Friday, August 31, 2012

August 31: First Friday

Well, regardless of the fact that this was a short week, we didn't have any kids till today and then we just had ninth graders (so one class for me), and that I have had a terrific summer, it's Friday and I am BEAT. It's been a pretty good week, despite losing (completely, irretrievably, yup, gone) a big desktop folder of five years of work I've done for my co-taught ninth grade class. We may recover some hard copies of stuff, but I still get a sort of sad, cold chill when I think of how much rich stuff is just. plain. gone.

BUT: new beginnings are good, too, and I can draw from what we know, what we already do. . . . And our class of ninth graders looks fun and great (30 of 'em!), so that's good. The only bad is that I seem to have re-injured (maybe more severely) the calf muscle I hurt in the end of July. I will call the orthopedic dr and ask for physical therapy on Tuesday, but I am disappointed as I had been so careful and wise for so long, and then. . . all I did was a little happy skip off my toes, and ==sproing!== Instant pain. And this is with 3 ibu 3x a day.

But: I hope soon to head up to sew a bit, to finish my summer portfolio dress, and also to plant some perennials in the front garden. N and I plan to go to the Blue Hill Fair for a few hours as a summer "thang," and then also maybe go for a sail or a hike--but with my sproinged leg, probably a sail would be better. And go to a cookout at Saki's house, and do *lots* of school work!

Happy Labor Day weekend! Happy Friday!

Sunday, August 26, 2012

August 26, 2012: Wrapping Things Up?

Actually, I think it's more like "running around frantically, picking things up and jamming them into boxes with my hair standing on end". . .  but it's okay, really. This has been a very new feeling summer, and I have been able to stay aware and enjoy it, so the fact that it's ending on TUESDAY (except for the delicious dollop of Labor Day Weekend) is actually pretty much okay.

So, backwardsing a little:

arrived home yesterday (Saturday) at about 7 pm from taking Lyle to Skidmore for his sophomore year. It may turn out to be the last time we have to drive him there, since often kids get their own cars, etc., etc. We left Thursday afternoon, spent that night at Ann's in Portland (fulfilling one of my summer goals), drove to Saratoga Springs that day, unloaded, got his room open, went to the storage locker, bickered a bit, got something to eat (which fixed our bickering), unloaded that stuff, and then I drove to Richmond VT to spend the night at Tom and Ellyn's, which journey featured a totally cool thing: a car ferry from Essex NY over Lake Champlain:

I arrived at T/E's house (where Mom was, too!) around 7:45 and plunged into a delicious meal, featuring the best fresh corn I've had in years, and then Tom, El and I stayed up till midnight (!!) talking. . . .

There is the lovely family, moments before I loaded up around noon the next day and drove through the gorgeous yank of VT, NH, and western ME to get home. I was pretty fried by the time I pulled in with 895 miles under my belt. Whoosh.

However, L and I had a great drive over, with time to talk, complain, laugh, and for me to drive while he napped, which is a particularly peaceful situation! And who can argue with a trip that leaves a boy this happy?

I would bet his room is somewhat more decorated by this time, but he's probably still that happy!

So these last two days, I plan to
--do some exercise, because I am feeling CRAMPED UP from all that driving,
--work on my dress, with a goal of completion by Labor Day at the latest;
--complete the two grants I need to report on;
--do one more summery thing like a hike, a sail, or a gorgeous swim;
--write a few thank you notes/letters to tie up the visits and adventures of the last two weeks;
--maybe. even. take. a. nap!!!!

Had a nice but different feeling visit with Julie and Caroline (Andy was very busy and Michael didn't come, so things felt less vacationy than usual, which was good AND bad), but we did a lot of good things, like hiking Cadillac, playing mini-golf, seeing "Paranorman,"going out to Simone's, b'fast at the Riverside, kayaking. . .  I am thinking that next year it might be fun to try to rent a place in NH or something together and then spending a week there. ??!! We'll see.

Closing with a final pic before I change over the laundry and get another cup of coffee!

Saturday, August 18, 2012

HomeHome by Toni Morrison
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Hmmmmmm. This was a "support Sherman's, local book store" purchase in July. It's pretty short but moves quickly and has some of Morrison's great terse but perfect language in it (she refers to "the unbelievable malignance of strangers" (98), and "country women who loved mean. . . The women handled sickness as though it were an affront, an illegal, invading braggart who needed whipping." (121) . Best of all, Morrison refers to "the period that rich people called the Depression and they called life." (122). ) Overall, however, the voice doesn't quite ring true: every other chapter is an italicized reflection from Frank "Smart" Money, the man character. I am NOT a fan of extended italicized sections in books (skipped most of those sections in Empire Falls, for example!), and these don't seem to add much except an extra layer of terrible things Frank has seen or experienced, and could have been told as straight narrative instead.

There are wonderful parts in Home, and it certainly highlights a story of suffering and endurance and love, but it's an uneven work. Longer? Shorter? More on Cee's story? Who knows. Worth reading, but not Morrison's best.

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August 16: A Rainy Day, a Wonderful Book

When We Argued All NightWhen We Argued All Night by Alice Mattison
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Full disclosure: my sister gave me this book, is friends with the author, and did the interview with Mattison in the back of the book. Also full disclosure: that means nothing, because Ann and I have always had different tastes in books since we were little kids, and I'd have no qualms about telling her I didn't like it for whatever reason.

But: I LOVED When We Argued All Night. I started reading it on the way home from camp on Saturday, misplaced it for two days in my knitting bag, found it, and finished it Wednesday night. The narrative style drives the book forward: as many European-published books seem to do, it uses dashes instead of quotation marks, and while the early sections of the book are delineated by years, the last 1/3 or so may make big jumps in time without much indication of change. In addition, a paragraph may start with a character's comment, but Mattison might seque right into his/her thoughts without any ado, so it's important to keep one's attention on what's happening.

Mattison certainly crams a lot of the 20th/21st century into this story: the Depression, the acclimation of immigrant families to living in the US, WWII, the Red Scare, the civil rights movement, the 60's, the development of the LGBT rights movement--but it doesn't feel like a textbook or a list. Instead, she creates a rich tapestry of what it must have felt like to have lived through those various events, how they changed (or didn't change) people's daily lives and outlooks. Artie stays more or less the same, while Harold reinvents himself and reflects deeply on that reinvention; by the end of the book, when both men are 94, I had a vivid sense of how human experience just keeps unfolding and reoccurring. Mattison's ability to recreate historical environments reminds me of Michael Chabon's work in Kavalier and Clay--rich, deep, and somehow feeling real.

I also have to recognize the fantastic cover design by Robin Bilardello--the book looks appealing, with the cover photo reminding us that actual people populate the photos from the past! Other bonuses: lots of references to New England--somehow books that mention familiar territory delight me. Also, Mattison does a fantastic job with her descriptions of the joys and traumas of teaching: Harold and Artie love teaching for different reasons, but her description of each man's reasons is insightful, valid, and respectful: they're not just in it for June, July, and August, as so many people think.

Good people, honoring teaching, a wonderful, familiar setting. . . there's also terrific writing. I'll close with some of my favorite passages. This is a terrific book. Bravo, Alice Mattison!

"Boredom and hostility are easy to detect." (112)

"Harold couldn't resist the curious ones." (116)

"Jumping from a subway platform was such an easy, obvious way for New Yorkers to die that it was unthinkable and unspeakable, and for the first days and weeks the primary effort of them all--parents, relatives, doctors, and nurses--was to look past Nelson's act and only at the bruises, the broken leg, as if he'd fallen when out for a walk. Harold could not ask why, . . . because the answer had the coming train in it: it was what Nelson had chosen to accept, the train reaching his body." (184)

"She enjoyed marching too much for someone who was supposed to be angry." (194)

An amazing passage about parental worry: "Nelson lived in Harold's upper abdomen--maybe where his diaphragm was. It had loosened, just because Harold had found him and his face looked better, but while he washed his hands, it was as if someone behind him had tightened a band around his body." (234)

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August 18: Trying for Normal!

 I made some changes to the administration of my blog recently, and the formatting got very weird, esp. around posting reviews from Goodreads, so I hope you'll bear with me as I try to work this  out. Thanks!

Ghost KnightGhost Knight by Cornelia Funke
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

First off, I think I'm too old for this book, so my "okay" rating should not deter anyone. The book was pretty well written and the idea was good, but I just needed something a little more developed to really catch my attention. Other than that, I think an adventure loving 8 - 14 year old reader would really like this book!

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Saturday, August 11, 2012

August 11: Two More Weeks

It's a dark, damp afternoon, but it's not really raining*. We're just back from a mini-reunion at Mom's camp (that's ONE of the two visits I'd put as a goal for the summer)--it ended up being just one night there, and the weather was grey and damp throughout, but it was still nice to see the family groups who made it: two sisters, one with spouse and kids from CA; my dad and stepmom; my mom, who just had a step-family funeral so was ready to heave a sign of relief. We jetted over on Friday and were home by 12 noon today: Nate's up to the 70's in his AP US summer reading book, Zinn's A People's History of the United States, and I got a good deal of knitting done in the car. I need to figure out the neck shaping for the fronts of Moth's cardigan and then start the sleeves, which I need to lengthen. . . . so I figured it was better to do all that work in the house where I could focus.

But there are still a few things I want to do: get blueberries from Maine Sweet and Wild, our friends the Jordans' company and site of Lyle's first summer job!; make blueberry cobbler and other delights; work on some sewing, and plant more perennials in our front gardens. Lyle comes home on Thursday (to Boston around midnight on Wed, then to a hotel and then a bus home on Thursday); Julie and Caroline come for their visit on Friday, and school meetings start on the 28th. Small sigh.

But the reading and various good things continue apace. Nate is working; Katniss has been spayed, and the big cats have had their yearly check up/stuffing-into-the-boxes torture. I've completed my training as an AFS Liaison and Saki arrives in Ellsworth Sunday afternoon. Life is sweet.

*Not my favorite weather. I'd much prefer rain or sun. Gloom doesn't really do it for me. Not that I get a vote! 

Saturday, August 4, 2012

August 4: Nerves and Books

Today is the Echo Lake Swim, a 1.5 mile "race" (ahem) in a lovely lake on MDI. This will be the second time I've participated, and I *know* I can complete it, but still--the water is deep, and I really don't want to be hauled in via kayak. . . . So of course I woke up at 5 and have been up since. Additionally, the two big cats need to go to the vet's office for their shots, so we have to 1. ignore their pleas to go outside, 2. jam them into their boxes, and 3. Lyle's friend Neal will come pick them AND Nate up to drive them to the vet's, since I double-booked myself for this morning (see above note about the Swim!) and Andy is in Boston, having put Lyle on an early plane to CA for 10 days.   <=that sentence seems to summarize my recent days. Maybe it's having no real set schedule; maybe it's the otherwise happy fact that Nate has gotten a job at Blueberry Hill Dairy Bar (but has no license); maybe it's the fact that it's August so we've scheduled a lot of "got to get this [visit/meeting/appointment/other] done" events. . . . but I'm feeling a tad scattered. I need a good, fat, cheerful read and an afternoon of luxurious sitting around in which to do it. Mission set!

*Found a Susan Phillips which was cheesy but certainly fat and cheerful. Yay! Also did the swim in 57:03, down from 64:plus 2 years ago. Yay!

The ChaperoneThe Chaperone by Laura Moriarty
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Wow. The Chaperone is a pleasure, a great example of the joys of historical fiction. Unlike The Paris Wife, which felt like it was trying to be non-fiction done without research to back it up, lacking originality, The Chaperone, through the character of Cora Carlisle, creates a vivid, warm picture of what life was like in the 1920's, as well as providing a more general, but equally fascinating, picture of how people adapt their true selves to society's rules and expectations. Throughout the book, the characters reveal more and more layers and nuances, making for an absorbing and interesting read.

The Chaperone was on a lot of summer's best reading lists, and now I know why. If you have three more weeks of summer left, I urge you to pick this one up!

Great lines: "She was grateful that life was long."

. . . "The train windows had been open for most of the trip from Chicago, and she felt as if she'd been basted in grease, thoroughly heated, and finally dipped in dust."

When Cora's grandniece interrogates her about the Klan's development in Wichita, Moriarty writes, "Were people just stupider then? Meaner? Maybe, Cora allowed. But it was foolish to assume that had you lived in that time, you wouldn't be guilty of the same ignorance, unable to reason your way out. Cora herself had only escaped that particular stupidity because of her special circumstance. Other confusions had held her longer."

Aside from her skillful writing and perceptive imagination, I think what makes the book stand out is Moriarty's ability to show how people "reason their ways out" of various conflicts--the book is, overall, a hopeful picture of human nature and what life really is like between the lines of history.

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Right now I am mostly through "Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide", by Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn, but I do need another good piece of fiction for the rest of the weekend. There IS the Olympics, but the coverage is driving me crazy, as they hold the events we want to see till after 10 pm, and, frankly, Scarlett, I'm in bed by then. Ah well. Here I am reveling in summer, all other issues notwithstanding: 

I am off to prep for The Swim--and the Cat Stuffing Event, degree of difficulty 7.8. Hope I survive both unscathed!