Tuesday, July 27, 2010

If I Had My Life to Live Over

I ran across this short essay in an anthology of women writers, which took its name from the essay title.  I've read various versions of this before, but this particular manifestation is attributed to Nadine Stair, who penned it at the age of 85.

Her words resonate with me, and I wanted to share them with you, whether you've heard something similar before or not.

If I Had My Life to Live Over
by Nadine Stair

I'd dare to make more mistakes next time.  I'd relax, I would limber up.  I would be sillier than I have been on this trip.  I would take fewer things seriously.  I would take more chances.  I would climb more mountains and swim more rivers.  I would eat more ice cream and less beans.  I would perhaps have more actual troubles, but I'd have fewer imaginary ones.

You see, I'm one of those people who live sensibly and sanely hour after hour, day after day.  Oh, I've had my moments, and if I had it to do over again, I'd have more of them.  In fact, I'd try t have nothing else.  Just moments, one after another, instead of living so many years ahead of each day.  I've been one of those persons who never goes anywhere without a thermometer, a hot water botle, a raincoat and a parachute.  If I had to do it again, I would travel lighter than I have.

If I had my life to live over, I would start barefoot earlier in the spring and stay that way later in the fall.  I would go to more dances.  I would ride more merry-go-rounds.  I would pick more daisies.

Since I've not reached the grand age of 85 yet, I feel like it's not too late for me to take her advice.  In fact, during our time in Maine, I do tend to live moment to moment.  We have a very loose schedule here, and I revel in our free time.  If you've read any of my Weekly Wrap-Ups, you know that's true.  And while I don't espouse a completely hedonistic lifestyle, I still aim to enjoy the world while I'm still in it.  Enjoying the party is a very real way to live out praise and gratitude to God.

And you?  What have you done to better savor the life you've been given?  Or are you inspired to test the waters?

Here are some photos I took recently with Miss Priss's camera, which uploads with no problems.  (So I'm guessing it's my camera that has the issue.)

I filled the feeder up two days ago (as seen here), and it is now empty!

The view from my deck.  It's quite breezy today -- the lake has whitecaps like the ocean!

A close-up of my snowball bush.  It's covered in huge blooms.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Weekly Wrap-Up: Summer Pursuits (and a Few Educational Things)

Since we're not starting school for almost a month, we are still wallowing in summer delights.  This week was lovely.  The girls and I visited a local organic farm stand and purchased beet greens, cucumber, squash, zucchini, red potatoes, eggs, carrots, and raspberries.  We feasted that night at supper.  (I scarfed most of the raspberries on the drive home from the farm.)  The eggs are lovely, all shades of brown and tan, and a few were speckled.  I took some lovely photos, but I'm having technical difficulties uploading photos from my camera to my laptop.

The girls are still enjoying helping out with story time at our town's library.  And we are all reading gobs.  In fact, you can read my latest book reviews here.  (For more reviews, click on the Reviews tab on the right-hand side of this page.)

We have managed, finally, to add a few curriculum readings to our days.  We thoroughly enjoyed Good Queen Bess: The Story of Elizabeth I, by Diane Stanley and Peter Vennema; it is very well done. This is not surprising, given the awards it has won, including ALA Notable Book, Boston Globe/Horn Book Honor Book, and American Bookseller Pick of the Lists.  We are in the midst of The Bard of Avon, which is by the same authors.  We heartily recommend both.

Another highlight of the week: the girls practiced and performed a dance “recital” for an audience of two: their mother (me) and their dog (Jasper).  My sisters and I used to do the same kind of thing when we were young.  We also went shopping in Bangor yesterday, a small city that boasts a mall and other shopping opportunities, for a change of scenery.

As I've mentioned above, I’ve taken some nifty photos but can’t upload them from my camera to my laptop, something that worked swimmingly last year but not this year. I attach the cable and then my camera just blinks at me, annoyingly. It’s a conundrum.

And I can't get enough of watching the hummingbirds at my feeder that I hung in the herb garden, just outside the kitchen window.  The distinctive buzzing sound of their wings and the squeaky sound of their "call" pulls me to the window to watch every time.  Instead of buying mix this year, I just make my own sugar syrup.  I can I just say that, for very tiny beings, they eat a LOT.

This afternoon, Tiny Girl has her first riding lesson, to which we are looking forward.  It's been a few weeks since she was in the saddle, so we'll see how she does!

Next week, I'm going to sit down with my school plans and give them a good going-over.  Really, I will.  I'm ready to be excited again about our educational pursuits.  As lovely as summer is, it can't last forever, can it?  And if it did, it wouldn't be nearly as sublime.

She Is Too Fond of Books: What I've Been Reading

The Little Stranger, by Sarah Waters, is purported to be "a classic gothic page-turner" (USA Today).  I enjoy a good ghost story, and, frankly, this is not one, despite the many accolades to the contrary. There are enjoyable elements; Waters creates a wonderfully gloomy atmosphere, and the characters are well sketched. But as a reader, I found the ending problematic. There is no denoument; there is no satisfactory conclusion. Is there a supernatural element at Hundreds Hall? Or were any questionable events merely the result of familial psychiatric problems? The story ends with more questions than answers. As a writer (wannabe), I can appreciate Waters’s gift for crafting such a narrative, one with no easy answers; but as a reader, I found the lack of resolution irritating.  If these minor annoyances don't trouble you, give it a read for the atmosphere of "quiet dread," as one reviewer put it.  Those aspects of the novel will certainly not disappoint.  Okay.

Special thanks to Jeanne for recommending The Elegance of the Hedgehog, by Muriel Barbery and translated from French by Alison Anderson. I loved this book for a number of reasons. First off, the prose is nothing but elegance itself. Barbery has mastered the turn of the phrase. And I loved the quirky cast of characters, especially the two protagonists, Paloma and Renee, whose philosophical ruminations illuminate the narrative. Renee, a largely self-educated concierge, hides her true self behind a stereotypical concierge caricature. Paloma, a twelve-year-old genius who’s decided life is not worth living, hides from the world in more ways than one.

I admit that many of Renee’s essays, the one on phenomenology, for example, waft lazily far above my head. I have not read Husserl, Marx, or Proust. I am woefully ignorant of much of Tolstoy (I know -- shocking! I must give Anna Karenina another go). But I still enjoyed Renee’s musings, explanations, and perspectives regardless. And she and I are of the same mind about both tea and proper grammar, the latter of which she insists is an element of Beauty. Allow me to quote from the book, at a point in the story when Renee receives a note containing an offensive comma splice:

“The gifts of fate come with a price. For those who have been favored by life’s indulgence, rigorous respect in matters of beauty is a non-negotiable requirement. Language is a bountiful gift and its usage, an elaboration of community and society, is a sacred work. Language and usage evolve ove time: elements change, are forgotten or reborn, and while there are instances where transgression can become the source of an even greater wealth, this does not alter the fact that to be entitled to the liberties of playfulness or enlightened misusage when using language, one must first and foremost have sworn one’s total allegiance. Society’s elect, those whom fate has spared from the servitude that is the lot of the poor, must, consequently, shoulder the double burden of worshipping and respecting the splendors of language. Finally, [her] misuse of punctuation constitutes an instance of blasphemy that is all the more insidious when one considers that there are marvelous poets born in stinking caravans or high-rise slums who do have for beauty the sacred respect that it is so rightfully owed.
To the rich, therefore, falls the burden of Beauty. And if they cannot assume it, then they deserve to die.”

I laughed out loud.

And Paloma’s frighteningly astute analysis of the people around her is both humorous and caustic. Here’s but one example: “When I think they call these people the elite. . . The only difference I can see between Colombe, Tibere, their friends and a gang of “working-class” kids is that my sister and her chums are stupider.” Moreover, I found heart-wrenching her attempts to find meaning in life. She struggles so desperately to look for reasons to live, and at one point she says, “Live, or die: mere consequences of what you have built. What matters is building well.”

Amid Renee’s and Paloma’s philosophical reflections are woven tantalizing elements of intrigue and surprise that work to advance the plot. Specifically mysterious is the arrival of Ozu, a wealthy Japanese man who moves into their building. Can Ozu see in Paloma and Renee what the rest of the world cannot and what they both wish to remain secret?

While I truly enjoyed this unusual book, I also recognize that it is not for everyone. The text is very French; there is much discourse about Art and Beauty, much philosophizing. I like that kind of thing. I also like the zing of unexpected humor that jumps out at you where you least expect to find it, and this book delivers.  Highly recommended.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Weekly Wrap-Up: Quiet Pursuits

But isn't that the beauty of summertime, I ask you?

I almost didn't post a Weekly Wrap-Up this week because this past week was much like last week.  Lots of reading and relaxation.  Unlike many of you, I have not begun to think about school yet (much).  I already have some plans done, which I completed in June before we left home, but there is a bit more to do.  However, I'm not planning for us to start until mid August, so there is still "plenty of time."  Famous last words, eh?

Himself arrives this evening after a 10-day absence.  We are all looking forward to seeing him!

The boat is back from the shop and all better (fingers crossed).  We'll be doing a lot of boating this weekend.  Tiny Girl is anxious to try skiing again.  When Himself is with us, life is less quiet and full of excitement.

I've done a bit of gardening.  I divided my daylilies and transplanted a few.  We'll see what happens with those.  Some herb plants I ordered arrived yesterday, and I planted them in my herb garden.  Now I have lemon balm, lemon thyme, mint, lavender, common sage, pineapple sage, basil, and oregano.

Right now, I am reading and loving Northanger Abbey, by Jane Austen.  I hadn't read it before (thanks to my darling friend, Val, for loaning it to me for my trip north!), and it is a real treat.  More later, when I write a proper review.

We've also been listening to Focus on the Family's Radio Theatre productions of C. S. Lewis's Chronicles of Narnia.  They are excellent.  We've listened to The Magician's NephewThe Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe; The Horse and His Boy; and, now, Prince Caspian.  I highly recommend this CD series.

Here's to summer!

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

She Is Too Fond of Books: My Latest Reads

I just finished an excellent book yesterday and wanted to pass along the recommendation.  A Northern Light, by Jennifer Donnelly, is technically a YA novel, but I'm not one to be bothered by such gross distinctions.  Some books transcend their ascribed boundaries, as this is a shining example of such.

Set in the Adirondacks in 1906, the narrative dances around a true incident, the murder of a young woman, named Grace Brown, at a North Woods hotel. The protagonist, Mattie Gokey, who works at the hotel, has a brief encounter with the young woman before she disappears.  Burdened with her own losses and responsibilities, Mattie puts the woman's request from her mind until circumstances force her to face the meaning of promises made and the meaning and purpose of her own life.

This simply told tale is stunningly evocative, and the prose, while not minimalist in any way, sparkles quietly with life.  Moreover, Donnelly's understanding of the area's vernacular and its people is pitch-perfect without being condescending or unnecessarily vulgar, as can sometimes be the case.  I also enjoyed the plot's structure, which moves back and forth in time, raising questions about plot points and then neatly answering them as the story unwinds.  It takes a careful author to weave together numerous threads into a cohesive and smooth fabric, and Donnelly's skill is consummate.  Absolutely marvelous.

I've also recently finished The Caxley Chronicles, a collection of two novels by Miss Read, one of my favorites, as you well know.  These were as wonderful as I'd expected; in fact, I found them to be more complex than some of her other titles, with more attention paid to relationships and how they develop over the years.  Highly recommended.

Last week, I finished Loitering with Intent, a Muriel Spark novel.  This was entertaining, especially since Spark's peppery wit is very much in evidence.  But I have to say I did not enjoy it as much as I did A Far Cry from Kensington.  I wouldn't recommend it as a first exposure to Spark.  For her fans, though, it's worth a read.  So: recommended with a caveat.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Weekly Wrap-Up: Fun and Relaxation

It's been hot here in Maine, and we have no AC. So the fans have been blowing all over.

The girls and even I have been swimming in the lake.  The boat is back in the shop.  Again.  Fingers crossed it finally gets fixed!

Before the boat fell ill, we had friends over and went tubing.  Tiny Girl also sort of learned to waterski.  Her last time out, she stayed up about 10 seconds before she fell.  By the end of summer, she'll really catch on.

Jasper loves playing with the other neighbor dogs.  They are not here everyday, much to his consternation, but when they are, it's a party.  He also likes the water and swims quite a bit.

We've also been reading quite a bit.  The library here in town has a reading program going on, and the girls are participating in it.  I'll post some reviews next week.

My plan for doing some school work, you know, keep up the skills, etc., has crumbled to dust.  We've just been havng a great time resting, relaxing, reading, and playing.  Maybe soon, we'll do some actual work.  Then again, maybe not!

In the Company of Women Writers

The other day, I had to take four loads of laundry to the laundromat in town (we have a rust issue we're trying to resolve at home and I'm sick of ruining perfectly good clothes with rust stains, hence the laundromat visit).  While waiting for the clothes to wash, I thumbed through an old issue of Down East magazine (THE magazine of Maine, so they say) and ran across a short article about a writing collection at the University of New England in Portland, the Maine Women Writers Collection.

I was immediately intrigued.  In graduate school, I did quite a bit of research on women's writings (most very early British writers), and I am especially enthralled with their private, unpublished writings.  In fact, I'd like to do more research in that vein.  Whenever I have a few free minutes.

This collection houses more than 6000 volumes of works, but also includes "correspondence, photographs, personal papers, manuscripts, typescripts, artifacts, and audiorecordings that provide insight into the lives and writing of both well-known and obscure authors."  Of particular interest to someone like me are the "unpublished materials (such as) travel journals, diaries, correspondence, photographs, manuscripts, artwork, material culture, memorabilia, artists' books, and children's literature."  That these women over the centuries took the time and effort to record their thoughts, experiences, opinions, and imaginings, most without a thought of publishing amazes me.  And their writings give us a vivid look at life in their times.

Consider Laurel Thatcher Ulrich's Pulitzer-prize winning A Midwife's Tale: The Life of Martha Ballard, Based on Her Diary, 1785-1812, which details Mrs. Ballard's life and work experiences in Maine.  Not merely a presentation of Ballard's diary, the book also includes Dr. Ulrich's exegesis of the manuscript.  Since it's a scholarly work of social history and not a novel, the book reads as such; don't expect a Philippa Gregory-type work set in New England.  I found it fascinating.

It seems to me that we women blogographers (thanks, Jamie, at See Jamie Blog, for that wonderful term!) are following in the footsteps of women who went before us.  Our blogs are our diaries, our thoughts, our opinions, and our imaginings; but we differ in that we are fortunate enough to be able to fling them out in the universe for others to read, comment on, think about, and either accept or reject or mold to fit their own perceptions.  We are not constricted by social mores, nor are we stifled by an overwhelmed and restrictive publishing industry.  Blogging is open to all.  What a blessing and privilege.

Sarah Orne Jewett, one of the women writers highlighted in the Maine Women Writers Collection, penned:  "The thing that teases the mind over and over for years, and at last gets itself put down rightly on paper -- whether little or great, it belongs to Literature."  That is certainly so for women of her generation and earlier; for us, all we need is access to a computer and some thoughts, and not necessarily those thoughts that have "teased our minds for years," either.

The common denominator, then, besides a burning desire to write, between us and our writing forbears is time.  They made time to write, whether for themselves, their families and friends, or a wider audience.  We make time now.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Something Like a Prayer

So here we are.  Himself is back down south as of yesterday, and it's just the girls, Jasper, and me.  (The mouse, we believe, has vacated the premises.)  This last week, we've been visiting folks and had friends visit us.  We've been tubing, skiing, swimming, eating, and enjoying a whirlwind of conviviality.  It's been wonderful.

But it would also be wonderful to ease into a quieter lifestyle for a while, the one I crave.

Last night I had a glimpse of it.  A bit after eleven, I took Jasper outside for his last "necessary," and he decided he wanted a bit of a constitutional.  We made our way down the lawn to the lake.

It was a very still night.  The lake was big, dark, and silent, with barely a ripple.  There was no moon, but there were stars, glorious stars, thousands more than I can see at home.  Jasper and I tread carefully out on the dock for a better look.

Utter stillness.  And millions of points of light in a sea of black.

I finally felt something loosening inside, a knot of tension unraveling, a breath releasing, which I wasn't aware I'd been holding.  It felt like a prayer.

After a few moments, I went back to the cabin, Jasper at my side, with joy in my heart.