Thursday, January 16, 2014

Kids in the Snow

No real commentary here, just cute images. The deeper snow was in Central Kansas, the rest in Colorado.  The snowman was a morning project on January 1.  We had to scavenge snow from around the neighborhood and it was completed by the time the sun came out at 9 a.m. Aster had been involved with snowman creation, but was too cold by the time cameras were pulled out (and, perhaps, looked around and said, "Exercise? Check.  Artistic endeavor?  Check.  Anything else I need to do in 2014?).  The tall girls are my nieces. (Yes, the same lion and mouse pictured here.  Weird things happen in six years to six-year-olds).  The elder of the sledding girls was born after a croquet tournament in 2007 and my dear friend (apparently Distinguished Diplomat on this blog) was pregnant with her sister when we visited Rome in 2009. Babies stop being babies and start being sledding kids!  Craziness, I know.

Friday, January 10, 2014

Still plenty of time for flowers

I received a beautiful floral card yesterday with a note, "Sorry that this is late for Floraganza".
The note concerned me because if one person thinks that it is too late to send me flowery things, than many people may think that it is too late to send me flowery things, and it most definitely is not.

This is because:
  1. My special theme resolutions are on a cycle that changes on Janet's Birthday (January 24), the Lunar New Year (January 31 this year) or when I get around to it (usually February).  January is often the time of intense activity as I recall how much I wanted to accomplish before the theme changes.
  2. My resolutions creep on from one year to the next (I'm still learning about lactic acid fermentation, for instance).
  3. It's never too late to give me flowers (except if I'm dead, in which case I would rather the money go to planting flowers somewhere or the big party of a wake that I've requested, but presumably I won't care much).
In other Floraganza news, the current Eating Well cover article features flowers-- cauliflower, "the skinny starch" which I will need to go investigate.  What are your favorite cauliflower preparations?

I'm all about floral accessories, these days, and someday I'll post about that.

And, J, a dear friend from graduate school, submitted this guest star post, that I somehow forgot to post in the holiday shuffle.

J writes: I happened to be in Arizona this summer and had a spare evening. I went to the botanic garden in Phoenix and it happened to be on the night in which a queen of the night cactus started to bloom. The garden closed before the flower opened up all the way, but I felt so lucky to have seen it even partially.

I've never smelled a queen of the night in full bloom, but I know enough of about night flowering cactus for JH's short description and photograph to evoke a sense of decadent, attention-demanding, sweet, perfuminess.  I also love the metaphor as applied to humans.  Some people that seem unassuming, or even outright dry and prickly, can shine brilliantly in their element, if only for a very little while.
Thanks J, for reminding us to seek the unexpected and the ephemeral.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Books Between 4th and 5th

I spent a lazy long summer in Illinois at my grandparents' houses in the summer between fourth and fifth grades.  I picked blueberries, drank Kool-Aid, watched my grandmothers' "stories" (soaps), recovered from having been almost swept away at my campsite*, plumped up**, perfected three ball juggling using croquet balls and read great books.  I'm pretty sure I was there for all of two weeks.
In those two weeks, I read The Phantom Tollbooth (Norton Juster) and Anne of Green Gables (L.M. Montgommery) for the first time, completely unaware that they would change my life more than "All My Children" or meeting my second cousins.

Admittedly, some thirty years later, I cannot tell you exactly how, other than making a trip to Green Gables National Park on Prince Edward Island a must, they changed my life, but they did. I know they did because I am sitting here smiling*** as I contemplate these books.  I guess I would liken reading both to meeting great friends.  My life is better for them being a part of it.

Neither book was such a great friend when I first encountered them.  Reading Anne was slow and arduous.  It was long, old-fashioned and grown up.  The plot moves slowly, most incidents are tangential, and it is full of words that I just didn't know.  I don't think I even cried that first time (I cry every time now).  I'm pretty sure I only finished it because I thought I should have already read it years previously. Somehow though, forcing myself to learn about antimacassars and gables was enjoyable enough to read the next book, and the next, and I was whipping through the Anne books at great speed by the time I accidentally left one in Canada a year later. I had finished all of Anne and was immersed in Emily while in France two years later.

The Phantom Tollbooth was breezy by comparison, but I don't think I "got" it any more.  The book is composed, almost entirely, of puns.  I'm not sure I caught any of them at ten. I even missed jumping to Conclusions the first time. The Phantom Tollbooth includes a which (yes, a which, not a witch) named "Faintly Macabre."  I read it as Mack-a-BREE, some weirdo name I didn't know, until senior year of high school.  Still, the book is fabulous.

I'm failing here at both explaining how these books stuck with me, or writing about the actual writing in any meaningful way.  Amateur Reader long ago challenged me to write about Anne without sentimentality and I still find that I can't (or, rather, won't).  These books are my "beloved bears" (his term), and I'm not up for criticism of my teddy bears.  Maybe I'll have more luck with What the Witch Left (second grade), Voyage of the Dawn Treader (fourth grade), Bridge to Terabithia (fifth grade) or A Ring of Endless Light (sixth grade), but I'm not optimistic.  Stayed tuned if you are so inclined.

*When the Lawn Lake Dam broke in Rocky Mountain National Park, some backpackers were swept away from the campsite we had been sleeping at three days prior.  By the time the dam broke, however, I was at home in the suburbs.  It didn't affect me much at the time, but now I choke up a little every time I see the still-scarred hillside when I come down Trail Ridge Road.

**Not to imply that I was skinny before that.  Part of the reason that I remember the time in Illinois as being so much longer than the actual two and a half weeks, was that I recall clothes that I took not fitting by the end.  I was thinking that was impossible until I've watched some ten and eleven year-olds grow recently and remember how many shoe sizes (from a 6 to 10?) I jumped in fifth grade.  It is completely possible that my stomach and hips expanded overnight in the middle of that July.

***A more happy, more deliberate, smile than my neutral face, which is apparently also a smile.

Monday, January 6, 2014

I can write, but I can't write like that.

This is the second in the "books that have stuck with me" series (see the original list, without commentary, here [or right below this post, if you are reading on the blog arranged chronologically]). Amateur Reader suggested that I tackle the commentary on these books, and I suppose I am taking the easy way out by writing about the two works that have been previously discussed (at some length) on his blog.  Hopefully there will be more posts to come.

I included two canonized "classics" on my list: A Tale of Two Cities and Pride and Prejudice. The former I first read in English class sophomore year of high school (thank you C. Taylor!) and the latter junior year (thank you Dr. F!).

A Tale of Two Cities devastated me. Prior to sophomore year, it was a given (in my mind) that I would on day write novels.  I had been an active writer since I was in the third grade, and by junior year of high school I was filling a spiral notebook a month.  While I also planned to be a plant scientist and active in the food industry,  and possibly international relations (I was taking Chinese and German, after all), writing was what I obviously did, and would continue to do.  And then I read A Tale of Two Cities.  And every weird detail from the beginning fell into place at the end. I realized immediately that I couldn't plot like that if I sat down and diagrammed out a whole book, then re-wrote passages every time they conflicted, much less if the first chapters were published before the end was written and I was actively writing other books at the same time.  Charles Dickens had genius that I didn't, and, however many notebooks I might fill with my scribbles, I never would. (I commented about that here on Wuthering Expectations, in the middle of Amateur Reader's insightful several-day discussion of the book). I haven't re-read A Tale of Two Cities, and likely never will, but the lesson that I don't have plotting genius, and some people do, was a direct result of the book.  I still count it high on the list of best books I've read.

Pride and Prejudice, by contrast, did little for me when I read it in Dr. F's class. The lesson I learned that I could apply to my own writing was that I had too many characters on the pages of those notebooks.  I was confused by the number of characters in P+P (and the use of Eliza/Lizzie/Miss Elizabeth Bennett) and counted that there were three times as many in my current notebook. Otherwise, I know that I did enjoy P+P upon that first reading at 16, but can't quite figure out why.  I was confused, I didn't realize the book was funny, and my romantic sentiments were shattered when I realized that Colonel Fitzwilliam wasn't for Elizabeth after all.  I spent a great deal of time trying to figure out Darcy's first name (also Fitzwilliam, mentioned once in the book) and then angrily writing an "alternative reading" defense of Charlotte and Mr. Collins that my teacher presented as part of his work on teaching criticism via outlines of "alternative readings".  If I had speculated that I received a lower-than-justified grade on my Alice in Wonderland paper, just so that I would be anxious for extra credit just at the very moment that Dr. F needed a student example of his new method for a conference, well, apparently, I would be so ungrateful as to mention it here.

Much as it pains me to say it, though, the close reading necessary for writing that alternative explanation was the beginning of my on-going adoration of Pride and Prejudice (again, thank you Dr. F.).   I didn't think it was funny until I read it again in college (thank you unremembered college prof.) and I didn't see most of the sarcasm (or recognize Darcy's hotness) until the mini-series came out (thank you BBC producers and casting) but I somehow "got it" from that second reading at 16, and I have loved it ever since.  I love Elizabeth Bennett (see old conversation on Wuthering Expectations here). I consume "Austen Light", sometimes in voracious quantities (search by Austen to read about some of it) and I re-read Pride and Prejudice every year or so (sometimes seeing plot points I had missed during the previous nine readings, like Charlotte Collins being knocked-up) mostly because it just gives me pleasure.  It's the best book of 1813 with reason.

Friday, January 3, 2014

The Best Book of 1813 and 9 Others

There's a facebook meme going around in which participants pick ten books "that have stuck with you", meanwhile, a book blogger I follow has completed his end of the year "Best of . . " lists.  Coincidentally, I just started re-reading the Best Book of 1813 that happens to be a book that has stuck with me.  So, in celebration of some of my favorite reading, here's a list of "my" books, whatever that may mean.

Pride and Prejudice

Voyage of the Dawn Treader

A Tale of Two Cities

Anne of Green Gables

The Blue Sword

The Eight/Zinnia/Cherish the Dream/The Last Viking

Bridge to Terabithia

A Ring of Endless Light

Animal Dreams

The Phantom Tollbooth

Joy Luck Club

Cat's Cradle

The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar and Six More

What the Witch Left

January 3 Edit:  I started this two weeks ago.  Since I am resolved to read more fun books with friends in 2014, I'm posting it now, without commentary, with hopes that it will spark some discussion.  Let me know what "your" books are, and I'd love to talk (or write) about any of these, given a little nudge.
Oh, and I apparently overshot my "ten books" quota. Alas.