Ode to the Sunday School Teacher

Unashamedly, I am still basking in the glow of my Prince Edward Island adventure. Upon returning home, I have read The Blue Castle by L.M. Montgomery for the first time, which incidentally, I purchased from the Site of the Lucy Maud Montgomery’s Cavendish Home. The paperback proudly bears the stamp.

And I have been re-reading The Story Girlsupposedly the author’s favorite of her novels.

Combine these readings with the fact that our church has been talking about our responsibility of reading for the sake of the community, and throw in the fact that I just completed Reading for the Common Good: How Books Help Our Churches and Neighborhoods Flourish by C. Christopher Smith, have been planning Bible home school curriculum for this next year for my boys, and the fact that I have substituted teaching in children’s Bible classes a few times at church this summer, and it is not difficult to see why a couple of these passages spoke sweetly to me.

Montgomery, who married the Presbyterian minister Ewen MacDonald, was a theological thinker in her own right. With a knack for describing hypocrisies and frivolous loyalties to tradition and prejudices, Montgomery often snuck in satirical statements through her most upright and judgmental of characters. Remember the proudly outspoken Mrs. Rachel Lynde? In a letter to Anne in college, she writes,

“I don’t believe any but fools enter the ministry nowadays….Such candidates as they have sent us, and such stuff as they preach! Half of it ain’t true, and what’s worse, it ain’t sound doctrine. The one we have now is the worst of the lot. He mostly takes a text and preaches about something else. And he says he doesn’t believe all the heathen will be eternally lost. The idea! If they won’t all the money we’ve been giving to Foreign Missions will be clean wasted, that’s what!”

~from Anne of the Island, chapter 5 “Letters from Home”

Now contrast Anne’s enthusiasm for the young and lovely minister’s wife, Mrs. Allan.

“I never knew before that religion was such a cheerful thing. I always thought it was kind of melancholy, but Mrs. Allan isn’t, and I’d like to be a Christian if I could be one like her.”

~Anne confiding to Marilla in Anne of Green Gables, p. 172

Wouldn’t we all want this to be said of us?

So, for those of you who are teaching a Sunday school class, who open the Bible in front of young minds and share words of truth and life, you are filling more than an hour’s void.

“The social life of juvenile Carlisle centered in the day and Sunday schools. We were especially interested in our Sunday School, for we were fortunate enough to be assigned to a teacher who made our lesson so interesting that we no longer regarded Sunday School attendance as a disagreeable weekly duty, but instead looked forward to it with pleasure, and tried to carry out our teacher’s gentle precepts- at least on Mondays and Tuesdays. I am afraid the remembrance grew a little dim on the rest of the week.”

~ from The Story Girl, p. 26

You are providing a vision of what it means to be part of a kingdom of grace and love. It is a great service in which the subjects are only coincidentally small. If nothing else, you are narrating a picture of God’s appealing beauty. May your story be consistently bewitching and inviting.

Through the pages of an Avonlea farm

A bright, pleasant winter day, twenty years ago this December, I married the guy who brought me coffee every day in the university cafeteria, whether we sat together or not, whether  we were dating one another at the time or not. Every day. He was also the guy to whom I read Dostoevsky’s “The Grand Inquisitor” on a park bench in the small town where we studied, and the one who serenaded me on his guitar. I figured with these solids to his credit, my life would likely be headed in the right direction with him. It hasn’t all been “sunbursts and marble halls,” but I have always known I made the right decision.  And this July we were finally able to take a trip – just the two of us!- to a place I have longed to visit ever since I was eleven or twelve years old, ever since I became acquainted with Anne-with-an-“e” and suffered the Murrays alongside Emily Byrd Starr. Prince Edward Island!IMG_6485

Come, rest awhile, and let us idly stray

In glimmering valleys, cool and far away.

Come from the greedy mart, the troubled street,

And listen to the music, faint and sweet,

That echoes ever to a listening ear,

Unheard by those who will not pause to hear-….

And near at hand, would you but see them, lie

All lovely things beloved in days gone by.

You have forgotten what it is to smile

In your too busy life-come, rest awhile.

~L.M. Montgomery

And so, we took her advice.

With little agenda, other than B&B reservations, we both gloried in the rolling emerald hills, the ivory blooms of the potato fields and the red, rusty cliffs of Montgomery’s native island. In short, we fell in love.

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“…the garden and the orchard and the brook and the woods, the whole big dear world. Don’t you feel as if you just loved the world on a morning like this?”

from Anne of Green Gables, p. 32

Here is the stately grand home of Alexander McDonald of Cincinnati, built in 1895 where we stayed our first few nights. It is featured as the White Sands Hotel in Kevin Sullivan’s 1985 Anne of Green Gables production starring Megan Follows.

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A quick walk across the street led us to pristine white sands and a chilly sea. Devoid of the tourist traps at the eastern edge of PEI National Park, there were a scant number of beach tourists. We felt we enjoyed our own private beach. The seagulls, terns and sand pipers generously made room for us.

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Dan and Becky James are second-generation owners of the Kindred Spirits Inn and Cottages where we stayed next.

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Just a quick walk through a path in the trees and around the edge of a golf course takes you directly to the House of Green Gables where visitors can tour the home and grounds once belonging to Montgomery’s aunt and uncle, which also inspired the setting for my favorite spirited red-head.

Dan’s father bought the place back in the mid 80s, and it has been well maintained. Quaint and charming, but with convenient amenities, it was a lovely oasis tucked into the trees in otherwise kitschy Cavendish. Dan also gives fabulous sunset tours around the local bay delivering history, bird identification and friendly conversation.

Our last night on the island came too soon. Just south of Cavendish, in the heart of the potato and wheat fields, in glorious green hills which never seem to end, lies New Glasgow, famous for its dairy farms and lobster suppers. My Mother’s Country Inn is also a family acquisition.

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The owner’s mother was actually born in in the 1850 farm house and ran the B&B until her daughter and Swedish born husband took responsibility just over twenty years ago. Now, they are looking to retire. This will be their last season operating the gorgeous property, but if you have the opportunity, do not miss the wonderfully bucolic setting. Hopefully, the new owners will maintain it with as much warmth and care.

We have tried to bring back the genuineness of the people and the relaxation we experienced while on Prince Edward Island. I hope to implement the hospitality and openness which inspired me while I was there.

“One clear star hung above the orchard and the fireflies were flirting over in Lovers’ Lane, in and out among the ferns and rustling boughs. Anne watched them as she talked and somehow felt that the wind and stars and fireflies were all tangled up together into something unutterably sweet and enchanting.”

from Anne of Green Gables, p. 181

Now, I am home, my husband is traveling again for work, and my thoughts are focused on getting a new school curriculum started for my kids. A new co-op meeting is tonight for S and G, and A, my oldest, will be starting his high school career at a private school. New beginnings. New worries – or maybe the same ones, just wrapped up in a different bow. Raising boys to men is hard, isn’t it? And it makes me appreciate all those before me who have done it so well. This is when I fall back on God’s grace and hold on to faith, knowing He  can do it all better than I. And this is where there might be some parenting reassurance hidden in between the pages of the Cuthbert’s Avonlea farm.

“As it was [Matthew] was free to spoil Anne…as much as he liked. But it was not such a bad arrangement after all; a little “appreciation” sometimes does quite as much good as all the conscientious “bringing up” in the world.”

from Anne of Green Gables, p. 195

 

So often I worry, and forget about praise and appreciation and understanding and patience. It’s hard when you are in the middle of fuming at 14-year-old negative attitudes. Oh! If I only had to deal with someone dyeing their hair green! Right? In any case, it was a wonderful break, a lightening of the load, and upon our return I discovered something extraordinary. There are many “kindred spirits” right here in my midst. I am not sure why but it surprised me how many friends approached me asking about my trip, wanting to start comparing “Anne” stories. Growing up, I seemed to love her alone. Now, there are many with whom I seem to connect.

“Kindred spirits are not so scarce as I used to think. It’s splendid to find out there are so many of them in the world.”

from Anne of Green Gables, p. 161

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Island Hymn

Fair Island of the sea,

We raise our song to thee,

The bright and blest;

Loyally now we stand

As brothers, hand in hand,

And sing God save the land

We love thee best.

Upon our princely Isle

May kindest fortune smile

In coming years;

Peace and prosperity

In all her borders be,

From every evil free,

And weakling fears.

Prince Edward Isle, to thee

Our hearts shall faithful be

Where’er we dwell;

Forever may we stand

As  brothers, hand in hand,

And sing God save the land

We love so well.

~lyrics by L.M. Montgomery

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Willow painting

Our summers tend to be slower paced. We don’t schedule in that many events for our kids, preferring them to experience boredom and togetherness, coming up with their own fun. We usually make an overnight trip to Chicago or Cincinnati, and occasionally play tourist about our own city.  I do not deal well with hectic, frenetic days, but feel much happier with fewer items on my agenda.

This year our three boys are spending a week at a local farm camp in the mornings.  They are feeding pigs and chickens, learning some ecology, weeding the vegetable garden, and getting brown in the Indiana sun. Once home, and after lunch, they are outside again (I love this about them!).

Lately, A is either at the neighborhood basketball courts or on his bike. S often rides his longboard down the steepest hill in our neighborhood. Since G is not old enough, according to our guidelines, to leave the block unaccompanied, he opts for the backyard. Sometimes he plays with a brother, sometimes alone. Today after watching a bit of the EURO 2016, I kick a soccer ball with him all around our yard.

For not even six years old, that kid is really fast. He looks like someone has set an old VHS tape on fast forward. Honestly, I tire of that pretty easily, so I hide under our willow tree in hopes he will be inspired to join me in a calmer, more imaginative venture. He does.

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“Let’s make a fort!” he exclaims. “And I’m going to paint dragons and pictures for the fort’s entryway.”

I slip and refer to it as a studio.  “It’s not an art studio,” G insists, “it’s the painting on the fortress walls.” I stand corrected.

G instructs me to collect the supplies while he lies against the tree, some of the unwieldy branches swishing across his legs. I let him tell me what to do…this time, and bring cardboard, tape, rope and paint on a plastic palette, along with a few brushes. G sits up, and asks me to help him tie the “canvas” to a willow tree branch.

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He gets to work.

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And this occupies him for twenty or thirty minutes.

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Eventually he brings out his pop up tent and a couple of stuffed animals. It’s getting crowded under the willow. I have to crawl in to the tent first; he follows. And, so, one imaginative idea begets another.

It’s a beautiful summer afternoon.

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The burdock and the nettle I preferred,

but best of all the silver willow tree.

Its weeping limbs fanned my unrest with dreams…

~Anna Akhmatova

On their Behalf

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All written in the mid-twentieth century the following novels, although originally written in varying languages – English, French, and Serbo-Croatian, spanning three continents and even more countries – the United States, France, South Africa and Bosnia, share some important similarities.  The following novels would make terrible summer reading. They are not books with which to relax in the warm sun under the shade of your patio furniture in the backyard, or lightly skim as you dig your toes in the sand on your family vacation.  They are slow-moving, difficult, reflective books requiring readers to digest them slowly.  They are not feel-good reads for a light, breezy day.  Strange that I  find myself reflecting on them at this time of year? Not really.  Once my boys’ history and science, math and grammar are put away for the year, my mind is freer to explore my own thoughts.  And, apparently, this June that means death and priests, philosophy and apartheid.

The following are four novels to compare and contrast. They share some weighty themes and interesting literary emphases.

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Death Comes for the Archbishopop  by the American writer Willa Cather was originally published in 1927. It recounts the tale of two Catholic priests in the hills of New Mexico territory in 1851 who battle arid deserts, ancient customs and their own vices and loneliness.

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The Diary of a Country Priest was written by Georges Bernanos in 1937.  It is an ambitious novel with a seemingly unambitious plot.  A French priest finds himself caring for very mundane, prosaic parishioners in an ordinary French village.  These parishioners are mean gossipers, fault finders and antagonistic. The priest is confronted with the need to forgive and be forgiven, even as he knows he is dying.

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The South African classic Cry, the Beloved Country by the late Alan Paton did not immediately end apartheid when it was published in 1948, but it certainly spurred on the dialog which forged its path. Written primarily from the perspective of an aging Zulu pastor, this novel deals with race-relations, ethnicities, murder, forgiveness, healing and our human dignity before God.

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Published in 1966, in what was then known as Yugoslavia, Mesa Selimovic wrote his best known novel, Death and the Dervish.  It is unfortunate that the Bosnian writer is little known in the United States, as this book not only enlightens the reader to the region’s history and psychology, but also deals in relatable, contemporary themes. Throughout its pages a Moslem dervish from the  eighteenth century is in search of his brother who has been arrested by the Turkish authorities.  Enmeshed in their lies, he begins to question his own purpose and his place in society.

Each of these novels is deeply philosophical, spiritual, and fundamentally asks difficult questions about humanity’s purpose and direction. Each of them uniquely deals with social justice.

We shift our ground again when a black man does achieve something remarkable, and then feel deep pity for a man who is condemned to the loneliness of being remarkable, and decide that it is a Christian kindness not to let black men become remarkable. Thus even our God becomes a confused and inconsistent creature, giving gifts and denying them employment. Is it strange then that our civilization is riddled through and through with dilemma? The truth is that our civilization is not Christian; it is a tragic compound of great ideal and fearful practice, of high assurance and desperate anxiety, of loving charity and fearful clutching of possessions.

from Cry, the Beloved Country, p. 155

 

In each novel someone is intervening in someone else’s behalf. Father for a wayward son, a brother for an estranged brother.  The protagonist is a priest – or in one case a dervish – a spiritual leader who finds himself vulnerable and in need of being led.

Monks suffer for souls, our pain is on behalf of souls. This thought came to me yesterday evening and remained all night long beside my bed, a guardian angel.

from The Diary of a Country Priest, p. 28

Every one of these novels are political in varying degrees.  They do not feature characters inspiring coups, but quietly, desperately searching for a better, more peaceable life, free from foreign rule. 

In each novel there is a struggle with authority. There is a tension between races. There is a grave injustice and there is suffering. Death is a prominent theme in each novel, as well as forgiveness.

I’ve done something bad to him…I needed his friendship, like air, but I was ready to lose it because I couldn’t hide that lie from him. I wanted him to forgive me, but he did even more: he gave me still greater love…Most beautiful is that his love doesn’t even need to be earned. If I’d had to earn it I’d never have received it, or I’d have lost it long ago.

from Death and the Dervish, pp. 271-272

My death is here. A death like any other, and I shall enter into it with the feelings of a very commonplace, very ordinary man. It is even certain that I shall be no better at dying than I am at controlling my life. I shall be just as clumsy and awkward…Dear God, I give you all, willingly. But I don’t know how to give, I just let them take. The best is to remain quiet. Because though I may not know how to give, You know how to take…Yet I would have wished to be, once, just once, magnificently generous to You!

from The Diary of a Country Priest, pp. 279-280

Far away from large cities, these stories are rural, primarily set in villages, far removed from fast-paced, sophisticated worlds.  And so the pace of the novels are slow, sometimes plodding, thoughtful to the point that the plots are frequently moved along by the dialog.

These are novels inextricably tied to land or place, filled with beautiful imagery and lush language.

It was the Indian manner to vanish into the landscape, not to stand out against it. The Hopi villages that were set upon rock mesas were made to look like the rock on which they sat, were imperceptible at a distance.

from Death Comes for the Archbishop, p. 233

There is a lovely road that runs from Ixopo into the hills.  These hills are grass-covered and rolling, and they are lovely beyond any singing to it. The road climbs seven miles into them, to Carisbrooke…About you there is grass and bracken and you may hear the forlorn crying of the titihoya, one of the birds of the veld.

from Cry, the Beloved Country, p. 3

 

The geography and time period are characters themselves as significant and pivotal as any others in the novel. They are bound to the soil on which they tread, to the people and languages with which they speak. Bosnia, the American Southwest, bucolic France, and South Africa are more than mere backdrops. They imbue meaning and urgency to these stories. Although each novel is set in a different time period, there is an amazing timelessness in their themes.

These are all spiritual struggles. The Bible and the Koran are liberally referenced and quoted.

A beautiful word is like a tree, its roots are deep in the ground, its branches rise up to the sky.

~from Death and the Dervish, p. 310 quoting The Koran, Sura xiv, 24

On the day of  my death, when they carry my coffin,

do not think that I will feel pain for this world.

Do not cry and say: it is a great loss!

When milk sours, the loss is greater.

I shall not vanish when you see them lay me in the grave.

Do the sun and moon vanish when they set?

This seems like a death to you, but it is a birth…..

What grain does not sprout when it is put into the ground?

So why do you not believe in the grain of men?

~from Death and the Dervish, p. 12, quoted inexactly from several passages in The Koran

-I have ever thought that a Christian would be free from suffering, umfundisi. For our Lord suffered.  And I come to believe that he suffered, not to save us from suffering, but to teach us how to bear suffering. For he knew that there is not life without suffering.

Kumalo looked at his friend with joy. You are a preacher, he said.

His friend held out his rough calloused hands. Do I look like a preacher? he asked.

Kumalo laughed. I look at your heart, not your hands, he said. Thank you for your help, my friend.

from Cry, the Beloved Country, p. 227

 

Our protagonists seek and find their answers not simply in their own experiences, nor in the advice of their compatriots, but through the lens of spiritual truth and vision.

One might almost say that an apparition is human vision corrected by divine love. I do not see you as you really are, Joseph; I see you through my affection for you. The Miracles of the Church seem to me to rest not so much upon faces or voices or healing power coming suddenly near to us from afar off, but upon our perceptions being made finer, so that for a moment our eyes can see and our ears can hear what is there about us always.

~from Death Comes for the Archbishop, p. 50

 

 

in Just spring: a photo gallery

 

During our “together time” today we read this poem.  After running around under bright blue sky, over squishy grass and with the birds all around us, it seemed like a great choice. We read it together from the computer screen so we could all see the poem as well as hear it. A and S were amazed more by the (lack of) structure to the poem, and the “created” vocabulary.  Why am I surprised that A instantly made a connection to Pan or fauns?

I have always loved it -and e.e. cummings- for the imagery.  Happy Spring.

 

in Just-

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spring                    when the world is mud-

luscious the little

lame balloonman

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whistles           far            and wee

 

and eddieandbill come

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running from marbles and

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piracies and it’s

spring

 

when the world is puddle-wonderful

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the queer

old balloon man whistles

far           and            wee

and bettyandisabel come dancing

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from hop-scotch and jump-rope and

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it’s

spring

and

the

goat-footed

balloonMan          whistles

far

and wee

-e.e.cummings

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Living in Maycomb

For the past month or so my boys and I have been living in 1935.  In Maycomb, Alabama.  We have felt the berating accusations of Mrs. Lafayette Dubose as we walk outside, and my eldest has been mimicking Scout’s thoughtless exclamations, “What the sam hill are you doing?!….But Atticus, he has gone and drowned his dinner in syrup!”

Yes, we have been reading To Kill a Mockingbird, little knowing that this would be the book my boys would read as its author prepares to leave this world.  For me, that book was Cry the Beloved Country when Alan Paton died in 1988, my senior year of high school.  Both books teach us something about race relations and the innate dignity of humanity.  My boys finished the novel on Thursday, Ms. Lee passed away Friday morning, we watched Gregory Peck magnificently portray Atticus Finch that night in our basement, and then we attended our local repertory theater to see the play performed Saturday evening.  This week we will be involved in one final project to close out our time with Jem and Jean Louise Finch.  They will choose to construct the Radley home, create a storyboard of one of their favorite, meaningful scenes, or write an obituary for one of the book’s deceased characters.  I will leave it up to them.

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Here is S’s drawing of the Radley place.  Scout is peering into the knot hole of the tree, while Boo secretly peeps through the curtains.   “Atticus was right.  One time he said you never really knew a man until you stand in his shoes and walk around in them. Just standing on the Radley porch was enough.” chapter 31

There was occasional complaining this month around the amount of work related to this book, but I am proud of their efforts, especially as they struggled to think through issues. Typically, we would have enjoyed this book together as a read aloud, but five-year-old G presented a problem.  Due to the sensitive subject matter, and the fact that he soaks everything up that his brothers are involved in, I decided to have them read the book on their own, working through it at a similar pace.  They wrote out definitions to new vocabulary they encountered in the chapters.  They composed a few summaries or written narration of sections.  They answered comprehension questions either in written form (neat handwriting, complete sentences) or in a discussion forum. We often used the questions found here online.  Occasionally, I pulled a quote by Atticus to use as dictation.

We did some preliminary research on the Great Depression, the Dust Bowl, and Jim Crow laws.  We used the few sites where I provide the links here.  And we also used this one to learn a bit about the author herself, as well as her childhood friend Truman Capote. My guys had a good time examining the map we found online of fictional Maycomb. They traced the steps Jem would have taken to retrieve his torn overalls, and the route the children may have taken to sneak out after Atticus the night before the trial.

We created a word cloud together with wordle pulling character names, themes and events out of the novel.  We discussed and defined concepts like flashbacks, foreshadowing, and Bildungsroman.

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Graciously, a semi-retired judge of the Court of Appeals of Indiana, whom we met at our church, willingly ate lunch with my kids, and a couple of other homeschooling families, and talked with them about the law and the United States Constitution.  What made this a particularly meaningful meeting was that our friend happened to be African-American and he happened to be raised in the South during the 1940s and 1950s.  Not only were our kids able to ask him questions about his family members and personal experiences, but he also took the time and care to impart words of wisdom similar to Atticus Finch’s – always do what is right, there are other ways of handling things when you are angry, and there are proper ways of engaging with people who disagree with you.  I am elated our kids were able to take advantage of this opportunity to listen to a live person of this caliber speak of historical and meaningful things. And all I had to do was ask. I am constantly on the move to uncover ways people in our community can help me supplement my children’s education. I am so grateful our friend took the time to share with us.

As my family leaves Maycomb, Alabama, and as the world bids a grateful farewell to Nelle Harper Lee, I pray some of these memories and lessons remain with my children long after the vocabulary lists and written paragraphs are obsolete.

“First of all,” he said, “if you can learn a simple trick, Scout, you’ll get along a lot better with all kinds of folks.  You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view-” chapter 3

A Sparrow has come to tell us….

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Unknown to the majority of Americans or many outside his home country of Serbia, Jovan Jovanović “Zmaj” wrote patriotic and romantic poems, fables and children’s poetry.  “Čika” or Uncle Jova was Serbia’s  most beloved poet writing prolifically from the 1850s through the turn of the century, endearing himself to both children and adults.  If we could package the feelings Americans once felt  for Longfellow and Shel Silverstein, then mix it with Robert Frost and a bit of Jack Prelutsky, we might have an understanding of how much “Uncle” Jova was, and is, loved.  Although Jovan Jovanović Zmaj sets the following poem about a little sparrow’s word of gratitude at the waning of winter, the birds about my January feeder put me in mind of this piece.  I have searched for its English translation throughout the internet with no success.  Even so, I want to share it with you, even if it is only a poor reconstruction.  Please forgive my lack of experience in translating poetry.  Here “Uncle” Jova reminds us to be kind.

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Došao vrabac da nam….                                                A Sparrow has come to tell us…

Živ, živ, živ!                                                                            Alive, alive, alive!

Hvala bogu, ja sam jošte živ                                              Thank heavens, I am still alive.

Oprostite, molim lepo,                                                        Forgive me, kindly please,

Ako sam vam štogod kriv,                                                  If I have somehow wronged you.

Živ, živ, živ!                                                                              Alive, alive, alive!

 

Živi bili i vi svi,                                                                       Long may you all live

Što me niste gonili!                                                               Since you have not chased me away

Zima većem prolazi,                                                             Winter  has largely passed

Proleće nam dolazi,                                                               Spring is on its way.

Danas, sutra biće zima                                                         Today or tomorrow winter will be

Nama svima za leđima.                                                        Behind our backs.

 

Da ne nađoh oko vaših kuća                                               Had I not found

Lepe sitne hrane,                                                                  Nice bits of food about your house

Ja bih zimus provodio                                                          I would have spent

Vrlo posne dane.                                                                    Some very lean, winter days

 

Možda bi mi zeludac                                                          Perhaps my stomach would have

O prazninu zapo,                                                                Ached from emptiness

A možda bih, sirotan,                                                        Or perhaps, poor me,

Od gladi i skapo.                                                                 I would have collapsed from hunger.

 

Jeste li vi to meni dali,                                                     Whether or  not you intentionally fed me,

Il su dari sami pali.                                                            Or those gifts fell on their own,

To ne mogu da rasudim                                                    I cannot discern

Mojim mozgom malim.                                                   With my little mind.

 

Tek ja, evo, dođoh,                                                        Even so, I have just come here

Vama da zahvalim…                                                     To thank you….

Nemojte me terati,                                                        Don’t send me away,

Ja ću vam pevati.                                                            I will sing to you a song.

 

Ne baš kao slavuj,                                                      Not exactly like a nightingale,

Al bolje neg žabac,                                                      But better than a frog

Svako peva svojim glasom,                                     Each sings with his own voice,

A vrabac je vrabac.                                                    And a sparrow as a sparrow.

Window Ornithology

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Wagner’s birdseed with black oil sunflower seeds, peanuts and cracked corn boasts that it will attract the widest variety of birds.  I believe it.   Dark-eyed juncos, tufted titmice, Northern Cardinals, Starlings, and House Sparrows.  House Finches, Nuthatches, Chickadees – A and I  have an ongoing conversation about whether these are Black-capped Chickadees or Carolina Chickadees.  And an occasional visit from Blue Jays – whom I love regardless of their less than popular ways- Downy Woodpeckers and even a Red-Bellied Woodpecker.  They are all fluttering about our feeders in the morning and at noon, which often delays the start of our gathering for morning school work, and prolongs our lunchtime.

But the ones who have surprised me the most are the Robins.

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They are still hanging around.  I guess I was not aware that not all these harbingers of spring migrate each year to warmer climates.  They are certainly appreciative of the bright red berries on the Green Hawthorn(?) tree outside our sun room.  All these grainy, poorly focused photos were taken with my phone through the window.  All those berries were gulped down by about fifteen Robins in one day!

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Scanning the internet for bird quotes, I alighted upon this one.

The moment a little boy is concerned with which is a jay and which is a sparrow, he can no longer see the birds or hear them sing.

-Eric Berne

How would you even mistake a jay for a sparrow? I realize I do not have a a context for this quote; I randomly pulled it from Goodreads, but I don’t really agree. Neither would Vladimir Nabokov.  A likely apocryphal story has a Cornell University student seeking advice as a writer.

“What kind of tree is that?” Nabokov supposedly inquired, gesturing out the window.

“I don’t know,” shrugged the student.

“Then you will never be a writer.” returned Nabokov discouragingly.

Perhaps he meant to say that details are important.  The more we know something, the more we have the capacity to love it.

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All day the sun has shone on the surface of some savage swamp, where the single spruce stands hung with usnea lichens, and small hawks circulate above, and the chickadee lisps amid the evergreens, and the partridge and rabbit skulk beneath; but now a more dismal arid fitting day dawns, and a different race of creatures awakes to express the meaning of Nature there.

-Henry David Thoreau, from Walden

 

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Whether flitting about the feeder, scratching on the ground or taking shelter in the bushes, I take great delight in the presence of all the birds.  I love all their markings, crests and patterns.  My children have picked up on feeding patterns and seed preferences. We are even able to predict at what time of day our favorite feathered friends will appear.  Each of us has our own favorites. We are cultivating friendships, and there is something joyous about providing for them.

Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them.  Are you not much more valuable than they?  Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?

-Matthew 6:26-27

 

Parallel Quotes

While I do not want to present any arguments regarding diagnosing historical figures posthumously, or overgeneralize on a topic, or even get hung up in any way on labels, I found some of Tesla’s thoughts intriguing.  As I have mentioned in my last post, I have been reading a biography on Nikola Tesla entitled Tesla: The Life and Times of an Electric Messiah by Nigel Hawthorne.  Several aspects of his work ethic, idiosyncrasies and, in particular, this following quote made it easy for my mind to drift to another scientist, from today, an agriculturist and spokesperson for autism.  Of course, I mean Temple Grandin.  Here, I lay their thoughts, separated by nearly one hundred years, parallel to one another.

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“…nature has given me a vivid imagination which, through incessant exercise and training through the study of scientific subjects, and the verification of theories through experiment, has become very accurate in results, so that I have been able to dispense, to a large extent, with the slow labour, wasteful and expensive processes of practical development the ideas I conceive…

When I turned my thoughts to inventions, I found that I could visualize my conceptions with the greatest facility.  I did not need any models and drawings or experiments, I could do it all in my mind, and I did….When I got an idea, I started right away to build it up in my mind.  I changed the structure, I made improvements, I experimented, and I ran the device in my mind.

It is absolutely the same to me whether I place my turbine in my mind or have it in my shop actually running in my test.  It makes no difference.  The results are the same….I then construct it, and every time my device works as I conceived it would, my experiment comes out exactly as I plan it, and in 20 years there has not been a single, solitary experiment which did not come out exactly as I thought it would.”

-Nikola Tesla on accepting the Edison Medal, New York City on May 18, 1917

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“When I was much younger, I assumed that everybody perceived the world the same way I did, that is, that everybody thought in pictures.  Early in my professional career I got into a heated verbal argument with an engineer at a meat-packing plant when I told him he was stupid.  He had designed a piece of equipment that had obvious flaws to me.  My visual thinking gives me the ability to “test-run” in my head a piece of equipment I’ve designed, just like a virtual reality computer system.  Mistakes can be found prior to construction when I do this.  Now I realize his problem was not stupidity; it was a lack of visual thinking.  It took me years to learn that the majority of people cannot do this, and that visualization skills in some people are almost nonexistent.”

-Temple Grandin in The Way I See It, p. 15

 

New Year’s Ramblings

With this blog post I send out my best wishes for a happy 2016 to all reading this, and to all those who aren’t.  While New Year’s is a holiday which is apparently supposed to inspire us and rejuvenate us with the excitement of a fresh, new year, I often feel tired after the holiday season.  Christmas, while a lovely season, is also frenetic at times.  Once the shine  has dimmed from our new gifts, I often feel weary, heavy-laden with the drudgery of returning to a school/work schedule in the midst of winter.  This is even true this year when much of the country is experiencing the mildest winter weather in years.  Possibly  due to this winter blues, or possibly due to the fact that I tend to rebel against expectations, I have never really made any new year’s resolutions.  Usually, I reflect back on how I succeeded with daily Scripture reading.  Some years I commit to reading through the Bible chronologically, some years  I prefer to concentrate on specific books or themes.

Over the holidays my husband and I have enjoyed  cooking together more.  Being in the kitchen involved in more intricate, slow-food preparation has been a wonderful way for us to slow down and reconnect.  One recipe had us chopping up three and a half pounds of onions, and sautéing them slowly down with a pork shoulder into a thick, rich sauce.  The last couple of years I almost exclusively cooked with garlic, whether crushed, minced or in whole cloves, neglecting the onion.  The sweet richness of that slow-simmered sauce may have convinced me to bring back the onion to my kitchen in 2016.  You might say, I have resolved to do so.

While we continue to go through our own challenges, as I look back on 2015, I recognize so many blessings our family has enjoyed as well as so many things for which to be grateful.  However, I have hurt , as I am sure you have, this year as our family witnesses so many friends and loved ones enduring truly difficult times.  I long to be a follower of Christ who shares in the troubles of those around us.

Carry each other’s burdens and in this way you fulfill the law of Christ.

Galatians 6:2

I want to be reminded daily to see through eyes with better vision.  To be more focused, loving, prayerful, to seek out ways to serve and to have the wisdom to recognize when and how to do so.

Love must be sincere.  Hate what is evil; cling to what is good.  Be devoted to one another in love.  Honor one another above yourselves.  Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the LORD.  Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction faithful in prayer.  Share with the LORDS’s people who are in need.  Practice hospitality.

Romans 12:9-13

And in between the triviality of onions, and the weightiness of greater spiritual vision, there lies the desire to read more.  Have you seen the Pinterest photos of armchairs with shelves built in or cozy, airy nooks tucked away in sunlit-drenched rooms?  No, I don’t have access to those either.  But I have been inspired by Russia’s online live readings of Tolstoy’s War and Peace.  I don’t believe I have read it in its entirety since I was pregnant with my twelve year old.  The hefty volume sits on my bedside table.  I look forward to Pierre, Prince Andrej and Natasha, and even to Tolstoy’s philosophical view of history.  Please note the translation is by Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky.



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Reading through Story of the World,  volume 4 with my guys has reminded me of another Slavic thinker, Nikola Tesla.  While browsing through Half Price Books back a few days prior to Christmas, I ran in to this biography full of photographs and mini bios of his contemporaries.  You know Half Price Books, right?  That is the books shop chain where you save money because all their merchandise is so cheap, but somehow you invariably drop $50 to $60 each time you walk in?  I am about three chapters short of finishing Tesla: The Life and Times of an Electric Messiah by Nigel Cawthorne.  While the Serbian visionary’s work ethic and commitment to research is something beyond what I am capable of, it does provide me something to marvel at in the new year.

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Do you care to share any resolutions for the new year?  Or are there things you are continuing to work on?  I would love to hear from you.

Happy New Year to all of us!