Category Archives: Things that Inspire Me


This year: to keep hold of the important things, stopping to restack the load as often as necessary.

The Armful
by Robert Frost

For every parcel I stoop down to seize
I lose some other off my arms and knees,
And the whole pile is slipping, bottles, buns,
Extremes too hard to comprehend at once
Yet nothing I should care to leave behind.
With all I have to hold with—hand and mind
And heart, if need be, I will do my best.
To keep their building balanced at my breast.
I crouch down to prevent them as they fall;
Then sit down in the middle of them all.
I had to drop the armful in the road
And try to stack them in a better load.


From a beautiful post about discovery, learning, Beethoven’s string quartets, and the way the mind works at The Last Step into the Cellar:

I don’t understand the mind. I don’t understand how it can try to be logical even as it tricks itself into not being so. I don’t understand how the mind focuses, employs its skills, or prioritizes. Three years ago I slipped on some ice getting into my car. It was one very small patch of ice between my car and my wife’s van. I didn’t see it at all and hit it completely unprepared, and because I could not fall down, I kept slipping and slipping as I tried to regain my footing until my ankle folded over on itself and went twist-twist-snap-snap. It broke so badly that it flopped freely as I hopped back toward my house. I sat on the stoop wondering what to do next, and I suddenly realized how very calm I was and that I wasn’t panicking, that in fact my mind was far more actively in control of my body than it had ever been before and that it would see me through this, and I was overwhelmed with the feeling of not having to do anything really, that all was being taken care of. Of course I knew the ankle would need mending in ways I could not do, and indeed it took some surgery, three screws, and a stay in the hospital, but those were givens. It seems ironic that I had never before felt such union of body and mind as I did that morning when my body broke, but it’s the truth of that morning and one I won’t forget. My body was following orders. My body had flashed “Emergency!” and my mind knew where to go with that. My mind was in command and control. It felt wonderful.

Happiness Is…Glitter

In a recent post about making beeswax candles (“Fruitcake, candles, glitter and knitty gifts”), Billi-Jean writes:

Glitter is inherently good. Like babies and homemade vegetable stew. Glitter is happiness in little flashes of coloured light.I don’t care about the “mess”, how it gets stuck in the grout between the tiles on the kitchen floor. Or how, months later, you are still vacuuming up the occasional piece. It is all worth it to me. Glitter is that good.

I remember once, talking to a neighbour who was shocked that I’d let my toddler use glitter in his crafts. “You never get that stuff up. Ever! You can sweep and vacuum and wash, but you’ll still have glitter on your kitchen floor.” I grinned. “I know. I like that. Glitter on the kitchen floor. It’s like diamonds on the soles of your shoes.”

I know a seven-year-old who would certainly agree. Lovely, Billi-Jean!

Gnome Sweet Gnome

GnomeChill, blustery morning here. No one felt like going outside, except for Beanie who was hoping to encounter another snake on the nature trail today. We startled one on the path earlier this week, causing him to scoot for the creek. I told Bean I doubted any snakes would be out on a shivery morning like this one, and she decided the walk wasn’t worth undertaking without the snake.

Rose was in a yarn mood, having just re-learned how to knit yesterday after an eight-month hiatus, so we all got out our knitting baskets and crowded onto the couch. Wonderboy serenaded us on the piano, tapping out a descant to the wuthering wind. Really a very pleasant way to pass the morning. Rose worked on the scarf she is making for herself, and Jane and I commenced a new project. This one goes in the So Cute I Might Die department. I stumbled across this free pattern for knitting a gnome baby which is simple enough even for my haphazard knitting skills. That’s a picture of the finished doll up there—not MY finished doll, you understand; that one was made by the nice lady who provided the pattern. So far mine is only a pair of legs and a smidgen of belly. (When I knit with the kids, I personally get very little knitting done.) But it’s getting there. So adorable. I’m using some leftover Peace Fleece wool from my short-lived weaving days long ago. What’s funny is I think it might be the very same yarn used in the sample doll in the picture. Sure looks like it.

If I get very brave (and it isn’t a total disaster) I might post a picture of the finished project. Watch this space in about, um, three months. (Factoring in my standard interruption and distraction rate.)

Have a Tissue Handy for This One

My wonderful friend Shelli, who is adopting a little girl from China, sent me a link to the blog of a group of American doctors who are spending their vacations performing cleft palate repairs for children in China. The group, Love Without Boundaries, is a nonprofit volunteer organization that raises funds for medical procedures needed by children who could otherwise never afford them. This year’s Cleft Mission has already provided new smiles for over a hundred children, at no cost to their families. Many of the children, in fact, are growing up in orphanages, for children with cleft palates are often ostracized in their villages, and great pressure is put upon the parents to abandon the children.

The stories on this blog are heartbreaking and heartwarming. What these doctors, nurses, and support volunteers are doing is unbelievably beautiful. They spend their own money to travel around the world and change the lives of these children. The surgeries are paid for through donations and sponsors. I am overwhelmed by the pictures and stories.

Like this one: “The grandmother came today to help her daughter get the baby home, and when she walked into the post op ward, she began to cry. She was overwhelmed at how her grandson looked. After we discharged them, they walked down the six flights of stairs and then a few moments later I saw the grandmother making her way back up. She had a small bag in her hand, and she pressed it into mine and said “thank you”. Inside were four small cherry tomatoes…….it was all she could give, and it was such a precious gift to me.”

The Love Without Boundaries site includes a newsletter for children, full of inspiring stories about ways individual kids have raised money to provide a heart surgery or cleft palate repair for children in China.

Wonderful, Wonderful, Out of All Hooping!

It’s been over a month since I posted my plea for help with my search for a long lost, fondly remembered story tape about the King of the Raisins. No one responded, and I had just about given up on ever tracking it down. And then this morning the wonderful Lesley Austin posted this comment:

I think I may know this one as I heard this story once. Could it be Jay O’Callahan? We have another of his stories “Raspberries” and have SO enjoyed everything of his we have come across. I can imagine him saying what you wrote.

Lesley, hoorah for you, you did it! I visited Jay O’Callahan’s website and sure enough, there was a “Raisins” story on one of his CDs. I wrote him a note, and he wrote right back to say his was indeed the story I remember. I am thrilled!

Just this morning, Scott was quoting my favorite line from this story. Scott has never heard the tape; like my kids, he only knows the tale from my patchy reminiscences. But as I wrote last month, the bits I remember are inextricably woven into our family vocabulary. Wonderboy woke up a nasty cold this morning, and his nose is, um, disgusting, to put it bluntly. When Scott walked into the kitchen, the Boy beamed at him through the goop and tottered toward his daddy for a wrestle. Scott scarcely flinched at the affront to his shirt (ew) but I heard him mutter, “Horrible, horrible! But I like you anyway.”

Morning Links

Many thanks to MacBeth Derham for the link to this wonderful essay by the 13-year-old daughter of Allen Say, the award-winning picture-book writer and illustrator. His is a favorite of ours.

If the link doesn’t take you directly to his daughter’s essay, scroll down the list of authors and click on Allen Say’s name.

“My Father” by Yuriko Say

And I am similarly grateful to Julie Bogart for sharing this essay on writing by an unschooled girl who is now a college student. If you are interested in receiving Julie’s “Bravewriter Lifestyle” emails, click here.

Hot Chocolate Would Work, Too

A quick post while the kids are practicing piano…this is the time of day when I try to sit down with a cup of tea for a quick email check. (Current favorite: “Mandarin Green” from Adagio Tea, steeped in their nifty IngenuiTEA teapot.) I usually wind up on the floor next to the computer with Beanie, rescuing her train tracks from Wonderboy while my tea grows cold in the cup. Scott teases me about the cups of lukewarm tea I leave all over the house. I know I’m not alone in this; my pal Alice jokes that she doesn’t drink coffee, she just brews it.

Which is one of the reasons the beautiful first chapter of Danielle Bean’s new book, My Cup of Tea, struck such a chord in me. I can’t wait to read the rest. You can enjoy a sneak preview of Chapter 1 at Danielle’s website—perhaps over a cup of tea (even the lukewarm kind).

Oh, and speaking of Adagio Tea, I have some $5 coupons for their website—email me if you’d like one.

Now That’s Good Writing

“A lot of people like snow. I find it to be an unnecessary freezing of water.”
—Carl Reiner

A wee-hours snowstorm canceled our plans for the morning, much to the girls’ satisfaction. They’ve been waiting for weeks to try out the new sleds Scott hid in the garage, the ones they aren’t supposed to know about. (Sorry, honey—I left the garage door open one day. Oops.) Upstairs in their room an indoor blizzard is raging: mittens flying, long underwear leaping out of the drawer, layer upon layer of clothing sailing through the air en route to its exuberant young owners.

Myself, I’ve always been of the Carl Reiner school of thought when it comes to snowstorms. To me, snow is: an inconvenience, an excuse to drink hot chocolate, and a once useful but now overused basis for metaphor (in that order).

But the children of my best pal, Alice Gunther, recently gave challenge to my admittedly cantankerous point of view. Alice, inspired by Julie Bogart’s The Writer’s Jungle, asked her girls how they would describe snow to someone who had never seen it before. With Alice’s permission, I reprint parts of their descriptions here:

B (age 5) “Snow feels like a cut when it gets into your boots.”
“It is white as white paper.”

C (age 7) “Snow looks like a cluster of diamonds from a fairy tale. If you leave velvet out in the snow, you will find it covered with little snowflakes, and the points look like Celtic knots. Each one is different from the others, yet they could fit together like a mosaic or a flower. Snow looks like lace on the velvet, like a queen’s dress.”

M (age 9) “Snow feels like a very cold chick—a chick with hypothermia.”
“When you step on it, it sounds like baked taco shells.”

A (age 11) “Snow looks like frosting on a cake, with jagged peaks here and there, although it is soft in most places. Where you have walked, it is flat, and greenish brown grass peaks out. As you look ahead of you, all the ground in front of you is level and very wide, almost like a flat plain. If you pick up a scoop in your gloved hand and look closely at it, it seems to have tiny craters, almost like a sponge.”

Wow. These breathtaking bits of freewriting almost make me want to go dig up my own long underwear and venture out to see the stuff firsthand.

Almost. I think instead I’ll curl up with the aforementioned mug of hot chocolate and a copy of Andersen’s “The Snow Queen.” I’ll have to read it to myself, though. The kids are all outside.

To read Alice’s Writer’s Jungle review in its entirety, visit the Bravewriter discussion in the “Living Language Arts” forum at 4 Real Learning.