Friday, April 24, 2015

7 Quick Takes 7: A life-changing saga of tidying up.

A  seven-part mini saga of our life with The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo.

1. I come across this title via This Ain't the Lyceum. As someone who enjoys putting off organizing by reading about it, I investigate further. People are enthusiastic, scathing or downright sarcastic. "I'm number 250 on the library waiting list," others bemoan. What can be so polarizing about a book on tidying? Now I have to read it. Fortunately, the arm of a university inter-library loan system reaches far. I have a copy in my hands after two weeks.

2. To summarize: Marie Kondo (of the KonMari method) recommends you sort by category rather than room (all tops, all books, all mementos etc.), and all at once rather than bit by bit. You handle each item individually and only keep what "sparks joy". Some people seem upset or nonplussed by her attitude that items like socks have feelings, but this doesn't bother me because I have been caught talking to the dishwasher am culturally sensitive.

3. I let my eleven-year-old daughter see the book. I know this is dangerous because she has inherited a trait from my husband’s side of the family that may charitably be called "great force of will". Over the course of two days she gets rid of about two thirds of her possessions. I have to bite my tongue, because I’ve read the parts of the book that tell her A) mothers are likely to scupper her plans and B) younger sisters are tragic victims of having stuff forced on them by elder sisters. It takes me another three days to sort through her piles and nearly sends me into labour.

4. My elder daughter picks up the book casually on a weekend visit home. After a short while, she sets it aside. “I can’t read this book,” she announces. “It will compel me to reorganize my entire life, and I don’t have time.”

5. “You should read it,” I suggest to my husband. “After all, you like Naruto and that's Japanese.” I know the connection between anime and a tidying book is tenuous, but it’s worth a try. And Naruto apparently simultaneously owns no possessions yet has an apartment full of rubbish.

Not quite feng shui

I look around the house. “We have too much stuff,’ I sigh. “No we don’t,” my husband snaps back. “You got rid of it all.” He is afraid that I’ll run out of stuff to discard and turn a critical eye on him.

6. I stare mournfully at my closet, longing to free myself of half my clothes, but I'm about to be the size that Simcha Fisher so perfectly described as "shut up, I just had a baby". I throw out some token items that I'm convinced won't "spark joy" even if they're the only things that fit me one particular week. Our bookshelves got purged when we rearranged furniture at Christmas, so only a few items there. I wander round the house desperate to find piles off stuff to throw out. Maybe my husband is right after all.

7. The inter-library loan period runs out. I type up notes from the book (but keep them on the computer so I don’t add clutter to the house) and return it reluctantly. I spend a couple of weeks trying to detox, haunting websites and bookstores in hopes I'll find a copy so cheap I can justify buying one. But will it spark joy?

For more Seven Quick Takes, join Kelly at This Ain't the Lyceum.

Friday, April 10, 2015

7QT 6: Lessons from 1962

I was at an estate sale the other weekend and I picked up a copy of Seventeen magazine from 1962, thinking it would be a fun Easter gift for my elder daughter.  Here are seven things I learned, but first, a quiz: do you recognize this guy?

1. The right amount of raccoon or nutria fur makes an outfit. Or you can go all-out for Australian opossum and South American cat.

2. Thought abbreviations were a curse of the internet age?  TWYI - talk your way in - was the code for getting into college classes without having to test in. Does not knowing that make me a twink (out of date) or a boink (stupid person)?

3. Your bowling game not up to scratch?  Perhaps it's your underwear. Try perma-lift panties.

4. On that subject, girls should be spending the summer before college sewing name tags into their underwear. I hope it's because someone else was doing their laundry and not because they were losing their underclothes around campus.

5. Talking of campus, Princeton University reported $200,000 worth of petty theft from their college store over the past two years. It was a cooperative, so those top-notch Ivy League students were stealing from themselves.

6. The victim mentality wasn't heard of. Having trouble with your stepmother?-What have you done to make her feel welcome? Your boyfriend looks to others for advice?-Maybe you're too focused on yourself.

7. Finally, my husband looked at the cover girl and began humming a rift on a Beatles' song: She was just seventy, you know what I mean...

Answer: Bob Dylan. Really.

For more Seven Quick Takes, link up with Kelly at This Ain't the Lyceum.

Friday, March 20, 2015

Seven Quick Takes 5: Round and About

Since I changed my blog description to "my eclectic  life", here's a quick tour.

1. I'm an Englishwoman married to a Texan mathematician, living in Mississippi. We have one daughter who's at the local residential Math(s) and Science School and about to leave for college, a sixth grader, and a (surprise) baby on the way. Normal? Where's the fun in normal?

2. I teach English part time at Mississippi State University, homeschool my younger daughter, and try to cultivate a writing life that is continually interrupted. Somehow a new baby is going to fit into all that.

3. People keep asking us how we're going to cope. We think we're pretty organized: we have a family cradle - and we've even removed the mattress to dissuade the cat from sleeping in it. Add a nightgown, socks and a packet of nappies (daipers), and we're ready.

Now the cat is forced to sleep on a king-sized bed

4. Rain, rain, rain - here in Mississippi, we seem to get about two pretty spring days, then it rains until the weather is hot. Five members of our household are very happy about that - however, they also happen to have webbed feet and waterproof feathers.

OK, not my photo - but we do have Kahki Campbells

5. They are joined by chickens, two cats, three rats (good combination) and the various fauna that takes up temporary residence on our breakfast bar - currently one tank of bullfrog tadpoles and another that's a  mini wetlands ecosystem.

6. I really enjoy editing. Maybe one day I'll get paid for it. In the meantime, I get to make my tiny contribution to authors such as Amy DupireAnita DavisonMaggi Anderson and Katherine Pym.


7. Online: Blogs I currently keep up with are Zero Waste Home, Liturgical Time, and This Ain't the Lyceum. I keep up with British news by perusing the Daily Telegraph (I've given up the Daily Mail for Lent), but am still wasting too much time on Facebook.

For more Seven Quick Takes, hop over to This Ain't the Lyceum.

Saturday, March 7, 2015

Seven Quick Takes 4 A Pregnant Lent

I decided to take up Kelly's invitation to share Lent in my own way and offer seven quick takes on why 2015 may just be my Best Lent Ever.

1. I'm unexpectedly pregnant in my mid-forties. My other children are 11 and 18. Surely that alone gives the blessed Zelie Martin a run for her money.

The big three:
2. Prayer. Lots of opportunity for spontaneous prayer. Oh God, how long am I going to be pregnant? Please let me get to the loo in time. Why is everyone around me suddenly so irritating?

3. Fasting. Being pregnant, I already can't eat anything I actually like. Spinach-yogurt-flax seed smoothie, anyone?

Maybe not today

4. Almsgiving. We got rid of most of our baby stuff years ago, so we're pretty much a charity case in that department. Plus, I have to give away a least a tithe's worth of our belongings so we have somewhere to put the baby.

5. Lots of opportunities to resist temptation, such as: speeding on campus because they're not real police, plus I can just tell them I have to get to the bathroom RIGHT NOW (see #2). Or, not snapping at the woman who thought it was OK to get into the elevator in front of me, even though she has all four limbs intact.

6. Following the "action" part of my Lenten study book is super easy.  Take time to contemplate the mysteries of creation. Glance down at belly. Check.  Put up with someone to the point of complaining today.  Ok, so about two minutes, then.

7. Need some sufferings to offer up? Pregnancy has it all. Nausea, vomiting, random excruciating pains. Worst of all, I have to grade essays without the aid of any alcohol whatsoever.

For more Seven Quick Takes, join Kelly over at This Ain't the Lyceum.

Friday, February 20, 2015

Seven Quick Takes, Vol. 3

1. Recently, I've been feeling stuck for reading choices. I'm too tired at night to tackle anything really highbrow, so a second effort to get through St. Augustine's City of God is off the table. But I also don't want my brain to turn to mush, so no catching up with Fifty Shades of Grey (besides, it's Lent). Pulling out an Edwardian mystery I began to work on a year or two ago prompted me to think of Edwardian literature to catch up on (mysteries in particular).

2. What's positive about Edwardian fiction: the era is more than the image we have of the cigar-smoking playboy Edward VII (it's those King Edward cigar boxes - remember how we all used to have an empty one in the house, regardless of whether anyone actually smoked cigars?!). If we take "Edwardian" to mean the period up until World War I, it's a period when many had visions of social change: socialism, women's suffrage, workers' rights and sexual freedom, to name but a few.  Detective fiction, which of course hangs on the details, and often deals with the 'hot topics' of its day, is a great source of historical information on the period.

What's negative? The style can be stilted, often Victorian (though sometimes surprisingly modern). Detective stories don't let us into the detective's head in the way we're used to, so we often don't have the chance to make the connections or even 'see' the vital piece of evidence. That aside, here's a brief pick of authors I've tried:

3. G.K. Chesterton
Chesterton stands between the Victorians and Edwardians in terms of style, but his critique of contemporary society is fascinating because the benefit of hindsight shows us just how accurate he was - and how relevant he still is - when describing the malaises of modern life. Yet, despite that, he still has a real joy in the fact of living. I've enjoyed his Father Brown detective stories, and his novels, such as The Man Who was Thursday, are on my to-read list.

4. Victor L. Whitechurch
I've just begun Whitechurch's railway mysteries, featuring a vegetarian exercise fanatic and "gentleman of independent means". The writing is a little stilted, but I'm enjoying its quirkiness. Plus, I found out what a "plasmon biscuit" was! Kindle has some cheap editions of his work.

5. Baroness Orczy
Orczy created one of the first female detectives in Lady Molly of Scotland Yard. Lady Molly's talent is her intuition, the ability to see the connections and motives that mere facts don't always make clear. Her appeal is that she had turned detective to gather the experience and information to free her unjustly imprisoned love.

6. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
Really, how many people actually read the original Sherlock Holmes stories instead of watching or reading the spinoffs? Doyle's Sherlock is a fascinating anti-hero: smart, bored, with a general antipathy towards women and an addiction to cocaine.

7. For more, almost forgotten mysteries, and an analysis of the genre, read The Edwardian Detective, 1901-1915, by Joseph Kestner.  For more Seven Quick Takes, hop on over to This Ain't the Lyceum.

Friday, January 23, 2015

Seven Quick Takes, Vol. 2

1. I meant to post every other week, and I'm already behind. In my defense, my husband is away and I'm running the show solo. My elder daughter did come home from boarding school last weekend, but helpfully had her wisdom teeth out, so she lay around on the sofa and almost cried when we ran out of macchiato caramel yogurt (I don't even know what a macchiato is, and neither, apparently, does my spellchecker).

So, here's a look at my reading week, to show you how eclectic (mixed up) it is.

2. For my early American literature class, I'm reading William Bradford's Of Plymouth Plantation and John Smith's account of the Virginia colony. They're interesting to me, because both men led their communities with similar principles and along similar lines, but their outlooks led to vastly different accounts of their experiences. To Smith, it's a big adventure, starring Smith; to Bradford, it's a long struggle in the wilderness against the wiles of the devil.

3.  To lighten up, we also began Ann Bradstreet's poetry. She was lucky enough to be supported by her family in her writing; not so other women of her time.  In 1650, one Rev. Thomas Parker wrote to his sister, "Your printing of a book, beyond the custom of your sex, doth rankly smell." Bet that was a good sibling relationship.

4. As part of a critique group, I may read a chapter from a Victorian cosy mystery, an eighteenth century cornish whodunnit, a 1930s soft-boiled American crime novel, or a story of London gypsies or Scottish pirates.

5. With my daughter, I'm reading The Canterbury Tales, currently the General Prologue, which is relatively uncontroversial.  Choosing tales to study with an eleven year old is harder - I'm opting for ones with lots of farting over lots of sex.

6. To relax (really!), I'm delving into Ina May Gaskin's Guide to Childbirth. She's the godmother of modern American midwifery. For those not in the States or Canada, be very grateful that midwifery is still the norm for prenatal care! She began as an English Literature graduate but fell by chance into the role of midwife at the Tennessee community where she has lived since the 70s. The book is as much story as women's health. For a taste, here's a Ted Talk she gave.

7. Inspiration of a different sort came this week from Elaine St.James's Living the Simple Life - I was familiar with all her ideas, but I needed some inspiration to give our bedroom a more drastic clear out. It's written in very small chunks - nice to peruse over coffee or when you're winding down at night.

For more Seven Quick Takes, hope over to This Ain't the Lyceum.

Friday, January 2, 2015

7 Quick Takes, Vol I

As part of a New Year's experiment to try blogging again, I'm linking up with 7 Quick Takes - I think the title is self-explanatory.

1.  In keeping with the original plan for the blog, I'm starting with two 'neglected' classics that I got in Folio editions for Christmas.  The first is Seven Pillars of Wisdom by T.E. Lawrence (Lawrence of Arabia).  I fell under Lawrence's spell two summers ago when I visited Clouds Hill, his last home. I was immediately gripped by the mystery of why an educated, cultivated - and famous - man would choose to hide away under an assumed name in a such a primitive home.
I also love Seven Pillars because it's the sort of book that would never get past an editor today: a sprawling, 800-plus page mass of biography (real and 'elaborated'), history, military campaign, geography and topography. As I wrote on Facebook when I first finished it, "I feel like I've been through the entire Arab campaign with Lawrence. Plus I now know a lot about camels."

2. The second is my number one desert island book, Tristram Shandy by Laurence Sterne. I even wrote a post on this some time ago. Sterne plays wild experiments with the novel as a written and physical form before the conventions we're so used to were even established. Poor Tristram Shandy sets out to faithfully record his life for his readers, from the moment of his conception, but can barely get a few pages in before he gets hopelessly diverted. Hovering in the background of this crazy, funny novel is the bittersweet knowledge that he'll never catch up with himself before he dies. By the way, since reading this novel, I can never look at a wind-up clock in the same light...

3. ...But I didn't get a chance to re-read either, since I'd promised myself the leisure to curl up with Royalist Rebel, written by a friend, Anita Seymour. Her book tells the story of Elizabeth Murray, heir to Ham House, during the English Civil War. I appreciated the skill with which Anita introduces a haughty, not altogether sympathetic, young English noblewomen and draws the reader to her as we experience Elizabeth mature through her wartime experiences and the struggle to hold onto her birthright.  I also loved seeing places familiar to me, such as Richmond and Hampton Court, through the eyes of the seventeenth century.

4. An interesting addendum to this came when describing the book to a friend here in the States. I explained it was set during the Civil War, and she asked, "Which one?". It was one of those 'culture gap' moments that comes from bring an expat. The Civil War means one thing only to the British, but of course she was also thinking of the Wars of the Roses. Come to think of it, one might add the wars between Stephen and Matilda, the conflicts among Henry II and his sons... the list goes on, but still, there's still only one "Civil War".

5. I've also been a beta reader for another friend's novel over December, and a question she had about publishing had me thinking - I now know people published across a whole spectrum: agented and unagented, with traditional (usually small to mid-house) publishers, e-publishers, self-publishing, and often a mix of all these. It's a wide-open market, and I can't decide whether that's confusing or exciting. I wonder which trends will grow in 2015?

6.  New books + moving a bookcase = several hours completely rearranging our library. My husband's  method would be to shove the books where they fitted, but my librarian background compels me to organize everything by subject and in chronological order. After an hour of angst, I was ready to admit I have a disorder...

7.  Happy New Year and Merry Christmas for those of us who hold grimly on to the twelve days of Christmas. Since we didn't get the tree up until the 23rd, at least it won't be sad and dead come January 6.

For more Seven Quick Takes, the linkup is hosted at This Ain't the Lyceum. In the interests of disclosure, as they say, its origins are in the Catholic blogosphere, but there's plenty of entertainment for everyone.