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?