In my quest for a harmonious life I understand the need to be still. Certain tools help in that effort:
Reading, to organize my thoughts.
Praying, to tap into my soul, drawing me closer to God.
Time spent outdoors, especially in the Spring, to quiet myself.
The landscape is slowly coming to life here in New England and when I see signs of Spring, I think of Henry David Thoreau. His intimate knowledge of the outdoors came from a sense of mindfulness–no detail missed his watchful eye. He took the time to be still and observe. And in following that simple maxim, the world revealed itself to him.
New book on Thoreau
I recently reviewed a book on my Louisa May Alcott blog by Corinne Hosfeld Smith (certified tour guide of the Thoreau birthplace and author of Westward I Go Free: Tracing Thoreau’s Last Journey) calledHenry David Thoreau for Kids:
I welcomed this book because while I have always appreciated Thoreau’s message, I find his his works difficult to get through. The writing is dense, demanding your full attention. Many of us suffered through high school and college English classes with his classic Walden. And yet, that message of a different way of living got through to me even though I could not begin to digest all the words.
Making Thoreau concrete
What I loved about Henry David Thoreau for Kids were the twenty-one activities geared for middle school students that help you live out his ideas. Many of these activities are just as engaging for adults.
I was intrigued by the exercise which encouraged the participant to sit outdoors for thirty minutes in total silence, waiting for wildlife to appear. Sure enough, after a few moments birds and other creatures come close for observation. I was eager to try this exercise in my quest to be still.
Stillness, however, does not come easily in this busy world so I was grateful that Smith recommended another exercise to help me focus–creating a sound map.
Sitting in my lawn chair, I sketched the area you see here in my notebook and every time I heard a sound from nature, I drew an “x” where I thought I heard it and wrote down what it was. As you can see, I heard quite a bit!
From listening to observing
In the listening, I began to appreciate the visual imagery around me.
Stillness opens the inner eye
Stillness and mindfulness are hard to achieve in this high tech, multi-tasking, noisy world. Patience and due diligence are rewarded however with the opening of the inner eye, that which sees beauty and truth around us and eventually, within us. It’s a simple truth really: the wonder of life and how it was created, and how we are lucky to be alive despite all the challenges.
A compatriot of Thoreau’s, Ralph Waldo Emerson, once wrote of the transparent eyeball, an expression for which he was mocked. Wikipedia explains it this way:
“The transparent eyeball is a philosophical metaphor originated by Ralph Waldo Emerson. The transparent eyeball is a representation of an eye that is absorbent rather than reflective, and therefore takes in all that nature has to offer.”
Emerson experienced an epiphany that day–the discovery of the ability to read between the lines in the world around him, and come to an understanding of a deeper existence within him.
Once that eye is opened …
… you never want it to close. All of a sudden, the smallest things become lovely, compelling, even exciting. Once I became mindful of what surrounded me in the natural world, I couldn’t get enough of it, especially when it came to bird watching and kayaking.
And once I made a commitment to pay attention to what was there inside of me, allowing myself to to be drawn closer to my Creator, I find I can’t get enough of that either.
Silence is becoming an elixir.
I understand from the great mystics that you can learn to be quiet and still even in the midst of noise and chaos. Wouldn’t that be something! Somehow I think a bunch of people with that kind of inner harmony could truly change the world for the good. Think about it.
Your time of stillness
Try spending thirty minutes in the woods, in a field or by a pond this Spring. Create your own sound map and share it here. Let’s compare notes and find out how we are doing on our journey to harmony.
You can find out more about Henry David Thoreau for Kidshere, and read about the author, Corinne Hosfeld Smith, here.
Many people find coloring to be a wonderful way to relax and experience harmony in their lives. Is that you? Join my Email List to subscribe to this blog and receive your free Harmony coloring book (and more).
Familiarity breeds contempt. It’s true, even with prayer. Maybe especially with prayer.
Do the prayers taught to you as a child still mean anything to you?
How can something we’ve recited so many times still stir the heart and fill the soul?
Most of us have been reciting The Lord’s Prayer since we were children. In my Roman Catholic tradition, I was also taught the “Hail Mary,” a prayer to my guardian angel, and the “Act of Contrition,” said when I confessed my sins to the priest. I’ve said those many, many times.
In nursery school my children were taught a simple prayer before meals that is familiar to most everyone:
“God is great, God is good. Let us thank him for our food. Amen”
It was the prayer we said as a family before meals for many years.
NOTE: My book is on sale at 50% off through next Wednesday, April 20th. Great time to give it a try–click here.
I came very late to reading. And I was led there by someone with whom I have been fascinated all my life: Louisa May Alcott.
I discovered Louisa through a children’s biography given to me by my aunt after we had visited Orchard House, a museum home dedicated to the Alcott family, and the home where Louisa wrote her classic, Little Women.
Sometimes we meet authors
our hearts to the core.
My birthday was last month and I got a pile of books as gifts:
Emily & Einstein
Thank you to my family for these wonderful books, I can hardly wait to start reading them. My sister sent me Emily & Einstein by Linda Frances Lee, a novel about a woman’s husband who dies and comes back as her dog as a second chance for a good life. As my sister put it, “You’ll never look at a dog the same way again!” Sounds intriguing.
Patti Smith and Kate Mulgrew
My son gave me two books, both biographies, one by Patti Smith (Just Kids) and the other by Kate Mulgrew (Born with Teeth). Stephen has been talking about the Patti Smith book for years, citing it as his main influence in pursuing his music and I look forward to seeing how Smith inspired him.
I have loved Kate Mulgrew since she played Mary Ryan on “Ryan’s Hope,” a soap opera in the 1970s set in a pub owned by an Irish Catholic family. It was a first for a soap to have such an ethnic setting and Mulgrew crackled as Mary Ryan. She is also known for playing Columbo’s wife, for being the first female starship captain on Star Trek Voyager (Captain Kathryn Janeway) and currently, for playing Galina “Red” Reznikov on “Orange Is the New Black.” She also did a one-woman show playing Katherine Hepburn. Can’t wait to read this one!
Last but not least, my husband Rich gave me Yesterday Once More, a series of essays on The Carpenters, written by Randy L. Schmidt who penned Little Girl Blue, a poignant biography of Karen Carpenter. As the years go by, appreciation for the music of The Carpenters grows. Karen Carpenter had a signature voice that conveyed deep emotion, all while sounding silky smooth. She is one of my favorite singers. This book at least, I can read a bit at at time.
But first, I have two other books to finish …
Portrait of a Lady Novelist
I am already in the middle of reading a rivoting biography of Constance Fenimore Woolson: Portrait of a Lady Novelist. A well-known and acclaimed author in her time (late nineteenth century), Woolson has been mostly forgotten except for her complex platonic relationship with Henry James. She died under mysterious circumstances, falling out of third floor window either accidentally or on purpose. It was assumed that she committed suicide over an unrequited love for James, an assumption which author Anne Boyd Rioux disputes.
Rioux shows that there is much more, introducing us to a highly intelligent, bold and accomplished writer in Woolson who broke new ground for women authors. I am only about halfway through and have already found much to relate to as a writer myself, including the periodic doubts that plague writers and the isolation that, while needed, can be very dangerous. Portrait of a Lady Novelist is giving me some much needed perspective.
I would recommend this book to any woman who is a writer. Boyd’s portrayal of Woolson makes her a much-valued companion for the journey.
I promised Rich months ago that I would read Miraculous Journey, a memoir by Anne and Whitley Strieber and I have not been disappointed. The Striebers are best known for Whitley’s exploration into UFOs and alien abductions/visitations through ground-breaking books such as Communion, Majestic and The Grays. Rich is passionate about the subject of UFOs although he does not take the traditional approach of them being “little green men.” Strieber’s exploration of other ways of thinking and other dimensions appeals very much to Rich.
While I have never made up my mind about UFOs, I do very appreciate the thoughtfulness I see in Strieber’s writing. Miraculous Journey is a detailed memoir on his wife Anne’s brain bleed and subsequent recovery, only to discover a malignant brain tumor which eventually killed her last year. It’s a heavy read but an inspiring one, showing two people deeply committed to each other in married love through thick and thin. I like to tell Rich that I see our relationship in the Striebers.
It’s been a long time since I have read such a wide variety of books and it does the brain, the heart and the soul so much good. I feel like I am feasting on prime rib while at the same time, enjoying the sorting out that reading tends to do with my mind, helping me to focus and filling me with wonderful insight.
Have you read any of these books? What did you think? What are you reading right now?
Click to Tweet & Share: What I’m reading: a forgotten women brought to life, and a married couple facing life, death and life again http://wp.me/p2D9hg-1Gc
The long Christmas break (along with the mild weather) is over and reality comes back with a thud. The prospect of a long winter ahead is daunting especially with memories of the epic snowfall amounts of last year still haunting many of us.
I once anticipated January with dread. Winter can be dark, oppressive and confining: the arctic air and biting winds… the deep snows burying the landscape … ice covering the streets and sidewalks … darkness that greets us when we rise and meets us at the end of each work day.
January is a quiet month. Birds don’t come to the feeder; their songs no longer greet me in the morning. Crickets and locusts have gone silent at night.
January was a month without life.
Then I read Henry Beston’s classic, The Outermost House. Beston chronicles a year of his life spent in solitude in an isolated one bedroom cottage which he built and christened the Fo’castle. Built in 1925, the 20 ft. x 16 ft. cottage was located at the edge of Coast Guard Beach in Eastham (now part of the Cape Cod National Seashore). Named a National Literary Landmark in 1964, it was washed out to sea by the Blizzard of ’78.
Originally planning to spent two weeks at the cottage, Beston was so taken with the “beauty and mystery of this earth and outer sea … that [he] could not go.” During that year he wrote of the change of seasons and its effect upon his surroundings: the birds, animals, and insects; vegetation; the sand and the waves; the stars in the night sky. His prose is poetic, painting vivid pictures of color and texture. He describes the chaos and despair aroused by a devastating blizzard which nearly washed away his cottage, putting his life in peril. Yet even in the bleakest of settings, Beston’s writing inspires wonder and awe.
The Outermost House changed my perception of January because of Beston’s descriptions of arctic birds migrating down from the north, resting on the beach in the dead of winter. That description lifted me out of my own small circumstance and reminded me that life still goes on around me.
There was not only life, but light in the darkness: “Light came slowly into the world, coming not so much from the east as from some vague, general nowhere – a light that did not grow brighter but only increased in quantity.” It reminded me that by the end of January, the sky becomes pink again by the time I leave the office. The days are growing longer and the light, brighter.
January is not unlike time spent in the womb, waiting to be born. The caterpillar metamorphoses into a butterfly within the confines of the cocoon and breaks through into the sunlight. The baby, its delicate features forming nine months inside the dark, protective womb of its mother, emerges into the light at birth.
We just celebrated the coming of such a baby who brought his eternal Light into the world. His Light pierces the darkness and brings new life.
So, rather than give in to the melancholy that can come with the conclusion of Christmas and the reality of winter, I seek instead to embrace this Light. It may be cold, snowy and dark outside but within, that Light will increase in brightness and quantity as I take advantage of the quiet of January to bask in it.
The arctic birds are returning to the Outer Cape. The days are growing longer. In the repose of January it is time to partake of the Light of Christ.
You could win a copy of both books in the Chime Travelers series!
Find out how at the end of this post … great gift for the child in your life (even if it’s you!).
When’s the last time you treated yourself to a good children’s book?
How did reading it make you feel?
As an almost-60 adult with no small children in my life at the moment, it feels like a guilty (and secret) pleasure. I mean, shouldn’t I be reading more challenging books? It was after a conversation with a distinguished professor of children’s literature that I realized reading children’s literature is totally acceptable at any age. And besides, it’s fun!
That said I couldn’t resist reading my friend Lisa Hendey’s new Chime Travelers series. Initially I was drawn in by the imaginative and vibrant illustrations by Jenn Bower. This is Hendey’s first foray into juvenile fiction. As a writer myself I was curious as to how she made that transition; I’m happy to say that she has done it quite well.
I read the first two books, The Secret of the Shamrock and The Sign of the Carved Cross and fell in love with the series. The premise revolves around twins Patrick and Katie who are mysteriously sent back in time whenever the bells of St. Anne’s chime (thus Chime Travelers). In each case they meet a saint with a name similar to theirs and embark on an adventure. As they come to know and love the saint, they are inspired by the faith and life of that saint which in turn, draws them closer to God. Their lives are never the same again. Patrick meets St. Patrick, the great saint of Ireland, and Katie meets Saint Kateri Tekakwitha, the first Native American to be canonized.
The series is geared for children in grades 2-5 with the very typical problems that kids face such as not fitting in, making fun of other kids, being unkind to newcomers, trying to please the popular crowd, jealousy, being bored with church, guilt over past actions and so forth. By being exposed to these great saints, Patrick and Katie come to love their faith especially through the sacraments (Patrick with Reconciliation; Katie with Baptism and Holy Communion). I found myself becoming attached to St. Patrick and St. Kateri as I grew to know them and almost felt sad when the children were transported back home.
Empowering young people to change
Hendey does not make the twins change instantaneously but rather slowly, over time. In the second book, The Sign of the Carved Cross, we can see Katie noticing and wondering how her brother has changed since he experienced his time-traveling adventure, unaware that the same would soon happen to her. By being changed from within, both children begin treat others with more kindness, patience and understanding.
Saints are real people
Children love exciting stories about real people and our Church has so many of them to offer through the Saints. The Chime Travelers series does a great service in exposing our young people to people who lived their faith authentically and boldly while dealing with their own weaknesses and sins.
Great for adults too!
And since reading children’s literature acts a vacation for my overworked and weary mind, this adult loved them too. I highly recommend the Chime Travelers series for all ages. I’m keeping my copies for the future grandchildren.
You could win a copy of both books in the Chime Travelers series!
Find out how at the end of this post … great gift for the child in your life (even if it’s you!).
Come and meet Lisa Hendey, author of the Chime Travelers series:
How did you come to write the stories? Did you choose the Saints that you wrote about?
I had been in conversation with the publisher, Servant, about potential book projects. At one of our meetings, I humorously shared with them an idea that I had for a children’s book. The concept for Chime Travelers was “born” during a fun backyard chat with my nephew Patrick one day. We daydreamed about a little boy who traveled in time to meet his patron saint. In our family, the name “Patrick” is quite common and we have a true devotion to the “apostle of Ireland”! When I shared the idea, Claudia Volkman and Louise Pare were able to see the vision for the story and we began to conceptualize what has since become an entire series of books. I chose the initial two saints (St. Patrick and St. Kateri Tekakwitha) and campaigned to have the first two books released simultaneously. Children who read these types of books want to have them quickly if they love them. The upcoming books, based on the lives of St. Francis of Assisi and St. Clare of Assisi, will be coming this spring and the fifth book is planned for release in the summer.
How were you able to make the transition from writing nonfiction to fiction?
Did doing the research help you to get into the mindset?
The transition was such a joy but also much more challenging than I had predicted. We have an excellent editor, Lindsay Olson, who is a true children’s literature specialist. And I must also rave about our illustrator Jenn Bower who has truly brought the series to life with her art. Making the transition to fiction involved relying on the research skills I’ve honed as a non-fiction author, but also setting loose my imagination. The challenges related to helping the characters truly come to life, capturing the senses and attention of our young readers, and also building upon the stories of the saints while being very respectful of their true life legacies. Even though the books are short, we want them to be educational and also close in detail to the real facts of the saints histories.
How different is it writing for children than for writing for adults? Are the rules you need to follow?
I’ve learned so much! One big difference is that it’s important to help the kids enter into the action of the scene rather than simply describing it to them. This was a huge challenge for me initially and something I’m still learning about. I’ll also share that I’m quite verbose (note my answers here for an example of that!) These books need to be tight, concise but also full of rich imagery. One “rule” I’m still learning about is giving our characters “agency” – that is to give them a voice or power over their situations. This is why you’ll find our main characters Patrick and Katie at the center of the action in the Chime Travelers series. We want the children who read these books to understand that they too have power and that their actions matter–especially within our Church and in their own families. I believe that our children can make our Church and our world better. I hope that with these books, we’ve given them role models to see that they too can emulate the saints in living lives of great courage, valor and import.
How does it feel to be carried away to a distant land in a distant time with a special Saint? Do you have a favorite?
Many have heard me say that I often write in my sons’ old tree house, a space my husband built for them years ago. I have a rocking chair and desk there, and I truly love to go into that space to “Chime Travel”. To be “carried away” in time and to dwell in the lives of the saints is somewhat like the beautiful form of Lectio Divina. I often do my historical research and then simply pray and begin writing. I find so often that I become caught up in the scenes I’m writing, as if I see the action or hear the dialogue in my head. I’m afraid that probably sounds a bit crazy! But in truth, these books are a gift of love for the Church and our saints. For that reason, I feel strongly that the Holy Spirit is often at work in my tree house, guiding me along a path to the stories we are creating.
I have scores of favorite saints – the first two books tell two of their stories. My “favorite” saint probably varies every day, depending upon whose spiritual friendship I most need! My “go to” is my personal patroness, St. Therese of Lisieux, but I also have a deep love for Venerable Fulton Sheen, for St. Damien and St. Marianne Cope of Molokai, and St. Elizabeth Ann Seton. I love St. Therese of Lisieux because as she did in her own life, I greatly desire to be a missionary in our world. Like St. Therese, I will likely never travel extensively to foreign mission fields. But her Little Way, her life and legacy have taught me that my own mission field can be a vast and beautiful “love letter” to God in its own unique way. In general, I love the saints and working on this project has been a great way to share that love with children everywhere.
How can you win both books in the Chime Travelers series?
Be the first to leave a comment and the books are yours! Comment away …
This was a trip to fairyland, to everything I imagined Hobbiton to be.
It was hard to leave, reminding me of the great courage Frodo Baggins demonstrated in forsaking all this beauty to set out on his quest.
His life’s flow brought him to extreme danger, ugliness, terror and ultimately, heroics.
He had the courage to let his river carry him.
Kayaking has shown me in a graphic way how to let my river carry me. Some of the time the trip is bucolic, like this one to Lake Waban at Wellesley College.
Other times the water gets rough and it can get dangerous.
For today though, I want to share photos of a trip that was easily the best of this season. The conditions were perfect (90+ degree day, sunny and breezy) and the lake was teaming with families/clusters of birds.
Enjoy the beauty and see if you can imagine your river.