Tuesday, 31 March 2015

What I learned in March

At the end of every month, Emily at Chatting at the Sky shares what she's been learning lately - be it frivolous or profound - and invites her readers to do the same. This time round is a bit of slap-dash between stomach flus and babysitting (consecutively, not concurrently), but I did manage to pull together a few things the ides have taught me.

Here's a glimpse of what I've been learning:

"Keats' Eremite" is a hermit, not a scientific discovery. My most striking memory of grade 11 physics was learning what an honour it was to have a theory named after you; or an element, if you're a chemist. I first sang "Choose Something Like a Star" around that time, and assumed that Keats was some kind of scientist and that eremite was either an equation or a rock. "Frostiana" is back in my repertoire, and I now know Keats to be a poet, so I looked it up. The truth is so much better. Poetry. It's growing on me.

Meal planning has a learning curve, but it's still worth the effort. Back in February, I took Breanne's advice from This Vintage Moment and made up a master list of recipes to choose my meals from for the Lenten season. Flipping through old cook-books was a great reminder of all the things I'd forgotten that I know how - and love - to cook. I wrote down over twenty old favourites with a few newbies that looked interesting and called it a day. It took a week of putting my list in practice to bring out its major flaws: every single meal I'd chosen included rice, there was no thought what all I'd be adding to our already well-stocked freezer, and none of my daughter's favourites had made the cut. My list grew longer as the weeks went on - we love our pasta and our grocery service kept sending us potatoes (plus my girlie kept remembering yet another tasty soup) - and some of the original ideas have yet to be tried. White bean ribbolita and cumin-spiced red beans look less enticing with each go 'round - I should really just cross them off and save myself the weekly "ugh." We'll see how I fare with my next list. Thanks for the great idea, Breanne!

Snow pile in the mall parking lot, mid-month. Small child and condo included for scale.

Crazy weather isn't always a bad thing.  On March 8th, my husband and I enjoyed a beer and a cold appetizer on a river-front patio - something I usually wouldn't dream of attempting before June. It was glorious. Since then, we've had a wallop of snow and miserable temperatures before the next upswing that's almost melted it all. Today, the forecast included sunshine, thunderstorms, cool rain, and the promise of 10 cm of snow by morning.  I didn't see any lightning, but this evening's gloomy skies belie this afternoon's summery warmth. I think I got a sunburn at the playground. The grey skies and whitish mounds are still hard on the old psyche (especially if I happen to catch a post of flowering trees in Victoria), but the memories of the unusually beautiful days between keep me buoyant. It still could be really nice tomorrow. Stranger things have happened!

That's it for this month. I'm off to bed. May April Fools be kind tomorrow ;)

Monday, 23 March 2015

Something like a star

I spent most of Saturday at a choir workshop, so I have Frostiana on the brain. "Choose Something Like a Star" is my favourite of the set, though it's hardly my favourite to sing (I'm a soprano - there's a whole lot of sustaining a "D" above lovely moving chords). I read Robert Frost's words and hear Randall Thompson's music. I'm starting to understand why Whitacre got a "no." Thompson's settings fit the poetry amazingly well; especially in the finale - he captures the poet's passion in the middle and joined the star's passionlessness at the end.

I don't think either Frost or Thompson had tulip centres in mind when looking for stars, but they keep me staid all the same. I focus on the colour streaking through as my world goes madly back to white. And trying not to sway mob-like when formatting goes awry - I love how Frost's poem and my picture fit together, but cannot for the life of me get the poster to fit to blogger's page. More white to pain me, but only if I let it. I'm better off staying with my star.

Sunday, 15 March 2015

Children's books and literary fiction: A mother-son quick-lit

It's been another wonky month for reading. I finished a book I'd already reviewed, and am part-way through four others. I've also been making an effort to read more to my preschooler; I let him pick half the time and try to keep my choices focussed on education rather than books I'd like to read. Top observations: Franklin is only slightly better than Caillou, and spelling books promote literacy more than straight up alphabet ones. And reading to someone else cuts into solo reading time significantly. Since I only finished three books on my own steam, I decided to beef up my Quick-lit review list with a couple of my new favourite kids books.

Here's what we've been reading:

The Ear, the Eye, and the Arm, by Nancy Farmer
After last month's African geography blitzt, I picked up this old childhood favourite - just because it's set in Zimbabwe and I know where that is now. Farmer's prize-winning futuristic novel follows the odyssey of three over-protected children through the streets of Harare as well as the three unusually gifted detectives their parents hire to find them. The story is set in 2194, but blends science-fiction and East African history with a steady pulse of Shona folklore and spirituality. It's been just long enough since I read it last to be surprised at every new twist, and amused by what Farmer did and didn't predict for the future back in 1994 (did anyone see the smartphone coming?). I think it will be a couple more years before my eldest is ready for this one, but I think both her and her brother will really enjoy it.

Mr. Flux, by Kyo Maclear, illustrated by Matte Stephens
Our last trip to the library fell during Reading Week. I plunked the baby down in front of the board book shelf, and she immediately made friends with two university students who were probably there to study. I didn't want to wander off and imply I expected them to babysit, nor did I want to interfere with their little tête à tête when all three were so clearly enjoying themselves. I ended up spending more time than usual perusing the children's section, and found this fabulous book as a result. It's a fun introduction to the Fluxus art movement of the 1960s, which was started by a group of artists who didn't take themselves, their art, or life too seriously. When Mr. Flux moves into Martin's changeless neighbourhood, all kinds of delightfully off-the-wall things start happening: from eating toast instead of cereal for breakfast to filling a swimming pool with salad. Stephens' illustrations add even more examples of Mr. Flux's bends on the ordinary. My favourite is pictured here: Martin and Mr. Flux playing ping-pong with olives while seated on turtles. I love it. While I'm not about to buy a bidet and put in on a pedestal, I do want my children to understand that the way we do things isn't the only way to do them and that a bit of change can be enjoyable - even if it's a little silly. Having this sort of book around allows me to do exactly that.

A Very Witchy Spelling Bee, by George Shannon, illustrated by Mark Fearing
A crafty combination of spelling and spells: a young witch competes in a double spelling bee by adding a letter to a word to change an object into something else entirely. "Hoe" + "s" becomes a "shoe". Add an "r" and get a "horse". If only she could get the top contestant to play fair... My son picked this one at random of the library shelf, and it's become a favourite for both of us. I love how a little magic showcases the fun you can have with letters. And my preschooler has started asking what signs say and how to spell them, rather than assuming all words that begin in "L" are talking about him.

The Sweetness of Forgetting, by Kristin Harmel
Harmel combines a secret sorrow on the brink of being lost in a Alzheimer's fog and the emptiness that has defined three generations of women in a war-torn Parisian mystery whose clues are hidden in old family recipes. Still Alice meets The Secret Keeper in this beautiful story of love, loss, and family.

The Last Anniversary, by Liane Moriarty
This early Moriarty novel weaves several plot lines together, each focussing on a resident of Scribbly Gum Island, a tiny dot off the coast of Sydney whose unsolved mystery put it on the map back in the 1930s - and has kept the family who owns it rolling in tourist dollars ever since. When the family matriarch dies and leaves her house to her grand-nephew's ex-girlfriend, her tightly-run ship starts to unravel. I can't say much more without giving the game away. It's quirky yet nuanced, laugh-at-loud funny and achingly sad - so, so much better than I expected from the back cover.

And so ends this month's literary round-up. Next month, I should have some non-fiction reviews to share. Do pop over to Modern Mrs. Darcy for more short and sweet reviews.

Wednesday, 11 March 2015

Words for the thicket

I've never been much of a reader of poetry, but every so often I stumble upon a poem and, for a moment, get what poetry is all about. I found this one quoted by Anne Lamott in Bird by Bird, and loved it so much I'd thought I'd share. 

The Wild Rose 
Sometimes hidden from me
in daily custom and trust,
so that I live by you unaware
as by the beating of my heart,

Suddenly you flare in my sight,
a wild rose blooming at the edge
of thicket, grace and light
where yesterday was only shade,

and once again I am blessed, choosing
again what I chose before. 
-Wendell Barry

Lamott tells me that Barry wrote it for his wife. I wish it graced every anniversary card for middling marriages: for the years without milestone numbers, where the everyday brambles of work and children and "why is the fridge making that noise" threaten to overgrow the relationship that started it all.

It is good to remember deliberately, with intention and regularity, but I treasure those sudden remembrances all the same.

I, too, am so blessed.