April 30, 2013

Let's go fly a kite...

When I was a little girl, my cousin Brenda had a piano book from the movie Mary Poppins, and when I would visit her in the summer I loved to sing along while she played.  My favorite was Feed the Birds, but a close second was Let's Go Fly a Kite, which always made me want to run outside and fashion a kite from newspaper and watch it soar.

My children may not have grown up with Mr. Banks and Bert around to help them fly their own kites, but they had someone even better...their grandfather.  My dad was severely injured in a truck accident that limited his mobility, even before he developed Parkinson's Disease, but he never let anything stand in the way of pursuing his interests, and memories of childhood kites prompted him to return to the sport with zeal when my boys were little.  And I do mean with zeal literally!  He started designing his own kites and teaching my children how to fly them, first small kites, then box kites, and finally, the king of the skies--stunt kites!

my two oldest sons with kite designed by their grandfather and sewn by their grandmother!
 My father would call the house and tell the boys to 'get ready' and he'd swing by and pick them up and off they would go on their kite flying adventures out by the lake.  An afternoon of chasing kites, a picnic lunch of sandwiches and chocolate milk, and time spent with your beloved grandfather--life doesn't get much sweeter than that.  But you don't have to take my word for it, here's a little essay my oldest son wrote about his experiences:

Thanks for all the wonderful memories, Dad!

Let's Go Fly A Kite 
 Mr. Banks:
With tuppence for paper and strings
You can have your own set of wings
With your feet on the ground
You're a bird in a flight
With your fist holding tight
To the string of your kite

Oh, oh, oh!
Let's go fly a kite
Up to the highest height!
Let's go fly a kite and send it soaring
Up through the atmosphere
Up where the air is clear
Oh, let's go fly a kite!

When you send it flyin' up there
All at once you're lighter than air
You can dance on the breeze
Over 'ouses and trees
With your first 'olding tight
To the string of your kite

Oh, oh, oh!
Let's go fly a kite
Up to the highest height!
Let's go fly a kite and send it soaring
Up through the atmosphere
Up where the air is clear
Let's go fly a kite!

April 29, 2013

What a whirl of activity this weekend!  Dinner out with wonderful friends on Friday night, and a trip to our children's college for a performance of The Madwoman of Chaillot on Saturday.  It was my son's last college production, so it was a bittersweet moment to see him on stage and reflect how quickly the years have flown by.  He played an oil prospector, dressed in an old fashioned three piece suit, a Texas (think big) cowboy hat and a bit of a Southern drawl, tempered by a little Charlton Heston à la Ben Hur thrown in to keep things lively.  He was, as always, amazing and we were so proud of him.  Afterwards, it was our great pleasure to take our son and his girlfriend, plus our daughter and her fiance' out for ice cream and conversation.  Lots of conversation.  I've mentioned before that we like to TALK around a table, right?! 

Today was the first day it was really warm enough to work outside and wow, did that feel marvelous!  My hyancinths are blooming and you can see that the forsythia and lilacs won't be too long now.  Home Depot  lightened my purse a little...a beautiful Boston fern for the front porch plus a lovely yellow begonia hanging basket, bright yellow ranunculus for the front garden, a bashful pink bleeding heart for the shade garden, and several sunny yellow begonias and white snowflake plants for the pot by my front door literally jumped into my cart at the store.  They looked so happy and eager...how could I refuse to take them home and love them?  

One slight problem, that I imagine I'll be writing about more than once in the next few weeks...mama cardinal and I are in a standoff, and I am determined to win.  The hanging basket hadn't been up more than two hours before she was happily nesting in it, and now we are having a stare-down contest from my kitchen window.  She perches on the basket wire and looks right at me, as if daring me to make her move.  But as much as I want to see her happy, I don't think a big pot of begonias that need watering every couple of days is going to be quite the deluxe hotel she was imagining! 

And now it's Monday and only eleven work days (ten if you don't count today) until my husband and I leave on vacation!  Whoo-hoo!  I've started my list of what to pack...needlework, books, magazines, camera, itineraries, wine and picnic basket.  My husband has his list ready...golf clubs, golf cart, golf balls, golf shoes...well, you get the drift.  And we always have one very special item to pack, that goes with us on every vacation and camping outing, in case we find a breeze.  We never leave home without our very special family kite.  This week I'll be sharing some family kite stories, including our special kite designer father and his talented production assistant, my mother.  And along the way we'll even take a peek at my dad's own 'kite heaven.'  
Spring Fever by South Dakota artist Terry Redlin
by Joyce Carol Oates

thing there
is in the American
soul that soars with
kites that soar! Some-
thing alive with the roar
of the wind lifting the kite
that soars above rooftops, tree-
tops, and awestruck heads! And yet—
Something there is not in the
American soul to adore the
kite that fails to soar.
I've seen it, I've
feared it, and
so have you.
The kite whose tail
is tattered in the
TV antenna.
The kite that rises
at dawn
then crashes
at your feet.
in a

I hope you have a lovely start to your week!

April 28, 2013

I spy...a favorite thing!

I'm linking up today with Mockingbird Hill Cottage and its weekend sharing of A Favorite Thing, so please take a few moments over the next week to read and enjoy all the special favorites that have been posted here.  Today I want to share a final moment from our D.C. trip, which fast turned into a favorite thing that my son and I still reminisce and laugh about!  I've mentioned it before, but my entire family are HUGE '24'/Jack Bauer fans.  We faithfully watched all eight seasons of this television series, which involved agent Jack Bauer (played by Kiefer Sutherland) saving the country, one 24 hour period at a time. 
But of course long before there was Jack, I had fallen in love with all sorts of spies...from the dashing and oh so brave Scarlet Pimpernel during the tumultuous times of the French Revolution and the handsome look-alike Rudolph Rassendyll who saves Ruritania from ruin in the gripping Prisoner of Zenda to the foggy streets of London where Holmes and Watson tenaciously pursued the criminal masterminds, I've loved my spy novels.  I gobbled them up like candy...the WWII spies in Ken Follett's novels like The Eye of the Needle, Triple (oh how I love Nat Dickstein!), and Key to Rebecca, the cold war novels of Helen MacInnes, and on to modern espionage agents like Gabriel Allon in Daniel Silva's novels and all American hero/spy Mitch Rapp in Vince Flynn's thrillers. 
And of course, I can't overlook this favorite spy!

I've passed my little private 'espionage high' on to my family, and we all have our own favorite spies and 'enquiry agents' (if you aren't familiar with Will Thomas's recent novels involving equiry agent Cyrus Barker and his assistant Thomas Llewellen, or Anne Perry's William and Hester Monk series I recommend them heartily!).  My oldest son loves Bond, James Bond, and the Holmes/Watson duo, while my husband and youngest son are partial to Mitch Rapp.  My middle son holds the family 'wow' factor for having met and worked with several of the actors from '24', including Kiefer Sutherland and Carlos Bernard (who played the handsome but conflicted Tony Almeida in the series). 
Which leads me to my favorite thing of the week...my special surprise treat to my son while we were in D.C...tickets to the newly opened International Spy Museum!  We had a ball, browsing all the exhibits and reading about the history of spies from George Washington's era up to the present.  We saw an Enigma machine, shoes with transmitters built into the heels, concealment rings, fountain pen cameras, lipstick pistols, lethal umbrellas, eyeglasses with concealed cyanide capsules...all the master spies' tricks of the trade.
And the piece de resistance? Special admission to Operation Spy, a one hour, adrenaline fueled interactive experience, where we received new identities and set off on a mission to save the world from evil, with only an hour to prevent a catastrophe in the fictional country of Kandahar. We were pitched against another family in a mad race against time, decrypting secret audio conversations, penetrating and escaping from a high-security compound, and interrogating a suspect agent as part of our mission.

What can I say?  The other family didn't stand a chance.  We'd watched too many episodes of '24' to let our family back home down...we rose to the occasion, saved the world, and even had time for ice cream in the snack shop, where we purchased a great cd collection of Music to Spy By.  All in the day of a spy, or more correctly, two wanna-be spies from Wisconsin.  And that all made for a wonderful favorite memory!  

Here's a little poem by one of my favorite spies, Percy Blakeney, Baronet, from The Scarlet Pimpernel. Click here to watch the incredible Leslie Howard in his gifted recitation of "The Demned Elusive Pimpernel."  No one ever did it better than he!

April 26, 2013

Life is good...

Where did the week go?  I can't believe it is Friday so soon!  We spent last night ripping out our living room carpet--what an icky job that was!  The carpet was old and outdated (definitely from the 1980's 'country' color palette) when we moved in and that was nine years ago.  I've been wanting to change it up since day one, and next week I'll be giving you some sneak peeks at the changes afoot (Hah! Afoot--get it?!  Not enough sleep the last couple of nights is making me a little silly this morning...) 

Tomorrow I'm looking forward to sharing a favorite thing that my son and I did during our D.C. trip, and today I'm posting his final poem from the Poetry Out Loud recitation competition.  I first discovered this poem back in 10th grade American Literature class, and it gave me a real thrill to sit out in the audience and hear my son recite it again, after first hearing it so many years ago.  Written in 1925, the words convey an eerie foretelling of some of the woes facing our country today. 

Shine, Perishing Republic

By Robinson Jeffers
While this America settles in the mould of its vulgarity, heavily thickening to empire,
And protest, only a bubble in the molten mass, pops and sighs out, and the mass hardens,

I sadly smiling remember that the flower fades to make fruit, the fruit rots to make earth.
Out of the mother; and through the spring exultances, ripeness and decadence; and home to the mother.

You making haste haste on decay: not blameworthy; life is good, be it stubbornly long or suddenly
A mortal splendor: meteors are not needed less than mountains: shine, perishing republic.

But for my children, I would have them keep their distance from the thickening center; corruption
Never has been compulsory, when the cities lie at the monster’s feet there are left the mountains.

And boys, be in nothing so moderate as in love of man, a clever servant, insufferable master.
There is the trap that catches noblest spirits, that caught—they say—God, when he walked on earth.
Taken on our evening trolley tour of the Washington Monuments. I love the dark, foreboding atmosphere of this photo.

My favorite line from this poem is life is good, be it stubbornly long or suddenly a mortal splendor. 
Is it just coincidence that my son is shown in this evening shot, surrounded by American flags and the Capitol in the background, wearing a shirt that says "Life is Good"? 
Have a wonderful Friday!

April 25, 2013

The power of words

Son #3, front row, just to the left of the mike.  A truly outstanding and talented group of young men and women.

It seems fitting to post about my son again today--his play The Madwoman of Chaillot opened last night, and on Saturday my family will gather to watch his final performance on stage at college.  We have enjoyed so many finely crafted performances over the last five years, and I'm sure this production will be no exception.  I may sound like a 'mom' but he is an amazing actor and I love watching him on stage, bringing life and meaning and spirit to what started as just words on a page.  But before he set off for college, I 'knew him when'--the night he turned in a performance of a lifetime with a poem that moved everyone in the audience.

The morning after his performance we were heading out of the hotel when the father of the Minnesota representative (who I swear, looked EXACTLY like Doogie Howser!) stopped my son in the hallway and proceeded to tell him that he had come with his son to the competition, not really knowing what to expect.  An attorney, he confided he had never had much time or patience for poetry.  But, after hearing my son recite his poem he was anxious to go home and attempt to experience for himself a little of the magic and mystery of poetry--that my son's powerful recitation and the poignant story of the poem had touched him in a way he never dreamed possible.

And that, my friends, is what a fine actor does.  He takes the words of another and carefully transposes them into something so real, so vital that time stops and you are alive in the moment.  Nothing else exists but the actor, the words and the reality he creates for you. So here is the heartbreaking poem that left me, and the rest of the room, awed and for a second, struck with silence-- James Dickey's The Lifeguard.

The Lifeguard

In a stable of boats I lie still,
From all sleeping children hidden.   
The leap of a fish from its shadow   
Makes the whole lake instantly tremble.   
With my foot on the water, I feel   
The moon outside

Take on the utmost of its power.
I rise and go out through the boats.   
I set my broad sole upon silver,
On the skin of the sky, on the moonlight,   
Stepping outward from earth onto water   
In quest of the miracle

This village of children believed   
That I could perform as I dived
For one who had sunk from my sight.   
I saw his cropped haircut go under.   
I leapt, and my steep body flashed   
Once, in the sun.

Dark drew all the light from my eyes.   
Like a man who explores his death
By the pull of his slow-moving shoulders,   
I hung head down in the cold,
Wide-eyed, contained, and alone
Among the weeds,

And my fingertips turned into stone   
From clutching immovable blackness.   
Time after time I leapt upward
Exploding in breath, and fell back   
From the change in the children’s faces   
At my defeat. 
Beneath them I swam to the boathouse   
With only my life in my arms
To wait for the lake to shine back
At the risen moon with such power   
That my steps on the light of the ripples   
Might be sustained.

Beneath me is nothing but brightness   
Like the ghost of a snowfield in summer.   
As I move toward the center of the lake,   
Which is also the center of the moon,   
I am thinking of how I may be
The savior of one

Who has already died in my care.   
The dark trees fade from around me.   
The moon’s dust hovers together.   
I call softly out, and the child’s
Voice answers through blinding water.   
Patiently, slowly,

He rises, dilating to break
The surface of stone with his forehead.   
He is one I do not remember
Having ever seen in his life.
The ground I stand on is trembling   
Upon his smile.

I wash the black mud from my hands.   
On a light given off by the grave   
I kneel in the quick of the moon   
At the heart of a distant forest   
And hold in my arms a child   
Of water, water, water.

April 24, 2013

Washington, round two

How many people are lucky enough to experience a 'trip of a lifetime' twice?  That's exactly what happened to my son, who was chosen to represent his home state again his senior year in the national Poetry Out Loud competition in Washington, D.C.  And since his father accompanied him the first year, it was my turn the second time so we set out on another wonderful adventure.  When you have more than one child, it is a constant juggling act to find one-on-one time and I really loved having time with him alone, watching him turn in stellar performances at the competition and then sight-seeing in our nation's capitol.

I hinted yesterday that the year before he and his father had difficulties finding the right street to really see the Washington Monument, so we made sure we found it this time!

Look, ma, it's the Washington Monument!
Personally, I think it's kind of hard to NOT find the Monument, but that's just me.  You know guys, they don't like to ask for directions!

We had beautiful spring weather while we were there:

Outside the Capitol

Here we are at the Capitol luncheon:

One of the interesting things that my son was asked to do was to recite one of his poems for National Public Radio.  I sat in the hallway in the beautiful old building where it was housed at the time, and thought how amazing it was that my son, only 17, was reciting a beautiful classic that would later be broadcast out to thousands of listeners.  As a parent, and as a passionate lover of poetry, it was a supremely gratifying moment.  Weeks later, a classmate of his was driving to school with her father when lo and behold...there he was, on the radio and giving a beautiful recitation of Robert Browning's immortal and creepily dramatic monologue, The Last Duchess.

That's my last Duchess painted on the wall,
Looking as if she were alive
I call
That piece a wonder, now: Frà Pandolf's hands
Worked busily a day, and there she stands.

I gave commands;
Then all smiles stopped together
 E'en then would be some stooping; and I choose
Never to stoop

That's my last Duchess painted on the wall,
Looking as if she were alive. I call
That piece a wonder, now: Frà Pandolf's hands
Worked busily a day, and there she stands.
Will 't please you sit and look at her? I said
'Frà Pandolf' by design, for never read
Strangers like you that pictured countenance,
The depth and passion of its earnest glance,
But to myself they turned (since none puts by
The curtain I have drawn for you, but I)
And seemed as they would ask me, if they durst,
How such a glance came there; so, not the first
Are you to turn and ask thus. Sir, 't was not
Her husband's presence only, called that spot
Of joy into the Duchess' cheek: perhaps
Frà Pandolf chanced to say, 'Her mantle laps
Over my lady's wrist too much,' or 'Paint
Must never hope to reproduce the faint
Half-flush that dies along her throat:' such stuff
Was courtesy, she thought, and cause enough
For calling up that spot of joy. She had
A heart -- how shall I say? -- too soon made glad,
Too easily impressed; she liked whate'er
She looked on, and her looks went everywhere.
Sir, 't was all one! My favour at her breast,
The dropping of the daylight in the West,
The bough of cherries some officious fool
Broke in the orchard for her, the white mule
She rode with round the terrace -- all and each
Would draw from her alike the approving speech,  
Or blush, at least. She thanked men, -- good! but thanked
Somehow -- I know not how -- as if she ranked
My gift of a nine-hundred-years-old name
With anybody's gift. Who'd stoop to blame
This sort of trifling? Even had you skill
In speech -- (which I have not) -- to make your will
Quite clear to such an one, and say, 'Just this
Or that in you disgusts me; here you miss,
Or there exceed the mark' -- and if she let
Herself be lessoned so, nor plainly set
Her wits to yours, forsooth, and made excuse,
-- E'en then would be some stooping; and I choose
Never to stoop. Oh, sir, she smiled, no doubt,
Whene'er I passed her; but who passed without
Much the same smile? This grew; I gave commands;
Then all smiles stopped together. There she stands
As if alive. Will 't please you rise? We'll meet
The company below then. I repeat,
The Count your master's known munificence
Is ample warrant that no just pretence
Of mine for dowry will be disallowed;
Though his fair daughter's self, as I avowed
At starting, is my object. Nay, we'll go
Together down, sir. Notice Neptune, though,
Taming a sea-horse, thought a rarity,
Which Claus of Innsbruck cast in bronze for me!

April 23, 2013

Twas brillig, and the slithy toves

We're still in Washington, reminiscing about son number three's adventures representing his home state at the national poetry competition.  A big thrill was that one of the judges was Garrison Keillor.  A thrill and yet, more than a little intimidating as well!  Our family listens to Writers Almanac faithfully, as well as Prairie Home Companion.  I snicker every time I see a bumper crop of tomatoes and think of his 'tomato relief' observation in Lake Wobegon! But to all of a sudden be up on stage, lights and attention all on you, knowing that Garrison Keillor is listening and critiquing every word, every line, every nuanced phrase...I don't know how my son did it!  I am pretty sure my knees would have been knocking.
The judges' row
Getting ready to recite....

Can you say INTIMIDATING?!
During their free time, my husband and son were privileged to tour the White House with the other students and chaperones, and  visit the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts as well.  They also hunted on their own to get a shot of a particular monument, but that's a story for another day.  I'll let you guess which monument THEY HAD TROUBLE FINDING, but here's a hint...take a look at the picture they shot of the hotel pool and look for the tallest thing in the distance....
And for today's recitation pleasure, here is the tongue twister that seemed to be the most popular poem that year at the contest.  Trying saying it out loud ten times real fast....in front of Garrison Keillor!


By Lewis Caroll

’Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
      Did gyre and gimble in the wabe:
All mimsy were the borogoves,
      And the mome raths outgrabe.

“Beware the Jabberwock, my son!
      The jaws that bite, the claws that catch!
Beware the Jubjub bird, and shun
      The frumious Bandersnatch!”

He took his vorpal sword in hand;
      Long time the manxome foe he sought—
So rested he by the Tumtum tree
      And stood awhile in thought.

And, as in uffish thought he stood,
      The Jabberwock, with eyes of flame,
Came whiffling through the tulgey wood,
      And burbled as it came!

One, two! One, two! And through and through
      The vorpal blade went snicker-snack!
He left it dead, and with its head
      He went galumphing back.

“And hast thou slain the Jabberwock?
      Come to my arms, my beamish boy!
O frabjous day! Callooh! Callay!”
      He chortled in his joy.

’Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
      Did gyre and gimble in the wabe:
All mimsy were the borogoves,
      And the mome raths outgrabe.

April 22, 2013

The Road to Washington, D.C.

Let's continue to celebrate National Poetry Month, shall we?  This week I'm going to share the little bit I know about a wonderful national recitation competition.  I've shared with you in the past that my grandmother loved to recite poems out loud, finding just the right verse to match the occasion.  Her special gift was passed down to son number 3, who excelled in  forensics in high school (earning the title of state champion in prose) and who has now gone on to double major in radio/tv/film and theater in college.  But he also had the rare and special opportunity while in high school to represent his state, not once but twice, in the national Poetry Out Loud contest, held each spring in Washington, D.C.

Created by the National Endowment for the Arts and the Poetry Foundation in 2006, Poetry Out Loud is administered in partnership with the State Arts Agencies of all 50 states, the District of Columbia, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and Puerto Rico. Poetry Out Loud starts at the classroom level, and then winners advance from a school-wide competition to a regional and/or state competition, and ultimately to the National Finals. We really didn't pay much attention when our son left early one Saturday morning during his junior year for some kind of competition downtown...he had told us he had won the school competition but we had never heard of POL, and really didn't understand what he was doing.  We just wished him luck, told him we were proud of him, and later that afternoon, we were excited for him when he called to ask for his social security number for the forms they were filling out. He'd just been named state champion and was heading to Washington, D.C.!  The competition generously pays for an adult chaperone to accompany each state winner, and since I drew the short straw my husband and son set out for D.C. a few weeks later.

Checking in at headquarters
It was a marvelous experience and the state representatives were the 'best of the best', and we were so proud of him for making it as far as the quarter-finals.  While in D.C. my son and husband also had a chance to do a little sight-seeing and had the photo event of a lifetime, when our congresswoman recognized our son for his state representation.  It was an amazing time for both of them.
My husband and son with Representative Tammy Baldwin
So let's hang out in Washington this week and enjoy a few of my son's poetry selections, shall we? I'll start with his all-time favorite poem (which happens to be one of mine as well!).  Here is one of Robert Frost's best known poems:

The Road Not Taken

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
Two travelers, two different roads to take, but the father/son bond has made all the difference...

April 21, 2013

Windows to your soul...

Stained glass window in my childhood church, Indiana
I'm linking up today to my friend Claudia's Favorite Things Saturday.  Please click on the link at the bottom of this page to be transferred to her blog, where you can enjoy many more favorite things by different writers.  It's always a fun way to peek in on other blogs and get new perspectives!

My Friday post was about doors, so it seems natural that I should follow up that discussion with a few thoughts about windows.  If taking pictures of interesting doors captivates me on vacation, taking window pictures runs a close second.  Peeking in or peering out, a window offers a glimpse into a different world, a fleeting chance to wonder about how someone else lives and dreams and loves.  I particularly love these photos, taken in Greece because the linens are so beautiful! 

Here's a final picture from Greece, with a beautiful clock on Santorini framed in a courtyard window. 

I couldn't resist adding this shot of my sweet Willow, who wishes she was on the outside looking in rather than the other way around!

Because my blog wouldn't be complete without a poem, here's a nice Sunday-go-to-meeting poem for the day.  I hope all of us have a chance to be this kind of window today...

The Windows

Lord, how can man preach thy eternal word?
    He is a brittle crazy glass;
Yet in thy temple thou dost him afford
    This glorious and transcendent place,
    To be a window, through thy grace.

But when thou dost anneal in glass thy story,
    Making thy life to shine within
The holy preachers, then the light and glory
    More reverend grows, and more doth win;
    Which else shows waterish, bleak, and thin.

Doctrine and life, colors and light, in one
    When they combine and mingle, bring
A strong regard and awe; but speech alone
    Doth vanish like a flaring thing,
    And in the ear, not conscience, ring.

 And last but not least, because it's the weekend and we all deserve something to smile about, here's a final oh-so-true reflection about windows from one of my favorite humorists, Erma Bombeck. 
Happy weekend!

Link here for Favorite Things Saturday!