Archive for 2014

A Month by the Sea: Summer’s End

Thursday, October 2nd, 2014

When I was about nineteen, I went tent camping with my family in the Smoky Mountains. It was summertime, the mountains were a cool, hushed oasis of mystery and shadow, and everyone else had a grand time—but I’m going to go ahead and confess that I could hardly wait to get back to civilization. I didn’t like washing dishes in cold water and sleeping on the ground and worrying about bears on the way to the bathhouse. I got sick, and the smoke from the campfire made me cough. One night there was a thunderstorm that threatened to blow my tent away and soaked my sleeping bag, and in between lightning flashes, I came as close to making a vow with God as I possibly could…

If You’ll just let me get home in one piece…if You’ll just let this week be over

But I’m so glad I didn’t commit to anything that night. I feel quite certain that God only knew how much I would adore camping in my future. I would have laughed that night, shivering in my tent from cold and fear, to think I would sign up for such a thing again, much less actually suggest it. Among the delightful jokes of my life is the fact that the Airstream was my idea—and that I was more surprised than anyone! My sister reminded me before we embarked on this latest sojourn that Airstream camping is not necessarily what some people would consider camping proper.

“It’s glamping,” she avowed.

She’s right, of course. There is something rather glamorous about a hot shower, a soft nest of a bed, a tiny gas oven, a refrigerator and a little deep freezer for Bonnie Blue’s raw food—in the middle of the woods. I celebrated the daily ritual of afternoon tea served properly in my pale blue “Charm” teacups with even more appreciation than I often do at home (those cups were the very first items I bought for the Airstream, before we’d even found it!), seldom failing to take my tea out of doors under the awning. And it was lovely to get dressed up occasionally and run down to the lovely old hotel on the island for dinner or cocktails on the verandah. I was hugely amused one afternoon on a previous trip: I’d been wrestling mightily with a stubborn sonnet out on the verandah, and the sudden completion in a last tumble of words seemed cause for celebration. Our favorite bartender was working that day, so I went in to order a glass of wine, intending to savor it reflectively back out on the porch. As I was waiting, however, I couldn’t help overhearing the conversation of another couple at the bar, deploring the new hotel policy of half-price cocktails on Thursday nights, which evidently brings in a lot of non-hotel patrons.

“Ugh,” said the woman, with cool disdain. “Watch out for the RV set.”

The bartender and I exchanged a glance of flickering mirth. A friend and a hotel institution, he’s served us just as graciously over the years whether we were “RV set” or registered guests. But it absolutely amazes me, the misconceptions we all cherish towards those whose ideas of fun are different than our own. I can honestly say that the people I’ve met in the camping culture are some of the most sincerely kind and gracious souls I’ve ever encountered.

So, it’s been a blessed and beautiful month by the sea. We’ve worked hard and we’ve rested well in this place so dear to both of us. My soul has been restored in a profound way, and I have a new sense of clarity for the coming days. What’s more, a new season has unfolded: my Oxford studies commenced during our stay, and I spent my days divided between writing like the wind and navigating my way around the virtual learning environment. I actually attended my live, online University Induction one lovely sunny morning on the hotel verandah. The significance was not lost on me that just four months ago I’d had my application interview via Skype in the Victorian-era boardroom on the other side of the wall behind me, another kind hotel friend having secured it for me for that purpose. It means the world to me that this place has been home to such important experiences in my life. I’m still rather dazed by it all.

Our days have been full, and each one gemmed with their own sweet memories of fun: there was the night Philip suggested on a whim that we cover our dinner plates with foil for an impromptu beach picnic—the spaghetti was none the worse for the wear after a bouncing jaunt in the picnic basket on the back of my bike, and Philip, Bonnie and I all relished the privilege of a quick swim in the ocean before supper. Then there was the afternoon we hatched our unprecedented and extreme money-saving scheme for the boat fund during a walk along the fishing pier—we named it “The Land-locked Mariners Relief Fund,” and toasted it that night with cheap champagne. And, of course, the night we sauntered down to the marina to admire the sailboats and hopefully talk shop with a willing salt or two: no sooner had we stepped onto the dock than we were assailed by a small dog gang, the leader of which appeared to be a fiery little Yorkie whose name and reputation were known to everyone in the marina. “Miss Pearl” guided us back to her owner, who was hosting a dock party for the “live-aboards,” and, in keeping with all my hopes, they invited us to join them. We took our seats amid a bunch of strangers and their dogs (Bonnie Blue was a perfect lady, I might add—we were very proud of her) and starting flinging questions right and left like the eager novices that we are. One couple in their eighties had lived aboard their 41-foot junk for eight years, and, perhaps noticing my wistful glances at the paneled warmth of the lamp-lit cabin glimpsed from the open companionway, the wife invited me to come aboard and have a look around. We’ve heard of the famed friendliness of the sailing community, and that night confirmed it!

But best of all was the dinner dance down at the hotel this past Sunday night. I had a pretty vintage frock I’d brought just for the occasion, and Philip donned his seersucker suit for the last time, and we spent an enchanted evening dancing to all of our favorite standards and chatting with old friends—friends whose friendship we owe to the decade we’ve spent enjoying this dance at any chance we get. It’s so rare to find a really, truly, old-fashioned dance in this degenerate age!

And what about my novel? On Tuesday, the last day of September, I still had three scenes to go. I rode my bike down to the hotel that morning to sit on the verandah with a tall English Breakfast tea. And I wrote. And I wrote and I wrote and I wrote. Around three, I closed my laptop and stood up rather shakily. The ride back to the Airstream was a tumble of emotions—tenderness that we were leaving the next day being uppermost, I’m afraid. I exploded into the Airstream, where Philip and Bonnie were waiting for me.

“Well, did you finish?” he asked.

“I forgot to type The End,” I said. And promptly burst into tears.

It seems so strange to have come to the end of this draft at last. It was over two years ago on the beach of this island that I’d told Philip my idea in the first place. And now there’s an unwieldy and somewhat graceless sheaf of papers to show for it. Not at all what I want it to be, of course—not yet. But I have a frame in place; I know my characters better than I did when I started, and so many ideas and plot lines bubbled to the surface in the sheer mundane act of moving a pencil across paper or my fingers over a keyboard. I once heard Leif Enger say that “persistence is the landing strip of the Muse,” and I know there’ll be a lot more of that required of me in the coming days. For now I’m going to let it rest a bit–stew, percolate. But while I have no illusions of how hard it’s going to be, I’m very eager to get back to this work. I care about it so deeply.

Most people would say summer was over on Labor Day, or perhaps when the kids went back to school in August. But my summer ended last night as our Airstream lumbered back into the driveway. I got out to open the gate and I knew, in the cool, fragrant darkness, that autumn had come. The mistflowers were blooming along the front walk, and this morning there was no mistaking that tender new angle to the light.

I know I’ll settle in to the beauties of this dear season. But today I’m missing my island. I’m missing my golden marshes and my silver sands, my birds and trees and flowers and fragrances and the unique, sweet astonishment of being there.

Last week, Philip and I got into a playful argument over which artist did the best version of A la fin de l’été: Françoise Hardy or Brigitte Bardot. (I voted for Bardot; he went for Hardy.) But there’s one thing we agreed upon: we’ll remember this one forever.

(If you want to weigh in on the Bardot-Hardy debate, you can listen here:


I’d love to know what you think! 😉 )

A Month by the Sea: Beauty’s Wound

Friday, September 26th, 2014

The other night after dinner, Philip and I took to our bikes for a starlit ride along the beach. The island here has so little light pollution, and as there was no moon, I was obliged to use the flashlight on my iPhone to see—much less navigate—the twisting path between palms and salt cedars that leads to the shore. I always forget just how dramatic a starry night actually is until I come to the ocean; there’s something about the combination of a fathomless sea heaving gently in the darkness and a midnight dome of uncountable stars that puts me in my place more effectively than anything else on earth. My soul is awed by God’s heavens and stilled by His waters—a process that’s as reliable as it is difficult to explain. The beach was deserted at that hour, and the lights from the neighboring island across the sound were painting the retreating tide with bold splashes of silver and gold. And overhead, all that wonder of inexhaustible space. I hopped off my bike and stared till I grew dizzy—the longer you looked, the more stars became visible. The Milky Way was a clear swath of silver dust, the night was gentle as only a night in late summer can be, and the windsong in our ears was an invitation to dance. It was all so beautiful I could hardly bear it.

“Why does it hurt?” I shouted to Philip above the wind and the tide.

It’s a question I’ve asked myself a million times—why does Beauty hail us with a stab? The sights, scents, sounds of this place are beloved to me since my youth; they greet me with the warm companionship of old friends. And yet, there’s a twinge of sorrow that accompanies the desperate gladness with which I immerse myself in these familiar shades: a strange sadness lurks beneath the sunshot glooms of the live oaks; a gentle pathos wavers in the wine-golden sunshine. Fleetingness is certainly a factor: knowing that another exile awaits on the other side of this blessed sojourn lends a poignancy to our days (I have to stop myself from ticking them off in my mind). But it’s more than that. More, also, than the tender associations with which this island is crowded for me. I’ve spent many of the very happiest hours of my life under its trees, along its beach, on this very sun-warmed veranda from which I write. This place keeps my times for me, holds my summers alive and well, refreshes me with the dew of my own youth every time I return. This is all part of the sweet pain, to be sure—but not nearly all.

I was talking with a very dear friend recently about the way Beauty works on us, and how the modern mind seems to regard it with a growing distrust.

“Beauty opens wounds,” she said, and I knew she was on to something.

Beauty tugs and pulls and points. And when someone reacts negatively to Beauty’s proddings, it probably means there’s some raw nerve that its arrows have reached, some unhealed place its rays have revealed. Beauty engages the realest, most vulnerable part of us—the part we like to keep hidden under appearances and sufficiencies and achievements. The part that’s most uniquely, exquisitely us. This hardnosed old world of ours can drive even the stoutest of hearts into hiding—but Beauty won’t have it. It goes after us, piercing our darkness with its indomitable light, wooing our souls back into Wonder and Youth and Hope. But it’s a painful process, especially when the cares of life conspire to keep us so occupied we hardly notice the hard crust of practicalities forming over our tenderest places. It hurts a bit to have that crust chipped away; Beauty must wound before it can heal.

I once heard a lecturer say that all real sickness, of body or mind, is, at its essential core, homesickness. I think there’s a lot of truth to that. We’re always looking for that “other country,” the place we remember in the oldest part of our souls where there was no such thing as tears or pain or death. And, with typical human ingenuity, we’re often looking in the all the wrong spots, in all the wrong sorts of ways. All the success and money and health in the world won’t buy us back that original innocence, that sweet naïveté of sorrow—yet, Beauty tells us, the story’s not over. There’s a redemption in the works of which all the loveliness in the world is token in pledge. Beauty is a path along which we catch a glimpse of the chimneystacks of home; it is a lamp in the window on a dark night, a song remembered from our infancy. Beauty sings what the youngest part of our souls already knows: this is only the beginning.

Every heart that has ever entered this world has been or will be broken, and this exile is at the heart of it. Everything that we know instinctively “ought not to be” only underscores our alien status. We’re like expats, startled into inarticulable emotion by some scent or sound or breath of wind that reminds us where we’ve come from. I suppose that’s why the physical sensations of sorrow and joy are so similar, even to the point of pain: they’re both drawing us back to the same place.

I’d scarcely realized what a protective crust had formed over my deepest sensibilities, but after a summer of very grownup cares, I’m learning to bare my soul to Beauty all over again. I’m remembering what it means to stagger under the splendor of sunlight on water, to bow my heart to a kingfisher in flight or the parable of a live oak cloaked in the grave clothes of Spanish moss. I greet God’s emissaries in the fragrance of the marsh grass and the wild, joy-cries of the gulls overhead. And when He stains His sea and sky with violet and salmon-pink from the rim of the world, I welcome the sweet wound of it all, knowing that these beauties but but house the real Treasure.

I read this sonnet to Philip on the beach last night–as usual, dear old Gerard Manely says it better than anyone:

Look at the stars! look, look up at the skies!
O look at all the fire-folk sitting in the air!
The bright boroughs, the circle-citadels there!
Down in dim woods the diamond delves! the elves’-eyes!
The grey lawns cold where gold, where quickgold lies!
Wind-beat whitebeam! airy abeles set on a flare!
Flake-doves sent floating forth at a farmyard scare!
Ah well! it is all a purchase, all is a prize.
Buy then! bid then! — What? — Prayer, patience, alms, vows.
Look, look: a May-mess, like on orchard boughs!
Look! March-bloom, like on mealed-with-yellow sallows!
These are indeed the barn; withindoors house
The shocks. This piece-bright paling shuts the spouse
Christ home, Christ and his mother and all his hallows.

G. M. Hopkins, The Starlight Night

Source: Gerard Manley Hopkins: Poems and Prose (Penguin Classics, 1985)

The best remedy for those who are afraid, lonely or unhappy is to go outside, somewhere where they can be quiet, alone with the heavens, nature and God. Because only then does one feel that all is as it should be and that God wishes to see people happy, amidst the simple beauty of nature. ~Anne Frank

A Month by the Sea: Finding Solitude

Tuesday, September 16th, 2014

Sunday before last, I stood on the airstrip of this little island of ours and watched a single-engine prop plane take off and disappear into the clouds, feeling very much like a heroine in an old black-and-white movie—and suddenly very alone. For Philip was on that plane, a kind pilot friend having offered to spirit him back to the city for the work week, and I was facing the prospect of camping all by myself for six whole days. Not that I was adverse to the plan—it was one of the things that’s making this time by the sea a possibility, and I am grateful, not only to my husband, but to our friend, whose generosity both simplified our scheme and gave Philip a good, old-fashioned adventure. (“You’ve got to see the marshes from the air,” he keeps telling me. “You’ll never look at them the same way again after viewing them from 1000 feet.”) Nor was I necessarily opposed to the prospect of so many days of aloneness: Solitude and I are old friends, and here was certainly an opportunity to renew her acquaintance in an entirely new way. Nevertheless, it was hard to think of being here in this loved place without the one whom my soul loves, and as I stood there under a leaden sky, with the wind snapping my skirt against my legs, a funny little desolation crept over me. I listened until the plane was out of earshot, then I walked slowly back across the runway to my car. The Airstream seemed so empty, even with a nine-month old puppy in residence—if 24 feet of aluminum-sheathed trailer can echo, I swear they did that day. And so, I did what any rational female would do: I sat down on the sofa and had a little cry.

After that, I pulled myself together and made a Plan. I was resolved to demonstrate my love and thanks by having much to show for these days—I honestly cannot think of another time in my life when I’ve had absolutely nothing to do but write. Bonnie and I quickly established our little routine, which included, among other things, a nightly FaceTime chat with Philip (fun for me and wholesomely confusing for her!), as well as a morning hour in bed with coffee and journal (well, Bonnie didn’t journal that much—she mostly licked my face and sloshed my coffee). I grew comfortable with the systems, like angling the awning at the threat of rain, and lighting the pilot lights on our Princess stove each morning, and I made a master list of daily requisites: reading, prayer and intentional silence, walks and bike rides, and, of course, writing. I outlined my novelling goals in no uncertain terms: One-half chapter a day. Period.

She's a member of the National Geographic Society.

On Monday I picked up a lovely, perfect moon shell—not at the shore, as one might imagine, but at the base of a tree in my own campsite. Was it left there by another pilgrim into silence, some other lone soul learning again or anew the language of solitude? It reminded me of the words of Anne Morrow Lindbergh, from her slim jewel, Gift From the Sea:

“Solitude,” says the moon shell. Every person, especially every woman, should be alone sometime during the day, some part of each week, and each year…the core, the inner spring, can best be re-found through solitude.

I told one of my best friends before we came down here that I was really looking forward to re-finding my solitude. I’m often alone in the round of my life at home—but being alone is not nearly the same thing as being alone with yourself. To be alone with yourself, there first must be a purposeful silencing of the mental chatter with which we’re all so tempted to swaddle our brains in this busy, productive world of ours—and that can be a terrifying thing, particularly if one has forgotten how healing and helpful the deep silences can be. For the only true aloneness, of course, is aloneness with God, open-handed and empty of pretense. How easy it is to base our standing in grace upon our own efforts, howsoever boldly we might declare otherwise. I don’t think I realized how much I’d been congratulating myself over small successes and writhing under habitual failures (that sharp word, that condescending thought, that deadly ingratitude!) until forced to confront the facts in the seclusion of my own soul. All week I carried an image in my mind of a fretful, fussy infant soothed into sudden and unavoidable comfort by the encircling warmth of strong arms which, unlike even the most faithful human embrace, will never let go. My soul is even as a weaned child, said the Psalmist. Be still and know that I am God, said the Lover of my soul. Allright, I said, with the wind and the waves and the sea birds circling overhead as witness. I have no other choice.

Sunday's (extraordinary) sunset.

I was taken aback the first week of our sojourn by the crippling fear that seized me every time I sat down to write. It was really amazing, something I had to painfully press through. I’m realizing, the older I get, that the toll of “too much” on my inner equilibrium is getting steeper and steeper, an expense I can ill-afford to perpetuate. And it always manifests after a season of soul neglect as a serious discrepancy in the inspiration department. There were so many negative voices to drown out when I was trying to write I could hardly hear myself think. But somewhere round about Tuesday of the second week, a curious thing happened. I was writing away (rather grimly, I’m afraid), when my imagination caught the faintest prick of light, like a lone firefly amid the murky shades of a dark wood. I hesitated, pencil poised thoughtfully. Then, seeing as I had absolutely nothing to lose but a few pages of bad prose, I followed it. First one fairy lamp appeared, and then another, and another. And before I knew it, I was in love with my story again, writing furiously each day, often till after 7 at night. It just felt so intoxicating to be anchored in the scenes once more, to know that old excitement that presents itself in my heart as physical pain.

And it felt so good to fall into bed at night, with a stout mug of chamomile tea and a fat Elizabeth Goudge novel, knowing I’d worked as hard as I was able. Ever so much more work to be done, of course, but we’re moving forward again. And I know it wouldn’t have happened without the gift of this time, this place, and the healing spaces of solitude.

Near the end of the week, I rewarded myself with a proper high tea at the lovely 19th century hotel down the road.

Near the end of the week, I rode my bike early to the beach and watched the tide come in. There, alone in the warm sunshine, with the surf pounding in my ears and lapping almost to where I stood, I heard at last the water music that Kreeft was talking about, that endless song which God breathed into His sea, that one lullaby that never grows old:


A Month by the Sea: Creating Silence

Monday, September 8th, 2014

“The present state of the world, the whole of life, is diseased. If I were a doctor and were asked for my advice, I would reply, “Create silence! Bring men to silence. The Word of God cannot be heard in the noisy world of today. Create silence.

~Soren Kierkegaard

My husband and my Lord, in company with the kindest of house-sitters, have conspired to give me an inestimable gift: a month on my beloved jewel of an island. A whole month to write and read and work and dream; to recover a bit from an intense season and recalibrate my inner compass. A month of quiet. We’re ensconced in our Silver Girl under a canopy of moss-clad trees, a brisk little bike ride from our favorite beach on earth. The bookshelf is crammed with carefully selected titles (both new friends and old loves), the galley is stuffed with comestibles, and my dear Brown Betty teapot is on constant duty. We both have clearly marked goals for this time, Philip and I, ambitions towards which want to point this arrow of golden hours. And when the day’s work is done (or when one needs an occasional day-dreamy pause), there are inexhaustible beauties upon which to feast the eyes and the soul: vistas of endless marshland, ever a-teem with the changing life of the tides; sunsets that spill over this green land like an upturned cup of golden wine; long, grey colonnades of live oaks, whose ancient boughs bear the graveclothes of Spanish moss and the mystic, living parable of resurrection fern.

And, of course, and always—the sea.

Bonnie Blue, for one, has definitively made up her mind to be a sea dog. We taught her to swim in the ocean back in May, and at first sight of it last week she took off at a gallop, leaping and yipping for joy. Her exuberance is contagious, rekindling a childlike sense of play that reminds me who I am in a most elemental sense: a child of God. “The sea is a fountain of youth,” said Peter Kreeft with characteristic incision. “Only the child within us can hear the music of the sea.” I heard it the other night as I’ve not heard it in ages, having been lured by Bonnie into a moonlit swim. Picture this: a radiant moonrise in a sapphire sky, scattering the sea with diamonds and turning the sand to silver. Not a sound in the world but the wind and the waves and the music of our own laughter, while beyond that enchanted space of shining water, a darkness and silence so deep it seemed to hold us suspended in time. And in the midst of all that magic, Bonnie Blue bounding and swimming between us like a deliriously happy otter. I’m telling you, there’s little generosity in the world equal to that of a dog sharing it’s own joy. Our Bonnie’s been extravagant with hers, and we’re utterly delighted. And so very grateful.

So, my goal this month is to finish the first draft of my novel, a project I mention to just about everyone I meet as a means of slaying self-consciousness and creating an ever-widening circle of accountability (into which I welcome each one of you). I confess, It’s been a difficult shock the past couple of years to realize that this writing life doesn’t get easier, but harder. I feel like everything I’ve written of late has been wrung out of a great travail—and that it shows. My words feel clunky, ill-fitting. It’s been months since I’ve penned anything I was remotely pleased with, much less anything that’s come without strain; so thickly has the fog settled into the creative spaces of my heart that I’m sorely tempted to doubt those spaces exist at all. I’ve wondered in my darker moments if I’ve said everything I had to say. I’ve wrestled off the bête noire hissing between my ears that I’ve never had anything to say in the first place.

I’ve sought my Hidden Spring—and found it dry.

Before we came down here, I spent some time reflecting in my journal about what I was seeking in this time by the sea, what I was hoping not only to accomplish, but to recover. I was reminded of Thomas Kelly’s “recreating silences,” those deep places of transfigured life from which all true creativity emerges. I remembered the solemn charge of Kierkegaard to create silence: prize it, fight for it, win it at any cost to reputation or image or so-called productivity. He doesn’t say to seek it—he says to make it, as solemnly and faithfully as one might make any work of true art. I decided then and there that I was going to make silence a part of my life here this month in way that I’ve never done before. And unprecedented experiment in quiet.

Accordingly, I seized the first opportunity after we arrived to take an early bike ride to the shore. The sky was a mounting castle-scape of clouds, pillared and turreted, dark and light broken by serene patches of blue, and when the newly risen sun broke between them, it turned the sea below to a sheet of molten gold. It was all so arrestingly, awesomely beautiful, I couldn’t help but think it was the kind of morning on which Christ might return. I propped my bike against a washed up piling, spread my blanket on the hard-packed sand, and commenced to “sit and stare:” to my left, the sea and all that glory of light and shadow; to my right, a startlingly green stand of pines; and before me, the full vista of the beach, a primal forest of twisted tree forms the sea has claimed, the wind has writhed into fantastical shapes, and the sun has whitened to a bleached silvery grey.

I was determined to sit for one hour remembering what silence sounded like, keen to the life around me without contributing any of my own noise—even mental noise, which can be of the very worst sort. Ten minutes in, however, it started to drizzle. I smiled, feeling very philosophical over my imperviousness to a little shower. Then it started to rain, and I tucked my Bible and my phone up under my legs as a precaution. Then it started to pour, and I was tempted to flee, but for the fact of the aforementioned Bible and phone. So, I sat still, gently opening all my senses to what it meant to be caught in a rainstorm on the beach. I savored the icy little drops, stinging my soul and body awake. I noticed the clean-washed scent of rain, mingled with the salt of the sea that summoned a nostalgia I could hardly name. I paid close heed to the way the rain turned the sea and the sky to a misty, uniform grey, and how a sudden rift in the roiling clouds would ignite the bare trees down the beach like the gilding of a fairy’s wand.

I shared the beach with one solitary gull who stood at the water’s edge looking out to sea as if seeing something my eyes weren’t trained for, and a scuttling ghost crab who seemed utterly unmindful of the weather. And as I cycled back down the beach after both the storm and my hour had passed, I was accompanied by four magnificent ospreys, lighting on and wheeling from the heights of dead trees, just exactly as if we were all part of some solemn, silent procession.

I remembered, then, in that wordless place, what the child inside of me has always known: namely, that it’s not so much an excess of care that contributes to a meager inner life, as an absence of prayer and deep, silent communion with God. Inquiring quietly of my own heart, I realized that not only has it been months since I’ve had any real joy in writing, it’s been months since I’ve had any real delight in God’s presence. My prayers have less been conversations and more emergency requests. But one cannot dwell in emergency; resources are exhausted and reserves run dry. And, of course, in that light, I could see the obvious: the Hidden Spring wasn’t dry—it was choked. Those same unavoidable realities of human life that threatened the good seed in the parable of the sower can clog up the deep source from which our Living Water is drawn.

To be soothed down into stillness once more has become the theme of this month for me. To think of one thing at a time, and not twenty-five (how muddled I’ve become with too many words and too many cares!), to let silence and beauty and the Word of God have their ancient work on me—these are the great ambitions of my heart. I still have every intention of finishing my novel. But nothing is more important than recovering that innocence of intimacy with God that’s been buried under a mound of pragmatic, dutiful doing.

I will hear what The Lord God is saying: for He will speak peace to His people, and to His saints: only let them not return to folly.

It’s nothing short of folly to pound away after a vocation without drawing from the wells of salvation. How sweetly He reminds us, though, wooing our souls by every means–from the effortless flight of a bird, to the love song of the sea, to the stormy hunger in our own hearts.

The sea heals us by helping us learn to listen…silence is requisite.
~Peter Kreeft


Wednesday, August 13th, 2014

Two weeks ago I was 13 miles out at sea, at the helm of a 37-foot sloop named It’s About Time (I couldn’t agree more). Under fair skies and in the grip of a fresh breeze, it was one of the most exhilarating experiences of my life. Even the faint swirl of seasickness felt like a rite of passage (they tell me it fades–in the meantime, half a dramamine and an ice cold Coca Cola did the trick). When Philip and I stepped down onto the dock at the end of the day, I’d swear we had a salty cast to our gait—and that not only because we’d been on the water since nine o’clock that morning.

I’d told him when he’d asked: I want to turn 40 on a boat.

Not just any boat, mind you. A white-winged bird; a bateau à voile. A sailboat.

The sea has had our hearts for years and years—for always, really, for I believe we are born with such essential longings—and sailing has been an inevitable, albeit heretofore unattainable answer to that call. I’ve said there were three things I wanted to do before I turned 40: I wanted to write a book, I wanted to become fluent in French, and I wanted to learn to sail. (I also wanted to get my ears pierced, which I did, but that’s a whole ‘nother story.) My novel is still in draft stage, but my little Poesy is getting ready to make her appearance in the world. And while the most generous assessment would not stretch to call me fluent, twice this summer Philip and I have sat down for drinks and conversation en français with complete strangers whom we’d overheard speaking French—a charming Québécois couple, and the most delightful party of Parisians who corrected my mistakes with smiles and taught me the method of exchanging proper bisous in parting. (Something tells me I’ll meet those lovely folks again some day.)

As far as sailing goes, last summer we took the plunge and signed up for a basic keelboat certification course. And this summer, we were delighted to discover that the next course we’d require, Coastal Cruising 103, just happened to fall on my birthday weekend. I really could turn 40 on a boat! And not only that—I could step off that boat certified to sail our own vessel in blue water someday. The vessel in question is still a rather dim-edged dream: our dinner conversations these days center around essential ideas like sloop or ketch? and centerboard or fixed keel? And, of course, we’ll require plenty of cockpit and cabin room for an exuberant Aussie pup. Bonnie as yet has no idea what we’re talking about, but I have every reason to think that in the not-too-distant future the words, Let’s go sailing! will have as much effect on that eager heart of hers as the oft-repeated, Let’s go Airstreaming!

As we’re haunting sailing forums and scouring boat listings, I keep encountering a word that grabs my heart, and not only in relation to sailboats: nimble. It’s highest praise for a sailing vessel—no matter how much teak you’ve got in the cabin and whether the winches are self-tailing or not, you want a boat that’s going to respond gracefully to all that the helmsman asks of her. A cutter sitting quietly in its slip at the marina can be a thing of beauty, of course, but that’s not what a sailboat’s made for. It’s made for the open seas and that legendary dance with the wind and the water. It’s made for rakish maneuvers and breathtaking heels that send the white spray cresting up over her decks. A nimble boat with a capable hand at the wheel is like a bird in flight. It’s a poem; it’s a love song in motion. And for those lucky enough to be aboard, it’s pure joy.

I want a nimble sailboat. But more than that, I want to be a nimble sailboat. I’ve shared before the conviction I’ve finally given myself permission to own: namely, that in a world of determined steel trawlers and blindingly fast motorboats, my personality is imaged more accurately in the unapologetic sensitivity of a sailboat. I don’t have to be sophisticated, or brilliant, or even, as Anne Shirley would say, angelically good (thank the good Lord for that—and I mean that with all my heart!). But I do want to be responsive to the winds of His spirit in my sails, keen to the sea changes that He’s brewing in my own heart. Just this past week I caught the tenderest whisper: Don’t resent your own restlessness, child. Lean into it. Look for its gifts. Find the stars.

I can say in all honesty that the prospect of turning 40, while unbelievable in some respects, has been one of excitement tinged with magic. I’ve seen too many people I admire dance into their forties with grace and flair to be anything but enchanted (and a little bit relieved) at the idea of a brand-new decade. And I have it on good authority that one of the best things about getting older is caring less and less what other people think of you–which is really the only place from which to love people, of course. I want to leave self-consciousness at the door of this decade; I don’t want its gleaming halls to be sullied with the muddy footprints of my own insecurities. And I think I’m finally ready to allow myself to be a work in progress, to celebrate the fact that God in His mercy has allowed so many false ideas I’d picked up along the way to be dashed—but with equal mercy He’s kept my ideals intact. Sometimes I feel closer to 17 than halfway to 80, which is nothing short of miracle, considering the harsh realities this world’s only too willing too dish up from sunrise to sunset. But the triumvirate romance of Beauty, Truth and Goodness has my heart as much as it ever did. I can say this with no illusions, for there have been seasons over the past twenty years—hours, days, weeks, months—in which I felt I was clinging to these holy Transcendentals in the dark with my eyes shut fast against things that claimed to be more real, and I know now the holding power to have been nothing less radiant than the prayers of the saints (sometimes praying for me without even knowing why) and the courage put into me by honest souls who had stared down darkness with an inextinguishable Light in their eyes.

It’s that Light alone that makes me dare to dream and keep dreaming. To be sure, my life is quite different in many ways than what I imagined it would look like at this point twenty—even ten—years ago. But I wouldn’t change a thing—I’m breathless with the beauty of what God has done. For while there are dreams that will be with me for life, there are others that have quietly given way to new dreams, vistas I hadn’t dared to imagine were really open to me. I wrote in my journal the day after my birthday: part of being nimble means not getting mired emotionally in things I can’t control. It means flexibility, living light; it means opening my hands, not only to let go, but to receive.

One thing that has been dropped into my hands recently is a dream I’ve cherished for so long I can hardly name the moment it was born—perhaps it was reading Surprised by Joy as a teenager, or the first time I stood at the top of St. Mary the Virgin in my early twenties, gazing out over a pinnacled landscape of dreaming spires. But come October, I commence undergraduate studies in English Literature and Creative Writing through Oxford University. It’s a tremendous opportunity, consisting of a combination of both online and in-Oxford courses over the next few years (so we’ll be making some hops across the Pond! :)), and I am dizzy with gratitude (to quote Anne again). Philip teases that I’m as excited over the prospect of a Bod card as I am over my actual place in the course, and there’s some truth to that—after all, access to one of the most famous libraries in the world is staggering in its own right. But I’m very happy and excited, and thankful that I have the chance to follow this dream at this point in my life. (There were a lot of reasons why I didn’t go to college at 18—and a lot of reasons I’m going now. Perhaps I’ll write more about that at some point.)

I can hardly wait for October. In the meantime, I’m working on my novel every day, determined to have that first draft DONE before my classes start. And I’m working away on Poesy (look for an update on that front in the near future). Philip and I are enjoying our animals and reading Harry Potter together (for the first time—can you believe it?). And, of course, looking at sailboats. (I’ll keep you posted on that front, too. Anyone have an early 70’s Formosa or Cheoy Lee in reasonably good shape they’re wanting to let go of for a song? ;))


My 40th birthday was pure gift from start to finish, a shining thing I’ll treasure among my very finest gems: in the morning we passed our sailing exam; in the afternoon we sped a few miles down the coast to our favorite hotel on our favorite island; and in the evening we danced the night away to the music of one of the best jazz quartets this side of the 1940’s. I can’t think of a lovelier way to twirl into my fifth decade on this broken but beautiful old earth of ours.

Here’s, Hail! To the rest of the road!

O, Cavalier!

Monday, August 4th, 2014

Today marks yet another important date: it is the 100th birthday of Sheldon Vanauken, author of my favorite book of all time, A Severe Mercy. Having honored dear Davy with a sonnet on her illustrious centennial, I could not bear to let this day pass without acknowledging our great chum Van in like manner (though his gift is in the form of a bit of free verse). Reading A Severe Mercy not only incited an absolute volcanic eruption of latent longing and desire in my life, it breathed a loving affirmation that at once broke my heart and healed it. And though our copy has been nearly read to pieces over the years, I cannot so much as crack the cover without a burning rush of that original joy. This poem refers to Van’s final and ultimate surrender to Christ, some twenty years after Davy’s death, a “return to the Obedience” which led to the writing of this immortal book.

Happy Birthday, Van. We owe you the greatest debt. Look forward to telling you all about it over a heavenly pint someday.


O, Cavalier!

When once that gallant head went down
In fealty unforsworn,
And rebel heart consigned to Mercy’s cause,
Love’s triumph shook the earth for such proud prize
And heaven stooped to smile.

Knighted with a poet’s sword,
Branded by a lover’s seal,
The beauty of your breaking pierced the world.

August 4, 2014

A Hail

Friday, July 25th, 2014

Davy Vanauken

On this day 100 years ago, something happened that would dramatically impact the course of my life: Jean Palmer Davis was born, known more intimately to the world as Davy Vanauken, beloved wife and heroine of Sheldon Vanauken’s A Severe Mercy. I’ve written elsewhere of that book’s place in my heart, and Philip and I candidly consider Van and Davy some of our dearest friends. Their story of a Christ-invaded love challenged us deeply; their longing for a ‘timefull’ life has leant courage to many of our own dreams as a couple. But on this day, I want to single Davy out and honor her. From my first encounter with her via the pages of her husband’s book, I recognized a kindred soul. Her gaiety, her courage, her wayfaring heart all shone out in living color. I quickened to our common love for England, her appreciation of a good cup of Darjeeling and a country drive under a Virginia sky; I admired the plucky spirit of her sailboat days, and the way she interpreted important experiences in her life through painting. Davy was born six years after one of my grandmothers, and six years before the other, but I’ve never thought of her as anything but a contemporary comrade–and a very beloved one, at that.

Though Davy’s always in my heart, all this past year I’ve held the thought of her poignantly close. She was my age when she found out she was ill, a month out from her 40th birthday. And six months later she was dead. A lamp put out in its prime; a life so full of living cut short by dark providence. But no life is so expendable in the Kingdom’s accounting. Davy is, of course: she lives, not only in Van’s book, but at home in the timelessness they sought so earnestly together in life. And she lives in the witness of untold thousands whose lives were touched by the radiance of her love: for Christ, for her husband, and for the world. I’m not the only one who can say that their life is more because Davy lived, or that the thought of her lends courage to live a life of extravagant love. But I am one of them, and it’s a fact for which I consider myself most supremely blessed.

My friendship with Davy has made my life more beautiful than it would have been without her. She both calls me higher in devotion to Christ and sends me lower in practical application of it. She showed me the Low Door through which imperfect human attempts at love must pass in order to reach the Wonderland-like refinement of Love itself. I keep a picture of her on my writing desk, a faded image of a dark-haired girl with a cheeky smile, perched in the bosun’s chair of Gull, their 18-foot sloop, and whenever I look at it, I can almost hear her say, Be brave. Keep small enough to get through that Low Door. Let your love be big enough to change the world.

Sixty years and two days after Davy was born I made my rather red and mewling appearance on this earth. On Sunday I celebrate my 40th (!!) birthday, and I think it’s quite fitting that the festivities commence today with a coastal cruising sailing course that Philip and I signed up for back in the spring, the next step towards a dream which Van and Davy sparked with their vision of a white-winged schooner under sail.

This tribute isn’t at all what I want it to be, and the poem that follows certainly falls short of what’s in my heart. But I wanted to acknowledge such a momentous “earth time” occasion of something that, in God’s good love and mysterious ways, puts helpless chronos to shame.

Happy Birthday, beloved Davy. I’ll be toasting you in Darjeeling today.

Under the Mercy,


Ave, Davy! Hail, sweet sister! Your bright
Brave spirit breathes a warmth unchilled through years
Of old earth-time, and death’s not dared your light
To dim. By Mercy’s art your star swung near
To mine across an epoch’s swarthy bowl
And flung a spark of glory, holy fire,
Enkindling kindred shining in my soul.
So kindly did that ember sear, desire
Undreamt-of blazed to life and deathly snows
Of fear dissolved. Such high Civility!–
(Your lover’s tears were turned to gems, you know.)
–And yet, o’er all I praise your Courtesy:
Undying lamp illumining Low Door
Of Love’s most noble off’ring evermore.

Image source: Sheldon Vanauken: The Man Who Received A Severe Mercy by Will Vaus, used by gracious permission of the author. The colorized version originally appeared on his blog.

Wonderful Tonight

Wednesday, July 9th, 2014

It’s been a busy summer, what with bookbinding and writing projects, Ivester vacation (from which we’ve just returned) and a recent 15th wedding anniversary adventure on another of our golden barrier isles (which I hope to tell you about soon!). If there’s one thing I actually love about social media, it’s getting to see glimpses and snapshots of friends’ vacations, always such a magical “time out of time” for families in this fragmented era of ours. There’s just something about the beach that brings time to a standstill in such lucid clarity–especially when you get to share it with those you love. In lieu of something new today, I thought I’d pass on a little piece I wrote for the Rabbit Room, inspired by last summer’s family vacation. I hope you’re all having a lovely summer in your part of the world and making lots of memories of your own! xx

“I think that people are the greatest fun…”
—Bryan MacLean, Alone Again, Or

I love people. Really, I do. But sometimes I don’t like them very much.

It was the last night of family vacation. We weren’t actually going home in the morning—Philip and I were heading to a neighboring island the next day for a little birthday weekend add-on. But it was the end of something: the culmination of a week of pure pleasure in a lovely house by the sea with our Ivester-variety dearest ones, and I was a little sad. The tall windows were dark; the swimming pool was a sheet of glass between the main house and the pavilioned wing in which Philip’s and my room was located; the outdoor hibachi grill, in almost constant use for a family of 13, had been cleaned for the last time and the colorful beach towels had all disappeared from the iron courtyard railings. Everyone else had already gone to bed—but I needed a bit more, an extra measure of savoring, as I always do after my very happiest times. Philip knew this, sensed it instinctively, I think, as I never seem to handle endings very well without some practical acknowledgement of my joy—even a few moments’ quiet conversation.

We sat out under the pavilion together, he and I, watching the great silver barque of a moon travel a swath of starry sky and listening to the incessant whisper and retreat of the waves on the shore below. Our house was on something of a point, near the mouth of an inlet on one hand, with a great stretch of beach on the other, so that whether the tide was in or out it always had something of the quality of a fortress. The tide was out tonight, but the beach was deserted.

“What was your favorite thing?” I asked Philip sleepily. “Tell me your best moment.”

He was silent for a moment before obliging. Then he returned the favor of the question he knew I’d been wanting him to ask me all along.

“What about you? What was your favorite thing?”

I thought about the precious week that had flown: the happy astonishment of all being together again; the glorious indolence and the thoughtful conversations and the sudden hilarity. I thought about the way the first few days of vacation always seem endless—and how suddenly you reach a point about the middle of the third day when things gather momentum, like a roller coaster cresting the big dive, and then in a blink it’s all over. I thought about watching the sun rise, and about the cache of sand dollars Philip had brought back to me from a shelling foray, and about sailing on the ocean.

I leaned back into the down cushions of my chair and dangled my leg over the side. It was an important question, and not one to be settled lightly.

“I think,” I said at length, “my favorite thing was—,”

But just at that moment, a car careened with a screech into the quiet little beach access below and what sounded like a small army of people erupted. The raucous noise of voices fell like a blow upon the gentle silence of the night, and the music of the waves and the wind in the palms was engulfed by music of another sort entirely. Thuddings and wailings crashed into my moonlit enchantment and I was properly horrified.

I sat straight up in my chair, a ramrod of indignation.

“It’s—it’s—so ugly!” I spluttered. “How could anyone—,”

I glanced over at Philip for some validation of my ire. But he was grinning, and his shoulders shook lightly with silent laughter.

“Aw, they’re just having fun,” he drawled. “It’s probably their last night, too.”

Besides, you don’t exactly own the beach, he might have added. (It’s probably a good thing that he didn’t.) But I was irked, ruffled. I listened to the retreating noise of music and voices as the party ambled off down the shore with a decidedly uncharitable smirk. It was as if two celestial bodies had swirled a little too near in their orbits, missing a collision, but unsettling the atmosphere nonetheless.

“They’d probably think your Astrud Gilberto was noise,” Philip chuckled.

A few nights later we were sitting in the lobby of my favorite hotel on earth (situated in the heart of my favorite island on earth), savoring yet another last. Tomorrow, vacation would be over in very deed. But tonight, I was all here, fully present to the beloved surroundings, the familiar noises and scents (sun-warmed wood, mostly, and furniture polish), the friendly faces that make the place so dear to us. Our favorite pianist was at the helm, cranking out jazz standards and Ray Charles favorites with rollicking abandon, and Mark, the bartender, was playfully shaking martinis to the rhythm of the music. Outside, one of those showy summer thunderstorms was blustering itself out, battering the old, wavy-paned windows with spurts of rain, making the sense of warmth and belonging within all the more keen. We sat in a quiet corner with our book, reading aloud between slices of pizza, just being happy.

After dinner, and after our pianist friend had retired to the dining room for the night, we sauntered out onto the veranda, still dripping from its late dousing, as were the great moss-hung oaks and the murmuring palms all around. All the world was dripping, in fact, fresh from its bath, and overhead, a giddy breeze was tearing the clouds from the face of the stars. There was a coolness and a newness to everything, as if July had suddenly given place to September. In the west, beyond the river, a radiant mantle of saffron kissed the earth beneath a heavy bank of thunderclouds. It was so beautiful—so mine—I could hardly bear it.

From down on the wharf, we could catch the strains of a band: electric bass, drums, guitar, vocals unnaturally warbly at this distance. But rather than marring the sacred quiet of the night, as I might have imagined in a less-exalted mood, it only enhanced it, lending a human poignancy to the scene that was almost as lovely as the cold beauty of that moon beginning to appear and that oriental breath of wind on my face, spiced with blossom and salt. This night be will over, the music seemed to urge. This summer will be over and this season in your lives will be over one day, too.

I grabbed Philip’s hand. His smile answered the question in mine, and together we hastened towards the wharf under the sodden trees. The music grew louder as we approached, along with the sound of voices—staunch souls who had braved the weather for the treat of some good, old-fashioned rock and roll. We settled at a high table near the periphery, and Philip ordered us a couple of ales. The crowd was small, mostly locals, we assumed, and the band was a familiar one from summers past. There was even a guy in the audience who could sing just like Johnny Cash (he had promised to work on “Jackson” for us once upon a time back in May) and who would join the band for a cover with very little urging. I looked around with supreme content—and with what I’m sure must have been a supremely goofy smile on my face. It was just all so right.

Now the band was playing “Fire on the Mountain” and people were dancing and clogging about—families and couples and grandmothers with young grandsons—and the whole thing filled me with such unaccountable joy I felt dizzy.

I leaned close to Philip and whispered, “I think people are just beautiful.”

“You do?” He grinned at me in the half-light.

“I do,” I avowed. “And it’s not the ale—I haven’t even tasted it yet.”

How could I put into words what I was feeling, what had suddenly possessed me with such fierce gladness? I hardly understood it myself. Now our Johnny Cash friend was singing “Folsom Prison Blues” and I had tears in my eyes, of all things; now someone requested Drivin’ and Cryin’, and I found myself singing along with a bunch of strangers to a song I had never heard before. (Yes, really.) And as the evening wore on, the thought gradually materialized that it was the wonder of the happiness human beings are capable of that had my heart in such a thrall. Happiness that had such humble requirements; happiness of such simple stuff as the wooden planks of an old wharf with the tide lapping about the pilings, and a serendipitous break in the weather, and a cover artist that could actually hit that mean low E in Folsom Prison. It filled me with wonder that one group of people could make music for another group of people and thus open a room of joy in a generally rushed and impersonal world—a place where people who didn’t even know each other could sample a shared good. It was like a great draught from a communal cup; like celestial bodies swirling near in their individual orbits, mingling some of the light and color and song of their atmospheres in passing. I felt suddenly proud—proud that these strangers and fellow humans were capable of such honest fun.

As the night dwindled down, I began to fear that each number would be the last. At length, a couple at a nearby table shouted out, “Clapton!” during a pause between sets, and something told me that this would be the finale. The climax of a tiny human drama played out on a dot on the map at a weathered wharf under the stars. Sure enough, at the very opening bars of “Wonderful Tonight,” every single person rose to their feet, taking some other loved person by the hand. The wharf became a dance floor as couples swayed to and fro in one another’s arms, a silent celebration of life’s sweetest mystery. I smiled radiantly up at Philip through my happy tears. Perhaps, after all, this enormous-hearted husband of mine is wearing off on me.

When the band was done, we all ambled off the wharf together. I kept stealing shy smiles at our fellow patrons (I’m sure they thought I was a bit odd) and waved goodbye to Johnny Cash. These people weren’t strangers any more—not to me. We had been through something tremendous together—at least, that’s how I saw it. We had tasted happiness as a body, and that can never be an unremarkable thing.

“God bless them,” I prayed silently, with a great flush of blinding love that nearly took my breath. “God bless them all.”

And then I thought of the hapless souls on the beach a few nights previous, with their boom box and noisy voices, as utterly unconscious of my ire as these people on the wharf were of my sudden and unlooked-for love.

I twisted my mouth in a wry smile.

“Oh, God,” I whispered, “bless them—bless them, too.”

Proper Introductions: Summer Suggestions

Tuesday, June 10th, 2014

A Woman Reading, Claude Monet, 1872

Some of my very favorite memories of summer are the endless afternoons I spent reading as a girl. Whether sprawled across my bed or tipping lazily in the hammock under the dogwood trees, those blessed hours epitomize the essence of true summertime luxury to me. Unfettered by the duties and responsibilities which attend adulthood, I was free to roam the country of imagination without care—almost without cessation, as I could remain in the thrall of a particularly loved book for days after I’d finished it. There was time then to read fast, to devour books like a hungry vagabond falling upon a feast, to stumble into open pages without a thought of where I might land.

I’m still a greedy bookworm, of course, but the piles on my bedside table and around the house attest to the fact that it takes me a lot longer to get through a book at 39 than it did at 17. I’m haunted yet by the blissful languor that “summer afternoon” meant to me in my youth, and endeavoring to recapture it, at least in spirit (if you could see the weedly state of my garden you would know I am in earnest!). Summer means cool, simple suppers, prepared earlier in the day, and warm, heavy twilights, aglint with the glowing dance of fireflies under the gloom of the trees. It means windows open at dawn and dew-wet grass and bare feet.

And it means—will always mean—books. I choose my summer reads with such care: there must be the perfect blend of captivation and commitment. I want to be carried along, but not mindlessly; I generally require a good recommendation, as the time is too short to waste it on books I’ll never be friends with. (I tried to like The Shell Seekers, y’all, I really did. And The Forgotten Garden. We just couldn’t make it work.) Right now I’m reading Tess of the D’Urbervilles—or, at least I was, until my adorable puppy, Bonnie Blue, ate my copy of it. (Never mind that it was the prettiest little edition I picked up in the Cotswolds: soft blue leather, gilt titles, tissue-thin pages. There was no looking into those chocolate milk eyes, gazing up at me from amid a thorough ruin of Thomas Hardy without instant forgiveness.) Librivox has come to the temporary rescue, however, until I can make it to the library, so I’m still clipping along. (This recording is fantastic, by the way, and one of my favorite readers.)

And in the spirit of summer reading, it’s my pleasure to introduce a few new titles in the shop today with which one might indulge a few hours in the hammock, or on the front porch, lemonade in hand:

Cheaper by the Dozen is the beloved story of the twelve Gilbreth children in the early part of the 20th century and their “efficiency engineer” parents, as told by two of the siblings, Frank and Ernestine. This is such a rollicking read, told with humor and genuine affection. It was made into a movie in 1950.

Katherine Wentworth is a gentle love story by the popular mid-century author, D.E. Stevenson. My friends and I like to call her “Elizabeth Goudge-lite,” as her books have a quality of charm and insight that reflect some of the sensibilities of our beloved Miss Goudge.

My Cousin Rachel is a page-turning Cornish suspense by the author of Rebecca and Jamaica Inn. As always, Du Maurier gives you plenty to think about, even after the covers are closed.

The Circular Staircase and The Man in Lower Ten are the first and second novels, respectively, by the American authoress, Mary Roberts Rinehart. Rinehart was an early pioneer in the mystery writing genre, having developed to great effect the captivating “had I known then what I know now” structure.

The Little Minister is an old friend of mine, and not only because I honeymooned in J. M. Barrie’s part of the world. I’ve written about this one here.

Rose o’ the River is one of Kate Douglas Wiggin’s best-loved tales, as tender and old-fashioned as one might expect from the author of such treasures as The Birds’ Christmas Carol and Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm. This little gem of a romance is illustrated with pretty tinted plates, appropriate to the sentiments contained therein.

Song of Years is hands-down my favorite Bess Streeter Aldrich book. This is a beautiful story of a pioneering family in the mid-nineteenth century, with a cast of unforgettably Aldrich-esque characters. At the center is the idealistic heroine, Suzanne, whose fortunes I followed with painful eagerness and genuine friendship. Among the rarest of Aldrich titles.

(And don’t forget Temple Bailey and Grace Livingston Hill if you’re looking for something light and lovely with old-fashioned ideals. :))

Happy reading, friends! So, what are you perusing these days? Please share–I value your recommendations!

(A note on the new inventory: some of the images uploaded with a line through them—I can’t figure out why that happened, but Philip suspects that it might have something to do with the fact that the jump drive I used had gone through the wash last week in the pocket of my jeans. 😉 Keep in mind this is not a defect on the part of the books. Also, the cover images are not oriented correctly. My apologies. One more thing–I prefer to photograph dust jacket-ed books without the clear mylar cover I later provide, as it’s easier to get a shot without glare. However, all the dust jackets in my shop are thus protected–not only does it keep the jacket from incurring further wear, it gives an old book a bright, new face. Remember, to see multiple views of the books, click on the images provided—I usually include at least two. Thank you! :))

Proper Introductions is a series dedicated to highlighting some of the titles that can be found on the shelves at Lanier’s Books.

Sweet Summer

Monday, May 26th, 2014

And so with the sunshine and the great bursts of leaves growing on the trees, just as things grow in fast movies, I had that familiar conviction that life was beginning over again with the summer. ~F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby

We came home last Sunday from three weeks away to find the yard and pastures clothed in such an exuberance of green it almost hurt to look at them, particularly when a-dazzle with the golden light of a late May sun. Three weeks ago, we had left a timid spring behind, all pale leaves and misty showers, and we had come back to—Summer. My heart hailed it with a comrade’s joy. I cherish all of the seasons in their turn, but in recent years I’ve rekindled my childhood love affair with summer. There’s such an Eden-like quality to these young days of warmth and new growth, an innocence about the long twilights and dew-wet dawns that awakens some of my most elemental longings and visions. With the paring down of the outward life in summertime comes a ritualistic inspection of my inner world—I believe that Philip and I have more important conversations about what we want to do with our lives in the summer than any other time of the year. We’re having those conversations now, leaning into the luxury of these long afternoons, scanning the prospect of the season ahead (literally and figuratively) from this last green hill of May.

It’s been a satisfying spring, deeply clarifying in its own right. I’ve been quietly hammering away at some long-held goals, wondering how the days can slip by so quickly under the glad burden of hard work. And I’ve thrown my cap over a couple of fences, one academic and one literary (I’ll let you know what comes of either…). In the bookshop, Poesy is coming along. It’s been such an amazing thing to see my own words forming into a book beneath my own hands. As each and every page has to be folded separately by hand, you can imagine what an intimate and contemplative task it’s been. There are boxes and boxes of signatures (folded components of sixteen pages) in the bookshop, ready to be hand sewn into text blocks—I am so eager to jump into this stage of the process as it’s my very favorite.

I’ve been working steadily on my novel, as well. My writing partner and I met for lunch the week before Philip and I left on our trip to discuss our latest challenge. I wandered off into an explanation of why I thought I’d commit to “hours spent at desk” as opposed to actual word count—when my wise and loving friend drew me up short. “Lanier, that’s not really working for you,” she said, leaning across the table with a knowing look beneath her cocked brow. “It’s time to get this story out.” She was exactly right, and I knew it. There is a place for day-dreamy dawdling before a blank screen—she and I both know such times are never wasted. But when dawdling becomes procrastination (which is just a nice word for scared-out-of-my-mind), it’s a real problem. I realized in that moment that I wasn’t progressing with my book for the simple reason that I was afraid I would ruin it by writing it. Feels good to name such things, and to have another writer pat your arm knowingly and tell you to get back to work. She set the bar at 800 words per day—which I happily exceeded during our weeks away, in a burst of recklessly awful first draft material I’d die if anyone set eyes on. 😉 But that’s what the first draft is for! Much as I love my characters and think I know their story, I won’t know anything till I get all my own ideas out of the way. It’s only then that this tale (and its people) can take me where it wants to go. That’s the real magic, of course. Let’s hope I can keep up the momentum now that we’re home again…

Lastly, I’m excited to announce that I (finally) have a few new Elizabeth Goudge titles in the bookshop: a lovely copy of Gentian Hill, the beautiful Devonshire tale set during the Napoleonic wars; two copies of the hard-to-find God So Loved the World, which is Goudge’s exquisite telling of the life of Christ; and the anthology A Book of Comfort, containing some of her most dearly loved poems, quotes and prayers for “the difficulties and challenges of life.” (I’ve certainly put some wear on my own personal copy of that latter.) You can find them here.

I feel like this is the breeziest of updates on a series of intensely full and challenging and exciting months. But I want to wish all of you the very happiest entrance into this burgeoning season, and to say that I hope this summer nurtures your soul with the warmth of youth and all the lustre of undying things. Blessings and Peace to you, friends. Thank you so much for coming by. You make me brave just by being there.

Under the Mercy,