4.30.2012

Photography


Do you remember the feeling of the last day of school?  Of course, you do.  The urgent beat of the pending summer married with the laze of unparalleled freedom?  The feeling that you had all the time in the world to do whatever you wanted?  Yeah.  I've got that today.  I turned in my last grades this morning and have spent the rest of the day daydreaming about all things far from work-related, such as the house renovation, photography, and baking.

Currently, I'm downloading a free trial of Lightroom by Adobe.  I've been frustrated with my photo-editing options but didn't feel ready for Photoshop.  Lightroom sounds perfect for my needs, so I'm going to give it a shot.  Anyone use it and have any advice?  I've been watching introductory videos and realizing there is so much more that I could be doing with my images.  I'm not sure I'll always take the time to use all those features, but the differences can be amazing.  I've often felt conflicted about digital image alteration.  It is an art form, but it somehow feels distinct from the art of capturing a great shot - without any manipulation.  I have friends who shoot 100 pictures to my 10 because I'm always trying to catch just the right shot.  They may end up with something "better," but isn't that just luck?  Isn't it more skillful to see it and catch it without shooting blindly?  I'm not sure.

One of my summer goals will be to get better at using the more advanced features of my camera.  The Photo a Day project should help.  You've probably seen these around.  Here's the list for May, which just happens to be my birthday month:


Since I pulled this list from Pinterest, it will also be a good step in my Pin It and Do It Challenge participation.  I won't post every day, but perhaps on Saturdays, I'll post my week in images.  Now, excuse me, because with only three and a half months of summer available, I need to go get reading.




4.25.2012

Wendell Berry and the Jefferson Lecture

First, you must know that I was unable to make my trip to DC a reality.  I was sorely disappointed, but I had to admit defeat when none of the scheduling or transportation options I had been counting on worked out.  I believe in things happening organically, and this trip just wasn't happening.  Thankfully, the NEH did a live webcast of the event and then archived it for all to see.  I watched this afternoon as I was waiting on students to turn in papers, and I was - once again - blown away by Mr. Berry and his intelligent attacks on our status quo.

I made several notes as I listened, but perhaps the most powerful segment was on imagination (around minute 23 on the video).  He says,
The sense of the verb to imagine contains the full richness of the verb to see. To imagine is to see most clearly, familiarly, and understandingly with the eyes, but also to see inwardly with the mind's eye.  It is to see - not passively - but with a force of vision and even with a visionary force.  To take it seriously, we must give up at once any notion that imagination is disconnected from reality, or truth, or knowledge.  It has nothing to do either with clever imitation or with dreaming up.  I will say from my own belief and experience that imagination thrives on contact, on tangible connection.  For humans to have a responsible relationship to the world, they must imagine their places in it.  To have a place, to live and belong in a place, to live from a place without destroying it, we must imagine it.  By imagination, we see it illuminated by its own unique character and by our love for it.  By imagination, we recognize with sympathy the fellow members, human and non-human, with whom we share our place.  
This definition of imagination figures prominently in Berry's explanation of the difference between what he calls Boomers and Stickers (quoting Wallace Stegner).  Boomers are exemplified by James B. Duke, the industrialist who was willing to do whatever it took to increase his wealth and holdings.  Stickers, on the other hand, are those (like Berry, his father, and his grandfather before him) who "abide in and live from some chosen and cherished small place."  This distinction is important to me because though I certainly haven't been a Boomer in the sense Berry intends, in my adult life I've been anything but a Sticker.  Our move to our new home has been prompted, at least in part, by my desire to be a Sticker.  To do right by a piece of property, to know it intimately, to accept its flaws and improve it with affection: these are the things I hope for.  Perhaps it is too much to ask of a modest house on a modest plot of land, but I feel an urgency to be there, to abide in and live from my chosen and cherished small place.

**edited to remove video as it wouldn't stop autolaunching from the homepage.  Go here to watch the video.***

For more on Berry, see this excellent article from Mark Bittman of the NYT.

4.24.2012

Woman on the Edge of Time by Marge Piercy

 A week ago or so, I was looking through some old notebooks and journals from college and came across the following poem/song:
Let me live in the sun
the years I have,
let me walk in the rain
the years I have.
Live long enough to tell my love
to everyone I love.
Live long enough to bake a brick
for the house we share.
Let me fight like a tiger
and leave something pretty
like a moon snail
on the common beach.
These lines come from Marge Piercy's Woman on the Edge of Time, a book I remember as terribly important to my becoming self all those many years ago.  I wanted to get it reread, but I didn't make time for it, so it is going back to the library now; however, I hope recording the words here will remind me to check it out again, to see how it and I have changed over the years.  One thing I know has not changed: my love for these lines. What do you think?  Can they be considered part of the National Poetry Month conversation?  I think we should seek poetry in all places and acknowledge it wherever it is found.

4.23.2012

Things, They are A-Happenin'

So, there was the Read-a-Thon.  And now there is not the Read-a-Thon.  It was a fun and productive weekend, and I'm so glad I helped make some progress with the Donor's Choose classroom project I was sponsoring.  If you pledged to make a donation (or even if you didn't!), please go on over here to give some money-love to these kids.  Every little bit will help.

I'm working today on some more packing and organization regarding the upcoming move.  I can't believe it is a little over a month away.  I've still got serious work to do at both houses, so I'm looking forward to turning in grades next week and turning my full attention to this transition.  Speaking of transitions, I have made the decision to shut down my old blog (ghousegas.blogspot.com) and add a regular feature here on projects at my house.  I know this blog is supposed to be devoted to books, but it doesn't always work that way.  Politics, community events, and life stuff find their way in here, and I like it that way.  Please know that I will remain committed to the bookish life, but I want to consolidate all my households, the mental and physical, so a little house stuff, a little Pinterest, a little gardening will leak in every now and then.  The regular feature will kick off through my participation this next month in Trish's (Love, Laughter, and a Touch of Insanity) Pin It and Do It Challenge.


Trish explains her challenge here, and I think her idea is spot on.  Too often, Pinterest becomes a dumping ground for ideas that we never actually use.  So far, I've used a few of my Pinterest pinned ideas (some more successful than others), and this challenge looks like a good way to do more.  In fact, this very night, I'm making a Crockpot pork tenderloin recipe that I repinned from Trish herself.

Finally, there's the WMaIDWtPATB Challenge.  I have updated the page by marking out some of the books I know I will not read in the next month.  Of course, I logically know there are many more I won't read in the next month, but the Dickens, the Joyce, and the Diamond had to go ahead and get packed up as did War and Peace.  I also pulled a few that I have definite plans for after the move (Paris in July and a few other things).  There has been progress.  The problem is I checked out all these wonderful books from the library for the Read-a-Thon, and I now I want to read them instead of the TBRs.  Oh well.  I only had most of them for a week anyway, so I'll just return them and request again after the move.

4.22.2012

The Read-a-Thon is OVER!

It is exactly 8 am in Tennessee, and I am calling this Read-a-thon a smashing success.  I went to bed around 1 last night and got up around 6:30 this morning to finish strong.  The kids snuggled on THE COUCH with me and did some reading of their own, and it was all a very pleasant way to start the day and end the 'Thon.

So....what you really want to know is how I did.

The total pages read is 1,022.  There were a few kids' books in there and some poetry (and a wee morsel of Southern Living at the very end), but it is still a lot of pages.  And I read from 10 am yesterday until 1 am today, pretty much straight.  That is a lot of hours!  You know what else it was?  A lot of fun!  I didn't get bogged down, it wasn't too exhausting, and the quiet focus of yesterday makes me want to do things like shop for groceries and iron today.  Crazy talk.

And here's how it plays out.  I will make a donation in the amount of $100 (approximately 10 cents a page) to the Orchard Knob classroom library project I was reading for.  One sponsor has already made a donation; a few others have promised.  If you want to make a donation or make good on your promise, just click the link and follow the instructions to make a donation.  And thank you all for the support, financial or otherwise.  NOW, for some breakfast.

Hour Seventeen: 12-1

I know.  It's early.  But I'm heading to bed.  See you early in the morning for a few more pages!


Location: you know where I am.

Read This Hour: Seven Pleasures: Essays on Ordinary Happiness by Willard Spiegelman and Southern Living (is this cheating?  I'm going to count it!)

Feedback: Seven Pleasures is no good - at least at this hour, and I'm thinking not at all - so it gets to go away! Southern Living?  Well, you're going to forgive me that one little indulgence.

Snack Status: just a little more water.  I'm hoping I won't have to pee all night.

General Mood:  Tired now.  Feel no urge to suffer.  Going to bed.

Finished Thus Far: Redeye by Clyde Edgerton, Peacock and Other Poems by Valeria Worth, Ellington Was Not a Street by Ntozake Shange and Kadir Nelson, Salvage the Bones by Jesmyn Ward, Mother Poems by Hope Anita Smith

Total Pages Read: 916

Hour Sixteen: 11 pm-12 am

Location: The couch, the couch, the beautiful, beautiful couch. (Clearly, I thought there would be more variation when I created this category;  clearly, that is not the case now).

Read This Hour: Mother Poems by Hope Anita Smith and "The Three Hermits" by Leo Tolstoy



Feedback: The Mother Poems were decidedly *meh* but had some pretty cool paper art by the poet, so that's neat.  The Tolstoy story was just flat-out weird.  Next?

Snack Status: water

General Mood: Excellent. Really, that coffee might work wonders for this read-a-thon although it is likely to make my Sunday mis-er-a-bull.

Finished Thus Far: Redeye by Clyde Edgerton, Peacock and Other Poems by Valeria Worth, Ellington Was Not a Street by Ntozake Shange and Kadir Nelson, Salvage the Bones by Jesmyn Ward, Mother Poems by Hope Anita Smith

Total Pages Read: 772

I'm getting closer to 1000 pages, which means the kids at Orchard Knob are getting closer to their books.  You wanna help?  Go here to check out their teacher's project request.

4.21.2012

Hour Fifteen: 10-11 pm

Location: Holy crap, this couch is swallowing me whole

Read This Hour: Salvage the Bones by Jesmyn Ward

Feedback: Well, the ending wasn't what I expected and was somehow quieter and more hopeful than I wanted.  But still heavy.  I'm thinking y'all won't judge if my next selection is something like Southern Living.

Snack Status: water

General Mood: Very good.  Gonna go take out the contacts and brush the teeth.  It might mean I'm heading downhill, but for now I'm still rather wide awake.  Yay Coffee!

Finished Thus Far: Redeye by Clyde Edgerton, Peacock and Other Poems by Valeria Worth, Ellington Was Not a Street by Ntozake Shange and Kadir Nelson, Salvage the Bones by Jesmyn Ward

Total Pages Read: 692

Go to Donor's Choose to make a donation to the Orchard Knob classroom library I'm reading for.  It would really make it easier to push past midnight if there was another little drop in the bucket.  I'm just sayin'.

Hour Thirteen: 8-9 pm


Location: STILLONTHECOUCH!!!!

Read This Hour: Salvage the Bones by Jesmyn Ward

Feedback:  The weight of this book is palpable.  Seriously.  The way she is building the tension is exactly like I would imagine it would feel to wait for a Katrina-storm.  You know it's going to hurt; you just don't know how bad yet.

Snack Status: A bowl of Kashi - one of my favorite nighttime snacks.  And a Caramel Latte somethingorother. I never drink coffee at night.  I hope it keeps me going.

General Mood:  Excellent!  I feel really good although my contacts might be about to flake out on me.

Finished Thus Far: Redeye by Clyde Edgerton, Peacock and Other Poems by Valeria Worth, Ellington Was Not a Street by Ntozake Shange and Kadir Nelson

Total Pages Read: 592

Hour Twelve: 7-8 pm

Forget Hour Eleven!  Who needs it!  There's got to be some family time in this day!

Location: The couch; The girl's bedroom for bedtime

Read This Hour: Salvage the Bones by Jesmyn Ward and Little Town on the Prairie by Laura Ingalls Wilder

Feedback: STB is good but not underline worthy yet.  My girl and I finished LTONP tonight.  Too much fun sharing these books with her.

Snack Status: nada again.  But I feel so much better after some dinner.  I'm thinking coffee and dessert might be in order soon.

General Mood: Good.  Not as much progress as I'd hoped, but I really only got about half this hour to read.

Finished Thus Far: Redeye by Clyde Edgerton, Peacock and Other Poems by Valeria Worth, Ellington Was Not a Street by Ntozake Shange and Kadir Nelson

Total Pages Read: 526

Hour Thirteen, I'm coming for you.

Hour Ten: 5-6 pm

Yes, I skipped hour nine.  I did keep reading for the most part, but was interrupted several times and didn't have much to report.

Location: the Couch

Read This Hour: Salvage the Bones by Jesmyn Ward and Ellington Was Not a Street by Ntozake Shange and Kadir Nelson.

Feedback: Salvage the Bones is reeling me in.  I'm feeling the pressure build in these first 50 pages or so.  Ellington is a no-brainer for me because the poetry is beautiful from Shange, and Nelson is one of my favorite illustrators.



Snack Status: Still feeling a little off and weird (surely not from the run this morning?)  Ate a frozen dinner (don't even know why I have it in my freezer) and had some more Vanilla Chai Tea.

General Mood:  Still good.  Not too fatigued.  Haven't even needed a nap yet.  I did have to empty the dishwasher and clean up the kitchen a bit, though.  Just need to do something else with my body and brain for a few minutes.

Finished Thus Far: Redeye by Clyde Edgerton, Peacock and Other Poems by Valeria Worth, Ellington Was Not a Street by Ntozake Shange and Kadir Nelson

Total Pages Read: 463

The kids in Mrs. Roberson's class at Orchard Knob still need our help.  Let's get some donations or sponsors up in here!

Hour Eight: 3-4 pm

Location: The couch.  And a walk!  Outdoors!  It's quite nice.

Read This Hour: Peacock and Other Poems by Valerie Worth and Given Ground by Ann Pancake


Feedback: The poems in Peacock are nice, thoughtful, not condescending work.  I especially love the illustrations by Natalie Babbitt (yes, of Tuck Everlasting).  I read a little past the hour to get one of Ann Pancake's stories finished.  There are nine more in the collection, but I might need a novel again soon.  Hmmm....

Snack Status: Some more Chex Mix.  WAY too salty.  Therefore, more water!

General Mood: Good.  The walk was really great.  Campus is very quiet, and walking with a book worked out with no injuries!

Finished Thus Far: Redeye by Clyde Edgerton, Peacock and Other Poems by Valerie Worth

Total Pages Read: 387

As for the Donor's Choose project I'm working for, we have more progress!  My beloved sis has made a facebook pledge of a penny a page.  She's worried I'll read too much, but I'm confident she won't go broke!  Anyone else care to make a pledge or a donation?

Hour Seven: 2-3 pm

Location: The couch.  I'm thinking I need to take a walk.  Give these cushions a break.

Read This Hour: Redeye by Clyde Edgerton and "Evil Allures, but Good Endures"; "Little Girls Wiser than Men"; and "Ilyas" by Leo Tolstoy

Feedback: Redeye was interesting but don't expect a full review.  It's one I get to actually get rid of after marking it off the WMaIDWtPATB Challenge list.  Whoo hoo!  Now I have to decide what's next.  Maybe some poetry and then a small people book?  Or should I pull from the tempting library stack?


Snack Status: Nothing.  I know.  I need to do better in this category.  But I'm drinking a lot of water, and the extended sitting is making me very aware of how much pee-ing I am doing.  I know I don't normally pee this much in a day.  Do I?

General Mood: Still good.  There really is little better than a quiet house, a good dog, and a book.

Finished Thus Far: Redeye by Clyde Edgerton

Total Pages Read: 292

Check out the Donor's Choose project I'm supporting with this crazy effort.  And feel free to help out with a donation or a sponsorship of your own.  If I'm going to be this indulgent, it should be for a worthy cause.  And these kids are definitely worthy!

Also for a laugh:  I tried to take a self-portrait (the dog was no help at all), but it didn't work so well.  I'm behind the book, but you sure can't tell it.






Hour Six: 1-2 pm

Location: The couch

Read This Hour: Redeye by Clyde Edgerton (almost finished!) and "A Spark Neglected Burns the House" by Leo Tolstoy

Feedback: The Tolstoy was too moralistic for me.  The Edgerton is almost done.  That is all.

Snack Status: Fried Egg Sandwich and Boltwood Farms Vanilla Chai Tea.  And a Fudge Round.  Because what's an indulgent day without highly processed circles of "fudge."  I'm practically a product of the McKee Backing Corporation.  I've got to show Little Debbie some love.
 (imagine about 5 seconds elapsing here)



General Mood: Great!  The light at the end of the tunnel on the Edgerton has me excited about what is next.

Finished Thus Far: Does a 5K count?

Total Pages Read: 246


OOPS: Almost forgot to link you to the amazing Donor's Choose project I'm working for.  "Sponsor" me and help these kids get a classroom library before the end of the school year!

Hour Five: 12-1 pm

Location: mostly the couch; some kitchen and bathroom reading. :)

Read This Hour: just chipping away at old Redeye by Clyde Edgerton

Feedback: I'm just sayin' I ain't gonna hate getting finished with this one.  It isn't bad at all, but I'm just not much of a western person.  Why in the world did I choose it to start with?

Snack Status: none.  nothing.  I'm actually about to starve.  Making food as we speak.

General Mood: Generally good.  Kids and husband just left for an afternoon road trip involving golf and hot dogs.  Will feel much better as more food gets in my system.

Finished Thus Far: NOTHING!!!!

Total Pages Read: 175

We have gotten our first donations!!!   Thanks to those who have already donated and to those who have made pledges.  If you want to get on board, check out this amazing classroom library project.  I would love to get it PAID IN FULL during the 'Thon.

Hour Four: 11 am-12 pm


Location: The couch

Read This Hour: "The Bear Hunt" by Leo Tolstoy and Redeye by Clyde Edgerton

Feedback: Still not convinced by the Edgerton, but the Tolstoy story was remarkable.  Let me just say it was true and that a wounded bear was "worrying" Tolstoy's face at one point.  Nuts.  Also, this line from the Edgerton was awesome:
he had this look on his face like he was right out of hell and hadn't ever gone to sleep. (59)
I imagine that might be an apt descriptor for me long about hour 20.

Snack Status: My favorite: green apple slices and peanut butter.  And a little chex mix.  Not as good as homemade, but it'll do in a pinch.



General Mood:  Good.  Talked to the kids for a bit this hour.  They're enjoying lunch with friends now.  I'm still feeling like I'm reading more slowly than usual, but alas.  I'm also feeling rushed as I read.  I hope I can chill out a little an fully enjoy the experience.

Finished Thus Far: nada

Total Pages Read: 123

Read on, friends!  And let's get some money for those kids at Orchard Knob Elementary.

Hour Three: 10-11 am (Or My Hour One)

LET THE WILD RUMPUS START!

After a successful 5K this morning, my Read-a-Thon commenced around 10.  If you hate the regular updates that come with a Read-a-Thon, well, just ignore me today.  I hope to be busy.  Here's how my updates will work.  I'll provide you with a bunch of information regarding what I've read, what I've eaten, how sore my bum is, etc.  I'll also provide some wee feedback on whatever it is I've been reading.  My goal is to read at least one short story from the Tolstoy and something else each hour.

Location: the couch

Read/Reading This Hour: "God Sees the Truth, But Waits" by Leo Tolstoy and Redeye by Clyde Edgerton

Thoughts:  I think I'd read this story from the Tolstoy before, but it will be nice to spread them out and get this one knocked out.  There are 23 stories, so I'd have to read one an hour to get them all done.  Not likely, but I'll get close.  The Edgerton is a "Wild West" tale, and I'm not fully invested in it yet.  I want to read one of those tempting library books first, but I'm bound to clear out some stuff, so this is like taking my medicine.

Snack Status:  Just a large glass of post-run chocolate milk.  Need to get some real fuel in me soon.

General Mood:  Good.  Loving the quiet house and reading time.  Thought I'd have more read by now.

Books Finished Thus Far:

Total Pages Read: 59

So, that's hour one (or three...I can already tell this two titles thing is going to get annoying).

Don't Forget:  you can get on board with the fundraising aspect of this insanity.  Click here for more info.

The Read-a-Thon has Begun (and I'm Running Through the Woods)

I am currently running a 5k with my husband, so my Read-a-Thon will not begin until around 9:30 or so, but I am ready to roll as soon as possible after the run and a quick shower.  In fact, let me show you my little cavern of reading splendor.

The couch:

It is my favorite spot to read because it is comfy, and because the light is so good, and because of my view out the opposite window:


Cloudy, I know, but I love the fact that the windows in this room show trees and sky and nothing more.  So restful to the eye.  This will probably be the thing I miss the most about this place.

And finally, the table where all my treasures await:


To make up for my absence, I made you a little video.  In it, I am reading Where the Wild Things Are to my kids.  Where the Wild Things Are is one of the World's Perfect Books, in my opinion.  Just watch and see how perfectly the rhythm of the text aligns with a natural rhythm of page turns.  See how the words provide the perfect cadence?  See how the pictures and the text unite to perfectly capture being a little one - especially perhaps a little boy?  See how it is perfect?


4.20.2012

The Countdown has Begun; the Stack has been Assembled

Bookish types everywhere suffer from a disease.  It often goes undiagnosed, but it is highly prevalent among those folks who consider reading one of their favorite activities.  It is called packingforatripitis.  This recurrent disorder manifests in the days or weeks leading up to travel involving long (or even medium-length) a plane or train or any transportation where the reader won't be involved in steering the transportation or any vacation involving extended times of relaxation.  Symptoms include agonizing over what to read, wanting to have lots of options, overestimating the amount of reading material necessary, considering 2 long versus several short books, waffling over lightweight paperbacks and new, exciting hardbacks, feeling guilty over taking library books to the beach, and last minute adding of a book (or two) to a handbag just-in-case.  This disorder usually resolves with the patient realizing that he or she did not need to take 4 books and an ereader and several magazines on a long weekend away.

Turns out, the read-a-thon causes a similar series of problems: Lots of short pieces (to maintain interest) or one long work (to become completely immersed in)?  Audiobooks or not?  Fiction or non-fiction?  What about the ereader?  I have made my decisions, and just like with packingforatripitis, I have WAY overestimated my abilities in this thing.  Here's the stack:

The stack includes fiction, non-fiction, short stories, and poems; young adult books, magazines, and even a set of final exams (it's reading, and I might as well be a little productive after all!).  There is NO.WAY. I will cover all this material even if I did somehow read for 24 hours straight, which I do not plan to do.  There will be periodic napping and sleeping at night, I'm sure.

But, still.  I have hope.  I am excited.  AND, I am motivated because I have decided to add a fundraising aspect to the deal, and I want you to help.  Through DonorsChoose, I have found a classroom literacy project just around the corner from my home.  The teacher is requesting around $450 for a classroom library for early readers.  So, here's where I (and YOU) come in:  I am going to make a donation for each page I read.  You may agree to "sponsor" me per page just like the old school read-a-thon days (and make a donation in that amount) or you may choose to agree to donate only if I reach certain levels.  For instance, you could give $5 if I get to 100 pages, $30 if I get to 500, or $100 if I get to 1000 pages.  These kids deserve a quality classroom library, and I am anxious to get started.  Comment below or send me an email if you'd like to get in on the action.  Let's do this!

4.18.2012

Second Nature by Michael Pollan

A few years ago, I had a series of food and consumer epiphanies: Barbara Kingsolver's Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, Annie Leonard's The Story of Stuff, and Michael Pollan's The Omnivore's Dilemma.  It was all good stuff.  Though I hadn't read anything else of Pollan's, I remained familiar with his work and have remained a fan.  I don't remember how or when I got a copy of his Second Nature: A Gardener's Education, but it has been on the TBR shelves.  When it was announced back in the fall that he would be coming to town this Spring, I decided to time my reading of Second Nature with his visit and see how they enhanced one another.  Also, I am in the early stages of trying to figure out the yard/garden spaces at our once and future home, so my mind is aflutter with all things plant.  Very good timing, indeed.

Second Nature purports to chronicle Pollan's education as an at-home gardener.  It is not completely true as he already knows a great deal more than the average Lowe's plant department shopper.  He starts by describing his father's disregard for suburban yard conventions and his grandfather's stunning discipline in the garden.  These background pieces provide a nice backdrop for watching Pollan discover his gardening identity.

Pollan uses the word garden as the English would, and as I prefer to.  In fact, it is in the distinction between yard and garden where I find my easiest alignment with this book.  He defines America's obsession with the lawn, that great grassy expanse, as part of our democratic foundation, a shared cultural experience with no harsh boundaries or divisions.  He describes the lawn as a sweeping stage upon which we can best display our houses.  He explains how he began to grow tired of "pushing the howling mower back and forth across the vast page of my yard, recopying the same green sentence over and over: 'I am a conscientious homeowner.  I share your middle-class values.'" (61).  Later he expands upon this distinction:
Gardens and even yards in America are not places for being in but for looking at.  We admire our beds from the lawn, and arrange our unfenced front yards for the admiration of the street.  What other possible purpose could "foundation planting" serve?  Rather than create any habitable outdoor space (which is what the same planting out along the road would accomplish), it merely adorns the house, showing it off to advantage like the setting for a gemstone.  Suburban America has been laid out to look best from the perspective not of its inhabitants, but of the motorist. (230)
As I continue to work the garden at my new home around in my mind, it is these habitable spaces that I am after.  Even if it means stepping out of the democratic ideal of those identical swaths of green.

Of course, lawns are not the only thing he writes about.  Compost, tree planting, weeds, and gardening catalogs also get ample coverage.  There's also history, philosophy, politics, and literature sprinkled in there.  This is definitely the well-read gardening manual.  You just don't see inchoate or synecdoche used that often in Organic Gardening.  This book was Pollan's third, but it was before his acclaim in the food world.  At this point in his career, he was focusing on landscape and architecture (his A Place of My Own is really high on my list right now.  I wonder if the library has it?  Yes!  Bring it on, Read-a-Thon!), and if Second Nature is any indicator of the others, his writing had not yet reached the polish and readability I saw in The Omnivore's Dilemma.  As a contributing writer for Harpers and The New York Times Magazine, he was accustomed to the magazine-length essay, and several of these chapters originally appeared as such.  The problem with the book is that his editors did not take seriously enough their task to eliminate the redundancies that would naturally appear across a series of stand-alone essays.  There were several times during my reading when I would pause and think, "didn't I just read that?  Why is he repeating himself?"  It was a mild distraction from an otherwise thoughtful and often beautiful book, but it was a distraction.

Overall, an interesting read but not a favorite.  I'm looking forward to hearing him speak tomorrow and will report back at some point in the near future.

4.17.2012

Just What Does Sleep Deprivation Feel Like?

Bloggers.  Readers.  Cheerleaders.  These are the participants in Dewey's 24-Hour Read-a-Thon, an event I've always admired . . . from afar.  I love following along with the hourly updates, watching the books (and the snacks!) fall, all while going on about my business.  I've never been able to reconcile the idea of disregarding all other life forms for 24 hours while I read.  Granted, I have a highly supportive husband, kids who also love books, and family nearby, so I could totally make this happen if I worked at it.  But I never have.

Until now.

I have signed up despite the late notice (I haven't told the highly supportive husband yet).  The Read-a-Thon is this Saturday, April 21st, and if you want to sign up, go here.  The rest of the site explains all the details (there are few out of date bits), especially the part that says you are NOT required to read for the entire 24 hours.  This point is crucial for me because I already have a few commitments that day.  For starters, I'll be running a 5K at 8:30 am, but it shouldn't take too long, and I might just get an audiobook started at 8 as I warm up.  That could work!  I also have the WMaIDWtPATB Challenge that needs a serious jumpstart.  I've been bogged down in Michael Pollan's Second Nature for weeks now, it seems.  I might also get a few from the library.  In fact, I just requested a copy of Salvage the Bones, which has been knocking on my door since Ann Pancake insisted it was the best book of her year.

Now, I just need to make a stack.  The Read-a-Thon types recommend shorter, faster, lighter reads to keep me motivated.  Apparently, snacks are key.  What say you, veterans thonners?  Any tips?  Also, if you are participating this year, leave me a comment below, so I can know who else is in the trenches with me.

4.16.2012

A Maze Me by Naomi Shihab Nye



A few weeks ago now, as National Poetry Month was just getting underway, I asked the librarian to point me toward the children's poetry, thinking I'd see a shelf section or two.  I was shocked to find poetry filling the entire row on one side!  It was a treasure trove, I tell you.  

This morning, after the lunches were made and before the kids were up, I grabbed up one of those poetry books, thinking to get a post on poetry for kids started today.  But Naomi Shihab Nye's A Maze Me: Poems for Girls has derailed my plan because I want to focus entirely on this book.  At length.  Because it is stunning.  Even if you don't have a daughter, you should run out and get your hands on this book and swallow it whole.  It is delicious.

Naomi Shihab Nye is no Jack Prelutsky.  Both are ridiculously prolific, but Prelutsky writes poems for children.  He is beloved and was even the inaugural Children's Poet Laureate in 2006.  However, I don't really like his work.  It is silliness writ large.  For this reason, children do like his poetry, and that is, of course, often what matters most.  But I fear it demeans the art, the form of poetry for children, as though they were incapable of appreciating a great line without utter silliness infusing it.  Silliness is great fun, but life ain't always silly - even for small children.  In contrast, Nye is a poet who includes some work for children in her extensive publication list.

A Maze Me is devoted to girls, the experience of being a 12-year-old girl, with all its requisite ups and downs.  But it is no drama queen.  It is often quiet and thoughtful and while I didn't think EVERY poem in the collection was a star, there were enough to keep me gazing long past when the kids got up this morning.  For instance, in "Ringing," she describes a vegetable truck, the bygone days of milk trucks, and even ice-cream trucks before declaring:

They are all bringers.
I want to be a bringer. 
I want to drive a truck full of eggplants
down the smallest street.
I want to be someone making music
with my coming. (15)
In the introduction, Nye describes being 12 and not feeling ready to be 13, though most of her friends were anxiously awaiting the change. She writes, "But I did not feel finished with childhood," (1) and later when she describes  memories of her earliest childhood and declares, "My whole job was looking around," (3) you can understand her desire to hold on to that job, that smallness.  She goes on to discuss the no-mans land feeling of junior high and how "What do you want to be? people always ask.  They don't ask who or how do you want to be?  I might have said, amazed forever" (4).  And it strikes me that this fullness, this curiosity, this awareness of how important it is to look around, to be amazed, is what makes her poetry so alive, complete, and utterly accessible to young people.

In all, I wrote down 12 poem titles that I felt were absolute necessities to share with you.  You simply could not finish this review without hearing every word of them.  Nonsense, of course.  Still, I want to share "Supple Cord" because it reminds me so of my children sharing their small room those first several years.  I want to share "Having Forgotten to Bring a Book, She Reads the Car Manual Aloud" because I laughed out loud and also because I have done that exact thing.  Or "People I Admire" because it is about gardening or "Sometimes I Pretend" just because it is so smart.  But I will share only two:
"Some Days" (34) 
Your handwriting stands
like a small forest on the page
You could enter it anywhere 
Your room looks new to you
maybe you moved a lamp
arranged a pillow differently
on the bed 
Such small things
change a room 
Single candle
on a desk you finally cleaned
sharpened pencils waiting
in a white cup 
I devote myself to short sentences
Air answers
Breath remembers
A streak of light signs the floor
I love the descriptions here, the final line, the image of handwriting as a small forest.  Her ability to capture the changing nature of self through things is so perfect for this age.
"Necklace" 
I hope Sunday's slow and long,
steeped like a pot of mint tea.
Soft sun and deep thinking. 
Saturday was a crowded calendar page,
a mound of chores. 
Could Monday be a porch?
Facing the week.
Wednesday a meadow? 
Thursday, let's leave
small baskets at everyone's door.
Flowers, notes, stones.
No one does that anymore. 
Could a week be strung on a silver chain?
A boat?
A tree?
Tuesday as a tree?
I chose this one because it is an example of one of Nye's common techniques: asking a great question.  And though that question may not have a definitive answer, it lingers.  I know I am going to view my Monday as a porch.  How about you?

4.13.2012

Friday First Drafts

This Morning Song

Your class sang of the hole in the bottom of the sea.
My arm ached from holding it aloft, camera-heavy,
just as I sometimes ache from holding you aloft,
you and your brother, so small and dense and full
of the life you have lived and have yet to live.

I birthed you.  An astonishing reality, some say miracle.
You emerged, not breathing, life-giving cord turned 
murderous, malicious intent pulsing along its every fiber.
The midwife's hands were skilled, her spirit alert to
your needs, she moved to save you, she birthed you too.

In the car this morning, you asked your brother
to look at your long legs, the way they reach to the floor,
almost, or stretch so far from the hem of your shorts.
I look each day and at the space your brother's toes
now touch in his bed and am quieted by your grace.

--

A little sentimental this morning, a little rushed.  As always, feel free to comment, make a suggestion, or participate on your own.  I will be glad to post a link.


4.11.2012

Binge and Purge

It always works like this: I go on a little binge of posts, feeling the energy, making the time.  Then, grading rears its ugly head and demands precedence over all else, and the blog lies fallow and untended for a time.  Sometimes a week or more, sometimes a few days.  This time, it's only been since Friday, but I'm feeling neglectful, so though I haven't finished my current book (Second Nature by Michael Pollan, who will be speaking in town next week) or done any serious poetry reading or thinking lately, I felt I needed to post.

So, I'll pull a page from Trish's book (at Love, Laughter, and a Touch of Insanity) and have a go at a ramble.  Humor me?

Last week, I watched the pilot episode of My So-Called Life.  Though I didn't watch this show regularly in high school (when it first aired), I had enough of a familiarity with Angela and Rayanne and Jordan Catalano (those brooding eyes....) for the show to seem nostalgia-inducing when I saw it on Netflix.  But as I watched, a strange thing happened: I got old.  See, I turn 35 next month, and I honestly don't care.  I have a healthy relationship with my age and don't pine for my lost youth.  It's good being who and how old I am.  So, I wasn't upset by this automatic aging that happened, but I was caught off guard.  The nostalgia was supposed to remind my of high school and connect me to Claire Danes' character with her confusion and searching and identity-trying.  Instead, I watched with a near-constant pain for her, for her anxiety, for the changes that must and should come, and for the way she attempts to navigate her so-called life and family.  I became her mother.  I understood her mom's frustration, her mom's concern, her mom's willingness to put it aside and hold her teenage daughter as though she were 5 again.  I carried those worries as truly as if Angela were my own daughter.  She's not of course, but my 7-year-old will one day be that soul-searching girl who still needs her mother's lap and grates against her mother's rules and pushes her mother's buttons.  I'll be honest: it scares me a bit.  It feels like I should keep watching the show, almost like homework, preparing myself for what's to come.   But I'm not sure I can.  It might hurt too much.

What do you think?

4.06.2012

Friday First Drafts

I'm reviving this feature today, even though I don't have a quiet office in which to compose.  There are legos being built in the next room and a Justin Roberts song trickling down the stairs.  The dog is bringing his breakfast to eat at my feet, and the washer is humming its quiet tune.  The ironing is piled nearby, and the newspaper is still in plastic, and someone has just started up a leafblower on campus.  How's a girl supposed to write a poem under these circumstances?  We'll just see what happens.

The Meaning of Good

A durable product:
TV, microwave, couch
Yielding utility over time,
an index of our shared wealth,
a constant buying and selling
for the greater good.

Perhaps a common nicety:
an act of everyday kindness like
feeding a stranger or his meter.
Loaning a book or holding
the door at the bank.
We call these things good.

But this day is more:
it is deep, dark, exacting
in its blood and crown,
whip and taunt and cry.
The temple veil was rent,
and we call it good.

We call it good
and raise a lamentation
We call it good
and return in penitence
We call it good
and remind ourselves
that we know not what we do
or what it means to be good.

---
Feel free to comment, provide feedback, or make a suggestion.  And if you want to participate in Friday First Drafts,  please share!  I will be glad to post a link.

4.05.2012

Enough with the Poems!

No, I'm not abandoning National Poetry Month so easily.  I'm fickle, but not that fickle.

However, it did occur to me that perhaps the reader who is not already so much a fan of the poetic form would be turned off instead of turned on by the roiling flood of poems coming from the blogosphere these days.  I've got no judgment in my heart for you wonderful people posting a poem-a-day.  In fact, I love.  But I'm thinking I'm going to slow my roll a bit here and address a few less important things.

For starters: Twitter.

Why on earth should I add this forum to my life?  I signed up tonight after my husband teased me with something called Sorkinese.  But after a minute or two of staring at it, I couldn't figure out what it was going to add to my life.  Instead, I kept hearing this giant sucking noise in the background, as though all the things I already neglect every day were getting drawn further into the vortex of internetidom.  And there they were urging me to get it on all my mobile devices, and I wanted to run away and hide.  (Cue Monty Python allusion).  I've really resisted Twitter - no interest until the last few days.  And now that I'm there, I want to leave again.

Can someone explain?

Also, I'm thinking of killing my old blog (since the project of remodeling this house we bought will become our actual, we're living in it, home) and starting a semi-regular deal here to talk about projects at the house.  Jenn at The Picky Girl inspired me with her Fridays at Home feature, and I'm thinking one blog is definitely better than two in the getting-things-done department.

Speaking of funny things:  a colleague just sent an email that ended with Sorry forth confusion.  I'm pretty sure that's an autocorrect that's going to get used in my house.  As in "Sorry forth, confusion!"  It just works.

And finally, because I can't get enough of asking this question, which has been rolling around in my head since I saw The Hunger Games last week:

Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter????


4.04.2012

And While We're on the Subject of Mary Oliver...

Here are two on back to back pages of her New and Selected Poems, Volume One:

The Turtle

breaks from the blue-black
skin of the water, dragging her shell
with its mossy scutes
across the shallows and through the rushes
and over the mudflats, to the uprise,
to the yellow sand,
to dig with her ungainly feet
a nest, and hunker there spewing
her white eggs down
into the darkness, and you think

of her patience, her fortitude,
her determination to complete
what she was born to do --
and then you realize a great thing --
she doesn't consider
what she was born to do.
She's only filled
with an old blind wish.
It isn't even hers but came to her
in the rain or the soft wind,
which is a gate through which her life keeps walking.

She can't see
herself apart from the rest of the world
or the world from what she must do
every spring.
Crawling up the high hill,
luminous under the sand that has packed against her skin.
she doesn't dream
she knows
she is a part of the pond she lives in,
the tall trees are her children,
the birds that swim above her
are tied to her by an unbreakable string.

---------

Sunrise

You can
die for it --
an idea,
or the world.  People

have done so,
brilliantly,
letting
their small bodies be bound

to the stake,
creating
an unforgettable
fury of light.  But

this morning,
climbing the familiar hills
in the familiar fabric of dawn, I thought

of China,
and India
and Europe, and I thought
how the sun

blazes
for everyone just
so joyfully
as it rises

under the lashes
of my own eyes, and I thought
I am so many!
What is my name?

What is the name
of the deep breath I would take
over and over
for all of us?  Call it

whatever you want, it is
happiness, it is another one
of the ways to enter
fire.

4.03.2012

Wendell Berry and Washington, DC

So, you know April is National Poetry Month.  But did you also know April is the month Wendell Berry will give the Jefferson Lecture in the Humanities in DC?  And did you also know that I have tickets?  I'm working feverishly to make the schedule and the work stuff and the family and the money shake down because I am committed to getting myself to this monumental event in the life of one of my heroes.  If you live in DC, give me a shout!  I'll be there the 23rd of April.

Perhaps you know Berry for his essays.  That's where I first met him formally.  His Sex, Economy, Freedom, and Community collection was a watershed read for me a few years ago.  Perhaps you know him from his novels?  It was just last spring that I first visited Port William in his The Memory of Old Jack and fell in love with the place and the people.  My friend Scott is a huge Berry fan and has a gorgeous new blog going.  Check him out at threeorfourgoodthoughts.blogspot.com.  Or perhaps you know Berry for his poems.  This lesser-known (to me) Berry voice has a long history, and in honor of National Poetry Month, I picked up a few volumes from our Southern Writers Room downstairs.  His 2005 Given and 1985 Farming: A Handbook offer a nice spread of poems and thoughts to ponder.

I cannot express the joy it brings to pick up a new collection of poems and find something to love right away.  It confirms both the power of the artist and of the art form instantly and renews in me a desire to participate in this speaking of truth.  Here is Berry's "The Stones" from Farming: A Handbook:
I owned a slope full of stones.
Like buried pianos they lay in the ground,
shards of old sea-ledges, stumbling blocks
where the earth caught and kept them
dark, an old music mute in them
that my head keeps now I have dug them out.
I broke them where they slugged in their dark
cells, and lifted them up in pieces.
As I piled them in the light
I began their music.  I heard their old lime
rouse in breath of song that has not left me.
I gave pain and weariness to their bearing out.
What bond have I made with the earth,
having worn myself against it?  It is a fatal singing
I have carried with me out of that day.
The stones have given me music
that figures for me their holes in the earth
and their long lying in them dark.
They have taught me the weariness that loves the ground,
and I must prepare a fitting silence.
And from Given, coming on the heels of Mary Oliver's urgings in yesterday's post, Berry's poem "How to Be a Poet (to remind myself)" is a wonderful piece of art and instruction:
Make a place to sit down.
Sit down.  Be quiet.
You must depend upon
affection, reading, knowledge,
skill -- more of each
than you have -- inspiration,
work growing older, patience,
for patience joins time
to eternity.  Any readers
who like your work,
doubt their judgment.

Breathe with unconditional breath
the unconditioned air.
Shun electric wire.
Communicate slowly.  Live
a three-dimensioned life;
stay away from screens.
Stay away from anything
that obscures the place it is in.
There are no unsacred places;
there are only sacred places
and desecrated places.

Accept what comes from silence.
Make the best you can of it.
Of the little words that come
out of the silence, like prayers
prayed back to the one who prays,
make a poem that does not disturb
the silence from which it came.
And one more for spring from the Sabbaths 2001 set in Given:
III.

Ask the world to reveal its quietude --
not the silence of machines when they are still,
but the true quiet by which birdsongs,
trees, bellworts, snails, clouds, storms
become what they are, and are nothing else.
Note the recurrence of silence in all three.  The influence of my choice or Berry's particular interest?  Or perhaps both?

4.02.2012

National Poetry Month 2012


Welcome to April, friends!  Perhaps you're like me, and you didn't notice that March was almost over until it was gone?  Well, I'm here to remind you that April is here, and (at least where I'm from) it is gorgeous.  Also, it is National Poetry Month.  Many of you may know Serena who blogs at Savvy Verse & Wit, and if so, you may appreciate her encouragement to read and discuss more poetry.  This month, she is hosting a blog tour to celebrate National Poetry Month, and I am happy to be participating on this first day of the tour.

Lately, I've been writing little to no poetry, but I have been reading some beautiful poems and thinking about poetry, especially as I've been reading Mary Oliver's A Poetry Handbook.  Oliver is a poet I haven't read extensively, but I love to dip into her collected poems because it always provides such a satisfying return.  And her handbook is no different.  It is simplistic and instructive, so it is possible, I suppose, for a reader to find it boring or overly didactic.  I don't, and I don't think even the most accomplished of poets would have much to quibble over in this passage from the first chapter:
If Romeo and Juliet had made appointments to meet, in the moonlight-swept orchard, in all the peril and sweetness of conspiracy, and then more often than not failed to meet -- one or the other lagging, or afraid, or busy elsewhere -- there would have been no romance, no passion, none of the drama for which we remember and celebrate them.  Writing a poem is not so different -- it is a kind of possible love affair between something like the heart (that courageous but also shy factory of emotion) and the learned skills of the conscious mind.  They make appointments with each other, and keep them, and something begins to happen.  Or, they make appointments with each other but are casual and often fail to keep them: count on it, nothing happens.
I love the way she paints this image for us while also reminding us of the importance of discipline.  The contrast between the foolhardy passion of Romeo and Juliet and the disciplined writerly life is surprising and intentional and, at least in my mind, highly effective.   She reminds me that to be a writer I have to write.  I have to make room for my work if I want the words to come.

She also provides good, solid instruction on such matters as meter, scansion, and rhyme.  She stresses the importance of reading "widely and deeply," going on to say, "Good poems are the best teachers.  Perhaps they are the only teachers" (10).  She tackles free verse, tone, and diction, and throughout she scatters such phrases as:
There is a seed of silence at the edge of the sound. (24)
and
language is a living material, full of shadow and sudden moments of up-leap and endless nuance. (43)
and at the end
For poems are not words, after all, but fires for the cold, ropes let down to the lost, something as necessary as bread in the pockets of the hungry.  Yes, indeed. (122)
This April, whether you read Mary Oliver's handbook or her poems or those of the countless amazing poets out there, join us in appreciating Poetry.  Considering poetry.  And, perhaps, writing poetry.  For my part, I plan to revive my Friday First Drafts feature, so come back on Friday to read and give me some feedback or even to share your own work.  I'd love to hear it.

4.01.2012

going by Kevin Oderman

People don't loan me books all that often.  I'm not sure why.  Perhaps they assume I've already read it.  As though I had exhausted the entire library of the world because I read so much.  Maybe they think I'm this guy:



I've read widely, but a library still makes me swoon from all the books I haven't read and can't possibly read in my life.  In fact, the statistically improbability of you loaning or giving me a book I've already read is pretty staggering.  So, loan me a book, people, because last week I finished reading the 2nd of 2 loaned books on the TBR shelves, and it was good.  Real, real good, in fact. And if you can read that line without thinking of Steel Magnolias, well then somebody needs to loan you that movie.

The book is going by Kevin Oderman, and the loaner was a writer friend of mine who counts Oderman as one of her mentors.  She studied with him at WVU and pressed the book upon me knowing I would love it.  This scenario is always a little concerning because, of course, I might not love it.  And knowing it was written by someone important in her life, I agonized a little over how to break it to her (or lie) if I didn't like it.  Thankfully, I didn't have to reach that point because it was so fine.  Oderman has some serious writerly chops, and the book was thoughtful and weighty while still being plot-driven and decently paced throughout.

The basic premise is that a poet (Cy Jacobs) who is dying of an inoperable brain tumor has escaped his "real" life to live out his days in Granada.  While there, he meets fellow ex-pat painter Madeleine James (known as James).  There's also a young runaway named Asur and a few other characters that become important as the story goes on, and while I want to say the focus of the story is Cy, it somehow is about them all and about life and mortality and what humans can do to and for each other under varying circumstances.  It is written with such a steady, artful hand - just like the painter's - that you fall under its sway quite easily, and though it is almost 300 pages, it is a quick read without being an easy read.

Though it was about them all, I still feel most connected to Cy and his struggle and sacrifice and stalwart humanity despite his illness.  I love this passage:
He did not feel singled out by his disease.  His lot was common.  But the common lot was exacting.  He remembered a gravestone he'd seen back in Pittsburgh, in a cemetery not far from his carriage house.  Just a name and the inscription, "Lived 12 minutes."  He remembered the Cy who had stood over those words, the sudden grief.  He'd tried to understand why the parents had chosen to specify the number of minutes their son had lived.  The parents had wanted to claim, he thought, that even the shortest life was a life. (202-203)
In case you're worried, let me reassure you that this is not a sentimental or sappily sad book.  In fact, I didn't find it sad at all.  Though I'm not ever much of a cry-er, this book didn't even gesture at that for me.  It was just true.  And though sadness is often part of truth, this time it was more about strength than sadness.

So, success here on so many levels.  Another book to mark off the WMaIDWtPATB Challenge list.  A great book.  And a friend who might just loan me another without fear.