Saturday Stream of Consciousness

My son wants me to finish watching A Taste of Cherry or take in one of five other films he left on the coffee table for me to choose from while he’s at the cinema taking in Lightyear. I’m down for it, except it’s early afternoon and this seems not quite the right time for movie watching. Very early morning for a limited time and evening seems to be the province of the screen, though matinee go-ers surely would disagree with me.

Is that an odd assessment? Maybe it’s because, until recently, I used to fall asleep watching movies or TV. For better or worse, I tended to cook, clean and look after children when movies played. It’s no secret that, like many mothers, I operated on tired, and taking a seat threatened to overcome that. I’ve gotten better about all that more recently though, it being early evening (in the 14:00 hour) as I type, it seems like I ought to be doing something else, even though I decided to designate today to just letting happen what may, combined with the promise to myself to stay steady in the activity side of things. In other words, there are a few things I want to do, but I’ve left the when of these tasks to whatever force guides me to each one today.

Perhaps that means I’m resisting the forces, or maybe not. I went out to the deck for a spot of reading and it started to rain. I did aim to put one disk into the video, but it wasn’t in the case. Sitting down to read at the dining table, I contemplated how indoor darkness often doesn’t seem to have changed much from Victorian times. Without any lighting on, it’s pretty dark in the areas away from the window. I’m loathe to move away from it because it’s lovely, and perhaps my association of movies with sleep, itself associating with evening, is not the beckoning I want to follow.

My curtains don’t look quite as beautifully designed as in this image, but I’m ok with them.

To be honest, I’ve been thinking lately about a vest I was gifted after a surgery I had last year, quite a nice vest except for the stitching on the back of the collar with the clinic’s logo. I thought I might perhaps stitch over it; the fact that I really have no clue how exactly to do this didn’t really put me off much, because the desire kept growing within me all week. So what if it looks weird or is badly stitched? I can undo it all and start over, right? I think I don’t seem to mind this because I’ve been wanting to learn to knit or crochet; I don’t care which because I don’t know enough to have a preference. I did used to do counted cross stitch at the hospital where I worked at that time; at first it was super awkward until one of the nurses showed me to turn it upside down, and it all made sense. I found it to be quite relaxing and even recently saw some CCS with the likeness of Richard III, which really delighted me. Where I live I don’t really get to see too many items bearing Richard, so when Turtle presented me – I think he was around 10 – with a coloring page of the king, it was quite wonderful.

I find coloring also to be very relaxing: I have Outlander and Harry Potter books, plus another with patterns from India. A Richard III coloring book would be all that! All that – our way of saying It’s the shit. Every time I hear that phrase I remember the Russian who asked me why shit sometimes means something is great, while other times it refers to something you loathe. “How to tell difference?” Well, the the is key.

But I couldn’t really color or do much stitching if I were to watch Taste of Cherry or any other foreign film because I need to pay attention to the subtitles. Which is fine, partly because I want to pay attention to them, but also because maybe sometimes I just need to give my mind a one thing at a time permission. Focus on the taxi driver and what he says makes me think about; what do I think it all means? The area he drives to, away from the city, I feel I’ve seen it before, which is strange because I’ve never been to Iran, where it is set. I remember when I first heard the title a few months back, I felt I recognized it, and straight away thought I’d seen it with a friend in college: we used to go watch foreign films in a strip mall theater that only played foreign. But nothing looked familiar when Turtle and I started to watch it. Terra incognita. For both of us, the taxi driver as well as myself. Perhaps afternoon viewing is actually the right time for this film, given its subject matter.

Damavand from Abbasabad, courtesy Hansueli Krapf via Wikimedia Commons (click for more details)

The 2022 Winter Reading Challenge for Grownups

Good morning and a happy Sunday to you all! I know, I know, Sundays aren’t known for people being bright eyed and bushy tailed, as we all like a late lie, but if we talk about books, maybe we can shake this up a bit! If nothing else, we can get a little excited about some weekend reading, no? The books I have in mind at the moment are those I read for a recent library book challenge called the Winter Reading Challenge for Grownups – and it was intense! I am also participating in another, year-long challenge that entails one book per month, so this one won’t be complete for quite a while, but I will write about it before too long, especially given the perspective angle involved.

But for now, challenge for grownups.

As some of you know, my son, now 19, has been going to the library since he was two weeks old – it’s practically been his second home. He doesn’t go now as often as he used to, trying as he is to figure out how to juggle his more adult responsibilities (university, work, friends and associated activities, etc.). But I was a little excited to see him get into the choices I’d been working through for this library reading challenge, which is set up in the form of a bingo card.

With five rows of five columns per, each box has a category, and participants choose a book that fits. For example, the first row and my choices:

Poetry or Book in Verse

The Spiritual Poems of Rumi

Book to Movie

 Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets

Alaskana

 

The Year of Miss Agnes

Set/About Somewhere You Want to Visit

The Printer’s Apprentice

Book You Were Assigned for School

The Cricket in Times Square

Each time you finish a row, you mark it complete, write down your titles and submit to the librarian, who gives you a small prize, which for me was a bookmark each time. Naturally, your bingo can be horizontal, vertical or diagonal. Additionally, each completed bingo row acts as an entry to a prize drawing. If you complete all twenty-five squares, you are also entered into the Blackout Drawing.

Oh, did I mention that this was for books read in between January 24 and March 7? Ha ha! Yeah, I had most of my choices picked out, but this changed a few times as I went along, planning what to read according to day of the week (e.g. evenings only), what was left, how overwhelmed I felt at any given moment, even with some of my selections being young adult (YA) books. For example, I wanted to re-read Emil and the Detectives, a book recommended to me years ago and that I had read a few times before. But I also had a work of Arthurian fiction on deck, and that was nearly 400 pages. Being somewhat organizationally obsessive as I am, I had a tendency to go over my choices nearly every day, which may or may not have been helpful.

I only learned about the contest, by the way, about a week into it, so I had that slight disadvantage, but also had something going for me because, having then recently been sick, I was spending a lot of time at home resting after work, so the reading gave me something to do. “Maybe I can pull this off after all,” I often thought. I did manage to get two books to do double duty, one also read for my year-long challenge and another as part of re-reading the Harry Potter series with my son. We also re-read it in 2020, which was something we turned to when the world was pretty much shut down.

Speaking of the world being shut down: I think most of us would agree it was not fun at all. With rare exception, people really need people, if on varying levels, and the shutdowns have really cast a pall over societies across the globe. They did a lot of damage short- and long-term. Our own library was closed for I think over a year. (I forget exactly how long, but it was a very long time.) So, I was really glad for this particular contest because, as I reasoned, it’s a fun way to get re-involved in a community activity at a pace – reading and meeting up – that works for each person.

To be honest, I really had no business attempting to read 25 books in about 35 days. That’s roughly a book a day and, like my son, I already have too much other stuff to juggle. Why voluntarily add this to my already-full plate? I’m not sure what I was thinking, though it may be that at first I thought I might do only one or two bingo rows. Then it started to seem possible to do it all, which may actually have been me taking leave of my senses!

Looking back, I ponder the idea that I really did need to work my mind a bit, having recently spent so much time sleeping and not much else. I don’t think otherwise I would have been able to participate in such an activity unless I stuck to YA for all 25, which I don’t necessarily wish to do – there are too many other books on my TBR that I want to get to. In the last couple of weeks, it wasn’t so much fun sitting to read for such long periods of time as I did but, having started and made my commitment, I absurdly forced myself to keep to it. So, I guess I’m glad I did it, because I did reach a number – 32 – by March 7 that in other years took me much longer to achieve. For example, in 2019, I read 37 books but only finished my first, with less than 100 pages, on March 6. In all of 2020 I ready only 18 books. That was a new low for me, especially given the expectations everyone seemed to be placing on themselves related to having so much extra time. (I still went to work every day, so never gained any of this spare and wonderful time.)

But these are just numbers, and I’d scolded myself before about this. What do numbers really mean, anyway? Are they meaningful in and of themselves? For me, they aren’t enough, which is why I’d been excited to discover, some years ago, challenges that led to trying out new genres or entire series, tackle some of your TBR, maybe re-read some old favorites. You know, quality over quantity. It’s a cliché, I suppose, but at least some clichés become so because they have value and meaning and are worth repeating. It isn’t accurate to say there was no quality in this reading, but the final determination would be in weighing what I got out of it all and whether it was worth the time spent focused on these particular books and what else was involved in getting them all read.

Box cover showing the 1,000-piece puzzle’s colorful picture. See below for how far I have progressed.
This boy reminds me of my son, with his thick, curly, wild hair – and a book in his hand!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In coming weeks, I will be having a look at these titles and engaging in some brief discussion about them or the time surrounding when I read them, one row at a time, where they are in my history and where they might lead me moving forward. For now, a quick mention about the prizes I referenced above. I did end up winning one, a 1,000-piece puzzle that has already been showing me who’s boss. But it’s fun to look at, with its crowd of people (and one cat) reading books such as The Great Catsby, The Cranberry Tales and Moby Richard. Whether it was a prize from a single-row drawing or the Blackout (a term I’d never heard until this), I have absolutely no idea!

Stay tuned for my first row discussion ~

  This puzzle is boss.

My Tottering TBR: Reading Roundup (November 2021)

It’s been a strange year for reading. At the start of 2021, I’d wanted to focus on my neglected bookshelves to accomplish finally reading a batch of books I owned but hadn’t completed. (One would actually be a re-re-re-re-re-read, but I’d been keen to pick it up again so many times.) I tried to balance this with a boatload of other books—either purchased, already owned or borrowed from the library—that I was consulting for multiple projects I have in my head and outlined on paper. Now, as the year begins to draw to a close, I started to assess what I’ve read through the last ten months, though, truthfully, recognition was dawning back in about September, and I found I was rather disappointed. I had chosen twenty-one works and thus far had finished only one.

There is a part of me that laments the numbers: at one time I read an average of about sixty books a year, and last year I read eighteen. While this isn’t a thrilling development, it isn’t really the prime focus of my dissatisfaction. What is also shows up in the results of what I have been doing this year with books: the sense of having learned something valuable about or within life; possessing new takeaways that enrich time here on the planet, for myself and others; that I grew in appreciation for what and who came before, the events that shaped them and how they shaped events. Well, the one book off my 2021 list that I managed to read, Michael Jones’s The Black Prince, did move me, and I will be taking the experience along moving forward. So perhaps I should be focusing on this and not whinging so much about what I didn’t achieve.

I suppose it also isn’t true that I didn’t make any gains within the disorder of this bloc of time, and through the last week or so especially, did advance in a manner that isn’t dependent upon actual reading, though there was lots of that involved. The gist: for over a year I’ve been stymied by trying to move back and forth amongst the aforementioned multiple projects – not because that was my goal, but rather I simply couldn’t focus. Lockdown, etc. has not made me more productive, just life more chaotic, and while I read  a fair amount, I finished few of the works I picked up. At some point, something snapped, or it may be more accurate to frame it as a few pieces finally fitting together better and the dawning realization of how absurd this pathway was coming into sharper relief.

The upshot: I have put away all research type books for any projects except the one I had to consciously decide to focus upon. It’s my first step in getting a handle on this mess, and the next is to try to ignore all the other beckoning works until I’ve finished reading the one I have out. I know I cannot read all my research books cover to cover, but I will do for some, and two of these are included on my current list of reading. It’s an exception to my newly-imposed one-at-a-time rule, but this particular author is a favorite, and these two items also are two I’ve been wanting to read for a very long time. It’s a work in progress, but I did tell myself to look through both briefly and make a decision about which to aim for first, then stick with it.

My 2021 list was not organically developed, and I suspect that was part of the problem, though it’s also true that such compilations don’t always necessarily need to be, nor can they. With this in mind, the list that follows is a genuine mixture of what developed on its own and at least two I picked out with deliberation. The rest may be found here.


The Weaver’s Tale (Kate Sedley) – The first book in this series, Death and the Chapman, came by way of recommendation and I loved it. Roger the Chapman, former monk and itinerant peddler who occasionally speaks of, and meets, Richard, Duke of Gloucester, looks into a disappearance that leads him down a dangerous road amidst the hustle and bustle of medieval London. His self-effacing personality, intelligence, fallibility and humanity combine to create a character I want to follow, especially given his perceptions of the duke and place within history to provide such firsthand accounts, up close as well as at a distance. I am looking forward to continuing Roger’s journey of solving mysteries as we both witness how he grows into the role (there are a number of more installments yet to come) and the world in which he operates.

The Beloved Disciple: Following John to the Heart of Jesus (Beth Moore) – Another book I’ve wanted to read since some time and picked up because of my desire to know more about John the Disciple. Unfortunately, I wasn’t in love with Moore’s writing style and approach to readers, and other books beckoned me away. However, I felt a bit pulled toward it recently because I really do want to read about John, so decided to give it another go. Because I’m not planning to review it, I peeked at a few mentions online and saw that a few others felt the same way, but at least a few powered through and said they were glad they did. One reader spoke of a portion at the end with deep insight. The jury is still out, and we’ll see what a more patient reading might bring.

Women of Power in Anglo-Saxon England (Annie Whitehead) – This author first came to my attention when I read her debut work, the historical fiction To Be a Queen. The novel tells the story of Æthelflæd, Lady of the Mercians, daughter of King Alfred the Great and one who was to prove a talented strategist in her own right. She appears in Women of Power as well, along with a number of others I look forward to being educated about. A glance at the table of contents alone informs readers that this is not a garden-variety book about forgotten women, not with chapter titles such as “Pioneers: Abbesses and Peace-weavers in Northumbria”; “Murder in Mercia and Powerful Royal Daughters” and “Serial Monogamy: Wessex Wives and Whores.” Having skimmed the book some I can see it is a bit on the academic side, which isn’t a deal breaker, though it does inform me on how to approach it and the breadth of information it surely must contain. For example, the chapters are arranged in categories rather than chronologically, which for me can be a bit challenging, especially if there are a lot of (unfamiliar) names, interactions and connections to solidify. But I’m game.

Love and Math: The Heart of Hidden Reality (Edward Frenkel) – I picked this book up a few years ago and never got the chance to read it, but because it was a loaner from the library, it fell off my radar. That is, until I found one of many pieces of paper I know are strewn about my home, paper with titles and authors listed on them, written in a moment of haste as I aimed not to forget about the blurb I’d (then) just read. Upon seeing the title scribbled there I could instantaneously see in my mind the Starry Night cover and felt the love of math course through my veins, a love that grew during a required class about teaching mathematics. It hasn’t really developed a great deal – which may have something to do with a silly insistence of mine to read at least portions of physics books I don’t entirely understand – though the author may perhaps aid in this as he pairs math with his memoir of growing up Jewish in the Soviet Union, a nation that discriminated against him but failed to churn out in Frenkel the negative results of oppression. I’ve watched a couple of his videos; his demeanor is cheerful and love of what he does contagious. I have actually begun reading it—I’m up to “The Essence of Symmetry”—and for me it is at least partially an interactive read, as I physically move items while he talks about them. Not unlike reading battle scenes, aloud and effecting the described movements, it nevertheless conveys (so far) affection and joyfulness for the subject so many learn to fear. We’ll see!

The Discoverers: A History of Man’s Search to Know His World and Himself (Daniel J. Boorstin) – I first read this book at around age sixteen and it has never left my shelf. Opening with a history of how man came to measure time, it moves forward through centuries of investigation and discovery of the earth and the seas, natural science and society. Presented in chronological order, it is written with a deep appreciation for its subject matter, including the individuals who people it, as well as the readers who hold the book copies in their hands. Aptly named, I found through the years that I learn something new each time I read it, having absorbed other knowledge that links back to Boorstin’s work, gifting me the pleasure of recognition as I pour through the pages. As a sixteen year old, I naturally didn’t remember everything Boorstin talks about in The Discoverers, but it did open a new world for me, one every bit as fascinating and frightening as that the investigators found as they pushed boundaries in their quest to know more.


Lisl is currently working on a novel set in Anglo-Saxon England, and can be found at Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. She loves rain, the sea, ghost stories, poetry and Casablanca

Browsing Books: 35 + Books Everyone Lies About Having Read

People lie about reading books!!??

Ha ha, yes, books seem to be nearly a number one topic to lie about, and what’s even funnier is that so many totally dig in even when their discussions begins to reveal signs of major fibbery, such as buzz words or phrases that come off as parroted without the ability to elaborate, or being unable to talk even a little bit about what they liked or didn’t about a particular story.

Books also seem to be one of the best topics for quickly making one’s way into a rabbit hole, and this interweb excursion was no exception. I came across a page called  “35 + Books Everyone Lies about Having Read.”

It turns out there are waaaay more than thirty-five here, so apparently lying about numbers is a thing as well. OK, so it says “+” but when the list just keeps going with no apparent end, the “35” becomes  a little misleading. No worries, it was fun looking through them anyway, and I decided to share some because I wanted to chatter about them a little. Of course, when you see the list, you’ll understand why I had a limitation, which I decided to be fifteen. I also realized that if I chose titles I really loved, I’d end up with a list of books that would be little more than reading recommendations, with no added color, funny memories, poignant call backs or any of those associations that come with remembering the background behind books in your past.

I may do this again, but for now we’ll see where it takes us. I wonder what books on this list you all have read, and what memories they kick up?

And without further ado, the fifteen, with the titles I’ve read in green font~

To Kill a Mockingbird* (Harper Lee) † – I’ve heard people say it’s overrated. That may or may not be true, I only know that I read it in elementary school, and remember very little. I believe I was in sixth grade (I remember the classroom), and at that point in our lives I don’t think was too young to be teaching us about the book’s subject matter, so I’m wondering if the style didn’t really suit me. Or maybe I was just a lazy reader. In fourth grade we were required to summarize book reports on those giant index cards, and I recall at least one book I liked (The Cricket in Times Square), though toward the enterprise as a whole I must have been mostly indifferent, because I don’t recall any great love of picking up a book. In fifth grade The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe pretty much rocked my world, though I still have no recall for rushing home to be able to read (although Nancy Drew might have been at about that time). To be honest, I never really loved school itself until about seventh grade (or was it eighth?) English class, so while the message was important, I might have just been unready for the vehicle in which it was delivered.

Diary of a Young Girl* (Anne Frank) † – Eighth grade English class covered this book and its context in great measure. Our teacher was Jewish and when I look back at this time I marvel at how she was able to present all this as objectively as she did. It definitely played a role in my later choice (in high school) to choose World War II as my specific historical era of concentration (everyone had to choose one), and after graduation I continued to read oodles of books about it, complete with topics that shot off in many directions, including those such as Hans and Sophie Scholl, nucleus of an anti-Hitler group called the White Rose, who remain an inspiration to me today.

The Adventures of Tom Sawyer* (Mark Twain) Oh my gosh I love this book! I can still remember our seventh-grade English teacher beginning her discussion about this story, which I was sure I would hate, probably because I perceived it as a book for boys. She read most, or perhaps even all, of it aloud to us, doing the voices really well and inserting perfectly co-ordinated commentary at key moments. I didn’t love in Huckleberry Finn, quite so much, which really bummed me out because the love I had for Tom Sawyer was so unusual for me—as I said, I hadn’t been a great lover of books at that point.

 Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone (J.K. Rowling) Read it! Who hasn’t? Well, I know a lot of people aren’t into Harry, which I just don’t get. Who knows, maybe they say the same about my ideas re: vampires, but whatever the case, I have read and re-read this series multiple times, including just recently. I can still remember my sweet little Turtle dumpling at three years old, the day after we had gone out at midnight to collect the newest—I think it was the last book, and he was still excited about “livin’ life large,” being out so late the night before. He was sitting up on my bed, his adorable little legs stretched out in front of him and pleading with me, “Please, Mummy, please, can we speed up our reading lessons, I want to read this book by myself soooooo baaaaaad!” Heh heh, yeah, he called me “Mummy” back then. Not really sure why, but it was kinda cute.

Lord of the Flies (William Golding) – Heard of it, sounds boring, read the blurb, completely uninterested, change my mind.

Of Mice and Men (John Steinbeck) – This is the book set in the dustbowl era, is it not? Jeez, I’ll  feel really stupid if I’m wrong about that! I have no clue what it’s about but I do recall wanting to read it not too many years ago. Push me, somebody!

The Great Gatsby (F. Scott Fitzgerald) – Ohhhh, I own it but haven’t yet read it. Someone recommended it to me and in a recent re-read of Azar Nafisi’s Reading Lolita in Tehran she discusses going over it with her students. It doe sound a bit mid-century-ish, a time from when not many authors really grab my attention and it even seems rather dry. But I’m game for this particular one because the discussion amongst Nafisi’s students—whose fight for the freedom to discuss literature as mature adults made me weep, for their own situation and the idiotic descent my own country is engaging—brought to the fore angles that are at play today. I’ve never met Nafisi’s students, but I love them, and feel I owe it to them to read a book they fought to hard for their own right to read—a fight that may one day even favor our own similar struggle, brought on if we don’t start acting like adults once more, capable and willing to discuss challenging ideas.

The Scarlet Letter (Nathaniel Hawthorne)Oh gads, yeah. I believe it was sixth grade? I remember our teacher, Mrs. Smith, who had beautiful black and silver hair, and she was the first teacher who really made the effort to get students to be aware teachers were normal beings just like us. Sometimes she got tongue tied when she read aloud, but just kept going, which also cued us into the idea that, wow, teachers aren’t perfect creatures either! We loved her all the more for it. Anyway, in college I built up a beautiful collection of Hawthorne for my at-home library, though I no longer have them. Lost to a thief, sadly.

1984* (George Orwell)I remember watching the movie long after I had read the book, going into it thinking, “Really, I just remember a razor shortage. Nothing else.” If memory serves, they didn’t mention that in the film, but Julia had hairy armpits, which I guess was meant to hint at that tidbit. I wasn’t aware at the time of anything called dystopian fiction, and when I later learned what that genre was, it never really occurred to me to remember 1984 as under its umbrella. In fact, for a very long time I avoided it because, truth be told, it’s a little terrifying to contemplate living the lives some of these books depict.

The Lord of the Rings (J. R. R. Tolkien)Never read it, which surprises my son to no end, given how much I love Narnia. I fell asleep watching the first film and have had an instinctive aversion to it since then. He’s slowly working on talking me away from that, so we’ll see where this leads.

The BibleI’m embarrassed to confess I’ve never read the whole book cover to cover. Also, that some of it is so very dense I get discouraged. I don’t know all the history or culture of the different eras, either, so at times something indicative of some particular circumstance flies right over my head. I do try to read a little every day, though, and confess I get hung up reading John a lot. He’s my fave.

Catcher in the Rye* (J.D. Salinger)This story is an example of why we should give books a second chance, as I once hated it with a passion. Then I was shamed into re-reading it and, although it still didn’t get me super excited, I could appreciate it a lot more than I did when I first read it, which was in eighth grade.

Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (Lewis Carroll)I no longer recall what brought me to be as obsessed with Alice and Lewis Carroll as as I was in my young years. Nevertheless I love this book. I love this book. Did I mention how much I love this book? Was absolutely addicted to it and everything Alice as a child and, to a certain extent, still am. My poetry and even drawings I once did were heavily influenced by it. Carroll has lots of other offerings as well, so especially for those who only know about Alice, I highly recommend you check out his other work. There’s also a very fascinating book by Anne Clark, The Real Alice, that lays out the actual lives of the historical people, how they knew each other, what their relationships were like and how and where they got on in life. Totally not to miss. By the way, on a visit to New York City I saw a shop, whose name I forget, that is everything and anything Alice: of course tea sets, but also playing cards, stationary, bed sheets, backpacks, decorative boxes, dishes, shoelaces, tissues, scarves, hats, posters, lamps, tee shirts, puzzles, lockets, soft toys, dolls, pillows, mirrors, clocks, spoons, bookmarks, herbal teas, diaries, glasses, candles, make-up brushes, cake toppers, tapestries, stickers, socks, blankets, night lights and so much more that you could imagine!

Little Women (Louisa May Alcott)Avoided it for years. Why? Because I’m stupid, that’s why! I could probably have been talked into reading it but there were too many others before it on my list of “want to read.” Then I saw the movie a couple of years ago and realized what I’d been missing. I was instantly captured. I now own the book and it’s on my 2021 Reading Challenge list. I even want to sew little Little Women clothes for dolls and have collected a few Little Women themed books that my son jokes are really just fan fiction.

The Odyssey* (Homer)Not a great big fan of The Iliad, though it was ok. But when I got to The Odyssey I could barely stop reading. It is very thrilling and I know some of my poetry came from this. When my son was little he, like everyone else, loved to be told a story, and did make a request one day in the car. I told him the cyclops portion and he was so intrigued he wanted immediately to go to the library to find a book with more! It turned out Mary Pope Osborne did indeed have a kids’ edition of The Odyssey (abridged, perhaps; I don’t recall). I loved the translation even better than how I told it: for instance, when the other cyclops demand, “Who did this to you?” the blinded one says, “No man did this.” (I had said “nobody.”) “Well,” they conclude, “if no man did this, then it must be the gods’ doing and therefore is meant to be.” (or something like that – the point is the difference between “no man” and “no one/nobody”). I was so charmed by it!

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A Few of My Favorite Things

Lately for some reason I’ve encountered a lot of “What is your favorite ____?” questions. Possibly it is related to lockdown restlessness and trying to find our happy places. Or people could be trying to get to know each other more as individuals in this troubling time.

Whatever the case, it has raised some favorites questions for me, some absurdly easy to answer, others not so much. Some perhaps surprised me a bit because I don’t often think about them, or maybe never would have thought I might choose those answers.

Something nice about moving beyond the typical “favorite color” type questions (though these are still fun) is that we can learn more about ourselves and each other and transition into some really wonderful conversations.

Can you answer any of these questions? Which other questions would you ask?

Favorite lunchbox snack – Something crunchy – maybe crackers or celery with peanut butter.

The Miller’s Daughter by Anne Anderson, courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

Fairy tale – As a child I tended to return repeatedly to “Rapunzel,” “Rumplestiltskin” and “Hansl and Gretl.”

Game to play outside – Anything involving snow.

Childhood memory – How to choose!? A funny one is that I once told a friend, “I have another sister, you know.” She didn’t believe me, and challenged my claim. “Oh yeah? What’s her name?” She said it with that tone that usually accompanies what today we call the “neck action.” I answered, without hesitation, “Snow White.”

On the poignant side: I once had a dangerously high fever; probably I was two or three years old. My parents were instructed to  put me into a tub filled with ice water. I can still see the look on my father’s face as he carried me toward the tub: it was pained. I didn’t recognize it then, but now I see in it the fear, for me, how this would feel (not pleasant) and how he really didn’t want to do it. I have absolutely no memory of the experience, so I either blocked it out or he never went through with it.

Nursery rhyme – This one is recited while running circles with your fingertip in a child’s open palm: “Roond aboot, roond aboot, goes a wee moose, up a baht, up a baht, tae its wee hoose! (Round about, round about goes a wee mouse, up a bit up a bit to its wee house!) Toward the end you run your fingers, tickly, up the child’s arm and then tickle under their underarm. My mother used to do this.

Bird – Not a big fan of birds, but I do love ravens.

Continue reading “A Few of My Favorite Things”

Browsing Books: I Really Miss the Library Edition

“Our library looks like a castle,” Turtle would say when he was small. Above, the main branch as it appeared in his childhood. The impractical stairs, and the complete and open patio at the top, are now completely gone following renovation. William Seward, however, still maintains his watch over the main entry.

Like many places across the country, our public library system is functioning at limited capacity. When this whole mess got rolling, it did actually close for around two months, and I learned about it roughly 30 minutes before they locked the doors. At that time we ran to the library and went on a bit of a mad dash around, stocking up on books, music and movies we wouldn’t otherwise have gotten that day. We had entered in somewhat of a daze, but our departure was marked with adrenaline, supplied by librarians, and our own disbelief, reminding us that we wouldn’t be able to come back the next day: “Stock up!”

Some downplay various subjects, but records of them are a testament to the sense of history within past peoples; that we now know as much as we do on even those topics we take most for granted is nothing short of spectacular.

Now, eight months later, the libraries are still closed, though we can actually check materials out and return them again, thanks to the online system and computerized drop boxes. It’s not as magical as ambling lazily along the stacks, or even through them with deliberation, and for the most part you have to know what you want. Patrons can talk to librarians over the phone, but of course some human contact is lost, because chit chat isn’t really a thing with this setup. There’s no replacing the walk around a certain portion of wall to be able to swing by the desk and say, “Hey, just wanted to say thanks for helping me find that article” or, “So funny, we talked about calligraphy ink last time and look what I just found on the new arrivals shelf!”

I really miss our library.

When my son was about two, I was checking out books one day as he toddled back and forth behind me, along a wall and walkway area. The clerk casually looked over and said, “Wow, he has gotten so big!”

“Oh, you’ve, uh, seen this baby before?” I stammered.

What a great time we had with this book! Growling, rolling, counting, hiding and baking were just a few fun activities we played at under its influence.

“Well, yeah, you only bring him in every week since he was born!” I was really taken aback at that point, because I had no idea library staff might even notice such a thing. My attention, hyper focused on a really terrible time we were emerging from, noticed only the necessary. But it made me really happy to know there could be this sort of back and forth, beyond the casual greetings, authentic as they were.

Over the years, the library and its staff (at least the ones we came into contact with) became an integral part of my little son’s life; he was a reader from the get go and they treated him as if he was the most important patron there. He loved the reading contests, talked to staff about his interests, and one of the supervisors gifted him an Ernest Shackleton t-shirt she’d found in a thrift store. (We still have it.) And the twice-yearly library book sales, which my son used to replicate during his at-home play. Need I say more?

As a teen I was obsessed with Lewis Carroll and intrigued to learn so much about the family and world of the Alice who inspired his famous tale. I’ve ordered it from ILL a couple of times in a fit of nostalgia, and it still makes for fascinating reading.

I was delighted to experience an expansion in our excursions when Turtle wanted to start going to the satellite branches, two in particular. They are much smaller, but it was really fabulous to discover that their collections were just as quality as the main branch’s. Browsing through the stacks led me to such books as Butter: A Rich History or copies of Alexander McCall Smith’s latest book I hadn’t even known was published.

So, I can’t go into the library at the moment, and this may be why I seem to have so many books off my shelves recently. I have always had such stacks as my really-want-to-read-these-next pile, or the at-risk-of-forgetting-if-I-put-them-back-on-the-shelf mound. Just last night I finally sat on the sofa, my gaze moving over the multiple small heaps of books and decided they really do need to be arranged in a way less cluttered, more organized. Becoming overwhelmed would never do.

A number of themes present themselves in Rikki-Tikki-Tavi, and Turtle and I discussed many of them over the years. He often re-enacted scenes by himself or with friends, as children do as a means to better understand their world.

Naturally I browsed as I went along. Perhaps it’s just my grownup version of playing library, separating as I did, into various piles by subject, library or mine, read now or later, take to my room or keep here. It was not unlike the manner in which I stroll through the shelves at the library, and I stopped, memories such as the above and others flooding my mind. The Runaway Pancake, for instance, came with a CD of the author reading to an audience of children. Turtle was enamored of Rikki-Tikki-Tavi and, even as a very small boy, used to recite, “Move, and I strike. Don’t move, and I strike” in a voice he made as menacing as he could, to match that of the wicked she-snake, Nagaina.

I first read A Noble Treason just a couple of years out of high school and promised myself I’d read it annually so I never forgot what the Geschwister Scholl et al. sacrificed, not just for German society, but indeed all. They died in order to preserve humanity’s right to the rich, dazzling beauty of ordinary life.

These moments with my boy, now a teenager, seem like just yesterday, but the day the library shut down—eight months have passed and it seems like so long ago. Neither timeline, really, how it should be. Children grow way too fast and libraries, once one of the pleasantries that filled themselves into many spots within those years, have simply stopped. In a way we still haven’t emerged from the library daze we were cocooned in as we walked out the door that day last March, and saying the words out loud—“We are approaching a year since we’ve been in the library”—only contributes to our continuing disbelief. Sure, administrators try to transition at least some programs into online versions of what they once were, but the truth is that libraries are living, breathing places because they are occupied by people who bring the home of stories—our stories, those of our ancestors and all the good and evil they faced, what they created and all that resulted from their massive curiosity—they bring this home of the world’s stories to further life, knowing that they already beckoned us to their circles, knowing we are programmed, in our very DNA, to want to hear the tales they long to tell us. Stories are living, breathing things, they are in our bones and we nourish each other.

Long may it be.

It’s been awhile, but you can check out the last edition
our my Browsing Books series here

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Sometimes it’s the Little Things

I’m sure I’m not alone in looking back on this past month with mixed feelings: glad to be moving away from it, but harboring misgivings about not having been as productive as I’d hoped. I do, after all, have a book to finish writing and had begun to do art journaling, though haven’t really completed much. Really, I ask myself on occasion, what in the world have you been doing?

But accomplishments aren’t always tangible, and the most important one these few weeks has been spending time with my teenage son, who has been engaging his film passion, most lately with watching the Harry Potter series. Having grown up reading and watching the tales, he stumbled into a long session of film-clip clowning, imitating the scenes and playing pretend. Eventually, our separate existences—mine being the one allowed to leave for work each day, but strangely exhausted at night—these existences merged and we went from “I want to see that clip real quick” to watching the entire series from start to finish. We’ve both also decided to re-read all the books. You could say we are on the same page.

U.S. edition cover of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone.

Early this morning: I’d gone to sleep at about midnight but restlessness drove me to the kitchen by around 05:00. On the way I was gifted with a picture of the sun rising over the mountains. My Turtle had been watching it from the window and, struck by the orange beginning to peek over the mountains, wanted me to be able to see it as well. As it happened I came up behind him as he watched, so we both got to see the real thing.

Not as orange and glorious as reality, but perhaps you can imagine the edge between day and night.

Last week at work our section chief passed me a little packet that at first I took to be some sort of booklet I needed to do something with, but that actually turned out to be a present with a book inside. Surprising, to say the least, but that was nothing compared to my astonishment at the card, signed by everyone not telecommuting. How did they get this around to each other without me noticing? As I looked through The Bucket List: 1000 Adventures Big and Small, I sort of got stuck on one image of Norway’s Kjerag Mountain, more specifically a boulder wedged into the seemingly bottomless crevice. There is a lot more to see in the beautifully heavy book, with its snippets of information about 999 other places across the globe, a true starting point for armchair or other adventure.

Personal photo from one of the world’s most recognizable spots, included, of course, in The Bucket List.

At some point this week I was able to get everything up off the floor in my dining room and the carpet cleaned properly. It looked so beautiful and clear, which means a lot to me, given that when my surroundings are cluttered and chaotic, my mind tends to have difficulty escaping that. If the area is clear and organized, my focus is much improved. The clarity inspired me to take up my son’s offer to help  me move a bookshelf out of a spot I disliked any bookshelf in because it was a smaller area and the space used up simply shrunk everything too much. For better or worse, this meant I had to choose a fair amount of books to pack away, but he offered space in his closet, which meant I could get to the boxes fairly easily at any time, unlike other situations in which it would have been a big production and they would be, for all intents and purposes, off limits.

My newly rearranged smaller bookshelf, with a variety of categories: some previous review titles, a few classics, history and, at bottom, the paper lovers’ magazines I’ve spoken of before, most of which focus on a mindfulness theme. A deliberate choice I made, despite its consequence of less space for books, was to place items, such as the basket and Russian bowl, in its own space. This was to avoid clutter and a feeling of being bloated and overpacked. For me, this promotes a sense of relaxation and ease.

As we move into the newly developing world we are to inhabit, I do it with a sense of clean lines in life, having shed some extra weight, albeit not, as has happened in the past, a ruthless purge. My son had “consoled” me with the the reminder that at any time I want to switch books out or retrieve any, I can. Ah, yes, I do still hang on to some of the material: I am getting rid of a beautiful bookshelf, but continue to find it difficult to release books. Still, it suits, especially as I am laying out ideas to prepare my long-unused deck for summertime, and I try to retain a balance within my home, that is, keeping with a bring-it-in, send-it-out equilibrium.

While I haven’t finished much on anything that might qualify as a quarantine masterpiece, I did pave my way toward something I dream of accomplishing, and the pathway was a bit more delightful than had I traveled a hard road of focused determination. Memories and the creation thereof have been woven into each moment, even the really difficult ones, and sharing them is the best way I could have done this.

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Pictures ©2020 Lisl Zlitni. Not to be used without permission.

My Tottering TBR: Mindfulness and Magazines

When we go to the bookstore, my son and I, we kind of camp out. Sometimes I bring the laptop and my writing notebook, or I may carry along a few books and a notepad. He brings very little (“Mom, we’re going to a bookstore”). We find a spot to settle in—café or sofas—and take turns wandering, then go back to browse our finds and make our selections. This can take hours.

I meandered along the walls filled with periodicals. I wasn’t terrifically interested in roaming on this night, but wanted movement and thought that taking in some magazine elements—easy browsing was my rationale—might satisfy this as well as settle down the activity in my brain. Flipping through brightly colored pages and examining images might settle me down a bit.

What I found actually did settle my mind a bit, though activated it in another direction.

Flow: Mindfulness (English Edition)

All about mindfulness for beginners, the advanced and the curious.

Printed in the Netherlands, this journal is both a sensory delight as well as an exercise for the mind. It’s chunky, owing to the inclusion of “paper goodies”: this time a small one-thought-a-day diary; picture cards to record insights gained while reading the book; perforated notecards “for your beautiful moments jar”; a fold-out page for use in creating a collage; and a “Joy of One Thing at a Time” notebook. The magazine dedicates itself to the discussion and spread of ideas for thoughtful, creative living, slowing down the pace and living right now as opposed to speedily looking ahead at what you have to hurriedly do next. Astrid and Irene lay it out in their editors’ note and it reminds me greatly of a book I read years ago, In Praise of Slow, about a movement that began with food (what else!) and extended to other realms of life.

[Flow Mindfulness cover image to be replaced]

I love the concept, though I wonder at times if my multiple abandoned efforts to live this sort of lifestyle count toward real experience of it. It’s hypothetical, really, I don’t need an answer because either way, I still aspire to it. About two years ago I made a conscious effort to take things such as to-do lists slow and steady, and for a number of months it flowed quite nicely. I no longer recall what made me go off track, but won’t dwell on it. I have another chance, and in fact, a few weeks ago stepped down from a position I enjoyed but that took way too much time from my family. I was gobsmacked to find how little I was on the computer since then, and the greater amount of time I spend with my son actually carries the reward of an increased feeling of joy at being able to do things together–together.

The magazine feels great in my hands, contains articles and recipes, beautiful colors, designs and fonts and validates anybody who longs for and/or has taken steps to simplify and slow down their lives. It’s also rather expensive, and I struggled with whether to buy it. As I sat at the café table I could hear pessimistic voices admonishing me for financial support of overpriced periodicals filled with images created to draw me in just to grab my money. Indeed, I’ve never spent $24.99 for a magazine before in my whole life, and to me that’s a lot. I don’t even love to shell out that much on a book.

On the flip side, it is imported, is translated into English and probably costs a tidy sum to produce. I haven’t yet found anything resembling a masthead, so am unable to get much information about it along those lines. (However, I did find they have a fantastic website with some of that, plus much more.) Moreover, I believe in capitalism and the freedom to create one’s own success, and would like to support that, especially as it can have such a positive impact on others.

Ultimately I chose to see it as an investment because if I can stick with the endeavor, the guidance not only can validate my own already-in-progress efforts, but also positively affect the rest of my life, and in turn at least portions of others’. Moreover, knowing there are others who share some of my ideals—

Flow is all about positive psychology, mindfulness, creativity and the beauty of imperfection.

—is more likely to help keep me on track. That baby came home with me.

Here are another couple of journals I saw that really intrigued me:

Willow and Sage: Homemade Bath & Body

[Willow and Sage cover image to be replaced]

Unlike the previous magazine, I was able to determine that it is current (Autumn 2015), plus it hails from California so though it’s also a tad pricey ($14.99), not quite as much. And while there are some similarities, it’s a completely different journal, one dedicated to, as its title suggests, bed and bath products you can make at home.

My son laughed a bit, asking if I am becoming “almost Amish” (after a book I’ve been reading with similar endeavors) or a hippie. The answer is: nope. These are along the lines of projects we’ve done before, such as making our own paper or re-purposing/re-designing books, and ones I’ve mentioned many times that I’ve wanted to try, but never did (lacked discipline, time, energy, etc.). I reminded him that the food we create together is not much different: rather than buying noodles, for example, when preparing for winter I make a jar full of hlalems. My fascination with the Middle Ages also plays into this interest.

This magazine is perfect for, amongst others, people who collect odd bits of twine, material, containers and so on. You can use some food items to make your goodies and wrap it in a way that conjures up olden times or still in some countries or areas—I so loved when books were wrapped up in the Prag bookshop I visited, rather than put in a bag. Some boxes or containers practically beg you to re-purpose them, such as one of the magazine’s recipes for body balm does for an empty Altoids tin. I’ve always enjoyed a lovely presentation and maintain a habit of hanging onto beautiful ribbons or fancy jars, even if I’m not exactly sure what to do with them at the moment. I just know I so often can’t bear to throw certain pieces away.

I also love it that many of the recipes are accompanied by websites with more that might interest, and the directions are laid out in a way that doesn’t overwhelm. The projects range from the utterly simple (mint leaves inside ice cubes) to more complicated (“birthday bouquet candles”—oversized homemade candles in a circular tin). Also: I’ve seen so many items at garage sales (for pennies, literally) that can be used to create such gorgeous gifts or items to contribute to a beautiful, tranquil home, and many are simply bits and bobs that can be saved in a small area for projects such as these.

[Daphne’s Diary cover image to be replaced]

Daphne’s Diary

This one didn’t leave with me, largely because I had to limit my costs, plus it didn’t come as close to home—my personal interests and favorites—as the others, but it remains on my mind.

Interior * Garden * Vintage* Workshops * Recipes * Outings & Trips * Shopping

Most of these are topics that likely would contain projects or endeavors to inspire me to do them or give me ideas for my take on what they’ve accomplished. There were a couple of articles for projects I’m not terribly interested in, such as shabby chic and converting two chairs into a bench. I’m currently working on transitioning a girl’s bureau to a buffet and it’s taken a lot more time and effort (not to mention patience) than I ever dreamed. In the end that may turn out to be good for me, but in the meantime, I’ve got my hands full. However, this is just one issue and it has made its way to my TBR, to where I can return and check it out again.

My TBR is rather happy.

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