Posts Tagged ‘children’

My cousin’s son, Ty, sent me a paper penguin for a school project. I was honored to take him around town and snap pictures—a bit of much-needed whimsy and fun. 


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bargain poetry bookbook nyc

What Do Poems Do?

I was, no kidding, a visiting writer in a kindergarten recently,
And the children asked me many wry and hilarious questions,
Among them is that your real nose? and can you write a book
About a ruffed grouse, please? But the one that pops back into
My mind this morning was what do poems do? Answers: swirl
Leaves along sidewalks suddenly when there is no wind. Open
Recalcitrant jars of honey. Be huckleberries in earliest January,
When berries are only a shivering idea on a bush. Be your dad
For a moment again, tall and amused and smelling like Sunday.
Be the awful wheeze of a kid with the flu. Remind you of what
You didn’t ever forget but only mislaid or misfiled. Be badgers,
Meteor showers, falcons, prayers, sneers, mayors, confessionals.
They are built to slide into you sideways. You have poetry slots
Where your gills used to be, when you lived inside your mother.
If you hold a poem right you can go back there. Find the handle.
Take a skitter of words and speak gently to them, and you’ll see.

I picked up How the Light Gets In, a slim collection of Doyle’s rambling, luminous “proems,” at the Strand in February (though I snapped the photo above at bookbook). They are full of vivid images, wry humor, startling moments of joy.

This one – plus “The Under of Things,” and “Wrenness,” and “Poem for a New Baby Girl,” and “Silentium,” and half a dozen others – stopped me in my tracks. They did what the best poems do, which is make me pay attention. If you enjoyed this one, I’d recommend the whole collection.

April is National Poetry Month, and I am (per tradition) sharing poetry on Fridays here this month.

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Every December, my husband and I pack our big suitcases with clothes and Christmas presents, trade our down coats for lighter wool ones, and hop a plane to Texas. We live and work two thousand miles away from our families and many of our dearest friends, but once a year, we get to spend about 10 days driving up and down I-20, seeing as many of our loved ones as we can.

stockings christmas texasStockings at my parents’ house

We started in Dallas, opening presents and eating at our favorite restaurants with my husband’s family. We saw a magical (if tearjerking) movie, and we drove out to East Texas to spend the day with J’s aunt and uncle, whom we hadn’t seen in five years. Despite four (yes, four) instances of the fire alarm going off at our hotel, we enjoyed having our own space – especially the free wi-fi and the cozy reading chair.

J’s niece, Annalynn (17 months), entertained us all. She’s a sweetie:


The day before Christmas Eve, we headed west to my hometown, stopping in Abilene for a long lunch with Shanna. My nephew, Ryder, was waiting for us when we arrived:

ryder book papa d

This kid is so much fun. At 19 months, he’s a bundle of energy, and we all spent large portions of the next few days chasing him around. He wasn’t sure about J at first, but bonded with him pretty quickly:

ryder jeremiah

(Throwing golf balls in the backyard is apparently big fun.)

We made, and ate, all our Christmas favorites: sweet potato casserole topped with pecans and brown sugar, fluffy mashed potatoes, hot rolls, whole cranberries in Jell-O, green bean casserole. We grilled ribs one night, steak another night, and toasted each other on Christmas Eve with eggnog. Even the boys (my husband and brother-in-law) got more than enough to eat:

food christmas eve jeremiah stephen

We went to my parents’ church for the Christmas Eve candlelight service, one of my favorite evenings in the whole year. Our beloved music minister, George, is receiving treatment for cancer, but he was onstage leading the carols, his voice as strong as ever. We sang “O Come All Ye Faithful,” Mom’s favorite, and ended with Dad’s favorite, “Silent Night.”

This was the year of the camel, since my dad is obsessed with the Geico hump day commercial. My sister even bought him a T-shirt:

camel t-shirt dad christmas

And we must have watched the commercial 15 times. The best part was watching him laugh:

dad betsy laughter

Ryder’s favorite gift was a tractor he can ride (closely followed by a pair of socks with tractors on them):

ryder opening tractor

His legs don’t quite reach the pedals yet, so we all took turns pushing him around.

ryder tractor fun

Mostly, we just had so much fun hanging out with my family.

mom betsy kitchen

(That’s my mom and my sister, in my parents’ kitchen – where we spent a lot of time.)

Christmas 2013 106

We ended our trip with three days in Abilene, where we lived for eight years (including our undergraduate years, J’s time in graduate school and our first two years of marriage). I never take many photos there because we’re too busy hugging everyone we know and talking as hard as we can, trying to catch up on all the news. But I did snap this photo of J playing dominoes with our hosts:

donagheys 42

So that was our Christmas. Merry, bright, magical, and full of hugs and Tex-Mex food. Pretty wonderful.

How were your holidays? (And happy belated New Year!)

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families of four

I grew up with one sister. We’re 17 months apart, so I can’t remember when she wasn’t around. She’s an outgoing, tall, blonde businesswoman who always beats the boys at whatever sport she’s playing. I’m a quieter, petite brunette who prefers books and knitting to golf and pickup basketball.

We’re not quite opposites – we both love dogs, our parents, Tex-Mex food, chick flicks, the Midland High Bulldogs, Christmas music, country music, chocolate, board games, our dear Christian college, and each other. I can’t imagine my life without her.

I never wanted any more siblings – one was just fine with me, and our friends filled in the gaps pretty well. But I’ve recently noticed how often children’s literature features families with four children. There are the four March sisters, of course; the four Ingalls sisters; and (I’ve recently discovered) the four Penderwick sisters. On the coed side, the list grows long: the Melendys (of The Saturdays and sequels); the Moffats; the Murrys of A Wrinkle in Time and sequels; the Austins (of Meet the Austins and sequels); the Pevensies (of the Chronicles of Narnia). The Boxcar Children; the Logans (of Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry and sequels); the Tillermans (of Homecoming and sequels).

(Several series also feature groups of four girlfriends – The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants, The Mother-Daughter Book Club, The Miracle Girls. But that’s a post for a different day.)

I wonder if authors often write about four children because it’s an even, manageable number. It’s easy to keep four characters straight, but harder if you throw in, say, six (like Anne Shirley Blythe’s children) or eight (like the Pike clan in The Baby-Sitters Club books). Four divides easily into two pairs, of course; it’s also big enough to feel like a “large” family, but small enough that no one gets lost in the shuffle. And – most importantly, I think – it allows the author to develop four distinctive character types.

It amazes me how many combinations of character types are possible with four characters. Of course, the oldest child is generally the responsible one, either by force of personality or circumstance. There’s at least one character everyone loves and/or spoils (often the baby, but not always). One of the “middle” children usually feels alone, rebellious or unloved, like Jo March, Laura Ingalls or Edmund Pevensie. (Occasionally, the oldest child is the rebellious one – like Meg Murry.) But not one of these families is exactly like another. They all start out with four children, then go all kinds of different places.

I often see myself in these oldest siblings, who take care of everyone and get good grades, who follow the rules and try to keep things tidy. But sometimes I see myself, too, in the quirky second child – Jo March with her scribbling in the attic, Vicky Austin with her feelings of awkwardness and deep desire to belong, Laura Ingalls with her stubbornness. I know birth order has a profound effect on family dynamics, real or fictional, but although I am a classic first child (see above), I often identify deeply with these “middle” children (many of whom, it should be no surprise, want to be writers).

What do you think about fictional family dynamics? Which sibling do you tend to identify with in fictional families? Is it similar or different to your real-life birth order? (And if you’re an only child, do you think I’ve got the wrong theory altogether?)

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Easter Q&A

Yesterday at church, Charlie (our rector) called all the children up to the stage, read some passages from the crucifixion/resurrection story aloud to them, then asked them some questions about it. The prizes for correct answers were chocolate, so as you can imagine, this was very exciting.

Many of the answers were spot on and some were even quite wise, but the first one was a particular hit. It ran as follows:

Charlie: What did Jesus Christ say while he was on the cross?
Child: My God, my God, why have You employed me?

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