a little more refined and my spirit more determined.  It is not that frying chicken is terribly difficult because it's not.  It just requires commitment.  It demands all of your attention.  Multi tasking is not an option.  You must devote yourself to the process to achieve success.  One may not be distracted by the inquiries of small people.  Find someone else to solve your problems because right now I'm dealing with hot oil.  No one can argue with that. Hot oil is a free pass.
Now that the Science Fair has passed life our book life has returned to normal.  We gather to read aloud again.  This was temporarily suspended due to science fair labors and other evening shenanigans that were competing for my audience. I take my oratory hour very seriously and side shows are not permitted. Anyway, Fiona made a peace offering by requesting, Redwall. Myles adores Brian Jacques which is why she chose it and thus harmony abounds.  As the reader it keeps me on my toes. You can't drift off into another subconscious when you are reading B.J.  The language is too engrossing and an otter's diction cannot be substituted for a church mouse.  Very tedious, but mostly worth it.

I read, The Great Gilly Hopkins this week.  This was lots of fun.  Lately I have been popping through the library shelves and picking out notable titles that have been on my wish list for years. It has been a lovely routine for my early Spring (more Winter) evenings.  I skip lightly through children's literature titles and dream happy dreams.

This article knocked my socks off.  That is all I can say about it for now because it is still stirring around inside my soul. But if it tempts you, go and find it.


What are you Mad About?

This book makes it all better. Go and get it so you can agree with me.  The sun is in and out of clouds and I marvel at how often nature reflects our lives. Conflicted and harmonious all at once.  We had a few triumphs this week. Myles landed Witch no. three, Fiona made strides in her mathematics prowess, and I got on a plane! And the plane ride meant I could relish in the company of friends. I am thankful for life's simple joys. (Especially on auntie-favorite Wednesdays as I lose my cool with my harmless, darling niece after she unrolls 20 yards of drawing paper onto the ground.) I will leave you with these deep questions
asked us by Judith Viorst:

Did you wake up this morning all smiley inside?
Does life taste like ice cream and cake?
Or does it seem more like your goldfish just died
And your insides are one great big ache?
Do you wish you could go in a closet and hide?
Or would you rather go play?
What are you glad about about? 
Mad about? Sad about?
How are you feeling today?