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Archive for June 2009

Tardy Solstice

It seems I’m tardy with many things these days. My only excuse is the daily occurrence of real life, joyous and challenging as it may be. Saturday was the Summer Solstice, the “first day” of summer, although our already humid 90 degree temperatures in Mississippi over the last week said it was at least a little overdue. Our Saturday was spent enjoying 2009’s longest day at my parent’s home. After yummy food and racing cars and stickered airplanes and much drooling and searching for “flint” rocks (ones I’ve yet to learn how to distinguish) and late afternoon naps and shouting and extra time with Daddy, it was 11:30pm before my three gifts could be coaxed to embrace the night, long after the sun had given up it’s day of “triumph.” Earlier in the week, a friend encouraged me to stare at everyone I love a little more closely these days in light of the unexpected brevity of life. I was decidedly blessed to take her up on the challenge the few extra daylight moments.

I came across a wonderful program called American Life in Poetry, which highlights modern poetry selections with notes from former U.S. Poet Laureate, Ted Kooser. Our local Arts Council has used it in their newsletter (which I design) for years. I’ve only recently paid closer attention and realized that the weekly offering is made available for free publication. A recent column was very apropos in beautifully articulating the push and pull of day and night this time of year.

American Life in Poetry: Column 220
BY TED KOOSER, U.S. POET LAUREATE

One of the privileges of being U.S. Poet Laureate was to choose two poets each year to receive a $10,000 fellowship, funded by the Witter Bynner Foundation. Joseph Stroud, who lives in California, was one of my choices. This poem is representative of his clear-eyed, imaginative poetry.

Night in Day

The night never wants to end, to give itself over
to light. So it traps itself in things: obsidian, crows.
Even on summer solstice, the day of light’s great
triumph, where fields of sunflowers guzzle in the sun—
we break open the watermelon and spit out
black seeds, bits of night glistening on the grass.

American Life in Poetry is made possible by The Poetry Foundation (www.poetryfoundation.org), publisher of Poetry magazine. It is also supported by the Department of English at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Poem copyright (c)2001 by Coleman Barks, from his most recent book of poems, “Winter Sky: New and Selected Poems, 1968-2008,” University of Georgia Press, 2008, and reprinted by permission of Coleman Barks and the publisher. Introduction copyright (c)2009 by The Poetry Foundation.  The introduction’s author, Ted Kooser, served as United States Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress from 2004-2006.  We do not accept unsolicited manuscripts.

Lovely. I think I’ll search out more of Mr. Stroud’s work. One caveat: Light seems just as unwilling to give up it’s hold on our hearts. On Wednesday, the boys and Hub were out chasing “lightening bugs” in the guise of doing chores for Miss Belle (the beagle). Upon their return, all sweaty and giggling, they informed me they had caught two. Only, one “COULD NOT turn his light off.”

Much like the lights of my life.

poetry . Terrible Beauty

I’ve been thinking about this William Butler Yeats poem today in the spirit of green solidarity.

Easter, 1916

I HAVE met them at close of day
Coming with vivid faces
From counter or desk among grey
Eighteenth-century houses.
I have passed with a nod of the head
Or polite meaningless words,
Or have lingered awhile and said
Polite meaningless words,
And thought before I had done
Of a mocking tale or a gibe
To please a companion
Around the fire at the club,
Being certain that they and I
But lived where motley is worn:
All changed, changed utterly:
A terrible beauty is born.

That woman’s days were spent
In ignorant good-will,
Her nights in argument
Until her voice grew shrill.
What voice more sweet than hers
When, young and beautiful,
She rode to harriers?
This man had kept a school
And rode our winged horse;
This other his helper and friend
Was coming into his force;
He might have won fame in the end,
So sensitive his nature seemed,
So daring and sweet his thought.
This other man I had dreamed
A drunken, vainglorious lout.
He had done most bitter wrong
To some who are near my heart,
Yet I number him in the song;
He, too, has resigned his part
In the casual comedy;
He, too, has been changed in his turn,
Transformed utterly:
A terrible beauty is born.

Hearts with one purpose alone
Through summer and winter seem
Enchanted to a stone
To trouble the living stream.
The horse that comes from the road.
The rider, the birds that range
From cloud to tumbling cloud,
Minute by minute they change;
A shadow of cloud on the stream
Changes minute by minute;
A horse-hoof slides on the brim,
And a horse plashes within it;
The long-legged moor-hens dive,
And hens to moor-cocks call;
Minute by minute they live:
The stone’s in the midst of all.

Too long a sacrifice
Can make a stone of the heart.
O when may it suffice?
That is Heaven’s part, our part
To murmur name upon name,
As a mother names her child
When sleep at last has come
On limbs that had run wild.
What is it but nightfall?
No, no, not night but death;
Was it needless death after all?
For England may keep faith
For all that is done and said.
We know their dream; enough
To know they dreamed and are dead;
And what if excess of love
Bewildered them till they died?
I write it out in a verse –
MacDonagh and MacBride
And Connolly and Pearse
Now and in time to be,
Wherever green is worn,
Are changed, changed utterly:
A terrible beauty is born.

Author: William Butler Yeats
Online Poetry at PoetryFeast.com

Thank you, Andrew Sullivan, for bringing it to my attention. Oh, and as a gentle recommendation, PoetryFeast.com is indeed yummy.

Tardy Flag Day

Yesterday I intended to celebrate Flag Day by sharing some great old poster images I found at the virtual Library of Congress, each bearing images of the stars and stripes. But, I was behind, as is so often the case, and I wanted to get another post off my chest. In light of that MIPOTW post, however, I thought these images were still appropo. Most are from war eras back when patriotism was cool, and you know how I love the old illustration styles. (Details are at the end.)

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I’m reminded of a quote from the fictional president, Andrew Shepherd in Aaron Sorkin’s 1995 movie, The American President:

“America isn’t easy. America is advanced citizenship. You gotta want it bad, ’cause it’s gonna put up a fight. It’s gonna say “You want free speech? Let’s see you acknowledge a man whose words make your blood boil, who’s standing center stage and advocating at the top of his lungs that which you would spend a lifetime opposing at the top of yours. You want to claim this land as the land of the free? Then the symbol of your country can’t just be a flag; the symbol also has to be one of its citizens exercising his right to burn that flag in protest. Show me that, defend that, celebrate that in your classrooms. Then, you can stand up and sing about the ‘land of the free’.”

Yep, America isn’t easy. That’s for sure. Our ten core enumerated rights mean that dissenting speech, even hate speech often has a place on the podium alongside everyone else. This whole shebang was founded on the principle that everyone doesn’t have to believe the same thing. In fact, long before 1776 the continent was invaded by Europeans willing to stake their life on that principle–at least the principle that MY way of thinking has the right to exist. It’s always easy to demand the right to my own way of life.  The inevitable fruit of that freedom, however, is differing opinions, each vehemently promoting action.

It was interesting to me to note that last Friday was the anniversary of the 1967 Loving vs. Virginia U.S. Supreme Court decision upholding the right to interracial marriage–6 years AFTER our President was born into one such marriage. It’s an issue the vast majority of Americans now see as obsolete, even ridiculous. Sadly, Wednesday’s Holocaust Memorial shooter probably didn’t agree. America isn’t easy. For those coming late to the party, speech has power. It inspires laws and defiance of laws. It motivates action (at times horrifying) and thus bears a responsibility, making it all the more important for me to step to the mic. If I’m to wave the flag, I want to take full advantage of it–not while away the voice I have the privilege of raising.

The images:
1. “Our Flags Beat Germany” showing U.S. and Allied flags, 1918
Adolf Treidler, artist

2. “Teamwork Wins”, 1917
Hibberd V. B. Kline, artist

3. “Elmhurst Flag Day,” 1939
WPA Federal Art Project
Library of Congress Works Progress Administration Poster Collection

4. “140th Flag Day”, 1917

5. WAC poster, 1943
Bradshaw Crandall, artist

6. “Forward America!”, 1917
Carroll Kelly, artist

7. “The Spirit of America” Red Cross poster, 1919
Howard Chandler Christy, artist

8. “Fight or Buy Bonds”, 1917
Howard Chandler Christy, artist

Oh Happy Day! Studies Show:

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Happy Friday, everyone! Naturally, when I think of Friday, the phrase “Oh Happy Day” comes to mind–what with the end of the work week and the anticipation of weekend fun. This post is starting to be a habit.

Check out one more example of happiness from my vintage collection up there. This 2-pager is a 1959 Parker Pen ad illustrated by Norman Rockwell. I love how many of the old ads tell a story. I suppose folks were much more likely to read than we are today. I keep telling my clients to cut out words. Then, I see these delightful versions and long for generations further up the alphabet than “X.” Yes, this is a Christmas ad, but I couldn’t resist the protrait of happiness sharing in light of something I read this week.

Happy Friday, again. And, now there’s actual scientific evidence that I’m spreading happiness when I say that. This week I read about a study on happiness released in December 2008 by the Harvard Medical School and the University of California, San Diego. It confirmed what we all experience. Happiness spreads. The press release about the study called happiness an “emotional contagion.” Cool scoops.

In examining a boat-load of details about the lives of close to 5000 people over a 20 year period, the study determined that feelings of happiness spread over a person’s social network up to 3 degrees of separation, and the happiness increase could be felt for up to a year’s time. That means my happiness can infect my friends, my friends’ friends and my friends’ friends’ friends. Triple cool scoop with whipped cream and a cherry! For the math junkies, those 3 degress are half of the 6 degrees of separation we are said to have with EVERY human being! [The study also showed that sadness doesn’t have nearly the same viral power, BTW.] Want to influence half the people on the planet? Start letting your happiness be known. If you’re happy and you know it, clap your hands, stomp your feet, and of course, your face will surely show it. You get the idea.

Attention 3 degrees, here are five things that have increased my happiness germ load this week.

1. Lack of sickie germ load in the Montgomery household
2. Hearing that Little Drummer Boy behaved so well at preschool that he got to pick something from the Treasure Box–and it was Dinoco spokescar “Mr. The King,” racecar extraordinaire. Koo-chow!
3. Brilliant red bromeliad on my dining table
4. Reading about color theory for some articles I’m writing
5. Glorious design/style blogs I’m becoming addicted to [stay tuned for next week’s Ten Tues Tickles]

What say we get this pandemic rolling? If you’re happy and you know it, click the comment button and let the Junksters know 5 reasons why. C’mon now, consider yourself infected.

tiny messages . Harmony and the Art of Brushing Teeth

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The other day while I was making myself presentable to the outside world, I was privy to a little accidental dose of two-part harmony. Hub was in the bathroom brushing Bug’s teeth–an experience always ripe for chuckles. Bug is the kind of guy who picks up his honey mustard condiment cup to drink it.  I kid you not. He wants catsup on his plate so he can attempt to pick it up with his fork and eat it sans french fries, despite numerous attempts to offer a better solution. Pancakes translates as syrup and syrup with a side of bacon to Bug. I’m sure you’re getting the pattern here. He tends to have his own ideas about how things ought to be done. I wonder where he got that?

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So, here’s how the two-part harmony normally plays out: a grown-up “aaah” paired with a Bug-sized “aaah” when we’re brushing the back teeth, and a grown-up “eeee” paired with a Bug-size when taking care of the front. Oddly enough, they’re almost always in near harmonious pitch. In this rendition, however, Daddy’s “aaah” was met with Bug’s much louder “eeee.” And vice versa. Several times. Bug was having way too much fun making his own sound to hear Daddy’s instructions.

Don’t you hate it when that happens? Sometimes I’m just too busy making my own melody to hear the right note.  Hub and I have noticed an increased harmony in our hearts and lives recently because we are finally getting on the same page with God in a few areas.  Home responsibilities, work schedules, parenting styles, church commitments, family time–we’re finally letting go of the “eeee” to embrace the “aaah” first. Don’t get me wrong. It’s not a huge overhaul, just a few little things (and mindsets) to start with that are making a big difference. It’s a good feeling.

Sometimes, like Bug, we want to do what God wants.  We’re on board with brushing our teeth.  It’s just a matter of who’s doing the brushing.  We want to call the shots.  So, maybe our intentions and desires are correct, but we need to yield to the one with the brush to achieve harmony and get there.  I find when I surrender the act of calling the shots, when I go with God for the “aaah” first, the “eeee” usually falls into place as I’d hoped. Maybe it’s not the path I would have taken, but the destination is the same and the ride was full of a lot more laughter and contentment… and harmony.

Well, they got the job done. When Hub finally got his attention, Bug was happy to join Daddy in the “aaah,” and impromptu two-part harmony was restored. Music to my ears. I got up from my seat with makeup fixed and this:

Harmony has a source and an order.  I can’t achieve it until I go to the source and submit to the proper heart hygiene.

Tiny messages God continues to include with our gifts — 2 little joys of boys and 1 little jewel of a girl, each with open eyes, open ears, open hearts, and much to teach. “Behold children are a gift of the Lord…” (psalm 127:1)

Colors Upstairs

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Sometimes at night when I’m tucking in Squiggle I like to tell him things I like about him, things I’m proud of him for doing. I do that with Little Drummer Boy, too, but Squiggle seems to need it more sometimes. I don’t know if it’s because he has been slower to use verbal skills and more prone to losing control of his little emotions, or if it’s simply because he has a brother who so easily (and rampantly) uses verbal skills and can just do more because he’s older. But, Squiggle sometimes seems wanting for affirmation. He has a sensitive and pondering spirit (when he’s not squealing) that tells me there is always a lot going on internally.

Through the parenting stages of teaching early boundaries, it’s easy to get caught up in discipline and correction. So, I sometimes use those tender bedtime moments to confirm his steps toward kindness and obedience, to acknowledge the new lessons and skills he’s learning and to encourage the blossoming of his lively spirit. At least that’s what I tell myself. I think sometimes I just don’t want the seemingly constant threat of a spanking to be what he thinks about as he drifts off to sleep.

I usually start with, “Mommy is so proud of you. You did a good job tonight of….” At that point, Squiggle invariably says, “colors upstairs.” It’s an odd reference, I know. First, it took me a while even to understand what he was saying. Then, it took a while to understand what he meant. We have lots of colors, but we don’t have an upstairs–unless you consider the 5 or 6 steps you go down to Daddy’s office, the laundry room and the back door to be the downstairs.

After a few repeated “colors upstairs,” I finally got it. At our preschool, Squiggle’s room is downstairs and Little Drummer Boy’s room is upstairs. Squiggle has walked the steps with me a few times to get LDB. On the wall above the steps is a cut-out “WELCOME” taped to the wall, and every letter is a different color. Each time he’s gone upstairs, Squiggle has proudly named each color in order as he’s climbed each step. And, I’m sure one of us exclaimed at what a good job he did.

It may be memorable to him because of the fact that he accomplished naming the colors while navigating the steps or because Mommy or Daddy made a big deal about it. Regardless, something about that experience stuck in his mind as a great accomplishment. So, when I start to enumerate the ways in which I’m proud of Squiggle, his interjection of the “colors upstairs” example serves to affirm something in his little spirit.

I’m continually amazed by the moments–seemingly mundane and insignificant–that stand out as important, even treasured in a child’s mind. And, it gives me pause to consider how such a routine, half-forgotten word of praise can have such long-lasting impact. My husband lost his father in an accident when he was just 6 years old. I could barely listen during the times he’s recounted the very few memories he has of his dad–brief flashes, a slight touch, a fleeting feeling–and how precious they are to him. I’m sure he thinks of them sometimes just to make sure he can still remember.

I don’t want my boys and Baby Girl to have to think hard as time marches on. If I’m blessed with a lifetime with each of them, I want to give an abundance of remembered praises and proud moments and congratulations for simple things like a “lellow” W. All too often, it’s easy to forget that secure, confident, hopeful children grow into secure, confident, hopeful grown-ups who can give the gifts of security, confidence and hope to others. Thus, the moment that begins on a walk upstairs next to colorful letters cut out of cardstock extends for generations.

The One Where I Come Out… And Say It

Have you ever had occasion to cross a barbed wire fence? Sticky predicament. I’ve done it on Busy Bee farm through the years, tromping through a pasture, avoiding cow unmentionables. Many notable attempts have occurred in the pursuit of a Christmas tree that we were convinced was over in some greener cedar tree pasture. Sometimes crossing the fence just beats the long bumpy ride down the fence row to a just-as-bumpy gravel road, through a gate and back down the flip side of said bumpy fence row. Economy of movement is an essential concept in pasture tromping.

There’s an art to crossing a barbed wire fence. You have to judge whether there is enough slack in the line to allow you to pull the wire wide enough to go through the fence, or if you’re better served pushing down on the top and going over, although your inseam is clearly not tall enough to avoid the peril. After all, a barbed wire fence has barbs.

If you’ve been reading a while, you may have seen me refer to “the blog you didn’t know I was reading.” I say you didn’t know I was reading it because it’s not the sort of blog you might think I’d be interested in, not the sort I’d deem worthy of supporting. If you’ve read much of my blog, you also know a few things about me. I am a politically conservative, white, heterosexual, middle class evangelical Christian from Mississippi.  And, I’m probably pretty close to who you think I am when I write those words.  [Sans a few Mississippi stereotypes. For example: I have a college degree.  I don’t work in agriculture. I have wireless DSL in my home and office.  I speak (and write to y’all) with a very thick Southern accent, but usually using correct subject-verb agreement. I have two full bathrooms complete with running water in my house.  I wear shoes on a daily basis.  I don’t own a gun which would need to be pried from my cold, dead hands at some point, nor do I own any camoflage. I’ve never had a mint julep.]

So, the blog you didn’t know I was reading is LesbianDad.net. And since today is “Blogging for LGBT Families Day, I decided to elaborate–something I’ve been promising for a while. Plus, I’m always up for a good post on social justice.

Lesbian Dad is probably pretty close to who you imagine she is–one of those crazy, liberal Californians, Berkeley graduate, feminist, Buddhist, lesbian activist. She’s also a “Baba” of two children and an excellent writer and photographer. She and her wife have one of the 18,000 marriages that were upheld by the California Supreme Court last week when it also upheld Proposition 8.

Reading her blog has convinced me of a few things. So I guess it’s time to come out… and say it.

It’s likely to elicit the same “duh” response of outrage from both the LGBT and conservative reader-types, but I’m sitting squarely on the (barbed wire) fence on this whole gay marriage issue. And, I’m trying not to rip my jeans or anything else while I figure out the side upon which I’m landing. If you’ve had experience with barbed wire fences as described above, you know that when you’re sitting, it would behoove you to get off. It’s uncomfortable. It’s dangerous. The best thing is to pick a side and stand on it. And, that’s what I’m in the slow process of doing.

You see, I’m a practicing (I’m afraid to say devout) Christian. I believe the Bible is God’s inspired word, and is true for always. I believe God is alive, active and cares about the cosmic and much of the mundane. I also believe homosexuality is not pleasing to God. I believe He thinks its wrong, which is why I call it a sin–much like I call adultery, lying, stealing or berating others a sin

Here’s the thing.

In this country, people aren’t required by law to believe what I believe. And, other people don’t think it’s a sin. My faith is big enough to even like a few of those people, even if I don’t agree with the complete scope of how they’ve chosen to live their lives. How do we properly deal with that in society? I know our response to sin has changed in the years since Moses codified the laws of the Israelite’s theocracy. I know that noone was clamoring to stone my first husband after he had an affair. I know noone is running around plucking out eyes or teeth because they’re ticked off. I know God hasn’t changed, but Jesus Himself changed how some of those old laws were executed. When He was confronted with an adulterous woman, He changed not what was accepted by God, but what was permitted in society by the religious leaders. I’m too entangled in the barbs to write an intelligent and well-composed argument either way–hence the uncomfortable fence-sitting.

LesbianDad wrote on her blog (or maybe it was twitter or somewhere else), that “they” don’t know who they’re voting against. Reading her personal story on the gay marriage issue has convinced me that’s true. This issue is not about the flamboyant gay bar scene, secluded roadside parks, irrationally suspected pedophiles, indecisive Hollywood-types or drag queen lounge singers that would prompt a much easier fence jump. No, this issue is about a desire for lifelong commitment, about monogamy. In practicality, it’s about social security benefits, health insurance, school permission forms, powers of attorney, and who has to stand out in the waiting room when a child is born. Yes, it’s about children who go to preschool or elementary school and like PowerPuff Girls and Cars.

I see the joy LD derives from her family every day. I see the frustration she feels about their “legal” status. I see the faces of her children at museums and dance class and home. I read that she sits on their beds after they’re asleep to stare with joy and hope for their futures just like I do. But for time zones, we might be doing it at the exact same moment.

One of the most poignant posts I read recently from LD was after a neighboring school board meeting regarding an existing anti-bullying curriculum that included content about sensitivity toward children in LGBT families. In response to the statements she heard, she wrote that there was “no hope”–no hope that others of my ilk would “see” her children.  And, I had already determined that I would see, that I would choose to look. That whatever side of the barbing I land on, I would do it with both eyes and ears open–not just to my side of the story, but to the side that might be uncomfortable. To look full on into the real “face” of the gay marriage debate.

I haven’t resolved it inside. There it is.  But, I’ve learned this. The “fight” for equality is not what it seems to be, and it’s getting bigger. (Thanks, LD)

I encourage and welcome your disagreements, insights and thoughts.

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