Friday, August 29, 2014

August 29: Time Whips By Again!

Well, hello, world! I have been paying attention to the movement of the days, enjoying the lovely weather and appreciating my world, my blessings, and my life, but my! Time does fly. It's the Friday before Labor Day (we now have it off with our new schedule), a lovely blue and gold day, and we're leaving for the camps once we get a few things accomplished. Tomorrow we will see Nathaniel Stephenson, Bates freshman, upon his return from his four day hiking trip in the White Mts, for the actual kickoff of Orientation. Today. . . today is a lovely day to drink some coffee on the deck and have an outdoor workout with Kiley!

So here are some books I've read lately:

Snow in AugustSnow in August by Pete Hamill
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Julie raved about this one; I gave it a try, but it is too generally sad for me to enjoy or find really good. I think it's easy to point out how horrible life might be for a kid in this boy's position (racism, loneliness, poverty, bullying. . . ) so I kept waiting for the redemption, the original insight. It did come, and the individual characters of the priest, the rabbi, and his mom were great, but overall, I felt Hamill's conclusion (what was THAT about?) needed more resolution and oomph. However, as I'm thinking about it, it's growing on me.

Okay. Bumped up the rating to 3 stars, and I'd add another half one if I could, with the comment that it's a book that's full of potential, contains some wonderful writing, and takes some good risks, but doesn't fully succeed.

Yes, Chef: A MemoirYes, Chef: A Memoir by Marcus Samuelsson
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This one just knocked my socks off and left me with an enduring "book hangover" that makes it hard to find anything else worth reading (for a while. I'm getting over it now). I'm not really sure why, except that 1. Samuelsson's life story is varied and fascinating; 2. his perspective on his life and all his missteps and successes is insightful and honest, and 3. the insights the book gives into how people cope with the intensity of a professional, topnotch kitchen (and how one topnotch kitchen can be a healthy place to work and another a terrible place) are illuminating.

"I'm always battling myself--the part of me that says I can and the part of me that says I can't. My greatest gift has been that the part of me that says "I can" is always, always just a little bit louder." (285)

He has a lovely paragraph that sums up his work in Ethiopia and his attitude toward the world's view of Africa as a whole. It's long, but the concluding bit is, "So although I feel them coming, the pitying tears of a Westerner, i do not let them out. Instead I reach for my younger sister Ashou, who is five, but looks as if she is three. I pull her closer to me and I let her sit on my lap. I let the flies that cover her face also cover my face. And I do not swat them away." 248

Born in Ethiopia, raised in Sweden, Samuelsson tells his life story (well, part of it--he's not very old yet, even!) with honesty and energy. His reflections on growing up OTHER in Sweden and on being black in high level kitchens are nuanced and informative, reminding me of the insights offered by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie in her novel Americanah. The food descriptions are mouth-watering, his love and respect for his parents is heart-warming, and his honest summation of his own arrogant or thoughtless mistakes in his personal life is refreshing. I loved this book, and I have been recommending it to everyone I can buttonhole! I saw it mentioned in a "Summer Reading" Guide by Random House, designed to get schools to assign certain books, and I have some students who'd love this. Go out and read it! It's interesting, insightful, and good!

All Fall DownAll Fall Down by Jennifer Weiner
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I power-read this in one (very late) reading session, so I have an overall impression: it's powerful! It's scary! It reads like a memoir!

I have to go back and read it more slowly to get some of the nuances and make a final decision because my overview is that 1. Dave is way TOO thoughtless/heartless; 2. Ellie is incredibly annoying. Her sensitivity seems to be at least partially 100% indulgent parenting. And really: if you name your daughter after that character Eloise, are you asking for that kind of karma????; 3. I'm a little concerned that Weiner is becoming a Jodie Picoult type writer, focusing on a new Headline Issue with each novel. I hope she realizes that she's very good at just doing regular women dealing with regular life stuff, and she doesn't have to do Betrayed Political Wife or Surrogate Mom in Crisis or whatever.

However: it's immensely readable--hence the bags under my eyes this morning!

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Saturday, August 16, 2014

August 16: A Catch-up, Catch-All Celebration!

Well, it's Saturday, Julie left on Thursday, Friday vanished like a dream into a slow starting morning, a few visits with people in the front yard, three hours of work in my classroom (at long last!), errands en route home, a great work-out session with Kiley, then quinoa salad (which I am rocking these days, I must say) with Andy and Nate while we watched the wonderful "Muppets Most Wanted." Yay!

While Julie was up, we packed a lot of action into the five days we had, as has become our habit. We. . . .

picked out materials for three pairs of contrasting jammie pants: Caroline gets green and bright green; I get yellow floral and an aqua small print; Julie gets crazy patchwork and small pink flowers. I hope to cut them all out (most space-intensive part of the project) and then sew on them as time allows. I'm hoping that my new study set up will make it possible to sew for 1/2 hour or 15 minutes as that time becomes free. . . We'll see. We got the flannel at Marden's, and enjoyed the wonderful fabric ladies there.

At the other end of the chic scale, we also spent a day in Belfast and visited the ineffable Fiddlehead Artisan Supply, where I got some fabric for Mom's runner, better fabric to try to make Lyle's dream shirt, and we basically dreamed great dreams. What a lovely store: Julie, veteran of many fabric stores, said it was the nicest one she's been in. I resisted the urge to buy this book so I could make a dress from it that was almost exactly the one in the G'hopper window that stopped me in my tracks last week. . . . It's on my Christmas list, though!

While in Belfast, we went to the nice shoe store and I got a Deerfield Leathers handbag for 20% off--it's heavy leather, smells great, was made in New Hampshire, and . . . well, I just succumbed to the whole event. Lovely. I want to leather treat it and then start the switching over process from my backpacky muppet-haired Bean's bag to this one!

We also went to Bar Harbor, saw Lori, climbed Beech Mountain, went to the Beech Hill Farmstand, and checked out Spruce and Gussy and Salt--I loved S&G, but Salt was pretty pricey, upscale, and minimalist, so didn't really work for me.

A few things on MY "I've always wanted to" list included visiting the Gee's Bend Quilters exhibit at the Penobscot Marine Museum, climbing Great Pond Mountain (Nate and Andy came with us, which was great) and swimming afterwards, finally setting foot in the Courthouse Gallery in our very own Ellsworth, and then of course the mixed experience of Bar Harbor in mid-season madness.

Her last full day, Wednesday, was a chilly, rainy one, and we had already decided to see "The Hundred Foot Journey," (here's a link to the trailer, if you haven't seen it yet; backed by Spielberg and Oprah, it's had a lot of press!) regardless of the weather, so that worked perfectly. It's a fun movie, but not as strong as "Chef"--still, go see it. Much to like!

We ate at the Thai Sana place in Ellsworth that night, and before we knew it, J was off in her car with Scooter the turtle. . . . and I was thinking of how much she needed to move to Portland at least.

What a lovely time. How spoiled we are to have had two kid free weeks! It was great to get out and see some cultural sites, do some hiking, and also do some small-business-boosting shopping. Yay, friend visits and vacationing!

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

August 12: Vacation with Julie!

The Late ScholarThe Late Scholar by Jill Paton Walsh
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

Not a fan. Thrones, Dominations worked; Presumption of Death was carried by the plot; Attenbury Emeralds began to lose any strong Sayers voice, and The Late Scholar is a train wreck that reads like it was rushed to publication without an effective edit. For example, on p. 345 someone says, "We must make emends." I looked it up, and the definition is "Emend means to improve by editing (especially a text)", so I thought, "Okay, this is a scholarly mystery so Paton Walsh was probably using it in a slightly show-offy way to make us think it was a typo but it's really an obscure word that's totally appropriate." HOWEVER: the gentleman in question is NOT discussing editing or improving a written work at all--he really means, "We must make amends." Sloppy work. The whole authorial voice is gone: Peter isn't witty; Harriet isn't controlled and intelligent; the narration isn't understated and insightful. I might need to read a genuine Sayers to get the taste of this one out of my mouth, so to speak. A clear lesson that more is not better. Don't read beyond Presumption of Death.

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Friday, August 8, 2014

August 5: Lovely, lovely days. . .

Maybe it's because of our late start on vacation, but I feel like I am just now starting to settle into the right vacation groove. Lyle is in CT, Andy is working steadily on various lawn jobs, and Nate is working and looking towards Bates (Aug. 24, babeeeeee!), which leaves me with a nice . . . what do I call a routine that is not a routine but which I am learning to love? summer, I guess. The weather has been lovely, and I have been enjoying the quiet and shady coolness that we get here during the summer afternoons. I've been working on two pairs of pj pants for certain twins whose b'day is coming up, so I've been busy since Saturday, but I do love the ability to organize my days the way I want to organize them!

Then again, the fact that it is August has forced me to look at some things I. Want. To. Get. Done, so today I woke up at 6:15, ran (yay, me! So proud and pleased that I can run pretty much first thing these days!), showered, then got my long-delayed blood test from last year done, came home, and it was 8 am! I have been working steadily with Casey, though not always face-to-face, but we have both been reliable about doing our assigned work, so that's great.

Andy and I have decided that Lyle will take A's Corolla to school with him, mostly because, when we thought about it, it was the solution that left the fewest number of loose ends/questions/stressful details to tie up, so we went with it! Andy will drive the Camry (we owe about $500 on it and then it's all ours!) until he decides it's time for a change OR it dies, so we'll have one less car sitting in the driveway most of the winter, which is great. It's funny how just having that small decision made makes me feel good. My brain doesn't need to keep turning the question over and over, wondering if we can rent, or Sam could drive, or. . . . Yay!

And on Sunday Andy and I drove down to get the truck from Mom's and tied in a visit to see our new nieces at Maine Medical, where they'll be for about a week, probably. They are tiny, but they do look like babies, not fetuses, which is a clear indication that they are much healthier than many of the poor babies in the NICU. What an amazing event in our family. . . wow. Just plain wonderful. I need to decide on a stocking pattern and then get started--maybe while we drive N down to Bates!

Julie arrives for our SECOND child-free visit this summer, which should be great. She's had a tough go recently, with the loss of a neighbor to cancer and a sick Tuffy, so it'll be nice to have her up for a while of heavy vacationing. AND: funny to think that a year ago on Saturday, Nate and I went down to get Camilla from UNE. Wow.

So I could take several more weeks of lovely weather and total control of my time and decisions, but its fleeting quality is partly what makes summer so wonderful. Tonight A and I are going to see "Chef" at Reel Pizza with my Hebron classmate, Jeanne K. . . . more fun! Yay!

August 8: Waiting for Julie!

Julie is en route, expected late, and I've just put together a nice day of bits and pieces, but with a sense of accomplishment. It started as a lovely, cool, sunny, dry day, but *right after* I hung out my two loads of laundry, another batch of thunderstorms with heavy rain rolled in, and since then it's been wet and dark. Zeus is under the table where my feet are or staring out the door. Poor baby.

AND Nate had a fender bender while delivering today: he called and it was nothing dangerous, but I'm sure he's shaken up. Ah, life and its experiences.

Let's see. Today I have:
1. done two loads of laundry.
2. made iced tea.
3. prepped L's room for Julie.
4. weeded and dead-headed all three gardens that I'm in charge of, including the little lily garden by the rock out front. It felt great to do the whole pants-in-socks-and-boots-with-bug-spray prep and head out, removing spent centaurea and rose campion, pulling out ferns, dead-heading daisies, day lilies, and bee balm, and generally tidying things up. I think the big garden by the boat shed needs a major overhaul and mulch (maybe next spring in all our empty-nester spare time?), and we have some other plans as well. Andy and I spent some nice time wandering around the back yard making plans in between the downpours that Ellsworth suddenly specializes in.
5. Then I came in and took a much-needed shower (it is really really pouring now. WOW. White rain).
6. I also ordered the boys three pairs of great "flat cord" pants ($59.95 each) from the Gap as there was a 40% card member offer, AND with my points from the card I spent $79 for the three. YES!
7. Andy and I also finally organized the EZ pass situation and got me a new "tag" and entered my license plate on his/our account. YES! Small steps, but great ones to get done.
8. had a nice catch-up chat with Ginny about all our various doings. Nice to talk to her!

Now I am lusting after a Boden cashmere cardi, and the big problem is which color I should get it in, and whether I should give in. . . . Lucky for that to be my "big problem."

I think I will head upstairs to read (or should I say "read"?) for a bit in the study, and then I'll look for more small but eminently satisfying things to do.

Happy August. It is good.

Monday, August 4, 2014

August 5: New Books and a New Month!

Well, Goodreads is down right now so I will write here and then hope to post backwards. We'll see.

Finally finished the book Lyle gave me with the words, "You have to read this. It's good and so sad." Indeed Amanda Vaill's Everybody Was So Young is both of those things: good, in terms of being thoughtful and detailed, and sad in that it sketches a time that has been lost, and also the story of a couple who suffered great losses but kept going through their long lives, trying to be good for something. It's the biography of Gerald and Sara Murphy, two Americans born into wealth who became inspirations, friends, supporters, and members of the artistic and literary expatriate community around Paris in the 20s and 30s. The most moving aspect of the book for me, especially in light of Hemingway's 4? 5? wives and the Fitzgeralds' destructive relationship was their love for each other: they supported and cared for each other throughout their lives, anxieties and doubts and tragedies notwithstanding.

Fascinating also to consider what we've lost in turning away from letter writing: how will our biographers recreate our records? The voices from the letters are strong and clear--it's a rare text or email that will meet that level of reflection!

Vaill digs deep and pulls together a variety of sources and information, and her writing is generally effective. There's an occasional sentence like the following: "Such politicization had begun to drive a wedge between some of the Murphys' circle: Dottie Parker, in particular, had stopped speaking to Bob Benchley over "some labor issue," although she claimed it was because "I told her not to make those ingenue eyes at me as she was no longer [an] ingenue," Benchley reported to the Murphys." (283): while the gist of the sentence is clear, the whole "she said/he said" relationship is so convoluted that it would surely have been better to have rewritten the whole thing. However, Vaill's sense of respect for the principals is clear, and makes the book not a People-magazine expose, but a thoughtful evaluation of bonds and relationships, personalities and roles.

A few more dates might've been helpful, but overall, Everybody Was So Young is an excellent book. Students of American literature, take heed!

The Legacy of Elizabeth PringleThe Legacy of Elizabeth Pringle by Kirsty Wark
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I bought this audiobook from Audible on the rec. of Karen of Cornflower Books, whose taste I generally appreciate. In the long run, however, I found it uneven: in the beginning, it's too sad, with two parallel stories of women who are dealing with the inevitable losses of old age; then it becomes too predictable, with WWi and WWII stories that we've all heard before and miraculously "I knew he was The One" relationships; it winds up with a big helping of "spooky-wooky" "I could feel her spirit near me" intimations and that revelation of the hidden secret that we had no idea had existed from the very beginning of the tale. So. I guess I'd say that there are some interesting/lovely aspects of the story, and the narration is beautifully done. However, my "okay" rating remains. Overall, it became an annoying book.

Thief of Time (Discworld, #26)Thief of Time by Terry Pratchett
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Nate really likes this one; As usually, I loved the narration and the creativity behind it, but (probably because I listened to it in fits and starts as we shared ipods) it lacked the zest and overall continuity of the best of Pratchett's writing. He does have a strong sense of what makes humans both lovable and annoying/dangerous, and he presents the Auditors as completely lacking those characteristics but slowly developing them. Who knew chocolate could save the world?

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