Classics Spin #9 Lucky Spin Number

Today is the day!

The Classics Club announced the lucky Spin number and it’s…

2!

On my Spin list, that’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe.

I think I’d actually have been more excited for #1 (Moby-Dick) or #3 (The House of Mirth), but it will be nice to cross this one off my list. And based on the reviews I’ve read, it might be better than I expect. One of the many benefits of low expectations is that I’m frequently pleasantly surprised.

Classics Spin #8 Lucky Spin Number

Today is the day!

The Classics Club announced the lucky Spin number and it’s…

13

On my Spin list, that’s The Republic by Plato.

I’m excited to have a Classical classic, but I was actually hoping for Plutarch’s Lives or Herodotus’ The Histories, but The Republic is a fine place to start. Now to clear a space on my active to-read list to make room for it.

Weekly Photo Challenge: Unexpected

This is my photographic response to this week’s (er…last week’s) photo challenge by The Daily Post. I like taking photos, especially for this type of challenge. I find it leads me to see the world differently. And seeing the world differently is something I always find enriching.

The assignment: “share a photo that means UNEXPECTED to you.”

I’m a little late for this one, but I decided to post anyway after I saw this on my morning walk today:

CIMG3047

I usually don’t take my camera on my walks, but this morning it was 12 degrees Fahrenheit, and I had a vague thought that things might look especially interesting in temperatures that cold, so I stuck it in my jacket pocket.

This isn’t the first photo I took of the hot air balloon, but it’s the one I like best. I took this one from my front porch, with my kids in their pjs behind me speculating about the likely fate of the balloon, which was so low, we could hear the whoosh as the pilot fired up the burner.

“I wonder if it’s going to get stuck in those trees?” said my eight-year-old.

“No,” said my four-year-old, “that only happens to kites.”

 

Midnight in Massachusetts

Midnight in Paris

Last night I confirmed that there is no safe amount of chocolate or alcohol I can consume anymore. One glass of wine and two slim slices of naturally-sweetened chocolate-pecan pie meant I was riding out my nausea and cold sweats during movie night with my spouse.

He and I rarely get to watch movies together, so I wasn’t going to let a little uncontrollable shivering keep me from watching Midnight in Paris while snuggled under blankets on the couch. Turns out laughter was some good medicine in this case. Well, laughter and the slow but inevitable action of my liver clearing the acetaldehyde from my bloodstream.

I’ve started reading Ulysses, and I’m surprised to find  after all of the warnings that I actually enjoy reading it. But seeing this movie with all of these modernist writers and artists hanging out together in Paris really amped up my enthusiasm for the book. James Joyce didn’t make an appearance, but he got a mention, and that was enough to get me really in the mood to embrace modernist literature, at least for a while.

It also made me want to read Nancy Milford’s biography of Zelda Fitzgerald and to move Gertrude Stein’s The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas much closer to the top of my classics list.

I remember hearing an interview with director Jean-Pierre Jeunet, who said that when he made Amélie, he set out to show the audience the Paris that he loves, all vibrant colors and magic, rather than the starkly real Paris, which has much more traffic and dog crap.  So while the Paris setting of the film was gorgeous, I was able to keep reality in mind for most of the film and not hit pause to look up airline fares.

I’m also not very susceptible to the “it would be so much nicer to live in such-and-such a time…” I’ve read enough history to know that pretty much every era sucked for pretty much everyone living during that era. Right now’s not great, but there’s no other time I’d much rather live in.

Midnight in Paris, however, had me craving at least a long-ish vacation to 1920’s Paris. Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Gertrude Stein, Pablo Picasso, Salvador Dali, T.S. Eliot…what an incredible time it must have been to be in Paris!

The only trouble would be explaining why I wasn’t drinking. That particular crowd doesn’t seem like they’d take very well to someone who wasn’t a fabulous drinker.

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Thanksgiving Then and Now

When I was a kid, we always lived far away from our extended family. For our little family, this meant spending all of our holidays on our own. This didn’t stop my mom from going all-out. For Thanksgiving, we would have a turkey that weighed as much as a toddler, which my mom put in the oven in the wee hours Thanksgiving morning, basting it with butter every hour (the turkey, not the toddler). The aroma of roasting turkey wafted into our dreams, and we awoke Thanksgiving morning with our mouths already watering.

Along with the turkey, we would have stuffing and mashed potatoes and gravy and homemade rolls and canned cranberry sauce and—my favorite—the relish plate. Our relish plate was olives (green and black both; it was a special occasion, after all) and pickle spears and sometimes deviled eggs. By the time I got done eating olives off the tips of my fingers and licking the deviled-egg filling out of the cooked egg whites, I had little room for dinner.

My job each year was to set the table. I had a minor addiction to etiquette books back then, and I knew just where to place each utensil, plate, and glass. We used the good silverware on holidays, the set with all of the extra utensils that my etiquette books listed. To my annoyance, we only ever needed dessert forks for our pumpkin pie (never dessert spoons), we never had a sorbet palate cleanser between courses, and my mom insisted we did not need to use seafood forks for turkey. We did get to use the lead crystal stemware, though. We each got two glasses, one for water and the other for white wine (for the grown-ups) or white milk (for the kids). I would spend a good hour getting the table just right, napkin rings and all.

Then we would eat, and that would take about thirty minutes, and then there would be hours of dishes to do and leftovers in front of the television.

Thanksgiving for my own family is a little different. We still live far from extended family—we’ve not had Thanksgiving with the families for more than a decade, beyond a morning Skype date with my in-laws—but every year we spend the holiday with friends. When we lived in Utah, we celebrated mostly with friends and their extended families, but when we lived in California and now in Massachusetts, we most often get to be the ambassadors for United States Thanksgiving for friends from other countries.

This year and last, we had friends from India and Romania over. It’s freeing that I don’t need to compete with any of their own childhood memories of the holiday. I make a very traditional menu, with a little nontraditional twist on each menu item: the turkey is fresh, local, and free-range; the mashed potatoes have the skins on and are made with non-dairy milk; the sweet potatoes are roasted with shallots and habañeros; the pumpkin pie is vegan and gluten-free; and the cranberry sauce is actually a raw cranberry relish made without cane sugar.

They bring a bottle of wine and veggie dishes to share, and we all have way too much food and not enough conversation. The kids run around like little fiends and the older girls fend off the more violent advances of my four-year-old, who has yet to learn how to request to be a part of the big-girl fun without biting or kicking. When our friends go home, my spouse and I do dishes together and then put the kids to bed.

It’s a good Thanksgiving.

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In keeping with the unwritten law of Thanksgiving blog posts, I’ve made up a gratitude list.

I’m grateful for:

-clean running water.

dystopian novels that help me feel grateful for clean running water.

-friends who know without asking when I need help with a pan lid or moving something over in the oven.

-Skype.

-long-distance phone calls.

-chilly after-dinner walks.

-quiet time to read.

-my kids.

-my spouse.

-my home.

Written as part of the Remember the Time Blog Hop Thanksgiving theme.

MaddAddam by Margaret Atwood

MaddAddam
MaddAddam by Margaret Atwood
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I’m generally fairly paranoid about the internet. This is why I use a pseudonym when I’m here and why I avoid posting identifying photographs of myself, my spouse, and my children. And ever since the revelations about the NSA’s enhanced domestic spying abilities (which we can be sure they’re not using because they promise us so sincerely they aren’t), I’ve been perhaps not more paranoid but at least more aware of the vulnerability of writing things over the internet and talking on the phone.

But reading MaddAddam heightens my paranoia to the point that I hesitate when I go to write a blog post or log into my e-mail. Obviously this doesn’t stop me from online communication—I’m not ready to go full-on God’s Gardeners (yet)—I just feel more anxious about it.

While reading this book, I’ve been asking myself more often than usual, “Why do I blog anyway? Do I really want to share this much about my inner life even it’s not really all that top-secret and my name’s not attached to it?” I’ve also spent the reading of this book shadowed by a vague feeling that I’ve done something wrong. When I notice this feeling, I wonder if maybe I ought not to read dystopian novels.

The trouble with the MaddAddam trilogy is that it’s just a little step down a side road from where we are now. Atwood did this intentionally. She takes the worst fears of both the left and the right and makes them come true. Everything in the book—from lab-created meat to the commoditizing of our personal information (and even our genes) to the blanket outlawing of firearms to an entirely privatized military and domestic police force—is something that’s either already happening or could easily happen a step or two from where we are now. It makes Atwood’s world that much more realistic. And scary. And hopeless.

While I enjoyed MaddAddam, I liked it less less than I did The Year of the Flood. The Year of the Flood is in some ways simpler: it’s the story of a screwed-up world and a group of people who’ve found a way of living that bypasses the screwed-upedness. Even though I knew all along that it would not end well, there seemed to be a sense of hope. The Waterless Flood was coming, but there was a formula for surviving it. Plus, I relate to separatists.

MaddAddam is not hopeful. I suppose the ending could be perceived as hopeful, but I don’t really see it that way. It just seems kind of depressing that everything really is left up to chance and tribalism in the end anyway.

In addition to feeling a little depressed by the hopelessness, I also found the small-world coincidences in MaddAddam a little unrealistic. People meet and think they’re strangers, but it turns out they went to high school together or something. I didn’t quite buy that the only people who’d survive the flood would be people who already knew each other. These didn’t stop me from enjoying the book, though.

Maybe I just enjoy feeling depressed and paranoid.

View all my reviews

The Black Stallion by Walter Farley

The Black Stallion
The Black Stallion by Walter Farley
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I never went through a “horse” stage, which I understand many girls go through. I preferred stories about ghosts, vampires, black cats holed up inside brick walls, and teenagers with telekinesis, so this was one of the many books I missed when I was the target audience. My daughter reads animal stories like I used to read horror stories, so The Black Stallion eventually made it onto her reading list.

While this book gives the reader the sense that there were no women in the early 20th century except a couple of wives who mostly kept fearfully tucked inside their homes trying to keep their menfolk from getting into mischief, it was better than I expected it to be. I vaguely remember seeing the movie when I was a kid, but I mostly just remember it being dark and kind of boring. As a result, I was surprised at just how engaging the book is. Read More

A Progression of Farewells

It was still dark when my son woke me up, crying.

“Shhh, shhh, honey,” I soothed, stroking his hair. “Do you want to nurse?”

“No, Mommy,” he said, “you don’t have any more milk.”

And like that, we were done nursing.

I knew his claim that I had no milk wasn’t literally true—not only did I still have milk, on nights when he slept through without nursing, I often still had to get up and express milk into the bathroom sink because my breasts were full and sore—but I also knew that he meant something beyond the literal meaning of his words. Nursing is never just about the milk.

My daughter nursed for the last time when she was three years and three months old, and I just assumed that my son would nurse even longer. I’d read about breastfeeding duration in other cultures and I’d concluded that, if I didn’t push him to stop nursing (as I had my daughter), he’d keep nursing until he was five. While it seems a little silly to think that a child who stopped nursing at three years and eight months had weaned “early,” that’s how it felt because it happened so much earlier than I expected.

Beyond this, my son’s weaning was also more emotional for me than my daughter’s because I knew that, most likely, I was done nursing babies.

He’s still a snuggly guy, which helps. When he climbs into bed with me in the middle of the night, he tucks his little arms around my neck and falls asleep with his face against mine, his breath warm against my cheek. He still wants me to hold him and snuggle with him while we read books. But I know that’s on its way out, too.

He no longer wants me to kiss his boo-boos, and has begun ignoring me when I offer to hold his hand. He follows his sister out to play with the “big kids” in the neighborhood. He’s sounding out and writing words all over the house (mostly on paper, but not always). He spends hours making up stories in his play room. He dresses himself and at bedtime folds his clothes for the next day and sets them neatly on the little blue chair next to his bed.

And it’s a good thing, really. It shows that my son is maturing and that he’s growing in his confidence and independence. But it’s sad, too, because I’m saying goodbye to him as a baby. I don’t cling to his babyhood—nor do I want to; there’s a distinct advantage to having a child who can entertain himself and wipe his own bottom—but I do feel a deep sadness that it’s over.

Each “first” is accompanied by a “last.” The glass is both half full and half empty, and just letting both of those exist simultaneously is a constant challenge.

This is what it means to be a parent, I guess. Giving birth sets the stage for separation, and in that sense, childrearing is one long series of goodbyes: goodbye to the baby, goodbye to the snuggles, goodbye to that sweet scalp smell. But it’s also a long series of hellos: hello to the little boy, hello to the amazing discoveries, and, eventually, hello to the man.

I do look forward to meeting him.

Written as part of the Remember the Time Blog Hop.

Sisters Book Club December Selection: Ulysses by James Joyce

“So, I’ve been thinking about the December book selection for Sisters Book Club,” I said to my sister on our weekly phone call. I didn’t lead with that. I started with the standard run-down of all of the cute things her niece and nephew did this week, and an hour later, I got to Sisters Book Club.

“Oh, yeah?” she replied.

“Yeah. I’ve done something a little crazy—or maybe a lot crazy—and I’ve already joined two reading challenges for December, one to read St. Augustine’s City of God and the other to read James Joyce’s Ulysses…”

“Uh-huh.”

“…so I’m not sure how much else I can read in December.”

“Ah.”

“I thought about having Sisters Book Club just read one of those books, but I’m not sure if City of God really matches the character of Sisters Book Club.”

“Well, how about the other one?”

Ulysses? Well, I guess we could. It’s kind of a challenging read, though. I’m not sure how popular a choice it would be for Sisters Book Club.”

“What it’s about?”

“It’s a stream-of-consciousness, modernized version of Homer’s Odyssey.”

“Huh.”

“It was also banned from publication in the U.S. for several years because of obscenity charges.”

“Well, I’ve got a pretty light December, so I could probably do it.”

And so that’s how we picked Ulysses for our Sisters Book Club December selection.

The other read-along I’m involved in for this book is at Roof Beam Reader. There is a much more complete description of the book there, as well as some pretty cool resources and pointers in the comments, including a link to a color-coded, annotated, online version of the book. Roof Beam Reader will also be posting updates and thoughts along the way, so if you’re looking for viewpoints and discussion beyond the brains of my sister and me, that’s a great place to visit.

If you’d like to read along with us, you can state your intention in the comments or join our Sisters Book Club Goodreads Group. Or you could bypass us altogether and just join the read-along at Roof Beam Reader, which is totally cool with me.

The dates for Roof Beam Reader’s read-along are December 15 – January 5, and the official dates for Sisters Book Club are December 1 – December 31, but I’m starting as soon as I finish this blog post. Well, as soon as I finish this blog post and the dinner dishes. Which probably means I’ll be starting it tomorrow.

Classics Spin Results, or My Plans for December

The Classics Club announced the Spin number Monday morning. The lucky number?

10

On my Spin list, that’s The City of God by Augustine of Hippo.

My first thought was, “Who made this list?”

But of course, it was me. I made the main list, and I made the Spin list. So, The City of God, it is!

I gave myself a bit of a break, though, and ordered an abridged version of the book, so I’ll only have ~600 pages of 5th-century religious writing to read rather than ~1,000 pages. Susan Wise Bauer (in her book, The Well-Educated Mind) said this was okay, and who am I to argue?

Onward into December, with St. Augustine and James Joyce by my side!