August 30, 2012

The Worst Hard Time

For the folks who asked . . . this is the book I'm reading for my self-taught "Great American Dust Bowl" class. It's called The Worst Hard Time and it's by Timothy Egan. I'm already a ways into it and it's quite a good read. Lots of stuff about the decades leading up to the Dust Bowl and first-hand accounts of life during a time the author calls the worst man-caused disaster in American history. Most of my Dust Bowl knowledge to this point was what little they told us in school and what I came to understand from reading The Grapes of Wrath in 7th grade, so I'm learning a ton.

Mid-November PBS is running a new Ken Burns documentary on the Dust Bowl. I'm looking forward to finishing the book, reading more online, and then watching the documentary. When I stumble over interesting snippets of info or photos I'll let you know. 

If you decide to read the book too I recommend you keep a close supply of water and moisturizer ~ I feel parched, dry and thirsty just reading about all that wind and dirt. SO much dirt that people are coughing it up. Eeew.

A Song for School

August 28, 2012

Back to School

Tomorrow that big yellow bus will come to take Emma and Kate off to Middle school where they will be starting 8th and 6th grades respectively. I am sooooo excited! And it's not why you think – no, I'm not desperately sick of them or dying for a little time alone – I just LOVE school. I love this time of year and the promise of a new start. I actually feel more inspired by the start of a new school year than I do by the start of a calendar year.

My whole life I have loved school and all things "back-to-schoolish." Time to start fresh ("I'm going to have perfect handwriting this year"), get new supplies (lovely unmarred notebooks, pristine paper, freshly sharpened #2 pencils), and learn something new (cultures, languages, formulas, history! oh my!). I envy my girls as they prepare for this new chapter in their academic life. I daydream about graduate school or a second college degree, largely because I long to sit in a lecture hall, sipping my Diet Coke, frantically scribbling notes while the professor yammers on. I want to skip across campus to the library to study after reading textbooks over a sandwich at the Student Union building. . . *sigh*

Anyhow, I got to thinking the other night and decided that I would create "school" for myself this Fall. I came up with a list of classes based on some of my current interests and goals (see my schedule above in photo). I plan to let the syllabus evolve, but I do have a loose idea of what I hope to accomplish in each class. 

I am super excited by my new Fall schedule and hope juggling my freelance work, mothering and home life with my academic pursuits won't be too much – We'll see! 

Do you love school too? If so, I'd love it if you joined in on this idea. Maybe you have a certain subject you've been curious to learn more about. Maybe you just want to try a new hobby (Horseback Riding 101, Knitting Fundamentals Workshop)? Maybe you want to study a language in hopes of visiting a faraway country sometime soon (Intro to Coversational French)? . . . whatever your goals, this is a great time to give 'em a go! Take just one class, or take a full load. It's up to you!

C'mon! Let's go back to school!

August 27, 2012

Falling ash

There are bits of ash lightly snowing from the sky. The air is thick and dry. Everything smells like campfire. The light streams in pinks and reds and brilliant oranges. The mercury sits quietly at 95 degrees.

August 23, 2012

Summer Reading


Books and Summer, they go together so nicely, don't they? Actually, books go quite nicely with pretty much everything: diet coke, fluffy beds, sandy beaches, baths, porches, couches, cooking, candles, waiting in cars, Saturdays, coffee, tea, snuggly pets, snow, rain, chocolate, lunch breaks. I have a friend who reads while she blowdries her hair in the mornings. I haven't tried that because if I take care my hair can get really huge and outta-control crazy.

I've done a fair amount of reading this Summer and thought I'd give a little report on a few books I'd mentioned in earlier posts.

1. The Beginner's Goodbye by Anne Tyler

I must start by saying that Anne Tyler is among my most favorite writers. Her writing epitomizes the writer's creed of "show, don't tell." Her characters are endearingly eccentric, and so real they could be any one of us. Their lives are all at once ordinary and extraordinary, which I believe is true of us all. When I first began reading her books, some twenty years ago, I was appalled. I was used to tidy, happy ending types of stories and Anne didn't deliver. I would reach the last page and gasp in horror ~ how could she just end it right there? I longed for something more. But then I began to see the beauty of these endings. Her books were like spending snippets of time walking side by side with her characters. In the end you walked away, but their lives would go on evolving and moving through time, just like our own lives do. Life isn't tidy, it's dynamic and there is always a bit of bitter mixed with the sweet. There's no such thing as perfection, totality, happy ever afters. 

Whew! Now, on to The Beginner's Goodbye.

Synopsis from Amazon:

Crippled in his right arm and leg, Aaron spent his childhood fending off a sister who wants to manage him. So when he meets Dorothy, a plain, outspoken, self-dependent young woman, she is like a breath of fresh air. Unhesitatingly he marries her, and they have a relatively happy, unremarkable marriage. But when a tree crashes into their house and Dorothy is killed, Aaron feels as though he has been erased forever. Only Dorothy’s unexpected appearances from the dead help him to live in the moment and to find some peace.

Gradually he discovers, as he works in the family’s vanity-publishing business, turning out titles that presume to guide beginners through the trials of life, that maybe for this beginner there is a way of saying goodbye.

A beautiful, subtle exploration of loss and recovery, pierced throughout with Anne Tyler’s humor, wisdom, and always penetrating look at human foibles.

My thoughts: This was a lovely book. Heartbreaking in parts and filled with Tyler's quirky characters and attention to life's small details. It's an easy read (and a rather small volume) and if you enjoy tidy endings I thought this one was maybe the most nicely packaged "finish" that Tyler has every written. My only complaint: I felt the main character, who was supposed to be in his 30's, acted more like a 50-year-old and it was a little distracting to me at times. 

2. The Cape Ann by Faith Sullivan

Synopsis from Amazon:

Lark Erhardt, the six-year-old narrator of The Cape Ann, and her fiercely independent mother dream of owning their own house; they have their hearts set on the Cape Ann, chosen from a house catalog. But when Lark’s father’s gambling threatens the down payment her mother has worked so hard to save, Lark’s mother takes matters into her own indomitable hands. A disarmingly involving portrait of a family struggling to stay together through the Great Depression, The Cape Ann is an unforgettable story of life from a child’s-eye view.

My thoughts: The Cape Ann is a beautiful, well-written masterpiece. I will never forget little Lark, her strong, determined mother or the other characters in this book. Not since To Kill A Mockingbird have I felt so moved by the voice of an innocent (but wise) child narrator. I would consider Sullivan's book worthy of being called a literary classic. I highly recommend The Cape Ann to anyone looking for a moving, satisfying read.

3. The Flight of Gemma Hardy by Margot Livesey

Synopsis from Amazon:

Taken from her native Iceland to Scotland in the early 1950s when her widower father drowns at sea, young Gemma Hardy comes to live with her kindly uncle and his family. But his death leaves Gemma under the care of her resentful aunt, and she suddenly finds herself an unwelcome guest. Surviving oppressive years at a strict private school, Gemma ultimately finds a job as an au pair to the eight-year-old niece of Mr. Sinclair on the Orkney Islands—and here, at the mysterious and remote Blackbird Hall, Gemma's greatest trial begins. 

My thoughts: It's not often that I say I really don't like a book, but honestly I did NOT like this book at all. It's basically a straight retelling of Jane Eyre with some lame-o plot changes and detail substitutions – a lousy rendition of a truly beautiful classic. The plot changes Livesey made were bizarre and uncompelling and ofter-times unbelievable! Supposedly this adaptation takes place in the 1950s but the language Livesey used sounded more like she was writing during Bronte's times. The characters were unlikeable. The writing was mediocre and downright bad in many parts. Ugh! I could just yammer on and on about how disappointing this book was. Maybe I was just being overly critical and comparing because there seem to be plenty of positive Amazon reviews, but honestly I thought this book was really lame. If you're in the mood for Jane just reread the fabulous original.

Well, guess I got a little long-winded on this post. So, what are you reading these days? I'm constantly collecting new titles for future reading. Oh and if you've read any of these books and have thoughts, I'd love to hear them. Feel free to agree, argue or tell me I'm insane.

As always, thanks for reading!

August 22, 2012

From Audrey

Thanks Audrey. I needed this.

August 20, 2012

My Hollyhocks

I never intended this blog to be some sort of catalog of all my encounters with flowers but somehow I seem to end up posting lots of flower pix. Hope you don't mind. Soon enough it will be Autumn and I'm sure I'll move on to other gifts of nature – fallen leaves, bare tree branches, endless mounds of snow. But for now I present hollyhocks, in whites, reds, and purplish-pinks.

August 17, 2012

Take It Easy

From all reports it's gonna be a hot weekend in the Pacific Northwest. One hundred degrees in places like Seattle and Portland. As a former inhabitant of the greater Seattle area I can tell you that heat like that is pretty much unheard of in those parts. Here we've dipped to the mid-90's, but that's still a tad bit toasty for my taste. Even the dogs are finding it hard to get motivated to do their normal activities – yelling at other dogs and their people as they walk by, patrolling the back fence for deer and other evil creatures, digging holes in areas that smell suspiciously like small rodents (we call this activity "Rodent Patrol").

It's gonna be a runthroughthesprinklersandeatapopsicle kind of weekend folks. Enjoy!

August 15, 2012

Sweetness Follows

Somewhere west of here fires are burning and smoke shrouds the sky. Sadly this is the new normal for August in the West. 

This past week the winds have picked up and our 100-degree temps have turned the hillsides a crispy, crunchy, brown. Everything is parched.

But the sun has a new slant. It moves more quickly and a bit lower on the horizon. The night air dips below 50 degrees now and all around me everything seems to be in a holding pattern. Waiting, patiently but with a hint of happy anticipation for the Summer to lift and a soft September to settle in. The smoke will break, the grass relax, the school bus will come, the robins will leave, and the newness will refresh us all.

The soundtrack to my day is R.E.M.'s eighth album, "Automatic for the People." Michael Stipe's voice and lyrics feel like home. 

Happy Wednesday to you all. Thank you for reading!

August 14, 2012

This Small Planet

As the London Olympic games came to a close last night I watched this video. It's the video by Matt Harding that "went viral" several years ago. When I first saw it I just sat and cried. Actually, I always cry when I watch it. I love replaying it over and over and watching all the different dancers in each frame.

Last night I also discovered that Matt recently put out a new video. This one is equally beautiful and made me cry too! (I'm thinking maybe I cry easily?!) 

At the end of this one he dances with his wife and son in their backyard and oh my goodness it is soooo sweet.

"For, in the final analysis, our most basic common
link is that we all inhabit this small planet.
We all breathe the same air. We all cherish our
children's future. And we are all mortal."

– John F. Kennedy, in a speech about disarmament
  at American University, June 1963

August 13, 2012

EmmaBean turns FourTeen

Remembering the birth of my firstborn:

August 8, 1998

1. It was a Friday night, more than a week before my due date
2. I ate an Eggo for dinner
3. We started watching the movie "L.A. Confidential"
4. Gary didn't believe me when I said the contractions started at 3 minutes apart
5. She was born in four short hours at 4:19 a.m.
6. It was a girl! (I had thought so all along!)
7. She was 5-1/2 pounds and looked like a whispy baby monkey
8. The nurse said "Her hair is the color of gingerbread!"
9. We named her Emma Claire
10. I kept thinking we had just witnessed a miracle

artwork by sarah jane studio on etsy 


Fair Week

From top (l-r)

1. Rides that make you want to barf
2. Food that makes you want to barf
3. A bored bunny munched his ribbon
4. The Zipper : My girls' favorite new ride
5. Napping pig
6. Ginormous stuffed animals you can win, take home and try to fit through the front door
7. Mad chicken
8. Kate as a cow
9. Another ride that makes you want to barf
10. The Sizzler = fun
11. Lights at night
12. Smiling llamas (this photo makes me laugh every time I look at it)
13. Somebody's successful fair entry!

Other highlights that I could not capture on film:

1. 100-degree temperature
2. Me, sweating to death
3. Emma and Kate's faces as they enjoyed it all with friends
4. Me, after we left at 11 p.m., tired and withered

August 7, 2012

Yards are hard

I had all sorts of summer plans for my yard this year. I was going to add on to my smallish garden by installing two or more large veggie beds and planting a huge row of raspberries. I also hoped to tidy some of the existing flower beds, expand the bed that runs along the road and pull some overgrown annoying evergreens from around the porch. Then life happened. It got hot. I felt more lazy than I anticipated. Then the dog ate most of my garden. Then it was August. Too late. Too dry. Too boring. I've moved on to other things like readying myself for Fall (whatever the heck that means). So, the yard has suffered another summer and slowly things will fade and fall, retreat into the earth, and prepare for the cold and long dark nights. Then some long evening in January I will start thinking about seeds and green sprouted things and the cycle will begin again.

Meanwhile I have a few bits of success and color to note – so much oregano I might have to start exporting to Italy, a few late-blooming flowers, a crazy tangle of promising tomato plants, and a lot of neglected cilantro that's gone to seed (which I think means I can pick off those little ball things and call it coriander? Is that right? Does anyone know?).

Thick August Heat


August 6, 2012

Olympic Dreams

{or "How I Have Finally Come to Accept That I Will Never Be an Olympian"}

It's been such fun watching the Olympics. I've always loved watching the Games – the ceremony, the peaceful gathering of delegates from so many countries, the celebration of hard work and personal accomplishment. Have you seen those badminton players? It's UNREAL! And the synchronized divers!? WTH? How on earth do they get that synchronized?

My first memory of the Olympics was the 1976 games when Nadia Comaneci did her perfect "10" thing. I was swept up in the hype. I was in such awe of this young, darling Romanian girl – I wanted to be friends with Nadia. Better yet, I wanted to be Nadia.

Our Scholastics book order advertised a book on the life of Nadia and her rise to Olympic perfection. I bought it and read it over and over. I started taking gymnastics and discovered with disappointment that everything was a lot harder than she made it look, and my talent was limited. I was small, but I wasn't strong, and when my coaches said they didn't think I would ever be that great it didn't make me want to prove them wrong, it made me want to cry and give up. So that's what I did.

Thirty-five years later and I still adore Nadia. During this last week NBC has highlighted her successes and even run a few minutes of old footage from that year. Suddenly I am in grade school again, so enamoured with her and so disappointed in myself . . . that I wasn't good enough to be like her.

Sadly, it's not just Nadia that makes me feel that way. Watching Gabby Douglas take gold the all-around made me want to start practicing my back-handsprings again (that would be quite a hefty hospital bill). Then last night I watched those two speedy Jamaican guys run the 100-meter and I decided I wanted to try to run, like really fast. "I've got to get in better shape," I said to my husband and kids, and they just shook their heads and rolled their eyes at each other (Oh brother, here we go, Mom's losing her mind again). Here's the thing about me: when I see others, passionate and hard working, I am instantly intoxicated. I want to be them, to do what they're doing, to work that hard, to reap the rewards. When I don't or can't, I somehow turn their success into disappointed in myself for not being that good.

Today, at 42-years-old, I finally got a grip. I looked at myself in the mirror, and here's what I said:

Jenny, you will never be a gymnast and you will never go to the Olympics - for ANY sport, ever. BUT THAT'S OKAY. It's really okay. You can stop beating yourself up about it now. From now on, you just need to be you. Practice being you every day.

I don't know if it will work or not. I'll let you know. I do know that I watched women's soccer today and I didn't even lament my short-lived, lame soccer-playing days in 6th grade (I was too polite. "No really, you take the ball, you were here first"). Maybe I'm on my way to recovery. Maybe I'm finally growing up. Whew - it's about time.

Wait. A. Stinkin'. Minute.
. . . Did I just take the Olympic Games and somehow make it about ME? Man, I have issues.

August 5, 2012

August 3, 2012

Northern Exposure Moose Moment

Remember when I told you that I love our place in Philipsburg because the town remind me of the '90's TV show "Northern Exposure?" Well, now it's gotten even better.

When we were up there last weekend we drove 10 minutes to Georgetown Lake and tooled around a bit. Suddenly we spotted a bull moose! . . . and then a cow moose! . . . and then twin babies! They were all munching and resting together. It was beautiful and amazing. I jumped out of the car to snap some photos and joined an older woman who was standing by the shore doing the same. She spotted a tree stump and jumped up on it to get a better view, then invited me to join her. I hopped up with her and we stood squished together on this little stump taking photos. We both noted how you never see male moose hanging out with the moms and babies – it's just not something male ungulates usually do.

"Maybe he's trying to be a more involved, 21st-century kind of dad," I said.

After a while they all walked uphill into the wooded campground and then crossed the street, just like the moose in the opening sequence of "Northern Exposure." Score!

Want to hear the opening theme to the show? You can click here and you'll be right back on your couch in front of the TV, circa 1992. Ahhh, I love going back in time.

The Dirty Pile

Today I vow to tackle the mountain of laundry that grew while I was busy doing all the other stuff I do all week. I have to say that the amount of laundry this family produces seems quite disproportionate to the number of people and the size of our (shortish) bodies. I suspect that my children are actually throwing clean clothes back in the basket, rather than getting up off their lazy summer bums and putting them in their drawers. (My husband may be doing this too, it's hard to tell without sniffing everything – and that takes too much time, plus it's gross.) Either that or the neighbors are sneaking through the window each night and adding their dirties to our pile. Regardless, if I don't tackle this chore today someone is going to be walking around stark naked, because everyone's almost out of undies.

I've been on a purging mission lately (meaning the last five years) to try to cut down on the number of clothes in my closet. Truthfully, there are quite a few things that I just don't wear. Mostly they're things I bought when I saw someone else wearing them and thought I should try that particular look too, but really they weren't my style. I've come to realize that I'm just not really the stylin' type and I really love comfy clothes the best . . . oh, and jeans. I love jeans. And cotton. Slicky material feels weird.

Well, now that you are bored out of your minds after hearing about my laundry I will send you off into your day. I hope your day is filled with joy and fun and adventure. If you think of it, have a little extra fun for me since I'll be waist deep in stinky clothes for the large part of my Friday.