It's 43 degrees in Central Florida today, a fitting reminder of thirty-three years ago when it was below freezing and we chose to watch the launch of the Space Shuttle Challenger from our front window instead of from the front yard. Heather, who was in first grade at the time, watched from outside, with her classmates.
"It exploded, like when you pop a balloon," she later reported.
She had no idea then that she would later graduate from Carnegie Mellon University, alma mater of Judith Resnik, one of the seven astronauts who died in that explosion. At CMU she found others who understood her emotional response. The loss of Challenger before our eyes left an indelible mark on Central Floridians. For us, it was similar to that left on the rest of the country two decades earlier by the assassination of President Kennedy, and two decades later by the destruction of the Twin Towers.
We still remember.
I also remember this poem by John Gillespie Magee, Jr., quoted at the time to great effect by President Reagan:
Oh! I have slipped the surly bonds of Earth
And danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings;
Sunward I’ve climbed, and joined the tumbling mirth
of sun-split clouds, — and done a hundred things
You have not dreamed of — wheeled and soared and swung
High in the sunlit silence. Hov’ring there,
I’ve chased the shouting wind along, and flung
My eager craft through footless halls of air....
Up, up the long, delirious, burning blue
I’ve topped the wind-swept heights with easy grace.
Where never lark or even eagle flew —
And, while with silent lifting mind I’ve trod
The high untrespassed sanctity of space,
Put out my hand, and touched the face of God.
The year of 2018 may stand as the one in which I read the most books ever. Records were made to be broken, of course, but this year's effort was helped considerably by the completion of my project of reading my entire collection of books by Miss Read, which tend to be under 300 pages and easy reading. When I realized that I had tied my previous record before the end of September (73, set in 2015), the thought crossed my mind, "Wouldn't it be cool to reach 100 by the end of the year?" "Impossible," I told myself. Well, you know how I feel when someone says, "impossible," even it's myself to myself. So I set a goal of reaching a full century, without resorting to padding the list with books chosen merely for their brevity. I confess that the goal did change my reading habits somewhat, since after making that decision I put off any particularly lengthy books—such as my grandson's favorite Wheel of Time series with its 900 or so page average—until 2019.
The month with the fewest books read was January, no surprise since we were overseas part of the month, and that's when I read the first of the Wheel of Time books. I read the most books (14) in October. Once again I'm pleased with the mixture, though as I said it was pretty heavily weighted towards Miss Read. I enjoy these projects of binge-reading a particular author; I've also done Shakespeare, George MacDonald, and J. R. R. Tolkien. My current project is C. S. Lewis, which will weigh in very heavily next year, given that our home library alone contains 50 books by or about him.
Here's the alphabetical list; links are to reviews. Titles in bold I found particularly worthwhile. This chronological list has ratings and warnings as well.
- Affairs at Thrush Green by Miss Read
- American Terroir by Rowan Jacobsen
- At Home in Thrush Green by Miss Read
- Ballet Shoes by Noel Streatfeild
- Battles at Thrush Green by Miss Read
- The Bible (ESV - English Standard Version)
- The Big Burn by Timothy Egan
- The Birth of the United States: 1763 - 1816 by Isaac Asimov
- The Black Star of Kingston by S. D. Smith
- By the Shores of Silver Lake by Laura Ingalls Wilder
- C. S. Lewis: A Biography by Roger Lancelyn Green and Walter Hooper
- C. S. Lewis: Images of His World by Douglas Gilbert and Clyde S. Kilby
- Celebrations at Thrush Green by Miss Read
- Changes at Fairacre by Miss Read
- The Christmas Mouse by Miss Read
- Country Bunch by Miss Read
- Dancing Shoes by Noel Streatfeild
- The Dark Tower and Other Stories by C. S. Lewis
- Ember Falls by S. D. Smith
- Ember Rising by S. D. Smith
- Emily Davis by Miss Read
- The Excellence Habit by Vlad Zachary
- The Fairacre Festival by Miss Read
- Farewell to Fairacre by Miss Read
- Farmer Boy by Laura Ingalls Wilder
- Farther Afield by Miss Read
- The First Four Years by Laura Ingalls Wilder
- Force 10 from Navarone by Alistair MacLean
- Foster's War by Carolyn Reeder
- Fresh from the Country by Miss Read
- Friends at Thrush Green by Miss Read
- From a Northern Window by Ronald MacDonald
- George MacDonald: 365 Readings by C. S. Lewis
- George MacDonald's Fiction: A Twentieth-Century View by Richard Reis
- The Golden Door: The United States from 1865 to 1918 by Isaac Asimov
- Gossip from Thrush Green by Miss Read
- The Green Ember by S.D. Smith
- The Harmony Within: The Spiritual Vision of George MacDonald by Rolland Hein
- Heidi by Johanna Spyri
- Highest Duty by "Sully" Sullenberger
- The Howards of Caxley by Miss Read
- Invitation to Number Theory by Oystein Ore
- Killing Lincoln by Bill O'Reilly and Martin Dugard
- The Last Archer by S. D. Smith
- Leave Me Alone, I'm Reading by Maureen Corrigan
- The Letters of J. R. R. Tolkien edited by Humphrey Carpenter
- Life Essential: The Hope of the Gospel by George MacDonald, edited by Rolland Hein
- The Light in the Forest by Conrad Richter
- Lincoln's Last Days by Bill O'Reilly and Dwight Jon Zimmerman
- Little House in the Big Woods by Laura Ingalls Wilder
- Little House on the Prairie by Laura Ingalls Wilder
- Little Town on the Prairie by Laura Ingalls Wilder
- The Long Winter by Laura Ingalls Wilder
- The Lost Empress by Steve Robinson
- The Man Who Counted by Malba Tahan
- The Market Square by Miss Read
- Mindless Eating by Brian Wansink
- The Mindverse Chronicles by Anaya Roma (Diana Villafaña)
- Momo by Michael Ende
- Moonshiner's Son by Carolyn Reeder
- The Pilgrim's Regress by C. S. Lewis
- Mrs. Pringle of Fairacre by Miss Read
- Proving the Unseen by George MacDonald
- New Worlds to Conquer by Richard Halliburton
- News from Thrush Green by Miss Read
- Night Without End by Alistair MacLean
- No Holly for Miss Quinn by Miss Read
- Nobody Wants to Read Your Sh*t by Steven Pressfield
- On Stage, Please by Veronica Tennant
- On the Banks of Plum Creek by Laura Ingalls Wilder
- On the Way Home by Laura Ingalls Wilder and Rose Wilder Lane
- One Beautiful Dream by Jennifer Fulwiler
- Our Federal Union: The United States from 1816 to 1865 by Isaac Asimov
- Out of the Silent Planet by C. S. Lewis
- Outlaws of Time #1: The Legend of Sam Miracle by N. D. Wilson
- Outlaws of Time #2: The Song of Glory and Ghost by N. D. Wilson
- Outlaws of Time #3: The Last of the Lost Boys by N. D. Wilson
- A Peaceful Retirement by Miss Read
- Planet Narnia by Michael Ward
- The Problem of Pain by C. S. Lewis
- R & M (beta version) by MB
- Return to Thrush Green by Miss Read
- The School at Thrush Green by Miss Read
- Shades of Gray by Carolyn Reeder
- The Shaping of North America: From Earliest Times to 1763 by Isaac Asimov
- Sister Bernadette's Barking Dog by Kitty Burns Florey
- Spirits in Bondage by C. S. Lewis
- Summer in Fairacre by Miss Read
- Theatre Shoes by Noel Streatfeild
- These Happy Golden Years by Laura Ingalls Wilder
- Thrush Green by Miss Read
- Time Remembered by Miss Read
- Toby Tyler; or, Ten Weeks with a Circus by James Otis
- Tyler's Row by Miss Read
- Village Affairs by Miss Read
- Village Centenary by Miss Read
- The War of Art by Steven Pressfield
- What the Dog Saw by Malcolm Gladwell
- The Wheel of Time Book 1: The Eye of the World by Robert Jordan
- White Fang by Jack London
- The White People by Frances Hodgson Burnett
- The White Robin by Miss Read
- The Wind from the Stars by George MacDonald, edited by Gordon Reid
- Winter in Thrush Green by Miss Read
- The World Encyclopedia of Christmas by Gerry Bowler
- The Worst Hard Time by Timothy Egan
- The Wreck and Rise of Whitson Mariner by S. D. Smith
- The Year at Thrush Green by Miss Read
For the last Sunday of Advent, a somber note.
Sixteen Christmases ago, while the world was singing blithely of joyous birth, we were mourning the death of our first grandchild, whose last breath came but two days after his first. The haunting Coventry Carol spoke to me then as none other. Frankly, I could not handle all the songs about a newborn baby boy; with Coventry Carol I felt merged into an ancient and universal grief.
This reminder that the First Christmas was not a facile Peace on Earth and Joy to the World, and that the first Christian martyrs were Jewish children, is for all who mourn this Christmas, especially those who have suffered the loss of a child.
Isaac Christopher Daley, I still think of you whenever I hear this carol.
What do the trees know?
The acorn harvest has been absolutely spectacular this year. The onslaught began in September and even now they continue to fall like hailstones on our roof, our porch, our yard. They fall in buckets, they fall like machine gun fire, they fall like squirrels playing candlepins. It has been four months, and "it doesn't show signs of stopping," to borrow a line from a song about a different form of precipitation.
This modern, scientific age insists there's no correlation between the number of acorns produced and the harshness of the coming winter. I'm inclined to agree, given that summer has been very reluctant to let go this year. In honor of the official beginning of winter, forecasters are suggesting that we will experience the low 40's for a few days, but they add that within a week the highs will be back up to 80.
Perhaps the abundance of acorns instead presages a winter that will send cooler weather well into the spring, as it did last year, in which case we will be abundantly grateful.
Whatever the case, our squirrels will feast this year.
It was a grandmother moment.
I woke up today to this report from six-year-old Vivienne:
I get to open the Advent calendar! It's my first and only composite!
That's my girl!
I did not take the time to watch President Bush's funeral today, but now that I've seen the bulletin, I almost wish I had.
I don't even like funerals. And unlike many of my friends, I've never longed to be invited to a Royal Wedding, even if I am (ahem!) related to the present Queen of England. I've never felt the need or desire to attend a service at our own Washington National Cathedral. Until now.
In truth, what I really wish is that I could have been part of that service, because as I always say, "I don't do congregation well." Put me in the choir, and I'm happy. I imagine President Bush's funeral was like the biggest service I've ever been a part of, the consecration of our current bishop, Greg Brewer—only a few orders of magnitude grander. Check out the bulletin (it's a pdf). I'm practically drooling.
Well, look what I just found. YouTube comes through again. Here's a recording of the whole service:
Now I only need to find a spare 3.5 hours to watch it.
We are excited to welcome our new rector, Father Trey Garland, to the Episcopal Church of the Resurrection. Already the experience has been educational: I now know the difference between a beretta (a gun) and a biretta (a hat). This is probably important. No doubt our Catholic, gun-collecting friend Bill knew it already, but it was new to me.
Seriously, Sunday was a great first day.
The Kindle edition of all three of C. S. Lewis's Space Trilogy books in a single volume is currently $1.99, a 91% price decrease. I don't know how long that will last, but it's unbeatable if you are at all interested.
It's official: our church has a new rector, Father Trey Garland. He's from Texas, so I assume he's up for a big job: taking over for a popular retiring priest without splitting the church. Our church in Massachusetts, which ended its 18-month-long search for a new rector just as we moved back to Central Florida, suffered just such a split. Some would say we took the coward's way out, figuring that quitting one's job, tearing up the family's roots, and moving 1300 miles is preferable to having one's church blow apart. They have a point.
Our current church is not an easy church to pastor, being both highly diverse and highly opinionated in our religious and political views. On the other hand, we do manage to love, respect, and care for each other while working together to get the job (whatever it is) done—a trick our country could learn.
Besides, I have high hopes for Father Garland: he plays the bagpipes. No joke. He went to college on a bagpipe scholarship.
We learned the identity of our new rector on Sunday, and—because I have a reputation as The One Who Looks Things Up—our choir director said he expected me to have a full report Monday morning. He was joking, but that's what I do. I look things up. Our children quickly learned that there was no need to consult the dictionary or an encyclopedia with a question: just ask Mom, and she won't be able to rest until she finds the answer. (I'd say, "look it up," and they'd say, "I don't want to know that badly," and eventually I would look it up myself, because I wanted to know that badly.) There are some people, of course, who find this behavior annoying. My sister-in-law has learned not to idly wonder how tall the Eiffel Tower is, for example, when we're in the middle of playing a game, because I will not rest until I've looked up the answer, even if it is my turn. To me, "idly wonder" is an oxymoron.
That said, I'm a bit peculiar in what I choose to wonder about.
Believe me, I take the situation of having a new rector very seriously. There are many issues that matter, issues that have split churches and driven long-time, faithful, hard-working pillars of the church away. When asked in a church survey what questions I would like to ask a candidate for the position of rector, my suggestions were along the lines of, Who is Jesus? How do you view the authority of the Bible? Of Church history and tradition? How do you promote grace, mercy, and compassion without compromising truth or condoning sin? What is your view of families with young children worshipping together in the service? Do you think we should reshape the worship service to be more attractive to young people? What is your philosophy of music as it relates to worship? What is your vision of the church's role as a member of the community? What is your vision of missions and outreach?
The answers to these questions I await with fear and trembling. But my actual research? Priorities, you know! Here's what I've learned:
I have it on the highest authority (the world-renowned piper who played for Heather and Jon's wedding) that the bagpiping program at our new rector's alma mater is highly respected, and we should encourage Father Garland to make piping a regular part of the service.
I'd settle for Christmas and Easter. And maybe the weekend of the Highland Games.
We're home after a month overseas, and it's raining.
Europe has been experiencing a drought so severe that our Viking River Cruise devovled into a Viking Bus Tour. Looking over the California-brown land of the Netherlands, Porter—who had lived there for four years in the 1960's—recalled that he had never, ever seen Holland as anything but a lush, green country. His only concern about the weather for our planned adventure there with Janet and her family was that it would be a soggy affair, because "it's always raining in Holland."
Except that it wasn't. We had five beautiful days of almost unprecedented sun, accompanied by almost unprecedented heat.
And then, finally, it rained. The grateful grass took notice and stood up, acquiring a green blush overnight. It also rained some during our subsequent visit to Switzerland.
It wasn't until tonight that I realized why it the experience was somewhat disorienting. It rained in Europe much as it rained in America's Northeast when I was young. That is to say, I relearned what umbrellas are good for, and more than half the time didn't bother with one anyway. I got a little wet; I soon got dry.
But tonight we are back in Florida, and it is RAINING. The water is pouring out of the sky so fast that the gutters overflow before the flood has a chance to reach the downspouts. Any minute now I expect to see the Maid of the Mist cruise through our back porch. Then again, maybe I missed it when a lightning strike, so close that the bottoms of my bare feet tingled, sent us scurrying back inside.
If in the Netherlands we didn't bother with umbrellas because they were hardly needed, in Florida we don't bother because after 30 seconds one is soaked to the skin anyway.
Now that's rain. One night of this and all the cruise ships would be back in business.
There are at least nine swallowtail caterpillars here. I need to find a butterfly that likes lemon balm (currently overgrowing the parsley).
Ours is a very safe neighborhood, so I rarely worry when Porter goes out for a run, as he does several times a week. If the time of day happens to be dusk or dawn, I can't resist warning him to watch out for bears, and of course there's always the risk of angering a dog that's running loose. But we've always considered those to be remote possibilities.
The attack, when it came, was totally unexpected.
Due to a mild injury, Porter chose to walk this afternoon, rather than to speed along at his usual running pace. Suddenly, he staggered under a powerful blow to the head. Totally out of the blue. Literally, out of the blue. Shocked but still upright, he looked up to see one of our local hawks with murder in his eye. In truth, Porter coudn't exactly see the bird's eyes, and in any case it was probably murder in her eye. Our best guess is that there was a nest nearby and the—not helicopter, but certainly hovering—parent saw this slow-moving, strange man as a threat. The man thought it best to be on his way quickly.
Porter wears a hat when he runs, to keep off the sun. I rarely wear hats, because they make me too hot. Today, Porter's choice was vindicated.
There's a Sushi Eatstation in one of our local shopping centers. I'm not generally a fan of strip mall food, and bad Asian food can be ... really bad. So I was initially suspicious of this design-your-own, food-fusion, fast-food restaurant. I mean, how weird is it to be able to make sushi with chicken, sweet potates, and bacon?
But today we decided to check it out. And am I glad we did.
We were too overwhelmed by the choices (check them out yourself) to design our own on this first visit, so we chose the Traditional Ninja combination, in a bowl, for $12. This was white rice, salmon, tuna, krab (the standard sushi fake crabmeat), cucumbers, avocado, scallions, masago, tempura flakes, seaweed salad, sesame seeds, nori seasoning, ponzu, and sriracha, to which our server added some ginger and wasabi.
The large bowl was plenty for the two of us, though it was so good I could easily have eaten it all myself.
Was it traditional? No. Was it an awesome sushi experience? No. Was it a delicious flavor and texture experience? Absolutely. Will I return to the Sushi Eatstation? I certainly hope so!
As some of you know, the barely-three-year-old grandson of a dear friend of ours is fighting for his life with a rare and virulent form of leukemia. Today he will begin Day Zero of his new life, after a bone marrow transplant from his sister and best friend, who is just five years old herself. For you Green Ember fans out there, by replacing his bone marrow cells with hers, she is quite literally living out "My place beside you, my blood for yours." Not all heroes carry swords.
To all the prayer warriors and well-wishers who read my blog: please remember Jennings and Caroline today. The procedure is risky and there will still be a long road ahead, but it's the best foundation current medical science has that gives hope for a cure.
Ember Rising, the latest in S. D. Smith's Green Ember series, is now available! I have just completed a delicious re-read of all the previous books—The Green Ember, The Black Star of Kingston, Ember Falls, and The Last Archer—and am almost halfway through my advance copy of Ember Rising. It was hard to wait patiently to read the new book, but worthwhile to get the old stories clear in my head again. (I am not like J. R. R. Tolkien, for whom there was only one "first reading" of a book. I read voraciously, and I read fast—but I forget quickly, too, and don't really remember a book until I've read it several times.)