Never Leave the House Without a Watch Cat

The sun had already set, but the twilights this time of year are long, especially up on the hills.  I carried a book in my hand, and a pencil, because sometimes I like to argue with my reading material.  I climbed the slope up to the vegetable garden with Snake, my favorite barn cat, rubbing in and out of my legs.  His mama was here before we moved in and he was born right on my kitchen porch.

I sat criss cross applesauce on the rough and weathered wooden bench overlooking the raised beds, with the hill and woods and pond at my back, and opened my book.  Snake was having none of it.  He walked across my legs bumping and rubbing on my book, my arms, my elbows,  back and forth, over and over, trying to share a flea or two because he’s generous like that.  After some negotiation we settled into a rhythm of simultaneous reading and petting.  The darkness began to spread through the light but I barely noticed.

Suddenly, Snake looked up.  Something over my shoulder had caught his attention.  His ears cocked forward, eyes wide, whiskers trembling.  There was movement in the brush behind me.  A bird?  Deer?  Ax murderer?

You have never seen a dumpy middle aged woman move so fast.  I rolled down the hill.  Once at the bottom, I looked back to see that the cat was headed toward the barn, but there was no urgency in his saunter.  He had done his good deed for the day in saving my life and now he was off to the Jellicle Ball.

Between Readers

I came across your margin notes

In a book I bought at Goodwill.

I have to say I don’t agree.

 

You mocked my favorite author.

You knocked my highest thoughts.

You made me quake with rage.

 

You wrote in red;

You wrote in caps.

You added a doodle too.

 

If I had you here

I’d give you a shake

and make you take it back.

Parenting Then and Now – Freedom

When I was a kid my parents often sent me and my brother to the store to buy cigarettes.  Nobody thought they were bad parents.  Now, all of them who haven’t died, have quit smoking and they’d poop their pants if anyone sent their grandkids to the store for milk and cookies.

My great-grandfather would sometimes want to stop at a bar* when he was out with his children.  Women didn’t often go to bars in those days and certainly little girls didn’t, so he’d leave them on the front step and bring  bags of potato chips out to them or give them a couple of nickels for ice cream.

This was not a scary thing for my grandmother any more than going to the store was for me.  We knew the neighborhood, we knew the neighbors.  More importantly, the neighbors knew us.  The man at the Superette knew me and my parents and he knew they smoked Benson & Hedges and Virginia Slims.  If I had tried to buy Camel or Lucky Strike, I would have had a problem.

Some people say that kids don’t have enough freedom these days and that parents hover like helicopters.  Maybe that’s true.  But I’ve noticed that a lot of what might have been called “freedom” was borne out of parental laziness, or sometimes parental need, rather than a philosophical belief in a child’s need for independence.

I’ve heard that, statistically, crimes against children are fewer now than they were when I was a child.  But maybe that’s because we don’t send them out alone to buy cigarettes.  What do I know – I haven’t read the studies.

So, do I say “our parents did it and we turned out of OK” as if turning out OK is any thing to brag about?  Do I say that kids aren’t missing out on some wonderful things that can only come from navigating their little worlds without adult interference?  The truth is I straddle this line and pick my way through one step at a time just like generations of parents before me.  And I hope I’m doing right.

Luckily I don’t smoke.

*Apparently, Neir’s is having something of a renaissance these days.

Show Me How You Do That Trick

Knowing how a magician does his tricks means that you will never be able to enjoy the illusions in the same way you once did.  It isn’t real magic for you anymore, it is artifice.

I like reading fiction.  I like being entertained, moved, instructed, surprised.  Sometimes I don’t even read the chapter titles because I don’t want to guess what’s coming.  Letting go is part of my willing suspension of disbelief.

I have intentionally avoided analysis, the purposeful breaking down of art into its components.  My husband tried for years to talk to me about movements and influences, hows and whys, contexts of art – and I have not been ready.  I have said things like, “Why does everything have to be so hard?  Can’t I just read the story?”

And of course I could.

But there are ways to appreciate a good show that are closed to someone who swallows everything whole.  It’s a secret club and if you don’t know the handshake you can’t say, “OHHHH.  I see what you did there,” with the magician winking in your direction.

And my willful ignorance limited my ability to criticize intelligently – I could say little beyond whether or not  I liked something or somehow intuit its merits.  I could not tell you why or how.

Some times growth happens against our will.  Whether I wanted to or not, whether I recognized it or not, art feeds the soul, the intellect; and a steady diet of a particular kind feeds it in a certain way.  You are what you eat.  This week I’m mostly coffee and goldfish crackers.

Or to use another metaphor, you are being grown in a particular direction whether you know it or not.  Espalier.

As an adult in a “free country”  there is an element of will and it can be argued that I have grown in the direction I chose or into which I was naturally inclined to grow, which seem like opposites but really are just facets of the same jewel.

However it was, I woke up one day and realized that I was somewhat different than I had been a few years before and I wanted to know why.  What had I been eating?  And how can I get more out of it?

So I read How to Read a Book by Mortimer J. Adler and Charles Van Doren.  It is highly respected, intelligent, chockfull of useful techniques and ways of seeing, and it was helpful to me in my reading of non-fiction.  But, I didn’t like it.  Because why does everything have to be so hard?  Can’t I just read the story?  The book is good, great, correct, terrific – the problem was me.  I still wasn’t quite ready.  I was recognizing my need to be led in a particular direction, but I was still fighting the bit.

But what if I were toying with the idea of BEING the magician?  Then I’d have to understand the tricks and the how would become interesting.

Writing convincing fiction requires analysis.  It requires knowing what the pieces are and how they fit together.

I’m in the middle of reading John Gardner’s The Art of Fiction, and it has done two three things for me already.

  • I have been reminded how woefully inadequate my education has been and how little reading I’ve actually done.  If it weren’t for homeschooling my children, I’d never have read Beowulf, or The Iliad.  and there are dozens of other references that I just don’t get because I haven’t read broadly enough.
  • And it has already helped me to understand why certain books have appealed to me or not.  For example, I knew I felt mocked when I read Cold Comfort Farm, but now I know why; it is a kind of metafiction.
  • It is making my husband excited to have conversations with me about art!  Love.  :)

And just for fun.

 

Pajama Day

It’s a little grey today.  Which is fine.  It matches my mood.  We’ve got between five and ten weeks of school left, depending on the kid, and I’m feeling even more all over the place than usual.  I want to be outside, inside, crafting, cleaning, reading, gardening, cooking, organizing, and I want to be doing it all right now at the same moment.  So, a little grumpy weather boxes my options  and gives me some focus

Bedtime came early for me last night and I left the kitchen a mess even though I had offered to do after dinner clean up without assistance.  And now it is staring me in the face.   It would take me a half hour on a good day.  Today is not that day.  But at least I know where to start.  Hello, dishes!

Eh, I’ve got an easy life.

The sacrifices I’ve been called upon to make have been small ones – the barely mentionable variety.  I eat the broken cookie, sit in the wobbly chair, skip the last scoop of ice cream, I shave my legs and take the kids swimming when I’d rather stay home and read.

For  years, I’ve been denying myself good coffee because I just couldn’t justify the expense.  I love good coffee.  My favorite brand is Peet’s.  But Folger’s was good enough for my grandparents so…  *sigh*  But my husband went and bought decent coffee for me this week.  And he bought a bag of cheap stuff for himself.  Because husbands make sacrifices too.  I don’t know how to insert a heart icon here, but you get what I’m feeling, right?

Anyway, it feels like it might be a pajama day.  As cosy as those can be, I’m grateful that they have been so infrequent this year.  I’m pretty sure it means I’m feeling quite a bit better, emotionally.  Exercise really is good medicine.  Huh.  I think I just talked myself into putting on clothes and going for a walk.  Maybe.

Or maybe I’ll just work on this stupid sock.  It’s the mate to the one I finished three months ago.  I will not succumb to one sock syndrome.  Something happened when I started on this second sock – my purls got all awkward.  I’m still not sure why, but they’re just now settling down.  The sad part is that I’ve been denying myself access to other, more tempting crafts, because this one isn’t finished.

It’s almost school time here.  My middle child is struggling to learn to read.  He’s decoding, but it’s difficult and not fluent.  He WANTS to read and he works at it.  He asks, “Do you think I’ll be able to read [insert big chapter book] by the end of the year?”  I hope so, Baby.  So, we went to the bookstore and got him a few easy readers that appeal to him.  Star Wars, of course.

Sonnets Are Hard

Where the water stills and gives up bubbling

Where the fish are caught in the mud brown pool

Where the stones are lodged and cease their tumbling

Over in the shade of the willow’s cool

 

There come the visitors to king frog’s court

There dangle ankles o’er the pebbly edge

There echo voices of the boyish sort

Flying up and over the garden hedge

 

We peep and peer through bramble and briar

To witness the magic that was our own

When we were children and never did tire

And we called that kingdom enchanted home

 

What a gold treasure to live once again

Just as before we were women and men

Challah Back

I like baking in the month of May.  My kitchen stays cool most of the day, the weather is so pleasant the boys fly through their schoolwork to get outside, and there is no holiday pressure.

There’s not a lot of bread in my diet, partly because I’m “reducing” and partly because I refuse to waste my calories on store bread.  I guess that makes me a bit of a bread snob.

This challah (guttural ch, c’mon, you can do it) is from a recipe in a very well-respected bread book and it just was not up to my usual standards.  I don’t have the inclination to go fiddling through my archives, but somewhere in there is a better looking challah.  I’d recommend sticking with Smitten Kitchen’s recipe.

Anyway, it made excellent french toast.

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Will Garden for Pie

We’d been living in this house for two years when I said, “Why is there no path leading up to the front door?  I would really like to have a path here.  I’m surprised nobody ever put one in.”  Because I’m the only smart person who has ever lived in this 100+ year old house.

Yeah.

Some exploratory excavation uncovered already existing steps buried under years of soil, pachysandra, and overgrown hostas.  I think I am finally developing an appreciation for these slug sanctuaries.

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The bare patch in the grass? It was the home of my kids’ leaf pile.

A friend of mine has a beautiful garden.  It’s small but she has created a feeling of sheltered space – sanctuary, but not for snails.  You walk into it, wander around in it, it leads you places.  Annuals, perennials, fruit, and vegetables, large, tiny, gorgeous.

She never just steps outside for a breath of air.  She steps outside and sees the beginnings of a weed and she stoops and bends and digs it out and gets rid of it quick.  She’s always deadheading, tidying, weeding, making mental notes for later.  She has an eye for detail AND she sees the big picture.  She sees the figure waiting to be freed from the marble.

All I see is jumble.  I never know where to begin, though I’ve been around long enough to know there is no end.  Like housework.

I look at those lilac bushes in such desperate need of pruning that they barely produce flowers anymore, choked by wild grape vine and roses, and I can’t figure out where to start.  It takes snip after laborious snip – hours of work before I can make heads or tails of what I am looking at.  And now it’s tidy, but it will be years before it is pretty.  We’ll see what mulch can do.

We’re slowly converting our vegetable garden to raised beds because of my inability to see past the jumble without some artificially imposed order.  I’m not even sure we should call it a vegetable garden this year because all we’ve put in so far is strawberries and rhubarb.  Basically we planted pie.

It’s OK, I like pie.

Dandelion Love – reading with my kids

Awhile ago I asked for recommendations for grade school books for read aloud time with my children.  I’m currently working through the list.  My friend Julie said that her children had enjoyed the Dandelion Fire series by N.D. Wilson.  We are currently on book three.  We might take a break after this one as the books are meant for a slightly older audience.  But they are good!

I have to tell you about one of the themes.

The author describes the strength of a dandelion as being in its ubiquity, in its ability to grow nearly anywhere and in its dying, because in its dying its life spreads.  Which is another way of saying “except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abideth alone: but if it die, it bringeth forth much fruit.”

When we read this, I told the kids how much I’d loved dandelions as a child growing up in the city.  Those little things really could grow between the cracks of the sidewalk, smooshed up against buildings, anywhere.  And while now they’re a menace to my garden, then they were the embodiment of hope and persistence.  They were as tenacious as cockroaches and much more pleasant.  I don’t mean to make it sound like I never saw green things because trees really do grow in Brooklyn and the other four boroughs, but flowers were few in the neighborhoods in which I grew up.

My boys love me and my little one especially took my words to heart.

gifts from the heart

gifts from the heart