Monday, May 30, 2011

10 Bits of Magic

Remembering that grace and wonder abound if I’m willing to see it:

1. Flash of bluebird
2. Wind chimes tinkling
3. Nighthawk squawking
4. Counting to 100 for the very first time
5. Baby grasshoppers
6. Squirrel on an impossibly slender branch
7. PB&J, generously spread
8. My kids’ cheeks
9. Reaching out
10. Ghostly cicada, rearing back out of its skin

What bits of magic have you seen or experienced recently?

Wednesday, May 25, 2011


I neglected orange for years. In my mind, it was relegated to out-of-date kitchens and highway construction zones. No matter that my favorite soft drink for years was Orange Crush, or that when offered a choice of suckers, orange was my go-to choice—until an older friend informed me that cherry was actually the best flavor. I always loved color, but orange fell in with brown—a necessary hue, but a last choice.

When Oldest was born, though, orange was reborn. When I wanted a change from all the blue and green outfits, orange was suddenly the perfect color. It fit him—bright, sunny, fresh, sweet-but-not-saccharine. Orange has character. It has the power to leap up and surprise you with its strength. Orange introduces itself and smiles broadly. In fact, orange introduces you to strangers.

Orange is the fact that boys are mysterious beings—sweet, grumpy, loving, tenacious arguers. Orange is a drum set, Korean, Hawaiian shirts, and Taekwon-do instead of cello, Latin, plaid shirts, and soccer. Orange is a surprise, an opening-up, a stretching, a realization that any dearly-held, preconceived notions are pale in comparison to what could actually be. Orange is color where I didn't know I wanted it, all the good stuff I never imagined was out there.

Monday, May 23, 2011

10 Bits of Magic

Remembering that grace and wonder abound if I'm willing to see it:

1. Green hills
2. Raindrops snaking across the windshield
3. Field polka-dotted with seedlings
4. Purple iris growing in a ditch
5. Swaths of grass left wild
6. Wet trees
7. Relaxing into the drive
8. Companionship of headlights
9. Ripple of glowing clouds
10. Watching the world slide into blue, then dark

What bits of magic have you seen or experienced recently?

Thursday, May 19, 2011

List Lovers: Music for a Day when the Only Cure for it is a Good Romp Outside

I'm joing The Little List again today with some music links. I don't know about you, but sometimes spring fever hits me really hard. I've felt super restless recently, and the cold and rain we've had over the last few weeks seems to only augment that feeling. Some days all I really want to do is run around outside, forgeting anything that bears any resemblance to responsibility. So here's some music I love that is perfect for joining the kids outside:

1. Beethoven Symphony No. 7 in A Major, 4th mvt.
2. 3rd movement, Mendelssohn violin concerto in e minor
3. Jupiter, the Bringer of Jollity, from Holst’s “the Planets”
4. “Tanz” from Carmina Burana, by Carl Orff
5. Glazunov violin concerto in A Minor, 3rd movement (the 2nd and 3rd movements in this piece are connected; the actual romping starts right around the 4” mark)

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

East of the Sun and West of the Moon

East of the Sun and West of the Moon: Old Tales from the North (Calla Editions)

There’s been a dangerous development of sorts at our house. Not that we haven’t been on the cusp of it for years, but recently some of my husband’s and my individual passions have become very much intertwined. I’m worried we won’t be able to balance each other out.

I don’t mean to make it sound like we’ve never shared interests, before. Not at all—I married another musician, for one thing—one who, like me, actually read books for pleasure while pursuing a graduate degree in music. When we go to a bookstore together we will invariably meet up in the children’s section, wherever else each of us happens to wander in the meantime. We have similar or at least complementary opinions about family, music, art, education, and lifestyle. But we’ve always kept little niches to ourselves, too. It gets dangerous, otherwise—nobody to keep us from going overboard.

In terms of books, we agree that owning them and reading them is good. But he gets a lot more excited about rare books than I do. I am happy to have an ex-library edition of something if it is a good book. The more worn and dog-eared it is, the more I figure it has been loved and has proved its worth. To him, the writing is still supremely important, but a book is only enhanced by being old, leather-bound, gilt-edged, and rare. I appreciate those things, but the fact remains that I am stingy, and always less likely to buy the fancy version. Thus—balance.

Recently, though, my husband discovered Calla Editions, distributed by Dover Books. These good people have a short list of books (they’ve only been around since 2008), but many of them are reprints of classics: Grimm's Fairy Tales illustrated by Arthur Rackham, The Arabian Nights illustrated by René Bull, Stories from Hans Christian Andersen illustrated by Edmund Dulac, The Knave of Hearts illustrated by Maxfield Parrish, and maybe one of my all-time favorite books, East of the Sun and West of the Moon illustrated by Kay Nielsen. They are beautiful, hardcover books, and they are priced like nice hardcovers, not like rare antiques.

Grimm's Fairy TalesThe Arabian NightsStories from Hans Christian Andersen (Calla Editions)The Knave of Hearts (Calla Editions)

And so we have come to own, among others, a reprint of East of the Sun and West of the Moon. I hardly know what to say about this book, it is so close to me. I grew up on a shortened version, with only six of the fifteen original stories, published by Doubleday & Co., Inc. in 1977. (The original book came out in 1914; the Calla Edition is a reproduction of that.) It is a collection of Scandinavian fairy tales culled from Asbjörnsen and Moe’s “Norske Folkeeventyr,” Asbjörnsen and Moe being to Norway what the Brothers Grimm were to Germany. The stories are wonderful—spare, mysterious, full of trolls and princesses and impoverished young men who make their way in the world through their own cunning and the help of magical creatures they have aided along the way. But the artwork—that is the book’s magnificence. I believe the illustrations have single-handedly defined what my Scandinavian heritage means to me—well, maybe along with the Norwegian desserts we always ate at Christmastime and multiple readings of D’Aulaires’ Book of Norse Myths. But really—the artwork is amazing. Kay Nielsen was a Danish artist whose name was linked with “the golden age of illustration” along with artists like Arthur Rackham and Edmund Dulac. His work has distinct Art Nouveau and Japanese influences. It is stylized, graceful, and full of magic. The color illustrations in this book are drenched with color and detail, and the black and white illustrations are equally detailed, but more austere. I am at a loss to tell you today if I love gnarled weeping trees, stylized flowers, rocky terrains, and a particular sort of play of light against dark because I was born with that aesthetic or because of this book. Follow this link to see what I'm talking about.

Honestly, this book and the others like it qualify as fine art as much as literature.

And so passions have collided. “But see, it’s not dangerous,” my husband told me yesterday. “Because we can actually afford these editions.” Which in my mind is precisely where the danger lies.

Monday, May 16, 2011

10 Bits of Magic

Remembering that grace and wonder abound if I’m willing to see it:

1. Fresh mint
2. Gold-flecked chrysalis
3. Silvery slug trail
4. Cool air after rain
5. Inhaling the scent of coffee beans
6. Exploring a dry creek bed
7. Shy flowers: wild ginger and mayapple
8. Blanket of baby ferns
9. Tiny speckled bird egg
10. Watching a four year-old play “Memory”

What bits of magic have you seen or experienced recently?

Saturday, May 14, 2011


Sometimes I feel like this picture. Peaceful, alive, reaching for the light. Silent and contained, like for this brief period now at the end of the school year, when I realize we have all, in fact, survived. That many things were good.

My students gave their spring recital last night. There was a moment, when all 14 were playing, filling the little church stage, where I really couldn’t believe we were all doing this together—making music. Not perfectly, but with intent, with purpose, with seriousness and joy all mixed together.

I suppose we are green, all of us. My students are young, inexperienced, but learning. As for myself, the more I go through this life the more I realize that I still don’t know exactly how to live it—at least not the way I envisioned it when I was a teenager looking at adults in their mysterious-but-boring middle years. And here I am, knowing what I want to be about, but realizing that every day is an experiment, and that I am constantly in new territory.

Green is “I still feel new at this but I’ve learned to believe in growth and I’m going to keep sending these tender, imperfect shoots out into the world.” Green is hope.

Sometimes green is going through the whole party feeling pretty satisfied with yourself—slightly glamorous, even—until you discover the great big gob of spinach stuck between your front teeth.

Green is new life, tender feet, everything-old-is-made-new-again. Green is coolness and good, the backdrop to the flower, the fluttering grace on the tree. Green is all things thriving, welcoming the light.

Green is fantasy—an Emerald City, a miniature landscape carved out of jade behind glass in a museum. Green is the light, driving down a tree-lined road in summer. Green is an idea taking shape.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

On Raising Dreamers

The Dreamer (Ala Notable Children's Books. Older Readers)Mommy, how can I keep my feet on the ground and my head in the clouds? I wrote those words in high school, as part of an assignment to write a group of poems about my body. It was a wonderful, challenging assignment, but when I got to my feet, all I could think about was the tension I felt between imagination and practicality.

My parents understood. They teased me a little about being a dreamer, but it was something they cultivated. At the same time, though, they carried a big burden for teaching me things like responsibility, practicality, and looking where I was going. My mother likes to tell the story of when I was three and discovered my first ladybug—how I watched it endlessly, examining it, exclaiming over it, completely absorbed in this tiny detail. She also likes to tell about when I was four and in the hospital because of an asthma attack—how when the doctor asked me if I was having trouble breathing I answered, between gasps for air, “No.” Some things I notice well, other things—one of which is apparently breathing—can completely escape me.

How do you raise a dreamer? Here I am, raising three of them, and I don’t entirely know. A lot of what I’m doing here with this blog is trying to figure that out. I’m not sure any of us in this family were entirely made for practicality, but there are survival issues, aren’t there? I remember watching Oldest put on his socks when he was five or six. The task was made especially challenging by the fact that he was busy hitting all the notes to “Der Hölle Rache kocht in meinem Herzen” at the same time. (The version he was familiar with, by the way, was a bit less scary than the one in the link, but the singing wasn't nearly as amazing.) Which of those two skills do you think I end up focusing on when we’re trying to get out the door to get someplace on time? I struggle with patience, quite often right at the points where dreaminess and practicality meet. It seems like I most often fall short at the point where I should be the most understanding.

I recently finished reading The Dreamer, by Pam Muñoz Ryan, illustrated by Peter Sís. I connected with it both as a dreamer and as a parent. It is a beautifully-written, fictionalized account of Pablo Neruda’s childhood. His childhood name is Neftalí Reyes, and he is a quiet, fragile boy full of dreams and entranced with words. He collects words on slips of paper in his dresser drawer. He collects objects, too: pinecones, stones, shells. He has a gift for writing, but stutters when he tries to speak. And he has a father who wants to drive all the dreaminess out of him so he can be strong, and become a doctor or successful businessman. With the nurturing of his stepmother, his uncle, and a librarian in a small seaside town, however, he finds his strength within his dreams, and the ground is laid for his future work.

Stories with parents like Neftalí’s father distress me, partly because he is so harsh in dealing with his artistic son, and partly because I recognize the fear that drives his harshness. Do I dare admit how many mistakes I’ve made, myself, that were driven by fear? How often I can swing from feeling like everything’s going beautifully to being sure that I’m not good enough, my kids aren’t good enough, that we are all, in fact, headed for disaster due to the fact that we are all of us too busy pondering life, or singing, or thinking poetic thoughts to put on our socks quickly enough to get someplace on time?

Author Pam Muñoz Ryan poses the question, in the middle of the chapter titled, “Forest,” “Which is sharper? The hatchet that cuts down dreams? Or the scythe that clears a path for another?” Neftalí’s brother Rodolfo wants to be a singer, but their father stands in opposition to this dream, as well. Rodolfo eventually bends to his father’s will, but Neftalí grows stronger—partly in opposition to his father and partly because he cannot seem to deny who he is. As the reader, my heart was with Neftalí all the way, but the father touched me, too, strengthening my resolve about the kind of parent I aspire to be. I was glad for this book. It was truly beautiful, even as (or maybe because) it brought to the surface some all-too-familiar struggles.

Monday, May 9, 2011

10 Bits of Magic

Remembering that grace and wonder abound if I’m willing to see it:

1. House wren’s song
2. Stumbling upon a glass of yard-treasure
3. Purple potatoes
4. Dreams in which you know how to fly
5. A rope swing
6. Being transparent with each other
7. Painted lady caterpillars
8. Driving alone, hazy morning sky
9. Spicy caramel corn
10. Handmade Mother’s Day cards

What bits of magic have you seen or experienced recently?

Sunday, May 8, 2011


I’m thinking today of my mom, how she still shares books with me, reads what I write, calls regularly. How becoming a grandmother seized her even more strongly than she thought it would.

I’m thinking today of her mom, who died Mother’s Day weekend last year. Who loved to sing and draw and swing and flirt and ride horses. Who was strong even as she lay dying.

I’m thinking today of her mom—my maternal great grandmother. Of how I remind my mom of her. The one who married a photographer and dreamed of being a writer, but was busy raising three young children in a time when laundry was all done by hand.

I’m thinking today of my other grandmother, the one I never knew. The one who died too young, before her sons were grown, but who I know through stories to be an artist, a musician, a queenly woman.

I’m thinking today of her mother—my father’s grandmother. Not only an organist but someone who was always creating, always doing. The one who was so tiny and strong that when she fell into a heating duct while cleaning she was able to hang there by her elbows until her husband got home from work and pulled her out.

All these women are a part of me somehow, and I am humbled by and thankful for that heritage.

Happy Mother’s Day to you.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

List Lovers: Favorite Books from Childhood

I'm joining The Little List today with some of my favorite childhood bedtime stories. These books are pretty much synonymous with love and coziness and dreams, and I am still discovering ways in which they have influenced me.

The Snowy Day
The Snowy Day, Ezra Jack Keats

A Child's Book of Poems
A Child's Book of Poems, Gyo Fujikawa

Oh, What a Busy Day
Oh, What a Busy Day, Gyo Fujikawa

Great Swedish Fairy TalesGreat Swedish Fairy Tales, illustrated by John Bauer

Lyle, Lyle, Crocodile (Lyle the Crocodile)
Lyle, Lyle CrocodilePeter's Wagon - Whitman Tiny Tot Tale, Bernard Waber

Peter's Wagon, Betty Biesterveld

The Story of Babar the Little ElephantThe Story of Babar: The Little Elephant, Jean de Brunhoff

Bonhomme, Laurent de Brunhoff

Attic of the windAttic of the Wind, Doris Herold Lund

Beatrix Potter The Complete TalesThe Complete Tales of Beatrix Potter

A Bear Called Paddington
A Bear Called Paddington, Michael Bond

East of the Sun and West of the Moon: Old Tales from the North [EAST OF THE SUN & WEST OF THE]East of the Sun and West of the Moon: Old Tales from the North, illustrated by Kay Nielsen