Tuesday, October 06, 2015

Seasonal labors and colors

In my feeble, inconsistent attempt to habituate some writing, I'll narrate some pictures I took on this  mid-morning October walk.


Last week, I raked and picked up about 100 pounds of fallen walnuts. I considered it exercise on a beautiful day, the first sunny one in almost a week and the last one for a week. It was exercise, though felt more like terrible punishment that lasted for several days. So, I'll reverse those effects in this next cleanup and spread it over several days instead. The rain and wind during the past week brought down most of the walnuts, but a few remain. Those on the ground now, though, are more than last week's cleanup. 

The black walnuts from this tree are of poor quality , so I feel no loss at discarding these to compost.


The walnut tree does create a mess in the fall, and even in the spring from its sap if someone parks a car under it. But the shape and shade of the tree, its branches and beautiful green leaves make it a tree to keep.


On down our driveway are a couple of persimmon trees. They sure stand like unruly and unkempt children! And their fruit usually doesn't appear visible until the wind blows off some of the leaves.

And then all of a sudden I'm surprised by the brilliant red berries of the dogwood which look like they promise an abundant spring bud-burst. leaves.

 The colors of autumn were particularly vivid today . . . . oranges, reds, purples, lavenders. . . . and the leaves have just begun to show signs of the change. With all the rain we got and the cool nights, this year's color change should be a good one.

Friday, August 28, 2015

Autumn Reading Challenge 2015

We are within days of the beginning of a new seasonal reading challenge, and I'm really excited about a new stack of books -- newly pulled off my shelves, that is. I'm amazed at how quickly these past three months of the summer challenge have gone. If these next three months scoot by as quickly, we'll be looking smack-in-the-face of December. That's hard to believe as I sit now by the rolling surf and sea breeze during the last day of my last beach trip of the year. 

As I did for the summer challenge, I took a picture of my anticipated reading for Autumn Reading Challenge 2015 and have commented on each of the books below. Feel free to join the few of us binding together in this challenge with no rules. Just leave a comment and I'll get in touch with you. It's just interesting to see what other like-minded friends are reading, to engage in some back-and-forth about particular books, and to pick up ideas for future reading. I think it's also interesting to see how others have arrived at their book decisions. 

With that, below are my comments about the books I plan to read over the next three months.

The Awakening of Miss Prim (Fennolera). After Jennifer's comment ("It's an absolutely delicious book. Classical education, community, cocoa, and cookies. It's perfection. Go read it!") and a quick check at PaperBackSwap to see that I would have to wait longer than I wanted, I found a used copy. Anticipating this when we build our first woodstove fire.

An Ordinary Woman's Extraordinary Faith (St. John). This has been on my shelf for many years, and I've always intended to get to it, so this is the plan this fall. The first St. John book I read was Star of Light, and it was thrilling.

The Secret of Sarah Revere and Cast Two Shadows (Rinaldi). Two juvenile (young adult) historical fictions by one of my favorite authors. These two both take place during the American Revolution, one in the north, one in the south.

Olive Kitterage (Strout). I listened to an audio (The End of Your Life Book Club) which talked about this book a good bit. Then my sister told me she'd read it several years ago.

Crusade (Laird). Another one that I've been trying to find time to work in. I had gotten this for my classroom library, and one student fell in love with it, re-reading it several times. Time to put this one in my reading life.

Quench the Lamp and The Village (Taylor). I'm working my way through Taylor's books that I've accumulated before moving them on. She writes about life in County Cork, Ireland when she was growing up.

The Old Man and the Boy (Ruark). Set in the early '50s in North Carolina, this book is largely autobiographical and first published in Field and Stream magazine. I'm not sure how I came to it, but it seems Pat Conroy had something to do with it . . . . Maybe, maybe not.

Hershey (DeAntonio). Every time I visit my sister who lives quite close to Hershey, PA, and I see, sitting up on the hill overlooking Hershey Park, the huge Milton Hershey School, the world's largest and wealthiest private boarding school for needy children. I am reminded again to read this book.

And finally (it's about time!), Beach Music (Conroy). I've not read several of his larger tomes and hope to enjoy this one during this challenge.

This is quite an ambitious list for me, but I need to push myself a little and certainly have the time to do that. After our two week Canadian trip in September (which will probably only allow for me to read some of the juvenile historical fictions), I hope things will be quiet and allow indulgent time for reading.

Share your lists of want-to's and join the no-rules 2015 Autumn Reading Challenge. If you are on Facebook, we have a comment and discussion group you might be interested in. More info about that on request.

Saturday, May 02, 2015

My Reading Life: Bee Season

I came across Bee Season in one of those if-you-liked-this-then-you-will-probably-like-this suggestions from either Amazon or PaperBackSwap. Since I like things associated with spelling bees and a small share of juvenile fiction, I mentally grouped this book into an Akeelah the Bee category. Wrong. Wrong. Wrong.

Yes, it does have to do with a spelling bee. But that's only one of several threads that attempt to weave this story together, and it is not in the least like the Akeelah story.

Where I was way errant was assuming this was juvenile fiction. As I read the first several mentions of intimacy, I thought either things have *really* changed in juvenile fiction, or this isn't JF. It's the latter; I had to look it up to make sure, and it's listed as adult fiction. Then I thought back to what I'd read so far and couldn't wrap my head around why anyone would enjoy this story as adult fiction anyway. To each his own, I guess.

As I said, there are several threads that the author attempts to weave together (at least I suppose she intended to weave them), but in my reader-opinion, the weave is as dysfunctional as this family is.

I almost gave up and threw it in my abandoned category but decided to push on and through and be done. So glad I've not wasted any more time on it. There's even a movie based on the book which I have *no* plans to see. I've already put this back up on PaperBackSwap to move on, but having seen there are over two hundred copies available, I'd say my copy will go to Goodwill.

Several quotes did catch my eye but I wanted to finish so badly that I didn't mark but one (and that was when I still had hope for this story). The only one I saved:

"Consonants are the camels of language,
proudly carrying their lingual loads.
Vowels, however, are a different species,
the fish that flash and glisten in the watery depths.
Vowels are elastic and inconstant,
fickle and unfaithful."


Friday, April 10, 2015

The movie that got ahead of the book

With all the books filling my shelves, why, oh, why should I be exasperated that I accidentally watched the movie before reading the book? But I am.

The other night, my good man loaded A Green Journey found on Netflix. I raised an eyebrow in my mind at his selection -- one that is not common with him; maybe it was because of Ireland, I just really don't know and didn't object at all. We thoroughly enjoyed this little ninety-five minute family-friendly film. Angela Lansbury plays the lead role perfectly.


Nothing rang a bell with the title of that film until this morning. While shelving some books I saw A Green Journey on the shelf and had a rather sinking feeling. I suppose only a booklover can empathize. Yes, the movie was from the book. Although books are most always better, it's done; I'll move that book onto someone else. I did, however look up Jon Hassler and found that readers really like him. So, I found a one available at PaperBackSwap -- Grand Opening--, and put some others on my wish list: Staggerford, Dear James, and North of Hope.

Thursday, April 09, 2015

Plowing through

 One thing I can say about this Spring Reading Challenge: I've been intentional. Yessiree. Although I have plenty of time that I can take to read, I do also have to maintain the house and kitchen and all things attached thereunto. Granted, there have been times I could have finished a minor project or completed a cleaning task, yet I have chosen to read beside doing some of those tasks. It's been cool and inside weather until lately, perfect for this reading life.

My self-imposed Spring Reading Challenge stack started out rather ambitiously with one especially large chunker, Gone With the Wind (Mitchell). Unbroken (Hillenbrand) was not far behind. But I plowed through both books much quicker than I anticipated.

I started the SRC the first of March with A Week in Winter (Binchy) which was my first Binchy and a delightful, enjoyable read. As with most books, I usually become quite curious about the author and learned that Binchy died only a short time after finishing this book. So her last book as an author was my first book as her reader. It was enjoyable enough to decide to read some more of her books scattered over the next couple of years. They are all set in modern Ireland and perfect light reading between heavier works or as a beach / vacation read. Following Binchy, I knew I had to delve into Gone With the Wind because I had no idea how long this 1037 pager would take me. I seriously doubted that I could even finish it, let alone have time to read anything else, by the end of May. But finish it I did! And in only thirteen days! I'm still amazed! I read every night as long as I could keep my eyes open, and then I read for an hour or two every morning before getting out of bed. A few days I read an hour or so during the day.

After Gone With the Wind, I thought I'd better get the other larger one read, Unbroken (Hillenbrand), simply because I needed to have May as open as possible for the ten days I'll be at the beach. Chunkers and nonfiction don't work well for me at the beach, so I will add fluffy fiction there. Since I didn't think to consider that as I made my spring list, I now want to intentionally finish as much of my SRC list as I can and add beach reads to it.

The Lewis and Clark books were such a quick read; I already knew the content but wanted to read through these before I moved them off of my shelves. I soon realized I had two copies of the same book, six separate books (pictured) and one combined book. The six separate ones are actually each individual chapters of the combined book. All seven are now ready to move to a new home.

Now I'm settling in for a few days of Ann Rinaldi's Hang a Thousand Trees with Ribbons, a historical fiction about early America's Philis Wheatley. This book is one from of a couple of shelves of books I bought for my classroom library that came home with me. All those books will be moving to new homes as I finish.

Left is a short juvenile biography of Francis Marion The Revolutionary Swamp Fox who has always fascinated me, Pat Conroy's reflection of his basketball time at the Citadel in My Losing Season, and Stegner's Crossing to Safety. I'm not sure that I can get the two longer ones done by May 13, but I'm pushing to try. If I have to cut one, it will be Conroy because I really am eager to read Crossing to Safety. That title has crossed my path way too many times to not read it soon.

So, I'm down to these now, and still plowing.
What are your reading goals?
Do you have goals?
If you would like to become more intentional about your reading, consider joining us in the Summer Reading Challenge from June through August. More info later about that, but for now, start reading! And think about what you want to accomplish.

Remember: If you aim at nothing, you will hit it every time!

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

The End of an Age and Feeling my Own

 The end of an age comes to everything on earth, and seven months ago in August, the end came for our three-hundred-year old red oak tree. 

This mighty tree had reached about 80 feet in height and had, several centuries ago, divided into two distinct areas sharing a trunk that measured sixteen feet in circumference about twenty years ago. 

We had noticed over the last ten years that the strain of those two divisions had created a vertical crack in the sixteen-foot trunk. This was particularly visible when the tree was heavy with sap and leaves. My husband had done some cutting to ease the strain so that if the tree did split and fall, it would not likely hit the house. We knew that probably one day it would have to come down.

Early one foggy and drizzly Saturday morning in August, after my husband had left for work but before I had gotten up, I heard something. The windows were closed, yet I knew I had heard -almost felt- something. As I scurried around looking for the something, I finally saw outside one of the upstairs bedroom windows an unusual placement of limbs with leaves. Then I knew what that something was; I had heard a deep thud and felt that momentary result of collapse. 

 Being able to see the inside of that fallen trunk told us that some serious rot had been hidden until then. And the other still-standing side which was so lush with leaves and seemingly healthy was only being held upright by a thin portion of the still-standing trunk. Now that one half was down, the remaining half was unstable and could fall in any direction. Fortunately, Asplundh had been just here the day before cutting under power lines. The foreman cut trees on the side, so he was able to come and take the remaining half down within the week.

When the weather cooperated, my husband chainsawed the tops and trimmed the limbs. It would be October before we could actually get the pieces small enough to split the wood. And so we added a sizable wood splitter to our equipment inventory. It is such that I can actually run it myself, particularly splitting already split pieces into smaller, more manageable ones. 

Throughout the winter, whenever there was a stretch of nicer days, we cut and split on my husband's day off. The wood has been surprisingly dry enough to burn this winter, and we are grateful to have it. 

With the advent of spring and mowing to commence in the next few weeks, we've thrown ourselves into getting as much cut and split as possible to get it up before the grass gets ahead of us and overtakes our work areas. Thankfully, because with the extra hour of daylight added to already lengthening days, we were able to work outside in the evenings last week. 

And it was, by far, our hardest week. Rather, I should say, my hardest week. My body takes much longer to recover from the strain of bending, picking up, moving, and throwing wood pieces. And to top it off, I got a hefty dose of poison ivy on my arms that doesn't appear to be calming down any time soon. Physically, I'm weary. Very weary. This tree adventure has really made me feel my age. Recovery will occur, I'm sure, but I don't bounce back quickly, if I ever did. But at least the yard is cleaned up of most debris now. 

We still have several large piles of split wood that will be moved under cover, but that involves another chore of building covering onto an existing outbuilding to house the wood. When that task is done, we will haul the piles there and stack the wood which will certainly be easier than what we've had to do so far.   

"Opportunities" like this cause me to realize my own mortality as I enter the end of the fifties decade this year. I have finally realized that, one, our physical activity in our yard has, and is, a great opportunity without the need of a gym, and, two, afternoon siestas are welcome for quick rejuvenation. I often smile when I remember how Father Tim in Somewhere Safe With Somebody Good lovingly describes his wife Cynthia being in bed at 8:30 pm. My Tim could describe me the same way.

1996 - All four kids barely could ring their arms around the trunk.

2014 - The first half to fall. That kiddo standing on the fallen trunk is the same one on the right in the above pic.

2014 - The remaining top to be felled.
2014 - The end of a age.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Thoughts as I climb the precipice of Gone with the Wind

With my rather slow start of Gone with the Wind, I'm positive, that although I "read" this in late high school, I didn't know squat about what I was reading. For one, I didn't have sufficient historical background knowledge to picture this tremendous novel on a landscape. (Some of you have heard me rant about the insufficiency of my grammar and high school education. It's all true.) For another, I cannot imagine that I had a spot of homage for Margaret Mitchell's gift of syntax and description. So for all intents and purposes, I believe this reading of Gone with the Wind should be considered my first. 

Sometimes when I read, a skim over short sections of prose to get the idea being described. In Gone with the Wind, I cannot skim. The prose is too rich and thick. Even if I wanted to skim, I don't want to miss Mitchell's one shot at word beauty in her only known book.

Being from Virginia, I did enjoy this:
"Ashley Wilkes said they [Europeans] had an awful lot of scenery and music. Ashley liked Europe. He's always talking about it."
"Well--you know how the Wilkes are. They are kind of queer about music and books, and scenery. Mother says it's because their grandfather came from Virginia. She says Virginians set quite a store by such things." 
One new word for me - folderol - which means foolishness or absurdity. I did write this one down and hope it makes it into my vocabulary book. 

The last book I read was my first Maeve Binchy, A Week in Winter. I'd never heard of Maeve Binchy and guess I crossed her path with one of those "if you like this, you'll like this" recommendations that are frequent on book sites. I really came to enjoy that book and look forward to some of her others. Curious, especially because I found out that Binchy died just days after finishing A Week in Winter, I googled her and found several interviews with her on YouTube. In one rather extensive and interesting, she mentioned how she had read Gone with the Wind as a teenager and was carried away with it. I love these unexpected harmonic convergences.

Sometimes when I begin a new book, particularly one more than 500 pages, getting started with much headway is difficult for some reason. I liken it to merging from a sparsely driven road onto a five lane major beltway. There's a lot of apprehension in the merge. Entering that beltway is daunting, yet you cannot falter; you must pick up your speed and go with the flow. Because I've recognized that, I know that often it's best for me to take a few days to submerge as much as I can in the book, really getting into it and making headway. That's my task these first few days. And so far, I'm really liking it. 

Friday, February 27, 2015

Intentional Reading

For a number of years now, I've embraced the word intentional. Until I realized the word was what drove me in my activities, I just did my daily tasks with intention and never thought anything about it. 

After homeschooling for twenty years and moving into a traditional classroom as a middle/upper school teacher, I recognized the need to embrace that word intentional with my job in the classroom. The word drove me. I was intentional, or aimed to be, about every single thought and action as I approached my job. I used that word while leading the few professional development meeting we had. In my opinion, intentional is the key to doing a job well, whatever that job may be. (I nod now when I hear that the head of school where I last worked uses the word intentional frequently. I don't know whether that came from me or elsewhere, but doing a job with intention should be encouraged.) 

So, if you are not intentional about cleaning a toilet, it will likely not be cleaned that well. If you are intentional about a student learning the countries of Europe, you as a teacher will figure out ways to help the student learn them. Likewise, if you are intentional about reading, you will plan ways to make room for reading, either planning time to read, or planning what to read, or both. 

Intention and planning go hand in hand. If I were not intentional about what I read, I would walk to my stuffed shelves and just pull out any book to read. But, I've never been like that. I like to plan. I like to make lists. And I daresay that those of you who are listmakers are ones who get much done throughout the day because you work with intention. Have you ever thought about reading with intention though? (A helpful list of things can be found here.)

Intentional reading can take several directions. Maybe you intend to read every book in a particular series such as the Harry Potter books, the Hunger Games series, or O'Brian's Aubrey and Maurin British naval books. Or maybe you intend to read every book written by a particular author like Pat Conroy, Alexander McCall Smith, or Gladys Taber. Another aim at intention could be to read all the Pulitzer prize or Newbery award books. Or maybe you have another take on intention like I do. 

Reading books from my own bookshelves is my overall goal of intentional reading. If I live twenty more years with enough eyesight and health to read consistently, I might come close to reading through my bookshelves. That's a stretch of the word might, too. Specifically, my intentional reading involves regularly reading different genres. Since I'm an avid listmaker, I've shelved my books according to topic. I have shelves for history, science, particular authors, particular countries, fluff fiction / beach reading, biography, Christianity, classic fiction, and books about books. Plus, I have a list of audiobooks I download from the library. It is from those "lists" or shelves that I rotate my reading. 

I also challenge myself in the cyber-presence of others through seasonal reading challenges. To choose books for that, I go through the shelves and pull a few books from some of the shelves so that my reading is varied for that challenge. I know myself well enough that I fear I could easily let myself fall into a pit of reading only fluff fiction just like one can fall into the pit of eating fast food for (unlikely and unhealthy) sustenance. I have a particular shelf that books accumulate for the next challenge. The shelf for the Spring Reading Challenge is pictured here, minus the book Gilead. The different genres range from juvenile historical fiction [Hang a Thousand Trees with Ribbons (Rinaldi)], history and biography [Unbroken (Hillenbrand), The Revolutionary Swamp Fox (Bodie), the Lewis & Clark books (Hamilton)]; fluff fiction [A Week in Winter (Binchy)]; notable fiction [Gone With the Wind (Mitchell), Crossing to Safety (Stegner)]; and reading through the works of a particular author [My Losing Season (Conroy)]. I have a number of audiobooks that are loaded on my iPod to listen while tasking and walking. When I finish a book, I add it to or mark it "read" on my Goodreads page after I finish it. 

If you would like to read with more intention, think about joining us for the Spring Reading Challenge through May. Just three months. If you are just starting out, don't over-think your intentions and get discouraged; pick only three to six books. When finished, pick another until the end of the challenge. If you do join us and also have a Facebook account, there is a private Facebook group you can be part of to share quotes and encouragement,  or ask questions. It's also a quick place to list your finished book. Many of us use Goodreads to keep track of our books to read and those read. Goodreads allows for you to virtually shelve your books anyway that's helpful to you. If you haven't already and would like to participate in the Spring Reading Challenge, please post that in a comment, and I will follow up with you.

Press on with intentional reading!