Friday, February 5, 2016

7 and a bit Quick Takes 25: Diet with the saints

1. Seven eclectic takes because I didn't have enough time to research a perfectly-themed post. Also, my mind is bouncing around all over the place right now as it's research essay time. Twenty-four students, twenty-four different topics to supervise, from "Are there extra-terrestrials", through "Cocaine Cartels" ("My cousin got busted and is in prison for 20 years, so I'm really interested in this topic."), all the way to "Affluenza." Actually, I really enjoy working one-on-one with students and the challenge of juggling all those subjects. I think I would have made a good governess if I'd lived a hundred years ago (and I would so have eloped to France with Mr. Rochester - sorry Jane).

2. Also crowding my mind is the lack of a kitchen floor. Our contractor finally came round to deal with the rotten boards. Bad news: the kitchen floor was unsalvageable. Good news: he managed to contain the damage for thousands less than the worst case scenario. Result: new kitchen floors (eventually), with money left over for counter tops, and maybe new bathroom floors while we're at it. Our dishwasher won't be hooked up again until the floor is laid, but that's not so bad, because it encourages us not to be profligate with meal preparation. Maybe I need to try #5 below.

3. Sometimes there are those news stories that leave you flummoxed. A royal aide to Prince Charles found drunk in her Land Rover. OK. Four times over the limit. Ooo Kay. While driving her children to school in the morning. I don't know whether to be aghast or strangely impressed. How do you get four times over the limit before school? Five Bucks Fizzes and a slice of toast? Gin over your cornflakes?

4. Kelly, our host for Seven Quick Takes, became my hero for deciding to go on a Hildegard of Bingen Lenten diet. And, since my mind is working like a bee in a jar (see #1), I immediately came up with other medieval-style Lenten meal plans:

5. The Pottage Plan: Get a large pot and throw in anything to hand. Set it to cook. Don't turn it off...
ever. When the contents get low, chuck in whatever you feel like e.g. hares poached from the Lord of the Manor, dandelions, dead pets. No menu planning for 40 days so you can devote yourself to spiritual things, plus you save time and the planet by not using all those extra dishes.

But if you really want to be zero waste, I suggest:

6. The Catherine of Siena Diet: Eat nothing. Amaze all who queue up just to watch you not eat. Early death might be a drawback, but sainthood is a plus. For those not quite strong enough to hack that, I recommend:

7. The Francis of Assisi Diet: Eat only what others give you. The catch is you're not allowed to ask for food - just go around performing miracles, and let matters take their course. Early death and sainthood also apply here.

7a. If this all sounds too modern for you, then go back to basics with the fifth century Saint Benedict Diet: two cooked dishes per meal, with a dish of fruit or veg if you feel like it, plus a pound of bread and half a bottle of wine per day. If you are breastfeeding, play safe and substitute beer and stout.

For the record, my rule while breastfeeding is only to have a drink if I really want one. Sometimes I go for hours days without alcohol.

Go visit the other bloggers linking up at This Ain't the Lyceum - some of them might actually be taking Lent seriously.

Friday, January 22, 2016

7 Quick Takes 24: Dead Rats, Hot Tubs, Putting My Foot in it

But not all at the same time, or that would be pretty unpleasant, even for my life...

1. School started for a week, and then we had a holiday to help me recover from the trauma of having to see fifty new faces all over again. It went predictably - I over prepare, start off pretty well, then my nervousness shows itself in the shape of running off my mouth and I end up saying something stupid in class (or at least I think it's stupid). Then I spend the next week or two beating myself up over it when the students have probably already forgotten, if they even noticed.

2. On Sunday evening, my middle daughter announced that one of her rats was looking ill - predictably, since it's a holiday weekend, and any vet visit would be under (expensive) emergency care. We cautiously discussed home care options (aka let's not spend another $200 at the vet unless we have to. Oh, all right, then).
Google "rat" and "rainbow bridge" and what do you know...
Sadly, Ruby had died in the night. OK, I was sad, though my wallet was a little relieved. We consoled one another by talking about how resilient and healthy her other rat, Georgia, is. Thirty minutes later, she comes out of her room to tell me Georgia had dropped dead. Thank you, god of Mondays. I thought it was a particularly deft touch to choose probably the one (burial) day in 2016 in Mississippi when it was below freezing all day. (Actually, I think Georgia was just hanging on so she could outlive her arch enemy, Ruby. Ornery to the sudden end.)

3. Having a boy. Oh boy. What a little testosterone can do. Play with my blocks or eat those dirty old slippers? Read my book, eat my book, or bang it repeatedly on Mummy's hand? Sit quietly with my rattle or empty the rubbish bin? Pull the cat's ear or tail? Make for the wood stove or stop to grab the poker on the way? Choices, choices. We've had to buy a fire guard and a play pen, baby equipment we never needed with the girls. And a baby monitor, in case he wakes up while we're destressing in the hot tub.

4. Ever since he learned to turn over, Alcuin's been pretty determined to not sleep through the night. Sometimes he has a four or five hour stretch a couple of days in a row to lull me into false hopes. I'm close to entering zombie mode. By Monday, I had half a dozen zits (I haven't had a break out for decades), several unfiled, broken nails, and I hadn't showered for three days. No accompanying photo. What was I doing when the baby slept, then? Watching Sherlock and sitting in the hot tub (not at the same time). There's only time for so much.

5. I know I must be of a certain age, because I don't find Benedict Cumberbatch irresistible. But we have fun dissecting the episodes afterwards in the hot tub, and comparing them to the original stories. The Sherlock Holmes I watched most growing up was Basil Rathbone. I think it must have been BBC2 repeats of the movie series. I didn't even realize they were from the 1940s until I looked them up for this post. I do remember being very taken with them, though. I wonder, is a name almost as silly as Sherlock Holmes a prerequisite for playing the character?

or Contemporary?

6. Oh yes, the hot tub.  Hubby finally got the birthday/Christmas/birthday/Christmas present he's been contemplating: a portable hot tub. We've been spending most nights since Christmas simmering under the stars. An unexpected bonus is that when the whole family is in there, you're a captive audience for each other. And it's amazing how a little hot tubbing seems to bring out everyone's hobby horses.

7. The format for this week's sleep-deprived Seven Quick Takes are partly brought to you by the inspiration of Amy Dupire who, with her husband, writes the best Christmas letter I get every year, hands down. I'd name her husband, but I don't think he has a public website, though he ought to have an online business writing Christmas letters. On the other hand, Amy's an author, so visit her website and buy her books! Then head over to This Ain't the Lyceum where other bloggers are probably stealing ideas from their friends, too, even if they're not admitting it.

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Overdue Book Reviews

Here are two book reviews I've owed people for a month or more. I thought about waiting to post until people were over the guilt of Christmas spending, but then I thought you might be sitting on an Amazon e-gift card from the relative who waited until 5pm Christmas Eve to do his shopping. While I'm about it, here's my general disclaimer:

Yes, about 90% of the new books I review are written by people I know. That's why I read them. Of that 90%, about another 90% are solicited, but only in a general way among groups I belong to (e.g. "I'd be grateful if any of you would review my book"). Apart from when I reviewed for the Historical Novel Society, I've never received anything other than a PDF for my efforts. I'm not an affiliate of Amazon or any other retailer, so I provide links for your buying convenience, not my profit. We all have different tastes; I'm aware that even if I'm not completely in love with a book, you might be. To that end, I always single out aspects I liked about the book, rather than attack an author. Plus, I publish a little, and I don't want to create bad karma.  If I really dislike a book, I don't review it at all. So there you go. And here are...

Murder On The Minneapolis by Anita Davison

I've had the chance to read drafts of the second and third books in this series through my online critique group, so I already knew what would happen in the future
of the key characters. Despite that, I was completely drawn into the story and the developing dynamics of their relationships.
Governess Flora MacGuire boards the SS Minneapolis with her young charge, Viscount Trent (Eddie), bound for England. Soon, she finds a body on deck. Despite the evidence she has seen otherwise, the incident is declared an accident. But another murder soon follows. Are Flora and Eddie in danger because of her involvement? And what of the budding shipboard romance between Flora and the upper class Bunny Harrington: surely the class divide will be too strong once they reach the shores of England?
This is a deftly written, classic, cosy whodunnit, with a large net of characters hiding secrets and probable motives, unexpected twists, plus a charming romance. Reading it gave me the pleasure of an entertaining story, and the satisfaction of a well-written novel: the perfect combination in my book (well, and Anita's!).
The other reason you should buy this book is that, sadly, family publisher Robert Hale officially ceased trading in December. Its imprints have been acquired by Crowood Press, who will probably not be continuing its fiction line. This series deserves to live on, so vote with your pocketbook!
Here are the UK and US Amazon links. If you wish to know more about Flora or the author, Anita blogs at The Disorganized Author.

Lady Hope and the Duke of Darkness by Maggi Anderson
A conventionally-published author who has recently taken publishing matters into her own hands is the romance novelist Maggi Anderson. Since I only got to critique her latest novella part way through
before baby days took over, she was kind enough to send my a PDF of the final story. Lady Hope and the Duke of Darkness is the third in the self-published Baxendale Sisters Series - and there are three more sisters to go!
Unlike her two elder sisters who disappointed their parents by marrying for love, Hope is determined to restore the family fortunes by marriage with a man of suitable wealth, rank and social standing. She and her family set their sights on the Duke of Winslow, but then the solitary, secretive French widower, the Duc de Tenebres, enters her social circle, and their mutual attraction threatens to derail her careful plans.
As always, Maggi creates a heroine who is strong in heart and head, willing to be vulnerable, but never a walkover. For those who care, there is only one sex scene, which comes after marriage. I think the only 'complaint' by readers is that they want more! To prevent disappointment, I recommend purchasing the three current novellas in the series and reading them as one novel :)
Here are the UK and US Amazon links. For more, see Maggi's blog at Maggi Anderson Author.

Friday, January 8, 2016

7 Quick Takes 23: Frankentrees and More

How traditional did I manage to make our Christmas? A random round up (with thanks to my brother for the title inspiration).

1. We tried to be prepared for our tree. We really tried. But it went like this:
Previous Christmas: survey the yard and select the cypress tree that most looks like it won't need much doctoring to look OK next December. Keep an eye on it all year round.
A few weeks before Christmas: discover that yellow jackets have built a nest in the ground close to said tree, and are not willing to give up an inch of territory.
A week before Christmas: Husband dons beekeeping suit (hurrah for having bees), and goes out at dusk to run a hose into the nest. (A friend gave us the tip of pointing a light away from the shenanigans to divert any emerging wasps.) Several hours later, the hose is still running, and the nest is not overflowing. Six queens have emerged. Eventually, we go to bed, leaving soaked wasps crawling around the yard.

The one on the right is the Queen. Times that by six.

Wake up to 20 degree freeze. Frozen wasps litter the yard. Victory! Then the sun comes out and shines on them. Those suckers defrost and are up and going again.
Give up and go and buy poison. Real victory this time. Silently apologize to Saint Francis of Assisi, but remind him that we did spend $300 on a sick $12 rat that died anyway.

2. Finally, we cut down tree on 21st. We got it in the house on the 22nd and finished decorating by the 23rd! That's the closest to Christmas Eve I've ever managed to make it, so I suppose the wasps were God sent. We haven't found a tree stand that can hold a tree this big, so we always set it in a  huge plant pot full of sand. It may look like a giant potted plant, but it's ours.
Tradition score: 9/10. It would have been ten, but my husband didn't swear half as much this year when getting the tree in place. Plus no cat peed in the sand.

I'd crop this, but the plastic bag nicely demonstrates my photo-taking abilities.

3. We continued a tradition from my youth, and went out for a curry on Christmas Eve (after church - where Alcuin started screaming right at the culmination of a presentation that's been building up piece by piece the entire Advent. Sorry to all the Sunday School teachers and Youth Minister, but there's always next year, right?)
Tradition score: 8.5/10 because American curry houses don't sport a 70s decor or serve After Eight mints at the end of dinner.

4. When we're on our own for Christmas dinner, we always vote on the menu. It ends up traditionally non-traditional, but everyone is happy. The main course this year: Turkey and gravy (for the lone carnivore), mashed potatoes, stuffed butternut squash, roasted broccoli, peas, and last-minute rolls. For dessert: Tiramisu. Home made, because we had boudoir (sponge finger) biscuits to finish up. I tripled (at least) the amount of Marsala and it was delicious.
Tradition score: 9/10 because choosing tiramisu has a flare of je ne sais quoi.

5. British food: No mince pies, because I had forgotten to buy mincemeat when in England this summer (baby haze). Yes, I know there's an Internet, but I want mincemeat I can trust. I did make Christmas cake in November, but without marzipan and royal icing because no one likes those layers anyway. And having a baby did not get in the way of my religiously 'feeding' it with extra brandy for a month.
Tradition score: 7/10. I shoved in a point here for having Christmas crackers.

6. My husband's parents, brother and sister-in-law came for a few days after Christmas. I think they had a good time, even if I was the hostess with the leastess. Even making breakfast seemed pretty complicated with a baby around. Unfortunately, Alcuin had just entered his "stranger danger" stage and didn't trust anyone except his uncle, who looks just like his daddy.
Tradition score: 4/10 because we haven't had anyone stay for Christmas for about 15 years.

7. My resolution for 2016 is to have no resolutions. Being the 46 year-old mother of a baby needs resolve enough.
Tradition score: 0/10, but I suppose that's a positive zero (is that a mathematical tautology?)

This tree is so fresh, it's reaching out to embrace my children

For more Seven Quick Takes that have probably already moved far beyond a Christmas/2015 retrospective, and contain fewer colons: visit Kelly at This Ain't the Lyceum.

Friday, December 18, 2015

7 Quick Takes 22: Adventnotadvent

1. Whenever I haven't blogged for a few weeks, I always want to begin with an excuse that somehow assures you of my good intentions. Well, actually, I'm not sure I had good intentions this time. I had a series of posts in mind on a  "grumpy geriatric mother" theme because I thought it wasn't worth competing with the Advent posts of most other bloggers. But I was on the cusp of writing it when liturgical guilt assailed me. Surely I should pretend not to be grumpy in the season of goodwill?

2. But that's hard, because I just got through finals week, and I had to finish up the semester when I was exhausted and through with it three weeks ago.  I get to spend these last few days fending off desperate emails. No, I'm not offering you extra credit. Maybe you should have come to class instead. While you were at it, you could have read the syllabus. Oh, and maybe given in your assignments on time. Heck, it's Christmas, let's just say at all.

And that's just the teachers...

3. Considering that we have a new baby after  a twelve year gap, I think we've done pretty well in terms of preparing for and keeping Advent. It helped that we holed up at home for Thanksgiving week rather than drive to see relatives (when the baby is fed up with being in the car, he screams until we stop, so we knew we wouldn't survive a 500-mile trip).

4. I have all the Advent decorations up. The fact that the house is still strewn with the piles of the pictures etc. I took down to make way for them is only a minor defeat. My daughter made a wreath (under orders). She piled the greenery so high that we are going to set it on fire before Christmas. We even lit the first candle on the first Sunday of Advent! Second Sunday became Second Tuesday - but in our defense, we had Lessons and Carols on the Sunday evening and my daughter was out of town.

And lo the bush burned and was not consumed - we hope.

5. We celebrated Saint Nicholas' Day - a day late, because it fell on Sunday and see above. Thanks in large part to the new SuperKroger in town that has an olive bar where I could get vaguely middle Eastern food, and buy horrendously expensive baklava. I think we got through the Saint Nicholas prayer before the baby started screaming for his dinner, but I can't remember - most days are a blur.

6. Advent calendar?  All I can say is, if your mother gives you some cute fabric calendar with pockets  that you have to remember to fill every night after the children are in bed, leave it near the over-full Advent wreath. In eighteen years, I have never made it through one Advent without forgetting multiple times, which is pretty traumatic for young children intent on their 6.30 am chocolate fix.
This year, since my daughter who is still at home is twelve, and the baby too young, I suggested she just let me just stuff it in advance, but she told me she wouldn't have the willpower to resist. I tried putting in Dec 4, 5 and 6. When I turned around, 4 and 5 were gone. I suppose she was honest.

Two things that show you this is a British calendar: it's a post box, and one of the pockets depicts Father Christmas drinking beer. Oh, and a disclaimer should my mother read this: the girls love it and are fighting over who inherits it.

7. Tree? Nope. We will get round to cutting one down close to Christmas. That makes us lazier greener and holier than you.

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

Friday, November 13, 2015

7 Quick Takes 21: The Not-Slovenia Edition

The fact that I haven't posted on 7QT since the end of Link-toberfest has nothing to do with sour grapes at Kelly's not picking my name in her prize draw. It just happened to coincide with taking in tests and essays from my classes - that made well over a hundred assignments to grade for the past couple of weeks.

1. But, I've nearly made it through the semester, because for all intents and purposes we finish
teaching the week of Thanksgiving. Back in August/ September, I wanted to throw in the towel. The baby wouldn't take a bottle, disliked formula, wanted to be held all the time, and had reflux that made him frequently grumpy - and we couldn't squeeze forty hours out of the day to get everything done. Sometimes he didn't go to bed until eleven, or later. Next semester, I theoretically have a once-a-week night class  - I'm excited about the opportunity, and hoping that will free up our days much more. Fingers crossed for me that enough people sign up to make the class - it's an experimental offering.

2. Getting to the end of the semester made me think about my ongoing blog revival experiment. That, and a comment by a relative a couple of weeks ago that was meant to cheer me up after my review of my postpartum shenanigans. I felt bad, because I hadn't meant to sound negative. Then, of course, I got to worrying that my black humour is falling flat. I tend towards negativity/mild depression, and poking fun at my life is my way of keeping things in perspective. Depression traps you inside yourself - at least, that's how I've experienced it - and it's easy for me to become self-centered if I don't laugh at myself. Anyhow, I suppose I'm still floundering around finding my blogging voice.

3. I called this the Not-Slovenia edition in homage to the Not-Boston edition, because my husband was there this past week. However, while I'd much rather be in Slovenia than here, I wouldn't have wanted to be on his whirlwind, week-long trip. He has a very part-time position at one of the universities there, and had to go in person to vote on the university President.
Update: his luggage got home one day later than he did - and it was missing the candy he bought for our daughter, and the seal on a bottle of cherry brandy had been broken. Thank you, TSA.

4. While my husband was gone, we basically managed not to cook all week. If I was linking to Simcha Fisher's What's for Supper, it would be my culinary Walk of Shame. I had leftover lentil curry for two meals while my daughter made boxed macaroni cheese. Then it was soup from the freezer, followed by take out pizza. Saturday we made the leftover macaroni a side dish with poached eggs and veggie sausages, with baked apples to be healthy (if you ignored the butter and honey - but the honey was from our own bees so that makes it OK). Sunday, youth group fed my daughter, thank goodness, and I got all posh and creative, baking a butternut squash and mixing it with the remains of a packet of freekeh, plus some peppers and onions. But I cooked it early in the afternoon, so for dinner, I reheated it and ate it straight out of the bowl.
The baby at least got real food - freshly pureed fruit, squash with me Sunday. But he felt short changed, and had a screaming fit Friday when I wouldn't hand over my piece of pizza. A bit of crust didn't fool him for one moment - he wanted the whole, real, cheesy thing.

I'm pretty good with a piece of chalk ;)
5. Apart from being denied pizza, Alcuin got to go to class with me because I couldn't think of a
babysitter I didn't want to remain friends with (see above). Even though I'm the teacher, I was shaking with nerves - both times - on walking in with him in a sling. But he bowled everyone over with his smiles, and by the end I felt pretty proud of the fact that I could diagram and explain the Ptolemaic universe while holding a baby.

6. Since you asked, Slovenia is part of the former Yugoslavia, near northern Italy, about two hours from Venice. In fact, it used to be part of the Venetian empire. It's about one third mountains above ground
and one third caves below. It's a beautiful country, the perfect mix of modern and traditional Europe, and has a very low emigration rate because Slovenians don't see any reason to leave! We spent a whole semester in Slovenia when my husband had a Fulbright scholarship, and I'd happily live there again. The language is fiendish, though. I never did get past nouns. About all I could do now is ask for a bela kava (white coffee).

7. And totally unrelated: I began writing a review for Home Grown by Ben Hewitt. I decided to jot down short paragraphs of all my thoughts  - but it grew and grew and grew...  I guess I could talk until the cows come home about education. I had to be ruthless with my editing. Anyhow, if that's you when someone gets you on the subject of schooling, you might want to read his memoir of his family's radical unschooling of their two boys on a homestead in Vermont.

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

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Home Grown

I've been meaning to read Home Grown ever since I caught part of an interview with Ben Hewitt on public radio (I never hear a full program because the only chance I get to listen is in the car or while changing the baby).  Finally, I ordered a copy via interlibrary loan, all the way from Dallas. Really, no copies in Mississippi libraries?

This is a short book, part memoir, part essays, that explains the Hewitts' unconventional choice in raising their sons because, as Ben Hewitt says, the boys' education is so much a part of their whole life that it wouldn't make sense otherwise.

The boys' education might be described as radical unschooling - they spend their days outside on the family's homestead or neighbouring lands in Vermont, exploring, fishing, building, and even trapping. The Hewitts have let their children's education be entirely led by the boys themselves, believing that children have a natural inclination to learn that is often destroyed in a conventional school setting (though Hewitt is quick to emphasize that he isn't a proponent of any one method of education over another).

I read the book with fascination, curiosity, and a little fear - mostly out loud while feeding my own baby son (Hewitt's style was pretty good for soothing him to sleep). Partly because I'm now raising a boy after nearly nineteen years of girls, and partly because I've seen the way early grade school is geared towards girls - and boys are punished for it - I worry about his educational development. Boys who need to get up and move are being told to sit down and shut up by teachers who find it easier to teach to girls' nature, or are constrained by their curriculum or administration to do so. Girls are now outnumbering boys in college - in some of my classes I have literally only a handful of boys. To those of us on the ground, so to speak, boys' educational disadvantages are obvious.

I know that if we are still here (please Lord, no) when he is school age that I'll keep him home from the girl-oriented baby-sitting that comprises the first two years of school. But would I let him wholly lead his own education? I think not. In my own way, I agree with Hewitt that many children today are tuned out of school but cut off from any sense of where else they might belong in the world - goodness knows I see them in my own classes. To me, a way of restoring that belonging is through a classical education, connecting children to the Great Conversation of shared history, classical culture and literature. That doesn't preclude a wonder with the natural world. In fact, at five months old, my little son is already obsessed with being outdoors. Only today, despite continual rain, we were out twice, patrolling the yard and feeding chickens with the help of a sling and umbrella. Still, part of me wishes I had the courage to be as radical as the Hewitts, and that's what kept me glued to this book, despite the occasional lapse into purplish prose (please forgive the criticism, Mr. Hewitt - I'm an English teacher!).

Read this book if you're a parent, especially if you have boys. Read it if you're daydreaming about living an intentional life. Read it if you are afraid to not conform. Really, read it.