Monday, 27 October 2014

When Anne predicts the weather

"But there is always a November space after the leaves have fallen when she felt it was almost indecent to intrude on the woods...for their glory terrestrial had departed and their glory celestial of spirit and purity and whiteness had not yet come upon them."
 - L.M. Montgomery, Anne of Windy Poplars  

My daughter and I are now reading the fourth novel in the Anne series - fourth in Anne's chronology, that is - and the above quote was nestled in the first paragraph of last night's chapter. The space between branch dressings is smaller and earlier in this part of the country; it ended at some point just before this morn. Coincidence? Most definitely. But having that lovely thought in my head helped sooth the stress that comes from trying to locate the mittens and wondering who's boots will still fit from last year. That first snow cover always catches me unawares. This year, though, the trees were mainly ready for the change. 

Stay warm, friends.

Wednesday, 15 October 2014

What I've been reading

The first half of October has slipped away. I don't remember how, but I believe tryptophan might be partially to blame. Thanksgiving hangover or not, it's Twitterature time, a collection of (mostly) short and sweet reviews hosted by Anne of Modern Mrs. Darcy. 

Here's what I've been reading: 

Shadows of the Workhouse, by Jennifer Worth
The second volume of Worth's memoirs wasn't what I was expecting. Rather than continuing to provide a broad swath of Dockland living, like her first book, Shadows of the Workhouse delves deep into the lives of a select few: three children who grew up in the infamous workhouse system and lived to tell their tales, a widely eccentric nun/nurse/midwife of upper-class extraction and Dockland devotion who might have a weakness for kleptomania, and a lonely old soldier whom Worth befriends near the end of his days. There is very little directly about midwifery, but plenty of background on the Lower East Ender's fear of institutionalized kindness and the difference between keeping a body alive and feeding a soul. 

Anne of the Island, by L.M. Montgomery
I read this novel in a hodge-podge fashion: mostly aloud to my daughter, but with some chapters missed when choir practice trumped bedtime and Daddy or Grandpa played narrator in my absence. I read those chapters on my own - not always before my next out-loud stint - and eventually read through to the end just because I couldn't put it down. It's still that good. This epoch of Anne's life gets me all nostalgic - moving away for higher education was also my first fledge into adult independence, keeping house (or rather, apartment) with friends, and fumbling through the difference between what love is vs. what I imagined it to be. Always worth a re-read, or even a partial one immediately upon finishing (I still read the rest aloud to my girlie. She liked it too).

Flowering Judas, by Jane Haddam
I've long been a fan of Haddam's Gregor Demarkian mysteries, but it had been a while since I'd indulged. This particular book was dedicated to one of her friends "because it contains, within it, everything he hates in murder mysteries", and she wanted to see if he'd buy it anyways. I enjoyed guessing which parts were his pet peeves - the bumbling police chief? The victim's controlling neurotic mother? The trailer park addict who squeezed in one F-bomb for every five words she spoke? It's a fun ride, despite - or because - of them all. 

The Art of the Personal Letter, by Margaret Shepherd with Sharon Hogan
I picked up this little how-to from the staff-picks display at the library. I thought I'd skim the section of "what tools to use" (it's hard to get excited about hand-writing when you're left-handed) and glean much from second half, "what words to say". In the end, the opposite proved true: Shepherd and Hogan's exploration of pens & paper, font & colour gave great insight in how the scene we set for our writing influences what we say and how it's received - thoughts which are as applicable to emails and blog posts as to the dreaded Christmas letter. The "what to say" was less approachable - it was more a list of what not to talk about when writing one of a prescriptive list of letters (letters of congratulations, condolences, love letters, break-up letters, fundraising letters, &c.). Oddly enough, the assumption that I'd be writing a letter on a business trip, or to a child away at summer camp, seemed more dated than discussions about paper weight and fountain pens. I didn't quite finish it. Nevertheless, Shepherd's point drove home - she's inspired me to give snail-mail another go.

That's it for this month. Hope you had a happy Thanksgiving!

Sunday, 12 October 2014

Playing with Pumpkins, or Actual Photography

It's been yet another volatile season. Or maybe that's just the new normal. We've had two glorious hazes of Indian summer, each preceded by a bitter frost, which is how we came to be the proud owners of three very green pumpkins in mid-September.

I first mistook these beauties for massive acorn squash, but thankfully my in-laws were still around to explain the origin of the gift. My father-in-law now serves as a priest to a small country parish full of big-hearted farmers. Come harvest time, their trunk overflows with farm garden produce. They take their grandkids out to Liturgy and return them with carrots and potatoes. This year, the Sunday of the Cross was heralded with delicious cucumbers, huge beets, beans, the most massive rutabaga known to man, and three green pumpkins.

A fourth came via our produce box in the appropriate month of October, and came quite orange in comparison. Being that said pumpkins were in the company of young children, the colour difference was mentioned quite a lot. Our farm pumpkins figured it was about time they sharpened up and changed their tune. That change was glorious too.

I've never watched a squash in metamorphosis before. By the time I pick them up from the pumpkin patch (or from one of the large cardboard boxes plunked outside of every grocery store), they're usually full-on orange, with nary a hint of their former hue. It seems a pumpkin ripens, not with the blush of a tawny apple, but like the speckle of a browning banana: carrot freckles multiplying 'til only dots of forest remain. Unlike a banana, the last green hold-outs congregate in the creases before retreating to the stem, a slow-motion star-burst in reverse. Time-lapse photography of ripening pumpkins must look like backwards fireworks. I wonder if anyone's published a set.

I tried to capture one particular gourd at star-streak stage and missed it by a day. Maybe I'll catch the last green hold-out in action. My son has named it "Slowpoke". His sister approves. He also wants to roast pumpkin seeds, preferably before tomorrow.

Watching nature exploding in my living room, this self-proclaimed hopeless photographer is also changing her tune. I've long told myself that photography is something I simply don't do, but I'm beginning to think that, like cooking, it may be a skill I could learn to enjoy, provided I put in some practice. I've read that the first step of learning photography is learning to see - to go out to the byways with open eyes and empty hands to find what there is to capture. My hands are rarely empty, but my eyes are always full of sights I wish I could save and share. Little bits of beauty snag my vision and leave me reaching for my smartphone. It's not a Nikon, but it takes a decent picture for a gadget I can carry in my pocket.

So I'm moving on to taking those pictures, or at least trying to, and shushing that silly old voice that said I'll never be any good. I have no plans for a hanging a shingle, or even starting an account on Instagram, but I'll be stopping to snap the roses. Maybe I'll share some of them here; who knows who else might find them lovely.

Saturday, 4 October 2014

No longer new

It's a curious weekend. My husband is away on a choir retreat, and my son has gone to his grandparents' for a sleepover. It's just us girls. Last night, there was hair-braiding and Anne of the Island for the big girl, bath and snuggles for the little girl, and marzipan-covered cake and orange chocolate port for Mommy. Plus three episodes of Downton Abbey; the youngest little miss has an overly keen sense of how little slumber happens at a girls' slumber party, so we stayed up late with the early 20th century. Today, it's baths for the big girl and sleep-ins all around. And a belated five-minute post with a seven-minute preamble.

This Friday's word was "new".

The baby isn't where I left her. She's moved herself across the floor. Sliding in slow, deliberate semi-circles, pushing and pulling whatever's solid on the way by. Squealing with delight at rearranging the light-weight but large items, such as pine chairs and plastic stools. She leaves a trail of mis-placed furniture and emptied shelves in her wake.

She's not so new. It's been just over nine months. I haven't done the math, but I think my late-comer has now been out longer than she was in. She's certainly been out and cooing for longer than we knew she was around before. And yet she's moving in a way the other two did not. She's still managing to be new to me who is not so new to motherhood. Each baby's her own person after all. We'll see how else she keeps me guessing.

And stop.

Do head over to Kate's place for a list of other brave five-minute writers. This month, some are there every day, for a special challenge of writing freely (and posting boldly) for each of October's 31 Days. Friday's post is found here.