Tuesday, May 24, 2016

7:30 BELLS: Mystery Startles Us Awake

Tonight, when I walked the meadow at dusk, clouds played a dark melody on the sky. It was beautiful enough. 

Then . . .a train whistle blew. The brass coming in. I stopped, listened. Then listened to the echo. And again the whistle blew and echoed. And I stood transfixed.

I'm not the first to be transfixed by that plaintive sound. But I wondered, why did it make me feel so alive? And the answer was simple. Because it was laden with mystery. 

Mystery, wonder--the things we feel but can't quite name--can't pin to any rational explanation, startles us awake and makes us feel alive.

Think about the mystery of that: What we don't understand makes us feel most alive.

Monday, May 23, 2016

The Treasure Hunt for Books

Summer is almost here! That means, or I hope it does, reading outside--under trees, in trees, in hammocks, on beaches, boats, camp-outs, picnics . . . .

Kids always get assigned summer reading. But now is the time to ask them to make a list of three books they WANT to read this summer. This is the time to teach them the joy of recreational reading.

And if you hear the inevitable refrain . . . "I can't think of anything," send the child on a treasure hunt. Take her to the library and turn her loose to browse among the shelves. The only assignment: find three books to read that look interesting. Any books except graphic novels (we want them to READ). We need to teach the joy of random browsing among books. The joy of finding unexpected treasure that opens up your world.

Happy Summer Reading!

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

7:30 BELLS: Let the Weeds Ring Out!

What made me feel alive this week? Weeds. Yes, weeds.

In spring they come forth—from everywhere. Between cracks in the pavement. Between gaps in the rockery. Among seedlings in the garden. In corners of pots. From everywhere comes the wonderful, verdant, riotous uplifting of life unrestrained.

I have three acres here in the country and lots of gardens. When I first moved here from the city, I looked at the weeds as soldiers in an invading army. I wanted manicured gardens. All that changed. Why? I changed.

I love that everything is alive and wants, fights, to live. I love the wild energy of weeds. And the bees love them, too. They make honey from their flowers.

I can’t think of a better way to live than to glean sweetness from what you once considered an enemy. Now the weeds and I do more than co-exist. Together, we flourish.

7:30 BELLS Posts run every Tuesday.

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

7:30 BELLS Guest Post: Being Alive is Being Hosted, by Mitali Perkins

I'm pleased to share this month's 7:30 Bells Guest Post by award-winning children's book author Mitali Perkins.

I was dreading traveling to the Middle East last month. My father is declining and on hospice; my mother needs my help. Would they be okay while I was gone? On top of that, I was worried about encountering the kitsch that comes with tourism, especially in the Holy Land. Would I gag over Jesus Bobblehead dolls for sale in Bethlehem? But my pastor husband had invited me to go along with our church group, and I knew it was important that I go.

“Why are you going to Israel?” Dad asked, looking worried. “We don’t have family there!”

Thanks to cognitive decline, his English is failing faster than his native Bangla. I tried to figure out a way to answer in that language. And then it came in the blink of an aha moment: “I’m going to visit Jesus’ ‘desh’, Dad.”

“Oh!” He leaned back in his wheelchair, nodding with a sudden, full comprehension of the purpose of my trip.

“Desh” literally means “village,” but it’s one of those words that loses oodles of meaning in translation. You can’t really know someone in Bengal unless you visit their “desh.” You draw much closer once you’ve received hospitality in the place where they grew up.

The word rang with a chime of invitation to me. “Come to my village, Mitali,” I heard.

And so I went.

When I travel, I delight in engaging all five senses, but my Host knew all about that. The taste of steaming flat bread and fresh fish from the Sea of Galilee, the sounds of roosters crowing and children calling to each other in Nazareth, the cool feel of old, golden stones under my palm in Jerusalem, the smells of olive oil and nard in Bethlehem, the sight of a golden dome, high on a hill where old olive trees remembered everything … I loved every minute in Jesus’ desh, and my parents shared the visit through the photos I was sending.

Being alive, after all, is being hosted. The whole world is His “desh.”

P.S. No bobblehead Jesus dolls. Only olive-wood sheep. I bought ten.

Mitali Perkins is the author of several novels, including Rickshaw Girl (chosen by the New York Public Library as one of the top 100 books for children in the past 100 years) and Bamboo People (an American Library Association's Top Ten Novels for Young Adults.) Her newest, Tiger Boy, Charlesbridge, is a Notable Book for a Global Society and an NCTE Charlotte Huck Honor Book. Mitali was born in Kolkata, India before immigrating to the US with her family when she was seven. 

7:30 BELLS Posts run every Tuesday.
7:30 BELLS Guest Posts run on the second  Tuesday of every month.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

7:30 BELLS:When Two Worlds Meet

A spring storm blew the cherry blossoms, those sky dwellers, onto our pond. Pink islands for the gold fish looking up. Or pink clouds.

The surface of the water is like the skin of our own small consciousness. Something falls on us from above. Something flashes from the unknown depths below. For one moment all floats, tranquil. Lovely.

7:30 BELLS Posts run every Tuesday.

7:30 BELLS Guest Posts run on the second and fourth Tuesdays of every month. Join me on May 10 for a guest post with author Mitali Perkins.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

7:30 BELLS: When Mountains Become Breadcrumbs

On a day clear and glorious, I began the long drive home from the Teen Lit Festival in Bend, Oregon. Three Sisters Mountains graced the southwest. I saw Mount Washington, and Mount Jefferson soared in the northwest. All of them are strangers to me. I live between the Cascades and Olympic mountains in Washington state.

I drove west over Santiam Pass. More mountains rose and more, until I emerged some sixty miles south of Portland. Mount Hood, more familiar, rose to the northeast. Glancing back, I could still see the white peaks marking the way I’d come.

Crossing into Washington, old friends Mount Saint Helens and Mount Adams appeared, and soon after, my own Mount Rainier. And bells rang as it struck me: The mountains, the white bread crumbs of giants, had led me home.

We should always let mountains lead us home. Always follow what is immense, great, splendid, and utterly beyond us. Follow the wild beauty that rings the bells of our hearts. These are worthy standards to determine our way.

May the mountains always be my breadcrumbs.

7:30 BELLS Posts run every Tuesday.

7:30 BELLS Guest Posts run on the second and fourth Tuesdays of every month. Join me on May 10 for a guest post with author Mitali Perkins.

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

7:30 BELLS Guest Post: Before the World Awakes Bells by Kevan Atteberry

I'm pleased to share this month's 7:30 BELLS Guest Post by the always irrepressible author/illustrator Kevan Atteberry.

guess my “7:30 Bells” are really more like 4:30 or 5:00 Bells; Early in the Morning Bells; when I am Up Before Most of the World Bells. I like being up early. And, if I am up early enough to see a sunrise, it’s even better; especially during the summer. I'm not sure why, but I find this time of the day—when most of the world is still sleeping—exhilarating. But it is not an easy thing to do. I have just as hard of time getting up early as anybody else. When my iPhone alarm goes off at 4:30, most of the time I am a snooze alarm abuser. 4:39, 4:48, 4:57, 5:06, etc. But those days I do actually get up when the alarm first goes off (usually the mornings when my bladder and alarm are in sync), I find by the time I’ve showered and dressed and am properly caffeinated, I am ready to take on the creative tasks at hand. I’m energized and inspired and ready to roll. Most of the time it is in my studio in front of the computer or at my drawing table. Other times (summer) when I can open the back door and listen to songs of other early risers in the yard, I might take my coffee and a sketch book to my neglected patio—or the front porch, if I want to see the city come to life—and start banging out something that I am sure is going to be brilliant.

It doesn’t have to be in front of my computer, the back yard, or the front porch. If the doughnut shop—I mean the coffee shop—is open, I am just as comfortable and productive among the hubbub of other human early risers. In fact I thrive on hubbub sometimes. The important thing is that it is early, and before most others are awake. It isn’t the same at 10:00 or 2:00 in the afternoon. Maybe the being up early presents an opportunity for starting new. And the beauty of that idea is the opportunity happens every day. If I can get up for it.

Kevan is picture book illustrator and writer. He has illustrated lots of books for other writers and last year's BUNNIES!!! was his first authored picture book. He of course illustrated it, too. In May his second book, PUDDLES!!!, a companion book to BUNNIES, launches. And next year look for his I LOVE YOU MORE THAN THE SMELL OF SWAMP GAS—a book his editor has termed, "macho mushy." Kevan's biggest claim to fame is as the creator of Clippy the Microsoft Word helper.

7:30 BELLS Posts run every Tuesday.

7:30 BELLS Guest Posts run on the second and fourth Tuesdays of every month. Join me on May 10 for a guest post with author Mitali Perkins.