Tag Archive - Beauty

Idle and Blessed

A Sabbath meditation. Of the prayer of attention. Glory in the humble.

The Summer Morning

Who made the world?
Who made the swan, and the black bear?
Who made the grasshopper?
This grasshopper, I mean—
the one who has flung herself out of the grass,
the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,
who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down—
who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.
Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.
Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.
I don’t know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?

~Mary Oliver

Stained Glass Hearts

Supernatural grandeur expands our soul and helps us throughout the day to live not in glass-breaking tension but in tiptoe perspective. It’s the place where, in our “upward leap of the heart,” we see beyond the fray to the Father who does all things well.  ~Patsy Clairmont

Diminutive dynamo. Teller of tales. Wearer of audacious designer boots, including at least one pair in red. She who can captivate a whole stadium full of women and keep them breathless, on the edge of their seats. All are apt descriptions of Patsy Clairmont.

But it’s only part of the story.

Contemplative. Poet. She who has a deep ache for beauty, transcendence, truth. Weaver of words who can turn a phrase with a delicate, fragile loveliness that pierces the heart. This too is Patsy Clairmont.

I’m known for my playful approach to life, which is fused within me; but to those who are closest to me, I’m also known for my need to pull on galoshes and wade into a thought. I guess when you’ve lived 60-plus years you collect a lot of heartache from this wind-whipped world that causes you to search the shadows of the forest. In my childhood I would have skipped through the woods oblivious to anything more than the path ahead, but today I’ve learned to check the secret places for the treasures of darkness.

Patsy’s new book, Stained Glass Hearts, is a sweet washing of the soul, with stories true and deep. With generous transparency, she takes us inside some of the more excruciating places in her life. She gives a courageous, vulnerable account of fear so paralyzing that it kept her housebound. Difficult to imagine if you have ever seen her on stage. But that is the beauty of the story. She shows us how, if we let Him, God will take the broken shards of our lives and solder them into luminous works of art.

…even though the stained glass pieces are artistically designed, they still have been broken, sanded, and soldered. They didn’t naturally fit the redemptive pattern without holy repairs. Also, stained glass art doesn’t begin to show its beauty or its inspiration or release its story until light touches the dark. The light transforms an otherwise subtle picture into a brilliant, dimensional experience.

Along with her stories, her experiences, her great loves and her great woes, Patsy introduces us to some of those who have shed light on her path. At the end of each chapter is a gallery in which she shares poems, paintings, songs, prayers, artistry of all sorts that have nourished her spirit. I implore you to google each of these as you read. A sumptuous feast for the soul.

Many of us have come to love the ones who have left lovely lines that fit inside us, that help us to see our world more grandly and ourselves more kindly.

Don’t all of us wish we had more wise voices in our lives? Those who deal with us winsomely and honestly, helping us find our true selves. Patsy is such a voice. As she walks with us through gardens and galleries, thunderstorms and snow, she gently points out things along the way. “Did you see that?” “Listen!” And our parched souls drink the liquid grace of the moment. And we are refreshed. And inspired. And emboldened.

Rescue us from small speculations. Enlarge our hearts. You alone, Lord, can attend to our desperation. Silence us with your peace. Comfort us with your tenderness. Mend us with your love. Amen.

Amen.

 

Wild Geese…

By the time this posts, I will be on the trail. If all is well. For a good bit of the day I will chase slanting rays of sunlight through the trees. I will share the company of chipmunks, owls, snakes, squirrels, deer, and several hundred birds. Though I might not see all of them. I will breathe air scented by blossoms and old leaves and raw wood. And there is a fairly good chance that there will be rain. And I will be glad. And listen as it trickles down through the canopy, over branches and leaves. And feel the cool of it against hot, salty skin.

And I will be healed by the miles of dust and hills. And washed. And I will know my place…

Thank you, Mary Oliver, for these words…

Wild Geese

You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting–
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.

~Mary Oliver

A Blessing Unsolicited: Part II

*Largely excerpted from a post I wrote in October of last year. With illuminations. And an addendum.

It is not at all the way I imagined it would be…in those moments…when I dreamed for my daughter…recklessly…without bounds.  It is not the way I dreamed it for myself.  I always envisioned myself as an obnoxious grandmother…of the sort who would relate, in excruciating detail, each moment of the pregnancy, birth and childhood….to my long-suffering friends, as well as to blog readers, mere acquaintances, seat mates on planes, unfortunate cashiers….   Instead, we have eased into it…with fragility, and uncertainty…timidly feeling our way…one…step…at a time.

My daughter is having a baby.  She is eighteen.  She is not married.

I grieve for her.  I grieve for the fact that sadness and regret have wrapped their murky tendrils around a moment meant to radiate white-hot with joy.  I grieve because raising children demands so much of you in the best of circumstances.  And now, it will demand more.  And I grieve for her dreams.  Dreams that must be amended…or postponed…indefinitely.

And yet…..

Life is a gift.
ALWAYS.
Unanticipated. Perhaps.
Not asked for.
But Wanted.
Oh, yes!
Most assuredly
WANTED!!

And JOY persists…nudging, warming, and sometimes erupting into glorious raptures.  Because we have made a space for it.  Because we have learned, through follies of our own, that God takes a peculiar pleasure in transforming what seem to be impossible situations into vibrant displays of His glory.

I watch my precious daughter as she becomes particular about caring for her body to protect the baby.  I watch her dream and study.  I see her unfolding…like a blossom…the sweet, fragile beauty that has been clasped so tightly…unfurling.  I see the intensity of her love for this tiny one who she has never met growing her…stretching her.  And I know this will continue to call something out in her…will help her to find things in herself…she does not even know exist…yet.

I am not naive.  I know this will demand more of her than either of us can imagine.  But I keep asking myself my friend Gail’s favorite question, “What does this make possible?”  And, I confess, I find the possibilities exhilarating.

Friends and family members have exceeded our wildest imagination in the extravagance of their grace and love.  It has been good to see the people of God walk in their roles as lovers and redeemers.  It is another lesson in the power of community and in the futility of living alone.

Addendum: Kenzie is three months old today. The hard has been every bit as hard as we imagined. But the wonderful. Well, let me just say that our capacity for delight has been stretched to dimensions completely unfathomable. We are seeing all things anew. Through deep sapphire eyes full of wonder. There is magic in the world that did not exist before. And my lovely daughter continues to grow into this role. Her love for her baby is fierce and wild. And playful and full of laughter.

It is a story that is only just beginning. A story full of hope. Of laughter, and discovery, and sweetness yet untasted. Sometimes the most beautiful gifts come in unlikely packages.

Happy 3 month birthday, little one!! I love you!

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”
~Jeremiah 29:11

*Photos 1-4 and 6 taken by my daughter, the mommy. Photo 5 taken by our dear friend Angela Davis.

Booklist: The Boy Books

Reluctant readers.
Sometimes.
Boys.

Unless….

…unless you introduce them to books like these. Read them aloud. On the porch. In a treehouse. In a tent. With a flashlight. Snuggled together in bed. Make gifts of them to your boys; beautiful hardcover editions that they will treasure. Here are some family favs. I can hardly wait to hear yours.

My Side of the Mountain by Jean Craighead George Young Sam Gribley runs away from home and lives for a year in the Catskill Mountains. He makes his home in a hollowed out tree, trains a falcon to hunt for him, sews a suit of deerskin clothes, and wrests a living from the land. What little boy does not want to live this life? We also loved the sequels, On the Far Side of the Mountain and Frightful’s Mountain. Incidentally, George wrote a great many engaging books from a naturalist perspective, including the Newberry winner, Julie of the Wolves. We have read most of them. Marvelous all.

Rascal by Sterling North I watched Joshua’s eyes grow wide as we read about young Sterling’s collection of wild animals, at the center of which was a baby raccoon. For a few days, he was Sterling. Rascal was his very own. And when there were tough decisions to be made, those were his too. Incidentally, we bought Jake a stuffed raccoon because he loved this book so much.

Joyful Noise: Poems for Two Voices by Paul Fleischman Poems about insects. Fascinating and fun. And all told in two voices. So you and your son can read in tandem. Voices weaving over and under, into and out of one another. It is an intimate and delightful experience to breathe a poem together. Try it!!

The Redwall Series by Brian Jacques This was the first group of books Jake asked for as a gift. He devoured them. When I began reading them aloud again with Joshua, Jake sat in. Because he loved them so. Set in a middle ages landscape, peopled by animals, this is a delight for boys becoming men.

King Arthur and His Knights of the Round Table by Roger Lancelyn Green Knights and armor, dragons, swords and daring deeds. So much that little boys love. And honor. You will have the opportunity to negotiate that with them. To imagine themselves in the place of these men. What would they do?  *I favor the Green edition because it is clean and uncluttered. We have read Mallory as well; beautiful but cumbersome.

The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Graham “Believe me, my young friend, there is nothing—absolutely nothing—half so much worth doing as simply messing about in boats.” Mole, Toad, Badger…boats, carriages, and motorcars. And questions about how we choose to live life. About fear and fury.

Black Ships Before Troy and The Wanderings of Odysseus by Rosemary Sutcliff (Homer)  Gods, heroes, monsters…all the fodder of little boy dreams. Epic stories…The Iliad and The Odyssey…made approachable by the art of Rosemary Sutcliff. Seek out the gorgeous hardcovers with illustrations by Alan Lee.  Marvelous! Sutcliff wrote wonderful historical fiction of her own, most of which is boy friendly.

Mr. Popper’s Penguins by Richard Atwater Joshua’s favorite book ever. Quirky and thoroughly delightful. Do NOT judge it by the new film. Two very different things. Mr. Popper dreams of adventure. But he is a man with responsibilities. No worries. Adventure is coming to him. Humorous and heart warming. A precious book.

The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien Joshua’s other favorite book ever. 🙂 “There is more to you than you know, Bilbo Baggins.” It is a message we all need to hear. We all need desperately to believe. That when push comes to shove and we are tested, there will be glory in us.

The Magician’s Nephew, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, The Silver Chair, and The Last Battle by C.S. Lewis We read and loved all the Chronicles of Narnia. But Joshua was very particular that these were the ones I should include. He would also have you know that seeing the movie does not equal reading the book. That liberties were taken, especially in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, that were not to his liking. Magic, quiet heroism, and characters who bury themselves deeply in your heart.

Homer Price by Robert McClosky A world of simple pleasures, innocent boyhood fun. Rural, small town America of almost a hundred years ago now. Misadventures. Accidental heroics. And great good humor.

Where the Red Fern Grows by Wilson Rawls A little boy works, and saves, and schemes to buy two coon hound pups. He faithfully trains them and gives them his whole heart. And they give their hearts to him. Love. Costly love. This is a difficult book with hard things. Read it aloud with your boy. Give him a chance to talk from the heart to you. Walk into the door this book will open. It’s alright to stop reading to cry. Ask me how I know….

My Father’s Dragon by Ruth Stiles Gannett Unlikely heroes. Whimsy and absurdity. And dragons. A great first chapter book.

The Sign of the Beaver by Elizabeth George Speare 13 year old Matt helps his father build their homestead, then must stay and protect the claim….alone….while his father goes to fetch his mother and sisters. There will be unexpected complications and what is asked of him becomes more arduous than any of them could have imagined. He will build meaningful friendships with a native tribe, and they will exchange understanding and good will. He will also have to make hard decisions about keeping impossible promises.

Also consider Speare’s The Bronze Bow, a compelling story of anger, and grace, and Jesus.

Detectives in Togas by Henry Winterfield A mystery. A comedy. And a memorable romp through Ancient Rome.

 

Your turn! Tell me about the books your boys love. Please!

Booklist: The LOST Books

So, here is the plan. For the next few Wednesdays…til such time as I run completely out of ideas….Wednesday will be booklist day here on the old blog. Posts about books are always among my most popular, and are sources of great reads for me personally. If you are a bibliophile, or a wanna-be bibliophile, or even if you don’t know how to spell bibliophile :), check back each week. You never know what you might find. And I NEED your input!

This weeks premise: You just bought a ticket on Oceanic flight 815. (For those of you who did not watch the television show LOST, your flight is going down. Sorry.) Let us assume that you know you will end up on a deserted island. (THEY asked you to believe things much more far-fetched than this.) You have room to pack ten books. Turns out you are the only reader on the plane. So these are the books you will read and re-read over and over for the next few years. What will they be?

This is not a list of your “favorite” books, necessarily. Some books are great for a single read, but do not bear repetition. Which books can you give yourself to again and again? I chose to include no more than one book by any particular author, but this is not necessary. Here’s my packing list (as always, in no particular order):

On the Incarnation by St. Athanasius Truth be told, if this were the only book I had, I would have plenty to contemplate. The introduction by C.S. Lewis could occupy the first year. Then perhaps, I would be ready for Athanasius. So much that is essential to all you and I believe about God, and most particularly about His Son, are articulated here….compellingly, artistically, completely. Profound and rich.

Orthodoxy by G.K. Chesterton There have only been two or three books I have ever read that I immediately read again. This was one of those. So much to digest here. Truth conveyed in a compelling voice. One that gets inside and rattles around and won’t be quieted. One that will expand your mind and create new receptors of truth. So that you might see more completely. More deeply.

Rilke’s Book of Hours: Love Poems to God I can’t imagine a life without poetry. My original list had several poets. It broke my heart to remove some of them. I kind of wanted to cry. (And, hypothetically, if I were to include another it would be Thirst by Mary Oliver. :)) But Rilke is the voice that has most clearly spoken my heart’s cry. In words that I could not find, but so desperately needed. I have screamed his words. I have whispered them. I have prayed them. It is this collection in which I found him first. And it is this dog-eared, tear-stained volume that I return to again and again.

A Book of Hours: Thomas Merton compiled by Kathleen Deignan and John Giuliani I have read many volumes of Merton. He is kindred spirit. A fellow yearner after God. But one so far ahead of me on the path. I tentatively put my feet into his footprints…and hope that some day I will sprawl at the feet of God with such reckless abandon as did he. I select this particular volume because it is a potent distillation of his words. Any single paragraph gives me food for a day. I have copied prayers from here to my phone so that they are with me always.

Walking on Water: Reflections on Faith and Art by Madeleine L’Engle I mourned her death as though we had known one another. Because in my heart there was a dream….that someday she and I would linger over tea and talk. About life. About art. About God. So approachable she seemed.  So honest. So real. It was folly, I know. But read the book and see if you don’t feel the same. Such lovely nourishment herein. Deep breaths of beauty. To fan the flame of creativity within me. To help me ardently pursue the sometimes elusive beauty around me. Madeleine L’Engle is a worthy guide.

The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoevsky Thus far I have only read it twice. But I hope that, before the end of my life, I will have read it many times. Such deeply layered characters. No villain is beyond redemption. No hero is without weakness. And the stories that weave them all together, ahhhhh. So much to explore. Each time nuances emerge. So obvious one wonders how it was hidden before. As we bring to it our hurts, our longings, our loves, it gives to us something we were not ready for on the last reading.

The Great Divorce by C.S. Lewis Limiting myself to only one by Lewis was quite difficult. But in the end, I had only to consider how many times I had re-read each, and this was the obvious choice. Around half a dozen times thus far. And not nearly done. Some of the characters live SO close to my heart that I can not read without being drawn completely into the story. Pages blur and I am there. Answering the questions. Feeling the fear. The wonder. The…joy.

I will not lie to you. This book has caused me considerable pain. But pain of the best sort. The kind that wounds to heal. Destroys to bring life. Kills to resurrect. (If you should elect to give it a go, I encourage you to push past the first few chapters which might seem slow. Do not give up early. You can’t imagine what awaits you! Press on!!!!)

Beauty The Invisible Embrace by John O’Donohue It is my husband who has a confirmed Irish bloodline. Hello! MULLICAN!! But, when I read John O’Donohue, I feel I am reading a kindred soul. I have done three complete readings thus far, but have gone back and perused underlines and notes far more often than that. The way that he interlaces beauty, and nature, and spirit, and God together throbs deeply within me. His words are like a washing of sweet spring rain. Like the scent of lavender and roses. I read it as gift to myself. As a cleansing of the soul.

Candide by Voltaire Yes, he was ingenius. Yes, he was the poster-child of the Enlightenment. But, he was also one of the most brilliant satirists to ever live. I laugh myself silly all the way through the book. Sometimes I agree with what he is spouting, sometimes not. But always I am in awe of his artistry…his ability to tell an evocative and entertaining story in which is enmeshed all that he believes about the world. I would read it for fun. You don’t believe me? I double-dog dare you to try it.

Lilith by George MacDonald It would be fair to say that I read it the first time kicking and screaming. It had been recommended by my counselor. How’s that for vulnerability? Because I needed to learn how to die. And he knew Lilith could show me how. I knew lots of facts about my situation. But it was a story that would take me where I could not go by myself. I have read it since. And seen layers I did not see on my first visit. Like a complex and beautiful landscape through which I hurtled the first time in search of that death scene that would be life to me. I know there is more still to be found. I would bring Lilith. She has been been a true friend.

The Bible Not because it’s the Sunday School answer. Not because it’s the “right” answer. But because it’s the right answer. Comfort for those who mourn. Provocation for those who are self-satisfied. Correction for those who would do well, but are misguided. And I have been all. Stories without end. And poems. And prayers. The story of God. Of His Son. Of His people. Of the lost, the weary, the desperate, the courageous, the audacious, the confused, the rebellious, the restored, the healed, the ones who persist in hope. You. Me.

P.S. Yes, I realize most of my books have a faith connection. Coincidentally, so do I. Though I read books from many faith, or non-faith, perspectives, the ones I choose to live with, to roll around in, to let crawl all up inside me, tend to be those written by a questing heart, imperfect to be sure, but relentless in pursuing the things of God. No apologies.

Your turn. The LOST books. Go!!

The Tree of Life

In everyday English, the word mystery implies a puzzle to be solved, a conundrum to be unraveled…In the east, on the other hand, a mystery is an area where the human mind cannot go, where the heart alone makes sense–not by knowing, but by being.  The Greek word mysterion leads you into a sense of “not knowing” or “not understanding” and leaves you there.  Having arrived, all you can do is gaze and wonder; there is nothing to solve.

~Archimandrite Meletios Webber in Bread and Water, Wine and Oil

The Tree of Life, a new film by Terrence Malick, is mysterion on steroids. It is a wrestling, a fascination, a dialogue with God….with truth…with meaning.

It is a film with vast open spaces. Open spaces in the story where the mind works furiously to interpret…to understand. Open spaces in the film itself…breathtaking images of volcanic eruptions, rushing water, cosmic clouds perfumed with dazzling light….and underneath these: silence. A guided contemplation of sorts. With only occasional whispers. Questions. The ones we speak against the night. Are you out there? Do you see me? Do you care? Where were you when….?

Jack (Sean Penn) asks God when it was that He began to speak to him… We see a baby all in white. Curtains billow in the breeze. Shafts of sunlight play on the wooden floor. And tiny, bare feet dance against the air. We look up through the branches of a great climbing tree with silvered leaves rustling in the wind. A butterfly. All the clean joy of a world brand new. A romance has begun.

This world of little boy joy is punctuated with dark, hard places. A brother dies. A father (Brad Pitt) is too often ruled by anger. In his misguided attempts at making his boys strong….and making himself a “great man”…he is sometimes harsh, brutal, unkind. Difficult to reconcile with the man who carries them on his shoulders…the man whose hands coax beautiful music from the keys of their piano and the church organ…the man who piously kneels before God and prays. Fear and love are inextricably linked in the minds of his sons. How do you learn to trust when you never quite feel safe?

Still, in and out of these places of pain are woven shivering grasses along the edge of a lake, ripple of water over stones, a heart throbbing the rhythm of life, hot red lava spilling over the edge of a crater as billows of gray and blue rise skyward, tiny sperm spirals seeking out an egg to begin life anew, water thundering over the edge of a precipice to pound against the pool below. Difficult to reconcile this grandeur with one who lets brothers die…who allows fathers to beat their children. Is it possible to hold onto wonder…always?

The Tree of Life is unlike any film I have ever seen. It is troubling and sacred. Difficult and glorious. An invitation to enter into mystery. To be saturated in it. I encourage you to plunge in.

The film is showing in limited release at present. If you live in Nashville you can catch it at the Belcourt Cinema. If not, click HERE to find a location near you.

Midnight in Paris

The film opens with a glorious montage of Paris scenes, 1920’s era Jazz playing underneath, and I know that I am being transported…lifted out of my common existence for a bit and carried far away. I just have no idea how far……

On this night I will party with Zelda and Scott Fitzgerald while Cole Porter belts out tunes on the parlor piano. I will listen with mouth agape to the profound ramblings of one Ernest Hemingway. I will arrive at the salon of Gertrude Stein just in time to hear her critique the work of a passionate young Spanish painter. Pablo Picasso. At every turn they are there waiting for me; the luminaries of 1920s Paris. It is a most marvelous adventure as I stumble upon Salvadore Dali….he is quite a character…T.S. Eliot…the exquisite Josephine Baker. I must be dreaming…

Gil is a writer. He came to Paris once when he was a young man. He can’t remember why he left. He is enchanted by the city. It nourishes something deep inside him. His fiance and her family, on the other hand, seem determined to be uncharmed by the city. Cynical and without imagination, they exploit  but refuse to understand. One quickly gets the sense that this is their approach to Gil as well.

One evening he takes a stroll to clear his head. As an ancient clock clangs the hour of midnight, a car pulls alongside him and whisks him away into the world he feels he was born for, Paris in the 1920s. The “perfect era”. It is his dream I have been walking in, not my own. Though for all the delight it brings me, it might as well have been.

He meets a girl, Adriana. She was mistress once to Modigliani, then Braque, and now Picasso. A haunting beauty (played mesmerizingly by Marion Cotillard), she captivates Gil. And she finds in him a safe place to confide that she too longs to have lived in a different time. La Belle Epoque of Paris; the 1890s. We will pay a little visit to this world as well, rubbing shoulders with the likes of Paul Gauguin, Edgar Degas, and Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec at the Moulin Rouge. She will decide to stay here. Gil will not.

In between the gorgeous cinematography and the continual delight of bumping into these remarkable personages, there are questions to ponder. Questions about fear. About dreams. About settling, taking the path of least resistance. About escape. And about, as Hemingway says, what is true.

Midnight in Paris is one of the most enjoyable films I have ever seen. My fellow theater goers and I laughed out loud in places. Gasped and sighed. Owen Wilson gives a most nuanced and winsome performance. And though I will not spoil the film by revealing how it all turns out in the end, I will tell you that there is a very satisfying last scene…on a bridge…with a girl…in the rain…

To ponder: If you could visit any past era, any location, where would you go? I would love to know.

Before They Leave…

My baby is going to school next year. My fourteen year old. We have come to the end of home-schooling. Which means, I am mostly done choosing the books he reads.

I’m panicking a little.

Because he shared much of his childhood with teenaged siblings, he and I had fewer long lazy days on the porch pouring through wonderful literature. I realize there are still a few books that we have not read that he simply must know…for the wisdom within, for the whimsy, the magic…for the common language it gives us as a family. So I am playing catch up. He has been a good sport as I drag books along on road trips. As we snatch lazy summer afternoons for a little explore. It has been sweet to see him fall in love with the same characters his brother and sister loved so well. And it has been sweet to hear the excitement in the brother’s voice when he gets to hear the story again.

Certainly we have read books over the years that were specific to a given child and his/her interests. But there are a few books I would have all of them experience before they leave home. I thought I would share some of those with you. I implore you to share yours with me. For the grandbabies, you know. 🙂

In no particular order:

The Complete Tales of Beatrix Potter Each child had favorites, but we read them all. Over and over. For simple eloquence, for the delicious watercolors, for sprinkling every wild rabbit, squirrel, and duck with tiny grains of magic, this one is a must.

The Complete Tales and Poems of Winnie the Pooh “Well,” said Pooh, “what I like best — ” and then he had to stop and think. Because although Eating Honey was a very good thing to do, there was a moment just before you began to eat it which was better than when you were, but he didn’t know what it was called.

And there you have it. A cuddly contemplative with the most delightful turns of phrase, friendly adventures, and loyal pals.

The Chronicles of Narnia Magic, Honor, Courage, Grace, Loyalty, Love…all wrapped up in the most marvelous stories. If there had been fifty, we would have joyfully read them all.

The Phantom Tollbooth We just re-read this one on the way to the beach, all of us laughing out loud. Terribly clever, hysterical at times, yet subtly profound.

A Wrinkle in Time I should admit that I have an inordinate fascination with Madeleine L’Engle, her fiction and non-fiction, but truthfully this is one of my son’s favorite books ever. If your brain has gotten dusty; if you live within rigid confines of thinking; this book will blow the dust off and expand your view. And take you on the adventure of a lifetime.

My Side of the Mountain I read this story of a little boy who lives in the Adirondack Mountains for a year, by himself, providing his own shelter, food, and clothing by his cunning and hard work, and I watch my children’s eyes. I know they want to run away and do the same thing. I might want it a bit myself. I commend to you the entire trilogy.

Julie of the Wolves Another book (and series) by the same author, Jean Craighead George. Survival, again. Choices. And an intimate acquaintance with the natural world and with a way of life that is too quickly vanishing from our earth. Fascinating.

Rascal Small town America. A little boy collects a whole menagerie of animals, including one clever, mischievous and much beloved raccoon. A story about love…and about letting go.

Homer Price An automatic doughnut making machine run amok. Pet skunks who foil bank robberies.  A gigantic ball of string that leads to a marriage. Just a sampling of the good clean fun in this charmingly quirky book. (by Robert McCloskey, author of two more of our favorites, Blueberries for Sal and Make Way for Ducklings)

D’Aulaire’s Book of Greek Myths Brilliantly illustrated by Caldecott winners, Edgar and Ingri D’Aulaire, this gorgeous book provides a remarkably thorough introduction to the great legends of Ancient Greece.

The Wheel on the School A Dutch fishing village. School children who dare to dream audacious dreams. Learning that sometimes the way to find something is to look everywhere it could not possibly be. A crusade that galvanizes a community. And storks.

The House of Sixty Fathers Set in China during World War II, this is a world of Sampans, rice paddies, houseboats, hunger, fear, and kindness without bounds. (Meindert Dejong, author of this and  The Wheel on the School, is one of those authors we love so, we have checked out everything he wrote from the library. They are all wonderful.)

Black Ships Before Troy and The Wanderings of Odysseus Rosemary Sutcliff’s enchanting re-tellings of The Iliad and The Odyssey. I bought the gorgeous hardcovers with Alan Lee’s stunning illustrations for each of my children so that they can share them with their own children some day.

Where the Sidewalk Ends
If you are a dreamer, come in.
If you are a dreamer,
A wisher, a liar,
A hoper, a prayer,
A magic bean buyer.
If You’re a pretender,
Come sit by my fire,
For we have some flax-golden tales to spin.
Come in! Come in!

No child should grow up without the whimsical wordplay of Shel Silverstein.

From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiller Art, a mystery, Michelangelo, and two brave kids running away from home to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. What could be better?

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn Fanciful and fun, to be sure. But also deep and difficult. A book to wrestle with. Together.

This is, of course, only a smattering of the books we have read over the years. If you would like to see a few more favorites, click the Bookshelf tab above. Not all the books in any category show up at any one time, but if you click the category title, it will take you to my LibraryThing page where you can see the rest if you like.

Summer Morning

Summer Morning
Charles Simic

I love to stay in bed
All morning,
Covers thrown off, naked,
Eyes closed, listening.

Outside they are opening
Their primers
In the little school
Of the cornfield.

There’s a smell of damp hay,
Of horses, laziness,
Summer sky and eternal life.

I know all the dark places
Where the sun hasn’t reached yet,
Where the last cricket
Has just hushed; anthills
Where it sounds like it’s raining;
Slumbering spiders spinning wedding dresses.

I pass over the farmhouses
Where the little mouths open to suck,
Barnyards where a man, naked to the waist,
Washes his face and shoulders with a hose,
Where the dishes begin to rattle in the kitchen.

The good tree with its voice
Of a mountain stream
Knows my steps.
It, too, hushes.

I stop and listen:
Somewhere close by
A stone cracks a knuckle,
Another turns over in its sleep.

I hear a butterfly stirring
Inside a caterpillar.
I hear the dust talking
Of last night’s storm.

Farther ahead, someone
Even more silent
Passes over the grass
Without bending it.

And all of a sudden
In the midst of the quiet,
It seems possible
To live simply on this earth.

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