Besides doing as much of this as possible, of course.
Jane is thirteen and busy, busy, busy. Art class, piano, ballet, Journey North, Shakespeare Club. The number of activities makes my head spin but is delicious to her. She's learning her lines for a Taming of the Shrew scene. Mastering the jump attack in Zelda: Twilight Princess. Beginning to polish her repertoire for Piano Guild auditions. Enjoying the Think Piece questions from Julie Bogart's Bravewriter Boomerang. (Today's Murder on the Orient Express think piece led to a long and hearty discussion of the death penalty.) Reading all the Agatha Christie she can get her hands on (which, thanks to a kind librarian, has been a lot). Reading Jane Austen. Quoting articles from Muse magazine. Making dolls. Reading stories to Rilla at naptime. Plugging away at Latin and algebra. Baking cobbler when I'm too busy. Crocheting hair scrunchies by the dozen.
Rose likes life at a mellower pace. Her fiery personality adds enough spice to her life, I think. One by one, she has chosen to opt out of the activities her sisters enjoy. She still takes art and piano lessons, which seems like a lot to me, and is one activity more than Jane was doing at her age. She has a small vegetable garden out back, thanks to my mother's labors during my postpartum days, and she spends a lot of time outside playing with bits of leaf and twig. She's writing quite a bit: journal entries, stories, letters. Has been (like the others) glued to the Warriors books lately. Is deeply attached to her horse in Zelda. Clamors to be the one to hold the baby during his morning nap. Chops all my potatoes and onions for me. Still loves to play dress-up. Practices Amazing Grace on the piano ten times a day, as long as I don't tell her to.
Beanie: busy bouncy Beanie! Loves to start her day with a snuggle on the sofa, just me and baby if possible, but she'll make a space for the other wee ones if they're awake. Just finished reading Understood Betsy; said it had a very satisfying ending. (I agree.) Loves copywork with a passion that is enchanting to behold (and mystifying to her mother, who loathes writing by hand). Doesn't go to piano lessons any more (her class was canceled due to a drop in enrollment) but is learning here at home, with her sisters' help. They've been through the book before her. Likes to fix my breakfast for me: a bowl of strawberry yogurt, almonds, granola. Wishes we had a trampoline. Is learning to draw in 3D from Mark Kistler's book. Writes me coded messages. Wishes she got to hold the baby more. Wants to have a tea party with her friends: key event, facepainting. Is looking forward to receiving her First Communion. Can't help being drawn into Little Bear when her younger brother and sister are watching. Wishes we had a pool. Forgets the job you gave her even before she's out of the room. Is reading the Redwall books. Listens to Suzanne Vega every chance she gets. Spends long minutes smiling into the baby's eyes. Says she doesn't remember ever being cooed at before, and that being cooed at is the best thing in the whole world.
As for me, besides all the usual mom stuff, and the crammed-in-when-I-can writing stuff, I'm fiddling with fabric, working on a quilt square for the online bee I'm part of. And (as you know) I've been reading a lot lately. Not as much this month as I did in January, but then I'm on my own again as sole adult in charge. Last month I had my mom for two weeks and then Scott was off work for another two weeks. Nice. Now I read in the very early mornings and late at night—on the iPod, as often as not. I am finally, finally working my way through Ulysses. Very slow going, yes, but oh my what a treat. I find myself staring at single sentences, single words even, tasting them over and over, scarcely able to believe that they've been there all along, ripe for the picking. Warm sunshine merrying over the sea. Birdsweet. The void awaits surely all them that weave the wind. DailyLit tells me I am 4% of the way through the book. I can't think of books in terms of percents, but I know I'm only just getting started, though I've been at it for weeks, a page or two at a time. Every few days I sit down with my big fat Ulysses Annotated and unpack quantities of allusions, and then I have to go back and reread what I read before with better understanding. I am loving this.
Am also reading via DailyLit the YA thriller Little Brother by Cory Doctorow. I look forward to each night's brief installment. There aren't many books I would like to read this way, parceled out in small daily doses, but for these two—for dramatically different reasons—it's working.
Have not yet finished rereading Portrait of a Lady, long way to go. Started
right after Christmas and set it aside: still mean to finish that one.
Have a TBR stack as high as the moon. You know how it is.
Well, that's half the family. More than enough for one post, eh!
A few peeks from our week...
Guess whose big sisters got hold of him? He may have the villainous beard, but they're the ones with nefarious purposes.
Rilla needed a sling to match mommy's. Mine, by the way, is now serving its sixth baby! I've had it since Jane was a bairn.
I am in love with this sweet dolly. Jane made her for Rilla, totally by herself. I want a big sister like Jane.
I read a lot last month. That's because during the first half of the month, I was too pregnant to do much else, and during the second half I was snuggled up with a snoozing lump of baby. My hands are too full for writing, most of the time, but reading, ah, that's something I can do.
World Made by Hand by James Howard Kunstler, a novel set in the not-far-off future, after a sweeping political and economic event (described only in vague terms) has dramatically altered American society. There's no more oil. The grid is down: no electricity, no long distance communication, not much government to speak of. Bombs have destroyed Washington, D.C., and Los Angeles. A flu epidemic has wiped out masses of people. In the narrator's small upstate New York community, the survivors have cobbled together lives from the refuse of their former existence; abandoned houses (most of the houses are abandoned, now) are stripped for parts, and the unsavory character who has taken control of the old landfill is one of the chief power-wielders of the community. The narrator and his neighbors seem perpetually dazed, still shaken by the waves of tragedy and loss that washed the old way of life away. The events of the book force the narrator to wake back up.
I have a great fondness for post-apocalyptic literature and film, so this book's premise was right up my alley. The narrator's state of shell-shocked numbness keeps the reader somewhat at a distance, but it's a believable numbness and perhaps a merciful distance: there is so much loss, so much pain, so much quivering uncertainty about the future. Kunstler's vision of the various ways society gropes to reshape itself is convincing and minutely detailed.
The Uncommon Reader: A Novella by Alan Bennett. What a little gem. Scott checked it out from the library and said he thought I'd enjoy it. As usual, he was right. The Queen of England discovers, by chance, that a library bookmobile visits the palace grounds. To the astonishment of the librarian, she checks out a book—and finds herself on a literary rabbit trail, hopping eagerly from one book to the next. Surprising, original, delightful.
The Moving Finger (Miss Marple Mysteries) by Agatha Christie. Everyone deserves a Christie break now and then.
The Music Teacher by Barbara Hall. Really wanted to like this novel. So much potential in the setting and cast of characters: the novel is about a woman who gives violin lessons in a small music store, the only female on the staff, half in love with one undeserving coworker and flattered by the attentions of another. Eventually I grew tired of the relentless melancholy and bad choices. I admit I lose patience with people (even fictional ones) who seem determined to be miserable.
Which is why the next book, Meg Wolitzer's The Ten-Year Nap, annoyed the bejeebers out of me. Don't get me wrong: Wolitzer can write beautifully. But oh what a bunch of whiners in this novel. I kept wanting to shake them and shout, "Knock it off! Quit your bellyaching and DO something! Read to your kid! Take a walk! Bake some bread! SOMETHING. Anything." I'd read rave reviews. People loved the "honest" look at the misgivings of women who gave up promising careers to stay home with their children. I'm sure many women do have those misgivings. But, look, you make your own happiness. The women in this novel seemed to me to be sleepwalking, drifting through their days in a state of vague discontent, trapped in the hamster wheel of their own minds. I have little respect for people who refuse to wake up.
The Twilight of American Culture by Morris Berman.
Reading Lolita in Tehran: A Memoir in Books by Azar Nafisi. Had this one on the library reserve list for a long time. Really enjoyed it—sort of. Seemed like Nafisi was trying to untangle some knotty emotional threads about the Iranian Revolution and her own choices during those stormy years and the decade following. The eyewitness-to-history narrative was fascinating, but became terribly repetitive as the book went on. The best parts of the book are her literary discussions, her thoughtful unpacking of Gatsby, Daisy Miller, Lolita, Pride and Prejudice, and other works. Here Nafisi shines, and it's easy to see why her students became so attached that many of them returned to audit her classes year after year. Best of all, Nafisi got me reading: she made me hungry to revisit old favorites (Austen, Gatsby) and curious about books like Lolita that have spent far too many years on my TBR list. I wanted to hear what Nafisi had to say about them, but I loathe spoilers, so I had no choice: had to read the books. Am very glad I did.
These next few titles, then, are books I read between sections of Reading Lolita.
Daisy Miller by Henry James.
The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald. For the, I don't know, sixth or seventh time? I can open this book to any page and just sit there tasting sentences.
Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov. Creeped me out in the worst way—but I couldn't put it down—and jiminy crickets what gorgeous, sumptous writing. And beneath the creepiness, the terrible sadness, the bleak impenetrability of Humbert's cage—worse even than the cage Lolita is trapped in.
(And a February note: my James kick has continued. First Washington Square, new to me. Now, Portrait of a Lady, the first half of which I loved passionately in college, a love that turned to outrage during the second half, because at that point in time I had no stomach for a book with a likeable heroine who did not find felicity in romance at the end. Now, nearly twenty years later, perhaps because I am comfortably immersed in a still-crazy-in-love marriage, I am finding that I can allow the novel to be the novel it is, not the happy-ever-after tale I wanted it to be in college.)
I just put a cherry cobbler in the oven—yes, I know it's not even lunchtime here yet, but I've learned that if I don't cook early in the day, I won't cook at all—and I thought that in honor of Presidents Day, I'd reprise this old post which contains a very nice cobbler recipe, if you can wade through all my nonsense to find it.
Originally posted November 2005
I have just polished off—with considerable help from children doing their finest ravenous-baby-bird impersonations—the remnants of the cherry cobbler I baked for teatime last week. We will pause here while people who know me well digest this news. Yes. I BAKED. From scratch. Well, the cherries were canned but I did actually have to crack an egg. And measure things. And—are you ready for this?—"cut in butter." Oh sure, most of you out there probably cut butter into a flour mixture as easily as breathing, but SOME of us find these things a lot more complicated than, say, writing novels or using HTML code. To be fair, I must disclose that Jane did most of the actual cutting-in. But I put the cobbler in the oven and took it out when it was done. Not burned. Not still gooey in places. Really truly perfectly done. Also, I whipped cream. (Gasps arise from my friends.)
Anyway, I have decided that cherry cobbler is the world's most perfect food. (Well, right after dark-chocolate-and-marzipan bars. And my mom's fried okra.) The cherries, not too tart, not too sweet, bursting with antioxidants, so the can assures me. The biscuity cobbler topping, only slightly sweet, with a lovely cake-like texture. And then of course the whipped cream, which, now that I think about it, really might be God's most awesome invention. And so foolproof that even I can't mess it up.
I have informed my children that we're going to be eating lots and lots of cobbler from now on. They appear to be amenable to this plan. I will now share the recipe so you know what to serve for dessert next time you have me over.
Fruit Cobbler for the Incompetent Cook
1 can cherry pie filling (or blueberry, apple, whatever)
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 cup sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon (optional--I didn't use it)
3 tablespoons margarine or butter
1 beaten egg
3 tablespoons milk
Preheat oven to 400. Dump pie filling in an ungreased 8x8 baking dish and stick in oven to warm up while you mix the topping. (Cookbook will prattle on about how to make fruit filling from scratch, but you know your limits.)
In bowl, mix flour, sugar, baking powder, and if desired, cinnamon. Cut in butter until mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Do not panic if you have no idea what that means. Google can offer a ready explanation. Or ask your oldest child, who seems to have an innate knack for these things. Better yet, let her do it. You can still claim credit with your friends because after all, YOU made her.
In another bowl, combine egg and milk. Add to flour mixture, stirring just to moisten.
Take baking dish out of oven. Drop topping into 6 mounds atop filling. Do not forget that the baking dish is HOT. When you do forget, drop spoon into filling and rush to sink to put burned hand under cold water. Allow oldest child to gingerly fish spoon out of filling and resume dropping mounds of topping into dish (which child will not forget is hot, because 1) you are yowling at sink and 2) she has more than half a brain). Assure younger children that your burn is not serious. Resolve to yowl under your breath next time, so as not to alarm small children.
Turn off cold water, dry burned hand, stifling scream when towel touches burned part, and resume impersonation of capable, domestically skilled mother. Start to pick up baking dish and thank children for alerting you with frantic shrieks that you are about to touch hot dish once again. Pick up potholders, which are lying on counter right next to hot baking dish and which were custom-made for you on a potholder loom in colors so bright it is surprising that you failed to notice them when you reached for the scalding-hot dish in the first place. USING POTHOLDERS, place dish in oven. Bake at 400 degrees for 20-25 minutes or until toothpick inserted in topping comes out clean. Possibly entrust this task to your oldest child, as you are sure to burn yourself again if you attempt it.
Serve warm with freshly made whipped cream, which (thank heavens) even you cannot mess up.
To celebrate, eat three servings. But save enough for tomorrow's breakfast.
Image courtesy The Graphics Fairy.
The winners of the 2009 Cybil Awards have been announced at the Cybils blog. Congratulations to all the winners!
As a member of the first-round judging panel for Fiction Picture Books, I was happy to see that my favorite title from our shortlist, How to Heal a Broken Wing, won in that category.
And I'm tickled to see that the winner of the Nonfiction Middle Grade/Young Adult category is a book by a friend of mine: The Year We Disappeared: A Father-Daughter Memoir by Cylin Busby and John Busby. Cylin and I were lowly editorial assistants together at Random House many years ago. I'm so proud of her. (Good thing I wasn't a panelist for that category—I'd have had to recuse myself.) I've been dying to read her book: I finally have a copy on the way, so more on that later.
While you're over at the Cybils blog checking out the winners, don't miss Easy Reader winner Mo Willems's illustrated thank-you note!
This time it was the charming Diane of Journey of a Mother's Heart who paid San Diego a visit. Erica did the honors, opening her lovely home to me and my brood, Kristen and her sweet girls, and Diane and her sister-in-law and adorable nephews. What a fun day. I already knew I was going to love hanging out with Diane; her warm, funny, generous, lively spirit won my heart a long time ago.
Wonderboy was smitten too.
Delicious lunch, stimulating conversation, busy children, snuggly babies: a perfect morning. The time passed too quickly, is all.
All right, who's next?
On the CPSIA front: Alicia has started an Illegal Books Meme to help spread awareness of the issue. I'll be chiming in as soon as I can upload some pictures of books it would now be illegal to sell.
I have been wanting to blog about the dreadful Consumer Products Safety Improvement Act for weeks, and especially this week when the law went into effect, but I have very little handsfree time for typing right now (and you know I'm not complaining about that).
But this is a very important and disturbing issue, and if it isn't on your radar yet, I urge you to read up on the matter. Many used book stores and thrift shops are now throwing out—as in, putting in the trash—children's books published before 1985 because to sell them would be breaking the law, as of this past Tuesday. Books in the trash is such a horrifying thought I can scarcely type it.
Goodwill stores have pulled all children's clothing and any other children's product from their shelves.
Here's some links to folks who are on top of the issue. I highly recommend exploring their recent archives (especially their posts of the past week) and follow their links to yet more information.
Snopes, I'm sorry to say, is wrong on this one.
Last Friday, the CPSC declared numerous changes in their regulations, including the
following exemptions that correspond with requests made by HSLDA in our meeting with Commissioner Moore:
Last Friday, the CPSC declared numerous changes in their regulations, including the following exemptions that correspond with requests made by HSLDA in our meeting with Commissioner Moore:
The exemptions may be a step in the right direction, but that second bullet point makes it clear that children's books published BEFORE 1985 are not exempt from the new lead testing requirements. Used bookstores, thrift shops, and eBay or other online sellers of books are unlikely to be able to afford to have all their pre-1985 inventory tested. It is, therefore, now illegal to sell children's books published before 1985—even in your own yard sale.
This is seriously wrong.
(Thanks for the link, S.!)