Unsolicited Signing Time Commercial

What Rilla’s saying at the end there is “With Alex, Leah, and Hopkins.” Totally unprompted, I swear.

When I watched our Christmas 2005 video
the other day, the bit that gave me the biggest pang of nostalgia was
watching Wonderboy signing away. He hardly signs at all anymore, now
that he talks so much. I’m thrilled with his verbal speech, but I
really miss the signing. It’s funny to think back on how much ASL dominated our lives
(in a rich and satisfying way) for a couple of years there, and now our
use and pursuit of sign language has slipped to the back burner,
becoming something of a hobby rather than a daily necessity. Jane still
wants to certify as an ASL interpreter someday, and every few months we
pull out our materials and learn another chunk of vocabulary and
grammar. There are community college courses we might take next year.
It’s a beautiful and important language, and I don’t want to let it go,
even if our boy doesn’t need rely on it for communication the way he
once did.

And of course the Signing Time
DVDs remain in great demand with my little people, as the video above
attests. With Rilla, we’re seeing all the benefits of sign language we
saw with the first three girls—because rudimentary ASL was a part of
our baby & toddler life from the get-go, long before we had a
Wonderboy or knew he had hearing loss.

Here are some old posts singing the praises of our favorite kiddie DVDs:

It Must Be a Sign

Something Else to Buy Instead of Curriculum: Signing Time

This Year’s Daddy-Books

Every Christmas (birthdays, too) Scott gives each child one special
picture book. Yes, our older girls are well past picture-book age by
now—except that you’re never past picture-book age, not really.
I’m certainly not. And this is a treasured family tradition; it’s
always great fun to see what gems he comes up with.

His picks for Christmas, 2008:

: an oldie but one of the best. Caps for Sale by Esphyr Slobodkina.
Our dog-eared paperback copy was recently destroyed in that little bit
of flooding we had on my birthday. Scott replaced it with a hardcover,
because Rilla is ripe for that time-honored, giggle-inducing refrain of
“You monkeys you, you give me back my caps!”

: a newish Boynton book called Fifteen Animals! (Most of which are named Bob.) A perfect choice for our little guy, who loves rhythm, repitition, and all things Boyton.

: Knuffle Bunny: A Cautionary Tale by the fabulous Mo Willems.
This would have been a fine choice for any of our brood, but Scott
singled it out for our belly-laughing Bean, and belly-laugh she did. We
all loved the Caldicott honor-winning combination of black-and-white
photo backgrounds and whimsical Willems art, and poor little Trixie’s
desperate attempts to communicate the disappearance of her beloved
bunny to her father are utterly priceless. A slam-dunk, daddy dear.

: A Visitor for Bear by Bonny Becker, illustrated by Kady MacDonald Denton.
This was one of the Cybils nominees, and when I read the library copy,
I knew it was a keeper. Sweet, funny story about a rather curmudgeonly
bear who, despite his best efforts, finds himself playing host to a
persistent and amiable mouse. I showed it to Scott, who instantly
pegged it as a perfect Rose book. Endearing art, charming story.

: Diary of a Fly by Doreen Cronin and Harry Bliss. Various children have been given its companion books, Diary of a Worm and Diary of a Spider,
in years past. I believe Scott said he chose this one for Jane because
of the line about the young fly being relieved to discover that he’s
not the only kid at school who likes regurgitated food. (Cue satisfying
shriek from thirteen-year-old.)

Of course our Christmas book bounty didn’t end with the Daddy-books, but the rest of the treasures must wait for another post.

(A note about the links here: I stopped including Amazon links in
my posts a long while back, for various angsty reasons of my own.
However, a recent Kidlitosphere discussion alerted me to the copyright
question involved with using book cover images from Amazon and
linking to that site, so in this post I have returned to my old
practice of including the Amazon link. Since I have an affiliate
account, any purchases made from a clickthrough here will earn me a
small referral fee. Wanted to be very up-front with that info! In years
past, such referrals helped pay for the maintenance of this site. For
that, I thank you!)

Lookie What I Made

Just please, please don't look too closely. My stitching is
deplorable. I really cannot manage to sew a straight seam to save my
life. Scott says he likes to listen to me sew because of the inanities
that come out of my mouth while I bungle the job… "Son of a
b…utternut squash!"

Anyway, here's my little diaper case, and yes, I am inordinately
proud. It holds a couple of diapers and a travel wipes container.

I followed this pattern at Blessed Roots. I don't know how to use my machine's buttonholer, so I made the little strap instead. And I left off the wristlet strap.

This was the practice model. I'm itching to try again with some beeyooteeful scrap fabric sent to me by a most indulgent and kindhearted chum.
I think I'll make the top flap smaller this time. The pattern allows a
flap big enough that the diaper case could, in theory, double as a
changing pad, but that would only work while baby is very small. I'd rather use a blanket.

Everyone Know Potatoes Have Eyes, Not Ears

Here's my boy, hanging out having a snack with his good buddy, Mr. Potato Head.

wondered why one of Potato Head's ears was lying on the couch with a
spare screw-cover (leftover from the construction of a toy shopping
cart) stuck on the end. Wonderboy informed me that it isn't an ear—it's
a hearing aid. And it needed a new battery, of course.
Evidently he went rummaging around in the drawer where we keep his own
hearing aid batteries and found the little orange screw-cover.

Oh I could just eat him up every minute of the day.

Real Life

I couldn't help but grin today at the contrast between the cozy
Advent post I wrote before the children awoke, the one celebrating the
best moments of the past week, and the complicated, messy,
full-of-friction day that commenced as soon as the first child
staggered out of bed. The thing is, every day is complicated, messy,
and full of friction. And every day has glorious or cozy moments worth
celebrating. I seldom bother to chronicle the friction and the mess
because writing time is fleeting and precious, and I'd rather capture
the small joys that I might forget—or take for granted—if I don't take
time to set them down in words.

Pondering this, something that struck me was the difference between
blogging and real-life conversation. If a friend calls me on the phone,
I'm unlikely to say, "We just had the loveliest half hour while Jane
played carols on the piano, and I curled up on the sofa with a quilt
and the laptop, and Rose was at the other end reading Betsy-Tacy, and
Wonderboy was next to me looking at family pictures on an old cell
phone that isn't a phone anymore, and Beanie was dragging Rilla up and
down the hall on a blanket and Rilla kept shouting, 'Faster, Mama

All that is true; it was a lovely half hour, and I Twittered
some of it so I wouldn't forget it. But it's unlikely I'd have said
anything of the sort on the phone. Somehow that just isn't how phone
conversation works, or face-to-face chat, either. No, in person I'd
have been much more likely to tell my listening chum about how my hips
are killing me, KILLING me, to the point that by the end of the day I
can barely walk, much less stand over the stove, which is why my
children had to make themselves oatmeal for dinner tonight. And I've
got this cruel little cough which has caused a bit of cartilege (so I'm
told) to pop out of place in my rib cage, so that every time I cough
there's a fierce stab of pain, and I'm desperately hoping it goes away
before I go into labor because the thought of pushing through this rib
pain…I shudder to think of it.

Or: I figured out that the coughing started the day I brought home
the Christmas tree, so we moved it outside and I bought a tiny little
inglorious fake tree to replace the tiny little inglorious real one I'd
picked up at Fresh and Easy the week before. And we decorated the
outside tree—it's by the front steps—with a beautiful string of fake
cranberries I bought on clearance at Joann's after Christmas last year.
But then it rained. And rained and rained. And the deep red berries are
now bright pink. And mushy. They're still kind of pretty as long as you
don't touch them, but Rilla must touch them every time she passes by,
and then she winds up with smears of fuschia-colored mush on her hands,
and her clothes, and my pant legs, and anything else she can manage to
touch on our way to the kitchen sink.

Or: You know how Scott's car got hit in that parking lot last month?
Big truck pulling into the lot caught his front bumper and peeled it
halfway off? Would you believe the other guy's insurance company says
he isn't at fault?? (Though he totally admitted it, himself, at the
time of the incident: there was no doubt. Scott's car was parked. The
truck hit him.) And if we can't get this decision reversed, we're out
$500 for the deductible? Can you believe that?

Or: So I went to Confession today and of course I had all the kids
with me, and I left them in the cry room which is all the way in the
back of the church, and I was all the way in the front where the
confessionals are but I could hear Wonderboy shrieking. He was inside a soundproofed room,
but I could hear him. So I got out of line and walked back to the cry
room to see what on earth was the problem. Turned out Rose and Rilla
were playing tag. Which would be okay, more or less, since they were alone in a closed and did I mention
soundproofed room, and it's not like Mass was going on or anything, but
Wonderboy was totally shattered by this breach of churchy decorum and
he was howling at them to stop. And then after Confession
he cried all the way home because I am trying to ease him out of his
fixation on this one particular Sing 'n Learn cassette he expects to
listen to every single time we're in the van, and the rest of us are
all sick of it (though we've all got the state capitals down pat,
that's for sure). But he is convinced that the sky is going to crumble
and fall upon our heads if we do not listen to that rassafrassin' tape
every single second we're driving. And then Rose brought up the
question of how the seating arrangements will change after the baby
comes, and she was furious to learn that she'll have to move to the
back row because the infant seat only fits in the middle row, and
Wonderboy has to have the other middle-row spot because he gets into
too much mischief if he's sitting within pinching range of one of his
siblings. But Rose despises the crowded back seat, and she is livid at
the injustice of it all, disgusted that we aren't getting a bigger
vehicle, completely unswayed by such reasonable explanations as "with
the economy the way it is, now isn't the time to take on a new car
payment, and the minivan is almost paid off." "So we won't be able to
ride ALL TOGETHER as a family anymore?" Rose wailed—because the minivan
seats seven and we're about to become eight. And in case you're
wondering, a cheery pep talk about sacrifice and frugality and 'just
think of all the making-do Kit Kittredge's family had to do during the
Great Depression' is not likely to meet with resounding applause at
such a moment. I'm just saying.

Or: Is it just me, or are your kids bickering a lot more than usual
too, the closer we get to Christmas? And why, why, WHYYYY, was I ever
so foolish as to begin the gingerbread house tradition? Because every
year it becomes a giant sticky thorn in my side. There's no going back,
though, not after the precedent was set ten years ago. But at least
this year Jane did most of the hard part, the housebuilding. We're
going to decorate tomorrow but this is a kit I picked up in that same
after-Christmas sale at Joann's last year, and the gumdrops are hard as
rocks, and if you can't eat half the decorations as you're working on
the house, most of the fun is gone. So I guess I'll have to run out
tomorrow and buy some new gumdrops. Arrrgh.

So there you go. That's what you'd get if you were Alice,
calling me on the phone. And you would very satisfyingly commiserate by
firing back with similar anecdotes of your own. ("I'll see your hip
pain and raise you four sick kids, a doctor's appointment, and a car
encased in ice." At which point I fold. Because the cranberry-melting
rain is gone, and we had a gorgeous blue sky and sweater weather again

Life is messy, and complicated, and full of friction.
That stable in Bethlehem must have smelled like manure. Was the manger
clean? I had to scrub so much grime off the infant carseat yesterday,
and it had only been sitting in a closed garage for a year. Not even a
real garage—it's just a storage room, really. But the parts of the
Nativity story we celebrate are the shining star, and the awestruck
shepherds, and the singing of angels. The image of the baby swaddled
snugly, sleeping in the hay, with His mother smiling down at Him in
wonder, oblivious to the muck and the grime and the prickling straw and
the snorts of the livestock: that's the image we've carried in our
hearts for two thousand years. That doesn't mean the muck wasn't there.
It's just not the important part of the story, the thing worth holding
on to. The muck is always there, always here. But so is the radiant
star, the heavenly choir, the sleeping Child so full of promise and

My children may bicker, and I may—almost certainly
will—complain. But the bickering and the griping are chaff, and what's
left when the winds of time carry them away are the golden kernels I
want to savor: Carol of the Bells ringing out from Jane's piano; my
little boy leaning against me and laughing for joy at a picture of his
daddy; a girl-childlost in a beloved book, her fury long forgotten; riotous squeals up and down the hallway from a toddler on a magic carpet pulled by a giggling, curly-haired Mama Duck. Colored lights gleaming on a cute little tree that, if you squint just right, almost looks real, and doesn't make me cough.
Headlights in the window: that dear red car, its bumper restored,
pulling into the driveway next to a
soon-to-be-too-small-for-the-very-best-of-reasons minivan. An infant
carseat, scrubbed and ready, waiting to be buckled into place and
filled with our own little bundle of promise and hope.

Our Advent

Last week was the crazy-busy week. Piano recital, Nativity play at
nursing home (those two on the same day), speech, OB appointment,
post-office trip, extra ballet practice, ballet recital, choir
rehearsal, Christmas shopping. Throw in a couple of days of torrential
rains and a minor flood in our patio room, just for fun. (Minimal
damage, easily dealt with. Turned out to be not a big deal at all.
Discovering a computer power strip sitting in half an inch of
water—during the brief span of time between the piano recital and the
Nativity play—it sure felt like it was going to be a big deal.
Fortunately it happened to be my birthday, which Scott had taken as a
vacation day because that's what a sweetie he is. He was home. Made all
the difference.)

And this week? Ahhhh. No out-of-house commitments whatsoever, except for Christmas Mass, of course.

I am so happy to be able to stay home in this snug little nest. (Snug and dry once more.) I'm cooing over the pictures of Suzanne's beautiful new baby
and knowing that my turn is just around the corner. And I'm content to
have it be just around the corner—no rush, little one, though we're all
so eager to meet you. My mother arrives on January 3rd, a day after my
due date (and I've never delivered sooner than a week after my due
date), so of course our hope is that baby will stay happily put until
after grandma gets here.

But I'm all set for Christmas, just in
case. All set except for the meal, that is. I suppose I should give
that some thought. Quickly, so I can have groceries delivered, because
I'm not braving the store this week. Don't want to squander one of the
bursts of nesting energy that have put my home into much better order
than I would have supposed, given the time of year. Yesterday I got the
infant carseat cleaned up, its cover freshly washed. Baby clothes are
laundered and laid out in their drawers, thanks to Rose. The drawers
belonged to Rilla until last week: I finally made my way through every
dresser and closet in the house, weeding out, sorting, filling huge
bags for Goodwill. Rilla has a drawer in the girls' room that used to
belong to Rose: since Rose seems to stick to a small handful of
favorite outfits, we decided she didn't need a whole huge drawer full
of rejects. So whew, we've managed to find space for everything without
adding another piece of furniture, for which there really is NO space

Rilla is sleeping in her little trundle bed in the
girls' room. She still wakes up at least once in the night, but Scott
can get her back down pretty quickly. Wonderboy is waking up a lot,
too. He's getting over a cough. Could be some interesting nights ahead
when we've got a third night-waker in the party.

Yesterday we
made Christmas cookies and ate most of them and put flannel sheets on the bed and watched
Rudolph and put a big red and green quilt on the sofa. The quilt was a
wedding gift from Scott's mom's best friend. Many years ago, when Jane
was the only baby, it served as a cover for our old ratty sofa. It's
sweet to see it back on the couch and remember the way the Jane-bairn
used to lie upon it, staring at its red stars, waving a tiny fist in a
quest to grab one.

The Nativity play last week made me cry: it
was the carol-singing at the end that got me. The host of eager
children in their homemade, hodge-podge costumes, the white-haired
residents of the nursing homes, the beaming Carmelite sisters in their
brown habits, many of the nuns with fat babies in their arms. Whenever
our group visits this nursing home, the sisters are quick to reach for
the babies among us. Next year I suppose it will be my little
one tucked big-eyed into the brown curve of a sister's arm, making a
little O mouth while the nuns and the old folks and the children belt
out their Gloooorias.


Monday Links

These have been in my sidebar widget for a while, but I forgot to roll them into a post for the benefit of my feed-reading readers until I referred to the Amazon.uk thing last night and Scott didn't know what I meant. Here you go, babe!

Another Birthday Present: Dear Jane

It is astonishing how much attention my hubby pays to my
enthusiastic chatterings. Especially when the topic is something he has
absolutely no interest in personally, like, say, quilting.

One of my birthday presents was a book I've been hankering after: Dear Jane: The Two Hundred Twenty-Five Patterns from the 1863 Jane A. Stickle Quilt by Brenda Papadakis. I learned of this book, and of the incredible Jane Stickle quilt itself, from a link on Twiddletails, one of my favorite crafty blogs. Anina, the Twiddletails blogger, has a second blog called (for now, at least—yesterday a bit of a trademark dispute arose over the name) Dear Baby Jane, an amazing site on which Anina posts step-by-step photo tutorials for making every single block in the Jane Stickle quilt.

This is no mean feat. Jane's quilt is a masterpiece. Every single
block of this large quilt is pieced in a different geometrical pattern.
Many of the patterns are traditional quilt blocks; many seem to be
unique to Jane.

An autographed corner square tells us that Jane pieced the quilt "in
wartime, 1863," and that she used over five thousand separate bits of
fabric. A farmer's wife, she lived in the little village of Shaftsbury,
Vermont. She was born in 1817, which makes her roughly a contemporary
of Charlotte Tucker Quiner Holbrook, the maternal grandmother of Laura
Ingalls Wilder, whom I wrote about in my Charlotte books.
This is one of the many reasons the Jane Stickle quilt intrigued me
when I first read about it at Dear Baby Jane. Charlotte was born in
1809 (along with
Abraham Lincoln, Edgar Allen Poe, Alfred Lord Tennyson, Louis Braille,
British statesman William Gladstone, Charles Darwin, and Felix
Mendelssohn—some year, eh?) in Roxbury, Massachusetts. As a young
woman, Charlotte worked as a seamstress, advertising her services in
the local papers. By 1863, the year Jane finished her quilt—four years before Charlotte's granddaughter Laura was born—Charlotte had been living in the "big woods" of Wisconsin for decades.
Jane Stickle, meanwhile, lived her whole life in the Shaftsbury, VT,
area, and instead of a storytelling granddaughter, the legacy she left
us was her incredible wartime quilt.

Here's a link to a good-sized image of the Jane Stickle quilt—dubbed
the "Dear Jane" by Brenda Papadakis. (Contemporary versions of the
quilt are nicknamed "Baby Janes.") I don't know if it's kosher to post
the image itself, so I'll just stick with the link. The color scheme is
what's known as and "around the world" pattern: the blocks move through
a range of shades in concentric circles (more or less) beginning in the
middle of the quilt.

A whole Dear Jane subculture exists in the quilting world, both
online and off. There are many gorgeous quilts modeled after or
inspired by Jane Stickle's masterpiece. On the Dear Baby Jane blog, Anina leads an online community of quilters who are piecing the quilt a block at a time, two blocks a week. (Marvel at the photos here.)
Just reading Anina's instructions has been a tremendous education for
me. (I was sorry to read, yesterday, of the trademark stickiness and
the possibility that Anina will take down the entire blog. I am hoping
hard that this does not come to pass.)

My indulgent but wise husband will read this and fear that I am
poised for a dive into the world of Dear Jane creators, but he need not
worry. Having never completed so much as a simple block quilt (Rilla's little quilt
is still only half quilted, if you can call the mess I'm making
"quilting"), my attempting a Baby Jane would be something like a
starling chick trying to soar with the flock while it is still in the

But oh how I love to look at the gorgeous variations others have created,
and to read about the gradual progress of people attempting the
ambitious project right now. And I can't wait to dive into my new
birthday book to learn more about Jane Stickle and her quilt.

From the Archives: “Snuggling Up to Genius”

(Excerpted from a December 2005 post)

…Anyway, all this Dickens talk brought to mind something I read long ago in the introduction to Kate Douglas Wiggins’s Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm.
It was an unforgettable account of young (very young) Kate’s encounter
with Charles Dickens himself on a train during one of his reading tours
of the United States. I no longer have the edition of Rebecca which
contains the article (Alice, I think it was your copy?), but I Googled
this morning with hope in my heart and aha! There it was, in full, at a
delightful site called OldMagazineArticles.com.

An excerpt:

There on the platform stood the Adored One. His hands
were plunged deep in his pockets (a favorite posture), but presently
one was removed to wave away laughingly a piece of the famous Berwick
sponge-cake offered him by Mr. Osgood, of Boston, his traveling
companion and friend.

I knew him at once: the smiling, genial, mobile face, rather highly
colored, the brilliant eyes, the watch-chain, the red carnation in the
buttonhole, and the expressive hands, much given to gesture. It was
only a momentary view, for the train started, and Dickens vanished, to
resume his place in the car next to ours, where he had been, had I
known it, ever since we left Portland.

Shortly thereafter, the intrepid Kate slips into Dickens’s car,
where she finds him alone and launches into a discussion of his

“Well, upon my word!” he said. “You do not mean to say that you have read them!”

“Of course I have,” I replied. “Every one of them but the two that we are going to buy in Boston, and some of them six times.”

“Bless my soul!” he ejaculated again. “Those long, thick books, and you such a slip of a thing!”

“Of course,” I explained, conscientiously, “I do skip some of the
very dull parts once in a while; not the short dull parts, but the long

He laughed heartily. “Now, that is something that I hear very little
about,” he said. “I distinctly want to learn more about those very dull
parts,” and, whether to amuse himself or to amuse me, I do not know, he
took out a note-book and pencil from his pocket and proceeded to give
me an exhausting and exhaustive examination on this subject—the books
in which the dull parts predominated, and the characters and subjects
which principally produced them. He chuckled so constantly during this
operation that I could hardly help believing myself extraordinarily
agreeable; so I continued dealing these infant blows under the delusion
that I was flinging him bouquets.

You can read the article in its entirety here.

Mark and Huck

Scott and I (especially Scott) have a great fondness for Huckleberry
Finn—the character and the book. Fondness, respect, admiration. It's
funny that whenever I'm asked to name my favorite authors, I never
think to include Mark Twain among their number. Yet I have only to read
a paragraph, a sentence even, of his work, and I'm reminded what a
prominent position he actually holds on the list.

I'm not alone. Roger Ebert, in a lyrical, hilarious, and touching piece about his longtime friend Bill Nack ("Perform a Concert in Words"), speaks with great enthusiasm of Twain's singular gifts:

I still have the first real book I ever read…It is The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. The inscription says, "To Roger from Uncle Bill, Christmas 1949." I was halfway into second grade.

My grandmother, Anna B. Stumm, said, "Do you think Roger can read that, Bill?"

Uncle Bill said, "Bud, can you read?"

"Yes," I said.

"Then he can read it."

I lay down on my stomach on the living room rug and started reading.
I hardly stopped. "That boy always has his nose in a book," my Aunt
Mary said. "Mary, he's reading," my Aunt Martha said. I didn't know a
lot of the words, but the words I did know were a lot more interesting
than "Run, Spot, run!" and I picked up new ones every time through,
because I read it over and over for a year, getting to the end and
turning straight back to "You don't know me without you have read a
book by Mr. Mark Twain…" It was the best book I had ever read.

Snip—but do go read the snipped part,
which contains Twain's blisteringly funny critique of James Fenimore
Cooper's work. For that matter, read Ebert's entire post, which is full
of gems. He continues with a quote from Huckleberry Finn:

Pretty soon it darkened up, and begun to thunder and
lighten; so the birds was right about it. Directly it begun to rain,
and it rained like all fury, too, and I never see the wind blow so. It
was one of these regular summer storms. It would get so dark that it
looked all blue-black outside, and lovely; and the rain would thrash
along by so thick that the trees off a little ways looked dim and
spider-webby; and here would come a blast of wind that would bend the
trees down and turn up the pale under-side of the leaves; and then a
perfect ripper of a gust would follow along and set the branches to
tossing their arms as if they was just wild; and next, when it was just
about the bluest and blackest — fst! it was as bright as glory, and
you'd have a little glimpse of tree-tops a-plunging about away off
yonder in the storm, hundreds of yards further than you could see
before; dark as sin again in a second, and now you'd hear the thunder
let go with an awful crash, and then go rumbling, grumbling, tumbling,
down the sky towards the under side of the world, like rolling empty
barrels down stairs — where it's long stairs and they bounce a good
deal, you know.

How did you think Mark Twain wrote? Four sentences. The
fourth one 179 words long. As a boy, I thought it was the realest
thunderstorm I had ever seen. It plays like Beethoven. Mark Twain
introduced America to its vernacular. Not how we speak, but how we
caress and feel words. Before him, there were great writers like Poe
and Melville, who I still read with love. But I sit on the porch steps
next to Sam Clemens in his rocking chair, and he speaks in the voice of
his Hannibal childhood–straight and honest, observant and cynical,
youthful but wise, idealistic and disappointed, always amused, and
sometimes he rolls the words down stairs–where it's long stairs and
they bounce a good deal, you know. They bounce themselves right into

The long sentence isn't a stunt. Thunderstorms do seem to sustain
themselves forever and then suddenly lull and regather. The flashes and
claps punctuate the constant rolling uneasiness. I don't know if you
can describe one in short sentences. That was the limitation of
Hemingway's style. "Grumbling, rumbling, tumbling" when it comes is not
an effect, but like all good descriptions simply the best way to say
it, evoking the way storms wander away from us, still in turmoil. Look
how he uses fst! to break the flow.

Pretty soon it darkened up, and begun to thunder and lighten; so the birds was right about it. The word was throughout is always better than the word were,
and keeps Huck's voice in view. The remarkable thing is that we accept
this poetic evocation as the voice of an illiterate boy. Darkened up is better than darken, and darkened down would be horrible. Lighten is the right word, perhaps never before used like this, allowing him to avoid the completely wrong thunder and lightning, without having to write the pedestrian and there was thunder and lightning. It keeps it in Huck's voice. An English teacher who corrects lighten should be teaching a language he doesn't know. And look at these words: It would get so dark that it looked all blue-black outside, and lovely…No, don't look at them. Get a musician to compose for it. Notice how lovely softens the blue-black and nods back to it soothingly.

It isn't merely Twain's language that makes him a master, however;
it's his understanding of human nature, and his honesty in writing
about people as they really are. I recently read blogger and newsman
Fred Clark's entire page-by-page review of Tim LaHaye and Jerry
Jenkins's Left Behind (no mean feat, that; Clark spent some four years critiquing the book in weekly posts on his blog, Slacktivist, and his shrewd and informed insights are well worth your time). In one post Clark hits upon exactly what it is about Huck Finn that Scott and I so admire:

Jesus was always saying this kind of thing: You want to
live? Die to yourself. You want to be first? Be last. Want to come out
on top? Head for the bottom. Want to win? Surrender.

You want to get saved? Get lost.

Which brings us to what is, for my money, the greatest scene of salvation and redemption in literature:

It was a close place. I took it up, and held it in my hand. I was
a-trembling, because I'd got to decide, forever, betwixt two things,
and I knowed it. I studied a minute, sort of holding my breath, and
then says to myself:"All right, then, I'll
go to Hell" — and tore it up.

It was awful thoughts and awful words, but they was said. And I let
them stay said; and never thought no more about reforming. … And for
a starter I would go to work and steal Jim out of slavery again; and if
I could think up anything worse, I would do that, too; because as long
as I was in, and in for good, I might as well go the whole hog.

This is, of course, from The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.
The piece of paper that poor Huck tore up was the letter he had written
to turn in his friend, the escaped slave Jim. Huck had been taught, and
he sincerely believed, that doing so was his duty as a good Christian
(and as a good, law-abiding American). He had been taught, and he
sincerely believed, that failing to do so would damn his soul to Hell.

Study that a minute. Turning in Jim would condemn his friend to
years of misery in this world, but his own immortal soul would be
damned for eternity — and what are a few mortal years compared with
that? Weigh such a choice on the scales that [LaHaye and Jenkins] use
in Left Behind and Huck's choice is clear. But that is not the choice he makes.

"All right, then, I'll go to Hell!" he says. And the angels in heaven rejoice.