A Small Zoo (revisited)

Here is my first ever blog post, shared with you again after about eight years! I recently used it for a writing assignment about animals, even though it was kind of cheating…this zoo is full of animal-like creatures…but none is actually furry or feathered!

Hope you enjoy it (again, for the handful of you who have been with my in Crazy Land from the beginning)!

Living in a house with five young children is much like running a small zoo, full of exotic birds and monkeys who are liable to climb everything, and constantly build themselves habitats all over that seldom-seen thing called “floor.”

The clever chimpanzees create modern art pieces with supplies like to finger-paint and spaghetti sauce—any surface is a suitable canvas, from walls to couch covers. Ever innovative, they can turn toilet paper and bath water into paper-mâché tile art. Don’t be surprised to find a small one bathing in the bathroom sink, making steam art on the mirror, or having a healthy snack of toddler toothpaste. 

There is always something fun to do, such as scatter puzzle pieces around the confines like wood chips, or paint boxes with the smallest monkey’s diaper cream.

All these endeavors make the animals extremely hungry, so there are frequent feeding frenzies. The feeding area is swarmed with little birds chirping “Me! Me! Me!” and there is no silence until all the feeding dishes are filled with animal crackers and other suitable snacks. 

If the offering is deemed worthy, the birdsong “More! More,” will be heard; however, if the animals are unsatisfied with their rations, they will resort to scowls, whines, and barking, sometimes followed by the tipping over of said feeding dishes, or worse: the use of a dish as a small missile, hopefully in the direction of the floor rather than the zookeeper’s head. The baby hippo often gets so messy that it is placed immediately in the wading pool, where it gets a thorough scrub.

After their meal, the animals usually head off to the recreation area to engage in elaborate displays of beauty, strength and agility, including leaping off the furniture while adorned in princess feathers, or circling about repeatedly in brightly patterned skins that would camouflage them in a tropical coral bed. Like chameleons on hyper-speed, they are liable to change their skins every five minutes, scattering colorful heaps about the confines.

We won’t go into a discussion of the animals’ bathroom habits, for their lack of refinement in areas of toilet training, their parading about without proper rear covers, and their enjoyment in leaving surprise droppings and puddles for the zookeeper would be thoroughly reprehensible if they were not such small animals.

It is with great relief that the zookeeper puts them all in their cages for the night, with the blissful thought that at least for several hours, no little creatures will be burrowing about the living room in blanket tunnels, or scattering paw covers outside until the zoo’s garden becomes an Easter egg hunt for missing shoes. 

How peaceful and sweet the fuzzy beasts seem, with their limbs flung out in the abandon of sleep, and their little purrs and dreamy sighs…

You might think that the evening would bring peace and quiet to the zoo and rest to the zookeeper, but don’t forget one important thing: night watch; after all, many animals are nocturnal!

Rainy Sidewalk Fireworks

Morning comes to the sidewalk. The long green grasses stretch their stalks in front of the grey cobblestone wall behind them. They tilt sideways, holding their pose in an elegant still-life ballet—perfectly confident—adorned with nothing but dewdrops.

The wildgrasses primly hold their brown tuft faces still, ignoring the rush of traffic on the wet pavement a few feet away as they perform their morning yoga.

People trudge by, clinging to their red Tim Horton’s coffee cups, their minds swirling with tasks and unaware of the zen moment occurring near their feet.

Amid the viridescent grasses, the dandelion puffs are tiny white fireworks, exploding with enthusiasm for the new day. Drunk on fresh rainwater, a perfectly organic energy source, the little lions laugh at the Starbucks across the road. No need for a cuppa joe here. They greet the world with bright-eyed grins.

The transformation of their blond manes to bursts of white worries them not a wit. They know nothing of paperwork, or headaches, or housework; nothing of gas prices, or housing markets, or wars. 

I want to lie down in the grass with them, the invigorating rain water soaking into my skin. If I shed enough worry, perhaps I’d become light enough to fly away with the dandelion seeds. Perhaps the little spinning helicopters and I could land somewhere softer than the harsh sidewalk under my feet.

Calling All Writers Great and Small!

Tomorrow, Tuesday, April 19th, the new online writing course of the Habit Community writer’s group begins! We will be writing with James Herriot, beloved British country vet and author of many books, including “All Creatures Great and Small.” We will be reading his stories and learning form his talent to see what techniques we can use in our own storytelling. It’s not too late to join us if you are looking for a warm, supportive community of writers, enjoy lively discussions about writing and engaging weekly writing assignments.

Some of the topics to be covered are:

  • Anecdotal Storytelling
  • Quick Strokes for Minor Characters
  • Narration and Point of View
  • Managing Time and Space
  • Writing Landscape
  • Dialogue and Dialect
  • Description and Imagery
  • Action and Movement
  • Narrative Pacing
  • Moving from Experience to Fiction

You can join either just for this class, or purchase a yearly membership, which includes several more writing classes, monthly lectures, interactive office hours, and a place to share your writing and give and seek constructive feedback from people passionate about their craft. A great bonus is also the video archives of all previous courses, such as Writing with Hobbits, Writing with Jane Austen, Writing with C.S. Lewis, etc. Here’s a few:

I joined the Habit last year when our lovely teacher, Jonathon Rogers, offered the class Writing with Anne of Green Gables. How I could I resist rereading my favourite book and nerding out about all things Anne? The various writing prompts have stretched me as a writer and helped me explore new genres and ways of expressing myself. The feedback in the forums has helped me learn so much, and the support of small subgroups on the Habit has given me the courage to submit my work for publication, with two very happy results I look forward to sharing with you in the future.

As for reading James Herriot again, it’s awfully fun—that dry British humour, eccentric characters and farm stories too crazy to be made up. Come join us tomorrow on zoom! Sign up to get the link, and keep in mind your time zone. On the west coast, class is Tuesday at 1-2:30pm, but if you’re central or Eastern time it will be earlier.

Oh, yeah, and if you’ve got teen homeschoolers, there’s a lively student cohort, too, in the morning, with their own zoom session and online platform to share their work. Don’t worry if you miss the first class, it will be recorded!

Hope to see you there virtually! Here’s a little video by Jonathon Rogers about the course:

Writing about People and their Animals

“Something Better Coming:” A Beautiful New Children’s Picture Book for Easter

Review of Megan Saben’s Something Better Coming

Earlier today I was talking to a mom friend about books, when she said the following: “There’s tons of kids’ books about Christmas, but so few about Lent and Easter. That’s what I’d like to find more of.”

I knew exactly which book to recommend her: my writing friend Megan Saben’s Something Better Coming. This beautifully illustrated children’s picture book is about the hope that sustains us through the trials of life—and especially death—the hope of the resurrection. Rather than being an escape from this life, the belief that we are all destined for eternal life is an affirmation of the unique preciousness of each human being—each one worthy of love, protection and respect—each one worthy of the miracle of God’s tender love.

Sensitive and refined, the text of Something Better Coming fits well with the subtle illustrations, which show the various resurrection miracles in the Gospels, culminating in the Easter miracle of Christ’s resurrection. I find the illustration style so fitting for the wondrous truths the book is trying to convey—the message is not dumbed down for children or accompanied by ugly, cartoonish illustrations, as I find too many bible story books for kids are. Having beautiful text and illustrations respects the intellect of children, rather than assuming they will only be attracted by gaudy or outlandish drawings.

Our faith reveals a layer of deeper meaning in life, and adds a great dimension of hope, despite all suffering on this earth. For this reason, it makes sense to express this for children as well as adults, in order to equip them with the spiritual tools they will need, possibly sooner than we would like, to face the death of a loved one. Sometimes when we adults are grieving ourselves, it’s hard to have the right words of encouragement to give.

Megan Saben’s book offers the gift of these words of hope, and would be a perfect Easter present for your children, grandchildren, or godchildren, or any adult in your life who loves picture books. You can order just one copy, or team up with friends or your church community to order in bulk. Megan offers various discounts for orders of 5 and 10 copies, and while she is in the US, is willing to ship to Canada. You can find her book here https://somethingbettercoming.com/. I’ll be placing a bulk order myself for anyone nearby who would like one! Let me know in the comments or email me. Thanks!

Megan, whom I met on the wonderful online writing group I’m part of, The Habit Community, is a writer, book reviewer and homeschooling mom of five boys. Learn more about her at https://redeemedreader.com/2022/03/back-porch-book-chat-megan-saben-book-reviewer-author-homeschool-mom/.

Family Day Fail, or “I’d rather eat noodles”

The other day we went to the park for Family Day; it was damp and chilly. The sun hid behind a massive grey cloud, despite the deceptive blue sky. Baby was not impressed.

“What are we doing out here?”
“Is this supposed to be fun?”

Eventually we gave up trying to stay warm enough and went home for tea. After a big nap in his cosy blanket in the stroller, our little one felt much better, and ate his noodle soup with gusto.

“I’d rather be eating noodles.”
“Good to the last drop.”

An Imaginary Journal Entry from Little Women: Mr. Lawrence Ruminates by his Window

Our latest writing assignment for my online writing class on The Habit Community was to write a page from the journal of a minor character in a famous book. It was such an interesting assignment; people did all sorts of great things from Jane Austen, J.R.R. Tolkien, L.M. Montgomery, Suzanne Collins, the tale of Beowolf and more.

My husband had the idea for my piece, told from the perspective of the rich old neighbour next door in Little Women, which is one of my very favourite books. It felt like treading on sacred ground, trying to slip into the writing shoes of Louisa May Alcott…I really hope you enjoy it!

Mr. Lawrence Ruminates by his Window

Every evening for months, I have heard their voices lifting in song—the four neighbour girls singing with their mother around an old piano. At first, I would shut my windows to block out the sound of their happiness, for its lively youthfulness unearthed memories of my own dear granddaughter, now so silent and still.

I tried to make myself believe that I was simply annoyed at their disturbing an old man’s rest, but it was not irritation at all: it was fear of the sorrow their joy was unleashing in my locked heart, until I could contain it no longer.

Eventually, I began opening my window. I now watch for their work-weary mother to come home through the gate, carrying her baskets and bundles. Her daughters greet her with joy, calling “Marmee!” through the open door.

After an hour or so, I bring my pipe and sit by the window pensively, as if pondering some profound problems, while the smoke wafts into the night air, but I am simply waiting to listen to them sing.

Sometimes, their warbling songs are delightful; other times their girlish voices and soft piano tunes are accompanied by my silent tears, the ones I could not shed when my own little grandchild died. How she had loved music!! Her untouched piano haunts me.

However, anger is a lonely refuge. It sustains me no longer, though I try to hide it from my foolish nephew, Lawrence, lest he think I have grown old and soft.

Perhaps I have. I long to do something for them now that their father is away at war. They must feel it deeply, though they carry their burden cheerfully. That lanky one even leaps over the fence at times; I have to restrain my laughter when I see it through the window. Oh, to have her spring in my step!

But what could a lonely old man do to increase their happiness? Their mother seems too proud to accept money; she bears herself so nobly, and I believe their family was wealthy before her husband’s business was ruined.

If only I could be there with them in that cozy little front room, with the light streaming through the window into the dusk, along with their dear voices…then I could hear the soft tunes of their old piano better.

That is it—a new piano! My granddaughter’s favourite instrument shall be silent no longer.

Granny Koenig

Here is a short piece I wrote for my writing class about my amazing Dutch Granny. The assignment was to describe someone based on their likes and dislikes, rather than what they looked like, etc. On this special day of remembrance, it seemed fitting to share a little of her story with you.

Every night, Granny Koenig took grim satisfaction in throwing Hitler off her third story apartment balcony. He deserved it; he was trying to steal her jewelry box. The wound of living through two world wars in Holland ran deep enough to be embedded in her dreams, and caused to her to wander the house weeping some nights. But in the bold light of day, she gloried in her nocturnal victories. After all, they made good stories, and she enjoyed telling stories to her three Canadian grandchildren who had come to live with her.

She told them of her father, the German Baron whom she despised for abandoning her poor French mother, who had died when Granny was only five, leaving her orphaned and alone. She relished in telling the children about the naughty things she had done in church, such as what exactly she had put in the holy water, for she had no use for God the Father after her own father disappeared.

Granny Koenig loved to sit in her rocking chair and describe her self-made success… how she learned French and English as well as her native Dutch, and was able to be a nanny for a wealthy American family who took her on cruises, decked out in black velvet and diamonds. How she had cherished that velvet…her fingers thrilled at the memory of its softness.

Granny Koenig despised such things as smoking and drinking, which she had never, ever done. The children tried not to smirk at the picture hanging above her rocker, showing their Granny drawing on a huge cigar with delight. You could forgive an old woman some discrepancies when she frequently bought you popsicles from the newsstand flower shop on the corner, and delighted in chasing your little brothers around the apartment, waving her walking stick in mock anger when they put toy bugs on her neck. In any case, anyone brave enough to hide Jewish children in her house during the war, and to still face the Fuhrer every night in her dreams, certainly deserved to be treated with generosity, even we children knew that.