Saturday, February 25, 2012

Out of the Closet, Back on the Shelf

Well, it's official. AARP Magazine just featured an article on the goodness of YA books and the emerging trend of adults buying and reading them.

Actually, some of us never stopped.

Every year, I get a craving to re-read Jane Eyre. I also re-read all the Maude Hart Lovelace Betsy-Tacy books, set in turn of the (last) century Deep Valley, MN; Lenora Mattingly Weber's Beany Malone books, set in a WWII Denver when teens still worked at car hops and went to college in their hometown (paying for tuition out of their own earnings); and, in the dregs of winter, Laura Ingalls Wilder's The Long Winter, because I can't possibly complain about my January claustrophobia when I'm reading about a family huddled in a single room around the only stove they have, twisting hay into sticks to burn as their only fuel.

I automatically turn left when I first enter the Chattanooga Public Library so I can browse the young adult shelves, as well as climb the stairs to the children's room to see the familiar covers of other amazing books by authors like the Brits Nina Bawden and Susan Cooper. I used to feel a little embarrassed at checking out so many children's titles. Then I started homeschooling, and, what do you know, I had an excuse. And now, as my homeschoolers grow up and away, AARP has sanctioned my addiction.

Yes, I read newer books, too, including, gasp! horror! Twilight, which I won't dignify with anymore space than this. But it's the older YAs that got me through so much of childhood, and they remain among my closest friends.  If you haven't picked one up in a long time, or ever, I can't recommend them enough. I review a paltry few each month for the Sewanee Mountain Messenger and am always glad to suggest titles (Civil War fan? Try Rifles for Watie. Interested in social justice and immigration issues? Lois Lenski's Strawberry Girl and the more recent Esperanza Rising.) Oh, I could go on and on.

But--I'd rather be reading.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Swimming with Napoleon

New year, old lesson: it is so much easier not to stop doing something than to stop it and have to start up all over again.

Luckily for me, I had to drive my spouse to work the other day, as his somewhat battered Nissan was in the shop. Which meant there I was, right around the corner from the community pool where I've been swimming the Panama Canal Challenge (24 miles before February 1st). A place I haven't been lately, what with the cold and the holiday busyness and the ongoing excuse of, "oh, it's too far to drive. Just walk our property instead."

No excuse left (except the cold), I got into the pool and swam my mile. Which completely doesn't express how agonizingly hard it was to do and keep doing. Not so much for physical reasons as for mental: my mind never stopped complaining and whining and wanting to be anywhere else but.

Being fairly bullheaded, I told my mind I just had to get to 20 laps. Then 25, then, what the heck, finish off the 33 for my mile.  Which I did. And felt physically recharged and mentally pretty upbeat (always a challenge in the depths of January).

All to say, I remembered how much I usually enjoy being in the pool. I remembered how invigorated I feel afterwards.

I remembered why it's a lot easier to just keep on with a discipline, once begun.

So with War and Peace. Which (the Pevear and Volokhonsky translation) has been sitting untouched beside my bed for about a month.  As well as on my writing desk (the Maude translation), my reading chair (the Garnett), and even on my Ipad, which eliminates the excuse of "it's too late at night to hold up such a heavy book" because those 1200-plus pages are practically weightless. Plus I can read them without my glasses.

But I wasn't. Reading. Wasn't even opening the book to see where I was. Was barely managing to remember to renew the edition I'd checked out of the library.

Until after that swim, when I acknowledged just like doing laps, War and Peace takes discipline to begin, unlike murder mysteries, but, once begun, offers refreshment and stimulation and a sense of--"wow, I did it."

And once I'd found my place (Nikolai about to experience his first battle), I remembered how much I like reading Tolstoy. Which, yes, requires some effort, including finding a map that laid out for me just where the heck Napoleon's army was in October of 1805 so I could understand what it meant that he had taken Vienna while the Russian and Austrian troops fled before him.

But then, most of the things that make life worthwhile require a little effort. Picking up the phone, for instance, after first getting over the feeling that you're about to interrupt somebody's busy life with your call, so better not. Or bundling up to get out for a walk before the short day closes down.

And it really didn't take any longer to recollect the difference between young Nicolai and his comrade Boris  than it did to get back into the rhythm of breathing every third stroke during those laps.

What are you putting off?

Sunday, January 8, 2012


I've been putting only a tentative toe into the water of the New Year.

Even more reluctantly than I lower myself into the chilly community center pool now that winter's here.

And that's bothered me, my lack of enthusiasm to get going again. Then I finally figured out that I'm just not ready to dive full body into our schedule because I'm still waiting for "the break." The goof-off time, the sit-and-gaze-at-the-woods time,  the--for me, essential, quiet time.

I mean, we know this, right? The "holidays" are not holidays in the sense of "vacation." Holy days, yes; happy days with lots of family, yes; but--for me, as for surely a lot of women, holidays mostly mean more shopping, more cooking, more organizing, more managing.

This year, I'm doing something about it. The dread of jumping back in. This year, I've written out the first two weeks' school curriculum. I've done a lot of New Year decluttering on the house and gotten the basic bills paid. As much as possible, I've cleared the deck.

 Because today I'm taking the day off. A "personal day", a day to do nothing whatsoever that anyone needs me to do.

At least that's the plan. (I can already predict two possible glitches.) And what am I thinking I'll do? At the risk of making it sound like I have a schedule: Read: finish the Louise Penny mystery, A Fatal Grace, that I'm re-reading and loving even more than the first time around. Read: some War and Peace, to reve up our online reading group. Walk, in this oddly balmy weather. (60 on Wednesday!?!) Watch an episode, maybe two, of season 1 of West Wing, which we are only just discovering, while I  maybe do a little knitting. Think.

But really, I don't know exactly what I'm going to do. Which makes me a bit nervous, because I'm so used to knowing where I have to be when, and for whom.

Which is kind of the point. To not be dashing around on demand, not be anybody's anything (chauffeur, cook, personal shopper, counselor, laundress, accountant, friend. . . . ). It's not that I mind doing any of those things. It's just that--I need a break. And--oh, how uncharacteristic this is--I plan to take it. Today. January 8th. A day which is not, on anyone's calendar, any kind of a holiday at all. A day which is supposed to be our first day of school, with all the activity that brings with it. And will be, for my homeschooled fifteen year old.

But--not for me. This time.


Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Swiss Chard for Breakfast

Last Roses of December: Something Else with Quirky Timing
Two months later....

This blog is beginning to take on the off-again, on-again timing of a pre-menopausal cycle.

But then my timing has always been a little off. I discovered what I wanted to major in my last semester of college; the amazing West Wing some nine years after the rest of the TV-viewing world; and yesterday, Jan. 2nd,  signed up for an online reading group (for War and Peace) whose members planned to finish the book by January of 2012. 

Saturday I lifted the top off one of my non-working beehives just as a mouse poked its beady little black eyes and pointy nose up through the frames (more on rodent phobia in another post).

And I was feeding my kids brown ricecakes and whole wheat homemade bagels before the rest of the world decided that white flour was evil. By the time culture caught up with us, we were discovering the joys of Betty Crocker brownies. 

Or, as my bonfire-happy spouse re-introduced to us last week when the kids were home for the holidays, S'mores, made with jet-puffed marshmallows and a substantial slabs of Hershey bar.

(Did you know you can make a pretty decent S'More  in the microwave? Minus the crusty brown melt of  true charbroiled marshmallow, but still--.)

And it's true. While many of you are breakfasting on honeynut cheerios or New York bagels (not down here), I am eating swiss chard fresh from the garden.

 I really understand the craving our frontier ancestors had for garden greens in the middle of winter. Our bodies just seem to want this stuff. Thanks to heavy-duty plastic on the beds and a serious gardener spouse, I don't have to wait till early spring for mine. And with a microwave (though ours does, as my eldest complains, sound like a jet taking off), I don't even have to wash a pot. You just rinse the leaves (do spend time on this part: little worms apparently don't mind the cold weather), chop, stuff into a bowl with a bit of  water, and microwave for two minutes. Sprinkle with brewer's yeast, throw on some fresh-picked arugula, and--amazing. A real power breakfast.  Kale is really good, too, but the leaves are smaller and crinkly and take longer to wash. (OK, I'm lazy: note I'm not the one growing this stuff, going out each cold night to tuck it up under its plastic bedcover.)
Somebody else's chard, but that's about it.

Chard is high in iron and magnesium and a few other things (also sodium, for some reason), and is amazingly substantial. If not quite as chewy as a bagel. It's especially tasty with a chaser of iced decaffeinated green tea flavored with stevia and lemon juice. (I did grow stevia this year, but haven't tried my stash yet.)

Then you drink your coffee. And dig any leftover Christmas cookies out of the cupboard.

It's all in the timing.

What did you have for breakfast this morning?

Tuesday, November 1, 2011


The Dread Blank Screen
NaNo starts today.

That's not Robin Williams doing sound effects, but the acronym for National Novel Writing Month, also known as NaNoWriMo.

To "win," you have to complete a 50,000 word novel by the end of November, which is something like 1679 words a day. The point, apparently, is to let yourself write as fast and as freely as you can, without stopping to re-draft, re-write, second-guess, shred, and all the other quagmires those of us on the compulsive side fall into which keep us on page 1 for way too long a time.

(Do you fall into a quagmire, or just get stuck in one?)

You aren't allowed to start writing a second early--there are minute-past-midnight 'write-in' parties for people who live in more populated areas--shades of the July Harry Potter book release midnight bashes, except at these write-ins you're not dressing up, schmoozing or drinking butter beer. You're writing. Which I guess is what I'll be doing a lot more of this coming month.

Which will be a challenge. Like most writers, I have always been doing something else while I'm working on a manuscript. Teaching ('real' school, homeschool, music); earning a living, as a janitor, house painter, Senate staffer, whatever; building our house (don't). At several points along the way, nursing a baby. (Awkward to do while writing, but possible.)

This month will be no different. I'm swamped with--oh, you don't want to hear the details; we're all swamped. (And please don't mention the coming "holidays.")

What will be different, what may be different, is my intention. I INTEND to finish, or at least to keep writing. I INTEND to ignore all those inner voices that hiss "Why are you doing this?" "Is anyone ever going to read this? want to?" "You can't possibly think you know what you're doing here." Etc.

This month, as a NaNo participant, I intend to believe that--well, just that. I intend to have faith that it matters that I'm writing. (See Blog # 1)

It helps that there is a NaNo website with virtual writing communities all over the world working through the same discipline. Living as away from everything as we do, I've never managed to belong to a writer's group; I'm looking forward to the possibility of companionship. Sitting down at a desk and facing a blank page is scary stuff.

It may also help that I've told you what I'm up to: now I can't back out!

Anyway, whatever your November holds, good luck with it. And wish me faith in mine.

Friday, October 21, 2011

A Glancing Blow

More than a Glancing Blow: Hail that Bashed Dents in Spouse's Car two days ago
I've just hit the War part of War and Peace. The first war part, that is. (The parts I skipped the first time around. Though I hasten to add that the first time I read Moby Dick, I did read every word of the whale bits, those endless 'cetology' sections. Though only once and never again.)

I thought it would be an endurance contest, these hundred pages before the family dramas of the next peace part return. Surprise, surprise, to quote our Southern philosopher, Gomer Pyle: Tolstoy is as lavish with psychological insight in the war bits as he is in the rest of the novel.

You must know the feeling.  You're humming along with exuberance about something or other you've done or achieved or are planning to do when a stray look from a stranger, a casual comment from a friend, and whap! you realize what an idiot you were to think that x,y or z had any point at all. I hit this all the time. I suppose it's over-awareness of what other people are thinking--might be thinking--and therefore a character defect to overcome, but I'm not exactly sure how you do that. Put on another layer of skin? Not as easy, sigh, as slipping on a sweater or adding a few extra pounds of body insulation, aka fat. (Speaking of cetology.)

It doesn't even have to be a glance that sets this in motion. It can also be simple silence. Sad to admit that one is that aware of other people, perhaps, but there it is.

So what relief to find it in Tolstoy, too: Prince Andrei as courier is exultantly bearing news about a very minor Russian victory (more a survival than a victory.) In the moments it takes him to enter the office of the Minister of War he is reporting to and wait for the man to look up from the documents on his desk, Andrei's spirits falter, then sink altogether as he interprets the Minister's silence, initial expression, and, finally, few comments. His news, Prince Andrei realizes? or mindreads? is hardly of interest to the Minister; the victory must scarcely be worth being called a victory; the battle which had seemed of keenest excitement and importance was after all simply--one more in a long series of easily-forgotten skirmishes.

"When Prince Andrei left the palace, he felt that all the interest and happiness afforded him by the victory had now left him and been given over into the indifferent hands of the minister of war. . . . His whole way of thinking changed instantly. . . . "

In the space of a few moments, with little or nothing actually said by the other person.

Ah, yes.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Carry On!

What Was Supposed to be in the Spinner
(From our garden)
 This morning I found an empty salad spinner in the refrigerator.

Which certainly beats finding an empty pot of rice in there as I'm frantically pulling food out for a last-minute supper.

All part of having a number of family members with ADHD (the real, tested-diagnosed-mostly-treated kind, not that metaphoric "Oh, they're just so forgetful").

Along with cell phones in the washing machine, prescription glasses buried in the garden (or, this morning, discovered in the chicken house), library fines that approach the national debt (OK, OK, some of those are mine), and the omnipresent wail, "has anyone seen my keys/my phone/my glasses?" ("Did you try the chicken house?")

There are many advantages to having ADHD around. Creativity, for example: innovative ideas seem to pour out like November rain.
It's the routine maintenance part that's so hard for an ADHDer. Those last boring details: take the Ipod out of the pocket before it hits the washer, put the finished library book in the car, the empty rice pot in the sink. ADHDers excell at coming up with projects, and if there is the exciting crisis of a looming deadline, can be pretty good about ending them.

It's the middle part, the slogging-through part, the soggy-middle-of-the-sandwich bit where they run into problems. And often give up.
But then I get bogged down in the middle, too.

This year, my winter reading is War and Peace.  There is a magic about opening a new book or starting a new course. Do you know it? Some hangover from our earliest school days, when the pencils are sharp, notebook paper crisp, and even the smells from the cafeteria seem mysterious and promising, not the boiled-cabbage and disinfectant, closed-in smells of the coming winter days.

Then you hit the second week. The middle pages.

Last year, I read--yes, and finished--Augustine's Confessions. I was so excited when I started it, and as I approached the end, so motivated to get to that last page. It was in the middle where I'd look at Confessions, look at the new mystery sitting on my bedside shelf, and--choose the mystery.

Right now, I've hit page 105 of Tolstoy. Only about 999 to go, more or less. (Quite a bit more, actually). So the initial excitement has worn off a bit.

Ditto with Biology: I am working through a college level Biology text and CD-rom AP course along with my tenth grade homeschooler. She's on week five; I'm still trying to finish the reading from week three. (Please don't tell her that.) Granted, there's a lot of it, 4 or 5 very dense chapters some weeks. Granted, I read fiction, not science. I'm not used to having to stop every sentence, every half sentence, to puzzle over the words to figure out what they mean.  Especially sentences like this one: "For atoms with valence electrons in both s and p orbitals the single s and three p orbitals hybridize to form four new hybrid orbitals. . . . "

Say what?

I'm in the slogging-through part.

So what keeps me going? I was thinking about this after talking briefly to my college son who is a bit bogged down with his senior thesis. He's in the slog part. And it's dreary. Hard. Lonely. That's when, with my senior thesis, I developed the lifelong bad habit of "stuck? a little bored? Go make some more coffee!"

What helps more than caffeine is something that's much harder to find around here than my coffee pot.


I'm reading War and Peace along with one friend in North Carolina and another in California. They don't know each other, but the three of us make up a no-pressure, long-distance "reading group." So that when I open up this very-heavy book every morning to read my few pages, I feel their presence. Not in a "you better read this or else" way, but in a "someone is sharing this, someone is doing this with me" way.

With Biology, I have my daughter to commiserate with. To encourage, and to be encouraged on by.

Just as with blogging, I have you, my readers, my fellow bloggers. To be cheered on by, to cheer on. To say, and to hear, in the words of one friend, "Carry on!"