Sometimes Mondays

. . . look like a day of reckoning!

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My weekend was full of spring cleaning. The laundry room. The hall closets. The garage. Things that are AWESOME now at completion, but that were hard and not particularly pleasant in the doing.

I'm also putting a long course of nasty antibiotics behind me, starting today. Although grateful for the treatment (which worked!), these particular antibiotics (yeah, there were two) leave me . . . not quite myself. Out of sorts. Whiney. Generally off my game.

So these are Very Good Things to have completed and gotten through. But Good Things sometimes have A Price To Pay. Trailing behind me, you'll see . . . a wake of undone chores, everyday tasks, and loose ends.

A day of reckoning, indeed.
(But isn't that what Mondays are for?)

==

"Here comes the sun. And I say, it's alright."
        -- George Harrison

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I hope your week is off to a great start!


Magical . . . and Totally Over the Top

It's been a couple of weeks since my birthday now, but it's not too late to share the gift I got from my sister. Because it was awesome. And totally . . . over the top.

First, I'll just say that my sister was . . . kinda cagey . . . about this particular gift. She warned me that I'd have to "do something with it" when it arrived, and she mentioned the words "right away" more than once. So I was pretty curious from the get-go. Once she knew the delivery date, she checked in with me about my schedule (which - of course - is wide open these days. . . ). And once she had confirmation that it had been delivered, she texted me right away. "Open it now," she said. 

Curiouser and curiouser. . . 

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As I opened the box (which was quite large, I'm gonna say), I unpacked flowers. 

Lots of flowers.
Live flowers.
Really gorgeous BIG flowers.

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Also bunches of evergreen and herbs and snapdragons and roses!

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By the time I got everything unpacked and stuck in water . . . it looked (and smelled!) like my kitchen had been transformed into a floral shop.

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What my sister had sent me . . . was a "posy kit" from floral expert and slow-flower artist Teresa Sabankaya!

After consulting Teresa's book (which came with the kit) and then after watching her excellent instructional video (I got a link as part of the kit), I was ready to try and create my own posy!

I set up "shop" in my dining room, and followed Teresa's instructions. You build the arrangement while you hold the flowers, bouquet-style, rather than arranging them in a vase. It would have been helpful to have a third (or fourth, even) hand. But I think with practice, it would get a lot smoother to do with only two.

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Here's my finished posy. . . 

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I even had plenty of flowers left over to make a second.

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It was an absolutely magical birthday gift. Lovely flowers -- AND I learned a new skill. You can bet that I'll be creating more posies from the flowers I cut from my garden this summer -- and even from the bouquets I pick up in the future from the grocery store or Trader Joe's.

Over the top.
But just right!

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Here's to a great weekend for all of us.
See you on Monday.

==

NOTE about the posy kits. If you get inspired to send someone a posy kit, it's important that you do just what my sister did: Make sure the recipient is home when the kit is delivered, and available to open and "release" those flowers right away. This is a very time-sensitive gift, and the recipient is going to need to dig in right away.

 

 

 


Blasting You With Poetry: Week 3

Welcome to another Thursday in April, filled with poetry!

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"You can cut all the flowers but you cannot keep the spring from coming."
        ---Pablo Neruda

I love watching spring . . . unfold . . . in my garden. It's like a miracle every single day out there! I mean, one minute everything is totally bleak and colorless and cold and bare, and the next? Hellebores are popping up (through the snow, even) to say "hey!" It really is poetry . . . happening right before your eyes.

During the long winter, sometimes it's hard to remember that spring is going to come back again. 
But it does.
Every year!
It gives me hope. It renews my spirit. It fills me with the good stuff again!

Have I ever told you about my larch tree? (Some of you might be more familiar with its other name . . . tamarack.) I bought it at the Master Gardener plant sale one May, many years ago now, to plant next to the little pond Brian and Tom were putting in for me at the time. The little larch was about 18" tall, and I thought it would look very nice next to my new pond. I didn't know much about larches at that point, but I've learned a lot about them since!

Like . . . that they can grow to be over 120 feet tall! 
(And mine is on the way. . . )

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You can see it out my living room window there . . .on the left.

Originally, I meant for it to cast a little shade over my pond. I really had no idea it would get as big as it did (is). I also had no idea it would make such a pretty picture out my big window! Guests to our house (y'know . . . back when we had those) always assume I created that space with the pond and the larch on purpose -- to be viewed from my living room. I'd like to take credit, but it was pure serendipity.

Larches are conifers. But they're an unusual kind of conifer: they're deciduous! That means . . . their needles (which are very soft) turn a brilliant gold in the fall, and then fall off. Leaving a very dead-looking tree in the landscape. (Another thing I didn't know when I planted it.)

Here is my (absolutely stunning) larch in the fall . . . 

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and here it is, weeks later, when all the needles fall off and it looks like a giant Charlie Brown Christmas tree.

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Every year, about now - and especially that first year, I start to worry about whether or not my larch will come back. It always seems to be so dead-looking for so long. But then . . . overnight (seriously) . . . spring comes again for my larch, and the green needles pop out again! 

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(That's looking out my window yesterday morning.)

My larch is a visible reminder for me . . . of new beginnings. Of starting again. Of renewal!
Poetry, I tell you!
It's everywhere in my garden.
For me, nothing brings a sense of beginining again . . . like spring.

==

A Purification
Wendell Berry

At start of spring I open a trench
in the ground. I put into it
the winter’s accumulation of paper,
pages I do not want to read
again, useless words, fragments,
errors. And I put into it
the contents of the outhouse:
light of the sun, growth of the ground,
finished with one of their journeys.
To the sky, to the wind, then,
and to the faithful trees, I confess
my sins: that I have not been happy
enough, considering my good luck;
have listened to too much noise;
have been inattentive to wonders;
have lusted after praise.
And then upon the gathered refuse
of mind and body, I close the trench,
folding shut again the dark,
the deathless earth. Beneath that seal
the old escapes into the new.

=

Today's poem can be found in New Collected Poems by Wendell Berry, 2012, Counterpoint. For more information about the poet, check out his entry at Poets.org

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I hope you'll stop by and "blast yourself" with more poetry about spring, new beginnings, and renewal today . . . on Bonny's, Kat's, and Sarah's blogs.

 


Sometimes Mondays

. . . are quiet. (And that's nice.)

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I need a little break. No big deal, and I'll be back by Thursday to blast you with more poetry. But I need a to . . . step away . . . for a couple of days to recover from an episode of diverticulitis. And I'm getting my second vaccine tomorrow, so who knows how I'll feel after that (but clearing the decks, all the same). It's time for a short break.

Here's to the start of a good week for all of us!

"Almost everything will work again if you unplug it for a few minutes, including you."
            -- Anne Lamott

 


Blasting You With Poetry: Week 2

Welcome back to another Thursday in April, filled with poetry!

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"Poetry is a matter of life, not just a matter of language."
        -- Lucille Clifton

When we started talking about how we'd celebrate National Poetry Month on our blogs, Bonny, Kat, and I (and now Sarah has joined us, too!) thought it might be fun if, one week, we all focused on a specific poet. After a bit of thought and some back-and-forth emails, we decided that we wanted to bring you the work of a poet that might be somewhat less familiar to you. We decided on Elizabeth Alexander.

I was first introduced to Elizabeth Alexander when she presented her poem "Praise Song for the Day" at President Obama's first inauguration in 2009. You can watch her recite the poem below, or if you'd like to read it, you can find it here on the Poetry Foundation website.

[In last night's version of this post, I had conveniently embedded the YouTube clip of Elizabeth Alexander reading her poem at the inauguration. But in my ongoing - and growing - frustration with my blog platform host, TypePad, it will not work this morning, and in fact, caused formatting issues with this post that made me need to . . . start over. Not a fun way to begin the morning. I hates the TypePad. Anyway, if you'd like to see the clip - which is quite wonderful, click here to watch it on YouTube. My apologies.]

After the inauguration, I sought out more of her poetry, and started collecting a few of her books for my little library shelves.  Several years later, I read her wonderful memoir, The Light of the World (which is the most beautiful and moving memoir I have ever read; it's so much more than a memoir -- it's . . . well . . .  pure poetry) (as you might expect). 

Bonny has written a terrific background piece on Elizabeth Alexander today, so be sure to check out her post. You can also read more about Elizabeth Alexander's background, accomplishments, and current work on her website. She has a fascinating story, and I hope our posts today encourage you to learn more about her - and to delve deeper into her poetry. Her words are always deep, evocative, and powerful.

The poem I chose to share with you today is one of those poems where the poet talks about what poetry IS. (I'm always drawn to poems . . . poets write . . . about poetry.)

==

Ars Poetica #100: I Believe
Elizabeth Alexander

Poetry, I tell my students,
is idiosyncratic. Poetry

is where we are ourselves
(though Sterling Brown said

"Every 'I' is a dramatic 'I'"),
digging in the clam flats

for the shell that snaps,
emptying the proverbial pocketbook.

Poetry is what you find
in the dirt in the corner,

overhear on the bus, God
in the details, the only way

to get from here to there.
Poetry (and now my voice is rising)

is not all love, love, love,
and I'm sorry the dog died.

Poetry (here I hear myself loudest)
is the human voice,

and are we not of interest to each other?

==

Today's poem can be found in Crave Abundance: New and Selected Poems 1990-2010 by Elizabeth Alexander, 2010, Graywolf Press. 

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I hope you'll stop by and "blast yourself" with more poetry by Elizabeth Alexander today . . . on Bonny's, Kat's, and Sarah's blogs.

 


Playing Those Mind Games

[Click here for a soundtrack to accompany today's post.]

Sometimes, with knitting, it's really a . . . mind games . . . kind of thing.

Will these colors work for this design?
Do I have enough yarn?
Will it fit?
Will I wear it?
Do I have the skills?
Can I persevere through the hard parts?
 . . .  and the boring parts?
And, of course, there is that whole gauge thing.

It's always nice when it works out in the end.

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We all been playing those mind games forever
Some kinda druid dude lifting the veil
Doing the mind guerrilla
Some call it magic the search for the grail

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Yep. This time, I found THE GRAIL!

Of course, now that I've finished, spring has arrived in my corner of the world (it was in the upper 70s yesterday!), so I will be packing this sweater away until fall. 

Mind games, I tell 'ya!

(You can find all the details on Ravelry, here.)

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A few of you asked me last week how I divide up the "progress bars" for my projects. I'm here to tell you . . . it ain't rocket science! With some projects, there are a clear number of steps (or zones or whatever), and it is easy to divide a progress bar into those steps. With other projects? It's a bit trickier. Knitting projects, for example. I mean, I know you could go through the trouble and the maths to figure out how many stitches you'd be knitting in any given project and create a bar that reflects that. But, for me, in a project, I divide it into chunks of work that make sense for me. For a top-down sweater, the project chunks generally look like this:

  • Get ready: gather materials/needles, wind yarn, mark up pattern, do a gauge swatch, etc.
  • Cast on and get yourself "situated" with the start
  • Divide for sleeves
  • Body
  • Sleeve 1
  • Sleeve 2
  • Cast off, weave in ends, block

Of course, those project chunks are not equal in terms of time and effort, but . . . they work to move the project forward anyway.
(So, basically, I fudge it.)
Hope that helps.

==

Be sure to hop on over to Kat's for more Unraveled posts today.


Better Together . . . C'mon Along

Read With Us

"For most people, what is so painful about reading is that you read something and you don't have anybody to share it with. In part what the book club opens up is that people can read a book and then have someone else to talk about it with. Then they see that a book can lead to the pleasure of conversation, that the solitary act of reading can actually be a part of the path to communion and community."
        --bell hooks

Some books . . . just cry out . . . to be discussed.
You can't just read them alone, and then keep them to yourself. 
You need to talk about it!

And that's what's so great about a book group.

Keep that in mind as we reveal our next Read With Us title . . . 

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NPR has this to say about Shuggie Bain (2020's Booker Prize winner):

"Shuggie Bain is a novel that cracks open the human heart, brings you inside, tears you up, and brings you up, with its episodes of unvarnished love, loss, survival and sorrow."
        -- NPR Interview with Douglas Stuart, Author, November 14, 2020

So, yeah.
It's kinda dark.
It's kinda long.
It's sad.
And very real.

But it's . . . So. Dang. Good.

And it will be even better when we share it together! Shuggie Bain is one of those books that cries out . . . to be talked about. Preferrably with friends. (And maybe with a glass of wine. Your call.) I hope you'll take a chance on this book with us. It may not offer an everything-works-out-in-the-end kind of read, but it will make you feel all the feels.

The book is currently available on Kindle for $8.67, and it's recently been released in paperback as well ($14.30 for Prime members). My local independent bookstore has it on the shelf for full price, and it's also available through Audible if you'd prefer to listen. I was able to pick it up right away at my library. It is a little bit longer than any of our previous Read With Us selections, so you may want to get your hands on the book sooner than later. (I will say that it's quite compelling, and once you get started, it reads pretty quickly.)

We'll be talking more about the book and providing some background information later in April and May. Then . . . mark your calendars now for our blog book discussions AND a Zoom discussion on Tuesday, June 8 (probably 6:30pm Eastern time; Same Bat Time, Same Bat Channel).

I hope you'll c'mon along. 
Read with us!
And then . . . let's talk about it.

==

Previous Read With Us book selections:

Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson

Fever by Mary Beth Keane

I'm Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter by Erika L. Sánchez

Wild Game by Adrienne Brodeur

The Women of Brewster Place by Gloria Naylor

Leave the World Behind by Rumaan Alam

 


At the "Root" of March, Part 2

Sometimes, our "words" . . . take us places we didn't expect to go. 

And, really, that's one of the most interesting parts of the whole "word" experience to me. I usually have some things I'm planning to explore about my word each year, but I always leave some room for . . . inspiration, too.

"Roots are not in landscape or a country or a people, they are inside you."
        --- Isabel Allende

I explained the other day that I didn't set out to explore my "roots" in that ancestry/heritage way. I really didn't. My greater family is small, and we are quite geographically dispersed. And beyond my immediate family, the rest of us are not close. I mean . . . we share happy memories of good times and family get-togethers, and we maintain "Christmas-card connections," but we're not in contact much. Besides, my family "roots" are - for the most part - already well-documented (although one branch is quite light on detail).

But then . . . I started messing around with all those photos. And my aunt died. Which got me thinking about my cousins, and all the fun we'd had together when we were young. And my sister had been nudging me for years to join her in doing the Ancestry DNA testing thing. (She did it several years ago, found the results fascinating, and wanted to compare results with me.)

I caved. 
I spit in the vial and sent it in.

Definitely not a "root" adventure I had planned to take this year, but . . . it felt like maybe it was a good thing to do just now.

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And . . . when my results arrived, there were a few surprises. Not in a Dani-Shapiro-Inheritance kind of way (thankfully), but . . . a few notable differences between my results and my sister's (which is totally normal for full siblings, so not really a big deal). And there were a couple of actual surprises. Like . . . I had no idea I was Irish at all. And although I knew I was Swedish, finding out I am equally Norwegian is completely new!

Anyway. It's been a fun little "sidetrack" activity in my "root" adventure.
Sometimes it's fun to be a little curious . . . to take a side road . . . and do a little exploring!

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(My sister and I with our scruffy schnauzer, Heidi, in 1979.)

==

How about you? Have you ever explored your ancestry with a DNA test?


At the "Root" of March, Part 1

Ali Edwards' One Little Word March prompt almost always sends me into a bit of a tailspin, and I usually skip it entirely. She suggests that we "do something" (not necessarily connected to our words, but often inspired by our words) every day for a month. Or . . . try to.

This selecting something to "do" is really hard for me, as a Questioner (á la Gretchen Rubin's Four Tendencies). (Just quickly, Gretchen's framework distingushes how people tend to respond to expectations - both inner and outer. It's really fascinating. And it explains a lot. Questioners, like me, question all expectations, and will meet expectations IF they think the expectation makes sense.) So. Therein lies the problem for me. I don't have issues usually with the DOING of things I decide to do. The DOING just needs to be relevant and meaningful for me. Otherwise? Why bother?

So I struggle when someone suggests I choose something to "do" every day for X number of days. (I also have trouble with the arbitrary "X number of days" thing, but I'll just let that go for now.) So the choosing is really hard for me, unless I happen to have something already in mind that I'd like to do. 

And this year . . . I didn't.

Until I remembered something . . . BIG . . . hiding behind the closed door of a cabinet in my living room.

When my mom died four and a half years ago, and my dad downsized into an apartment, I became the Holder of All Family Photos. And they were a MESS. My mom had created a few photo albums, and those were fairly organized (although a lot of people in the older photos were not identified. . . ) (she always intended to make notes in the albums, but never did . . . ), but over the years, as other family members died, THEIR old photos ended up in my parents' closets, too. Plus . . . I uncovered shoeboxes full of mementoes and other random photos squirreled away in the deep, dark crannies of my mom's old condo. 

MESS . . . doesn't really begin to describe it. There are duplicates and triplicates and blurred faces and people even my dad can't identify. Everything all jumbled together in no meaningful way. But . . . I said, sure. I'll take care of it. It'll be fun, I said. It'll be a great project, I said. And then, completely overwhelmed, I stuck the whole mess (boxes and albums and folders crammed with photos) into the cabinet in my living room. 

And there it sits.

The guilt of the Great Photo Project pulls at me constantly. (Oh . . . the Shoulds and Oughts. They are a powerful force.)

But I knew it would take time. 
A LOT of time.
And a lot of attention.
And a strategy for sorting and scanning and saving and sharing.

And I had none of that.

Then, back in February . . . I started thinking about Anne Lamott's Bird by Bird.
And that old question popped up in my brain . . .
Q: How do you eat an elephant?
(A: One bite at a time.)

I decided to . . . take a bite . . . of my Giant Elephant Photo Project.
And begin.

Using the One Little Word prompt as my springboard, I decided that my "bites" of the Elephant Project would be . . . 15 minutes every day. Which doesn't sound like much. I mean, how much could I accomplish on this enormous, elephant of a project by just spending 15 minutes every day? But that's what I needed to do. Because I clearly wasn't going to find an extra, full week (or weeks) anywhere in my life!

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I started with some research (Questioner . . . ) to help me establish a process and strategy.
I set up a digital storage system (files) on an external hard drive.
And I grabbed the first box.

15 minutes every day. 

Some days I struggled to get 10 or 12 photos scanned, identified, and stored in the proper folders. But other days, I would find my flow and spend far longer than 15 minutes on the task.

By the end of March, I'd developed a good routine and finished that box and moved on to the next. I also took everything out of that cabinet in the living room and sorted. And I developed my strategy for what happens AFTER I finish the sorting and scanning. (I usually work on The Elephant late in the afternoon, just before Tom and I meet up for a drink; it's a strategy. . . ) 

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So. Good progress, then.
And I'm motivated to continue now.

And here's the funny part. Until mid-month, I never really connected that my Elephant Project . . . was also a Root Project! 

You see, I never intended my word - root - to encompass my roots as in ancestry. I mean, I'd made the connection, of course. But I never planned to go there with my word. (Besides, my family history -- with the exception of one kind of renegade branch -- has already been carefully tracked by others in my family.) 

Yet here I was, scanning my ancestors!
Connecting with my roots!

Realizing that my great-grandfather (the tall guy on the far left) . . . looked like a member of the Peaky Blinders gang! (And, really . . . this photo is from the same era in history as Peaky Blinders.) (My grandfather is the little guy in front.)

Lester Robert Harley Dean circa 1922

And seeing that my grandparents were kind of dashing and debonair, back in the mid-30s.

Harley and Mildred 1935

Agnes and Henry

And I really got a chuckle realizing that my parents . . . looked like they'd had starring roles in Little Rascals as children.

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John

So. For the first time in the 11 years I've been following along with Ali Edwards' One Little Word March prompt . . . I found a way to make it work for me.

  • I used the prompt as a way to get myself moving on a huge and daunting project. (I AM eating that elephant.)
  • I connected with my roots, in an ancestry-kind of way.
  • And . . . it all got me thinking about the metaphor in all this. That sometimes you just have to plant yourself, deep in the dirt. And let things root. And maybe . . .  the roots will create an entire different bloom than you expected!

(But wait. There's more. Join me on Monday for the rest of the story.)

 


Blasting You With Poetry

Welcome, friends . . . to April -- and National Poetry Month!

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Each April, for many years now, I have celebrated National Poetry Month here on my blog.  In the past, I've shared tips on how to enjoy the month, and links to interesting poets I think you might enjoy, a story here and there, and poems, of course. But mostly . . . it's all been an opportunity for me share my love of poetry. And maybe . . . to get you to love it, too.

This year, I asked Bonny and Kat if they might like to join forces with me for the month . . . so we could coordinate our poetry posts and, well . . . blast you with poetry! Join us on our blogs each Thursday this month as we celebrate National Poetry Month.

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“But it isn't easy,' said Pooh. 'Because Poetry and Hums aren't things which you get, they're things which get you. And all you can do is to go where they can find you.”
A.A. Milne, The House at Pooh Corner

Today, I thought I'd share my little home poetry library with you, and just explain a little about . . . how I read poetry (which I do, every day). Because I think, for a lot of people, that poetry is kind of . . . overwhelming, maybe even intimidating, and certainly never something they would just . . . read. For enjoyment and fun. And, heck. How do you even go about . . . just reading it?

Well. I would posit that . . . you need to do exactly what Pooh suggests in the quote I shared today: go where it can find you! And for me, that's usually in a book  . . . that I just grab off the shelf.

When I was a little girl, I didn't own very many books -- but the ones I did own were very special to me. I usually got one hardcover book as a present on my birthday and maybe another at Christmas, and I always got to order a couple of paperbacks from Scholastic Books when ordering time came around at school. (I think the first time I actually entered a book store . . . was in college!) I had a little shelf right above the desk in my room, and that's where I kept my books. Back then, I dreamed of having a house with a library of my own! Shelves and shelves of books!

When we moved into the house we live in now, my dream finally came true.

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I DO have a library of my own now. (And I have to be very careful to keep my "book inventory" in check. There is plenty of room on our shelves, but we've learned to be very judicious about the books we own. It's so easy to get carried away. The books on our shelves are books that are special to us -- or books that are especially useful.

My "poetry collection" lives in the two shelves just below the wooden shoes (they were a gift to Tom when he gave a talk at Hope College many years ago), over there in the second group of shelves from the right. Here's a close up . . . 

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It's not a huge collection, but it is carefully curated. I have a few digital books of poetry on my iPad as well, but I much prefer to read poetry in actual, real-book form. 

The location of my poetry collection within the library shelves is very . . . intentional. You might not be able to tell from the photos, but my poetry books are exactly at my eye level. I can just wander over to the shelves and . . . pick out a book. Easy-peasy. And, actually, that's how I read poetry (for the most part). I wander over, I choose a book (most often just randomly, although sometimes with a poet in mind), and then I sit and read for awhile. Usually just a poem or two, but I've been known to get lost in poetry for awhile, too.

I've discovered that the book almost always falls open to the exact poem that suits my mood. It's an amazing thing, actually, and I've learned to just trust it. I rarely read a book of poetry from beginning to end, all in one sitting. It does happen, of course. Especially if it's a book of poetry arranged around a theme. Or a new collection. Or something I've borrowed from the library. But I mostly just read in little bits and bobs, here and there, poking around and letting the magic of poetry take over.

I like poetry best when I can sit with it for awhile . . . with a lot of space around the words.

This month, I invite you to Be Like Pooh. Put yourself in a place where poetry can find you!

==

Here's a favorite poem . . . one that I read the other morning . . . when the book just opened up to the very page . . . 

Let Evening Come
Jane Kenyon

Let the light of late afternoon
shine through chinks in the barn, moving
up the bales as the sun moves down.

Let the cricket take up chafing
as a woman takes up her needles
and her yarn. Let evening come.

Let dew collect on the hoe abandoned
in long grass. Let the stars appear
and the moon disclose her silver horn.

Let the fox go back to its sandy den.
Let the wind die down. Let the shed
go back inside. Let evening come.

To the bottle in the ditch, to the scoop
in the oats, to air in the lung
let evening come.

Let it come, as it will, and don't
be afraid. God does not leave us
comfortless, so let evening come.

==

Today's poem comes from Jane Kenyon: Collected Poems, 2005, Graywolf Press. You can find out more about Jane Kenyon and read more of her poems here, at the Poetry Foundation.

Be sure to visit Bonny and Kat today, too. We really do want to blast you with poetry!