Thursday, 17 September 2015

Reading into fall

It seems only yesterday I was gearing up for September, and here we are at the halfway mark already. Quick Lit day has snuck up on me yet again. Rather than leaving my reading list fallow for another month, I'm slapping together a shorter post than usual. That's the idea anyways. Wish me luck.

Here's what I've been reading since mid-July:

I can't believe it's not better, by Monica Heisey
A short collection of humourous articles, poems, and pictures. Heisey's zany style grew on me the more I read. It was like sitting down with a collection of the Far Side Comics; each piece was funnier than the last, even if some of the racier content had me wincing. On that note, I'd think twice before following the back cover's suggestion on giving it to a niece you don't know well but want to impress. My nieces are both minors; I doubt my sister-in-law would appreciate them receiving a gift with that much adult content from anybody.

She's come undone, by Wally Lamb
This seminal novel of hurt and slow healing made it's way on to my to-read list for reasons since forgotten. Much like The Color Purple, it was definitely worth the time and emotional energy, but it was one hard read. HSPs beware.

Ellen Tebbits, by Beverly Cleary
After my last two literary choices, a kids' book was just the ticket. I'd never read any Beverly Cleary books, but my daughter got a gift set for Christmas and has a habit of leaving them around the house. Ellen Tebbits was a short and sweet ride down memory lane to the ups and downs of child friendships. It wasn't until Ellen expressed surprise that not all mothers know how to sew that I realized how old it was. Turns out Cleary started writing back in 1950, and she kept at it straight until 1999. I've now read her second oldest novel, published in 1951. I'll have to see how the others compare.

Kilmeny of the Orchard, by L. M. Montgomery
Speaking of early novels, this one hails from 1910, right in the midst of those first Anne books. I can't help but wonder if Kilmeny's neglected orchard was inspired by Hester Grey's abandoned garden from Anne of Avonlea, or vice versa. Much like Anne's House of Dreams, I had to set aside my knowledge of modern medicine and believable rates of rehabilitation, but the high romance is worth the suspension of disbelief. A lovely escapist read. I'm so glad I found a copy.

Anne of Ingleside, by L. M. Montgomery
The latest Anne instalment has never been my favourite - it spans a few too many years and the children seem almost type-cast - but this time around I found Anne's endless patience and understanding downright irksome. There's nothing like reading of a fictional mother's first and only recorded bad day to your own child when both of you are well aware that bad mother moments happen a lot more frequently in your own home than at Ingleside. I wish Montgomery had written in a scene where one of Anne's children complains to Miss Cornelia about Mother getting cranky and she tells them bluntly "that's because your mother is people, dearie." Thankfully, my own girlie didn't feel the need to ask why I'm not like Anne, though she kept waiting in vain for stories about Shirley. Poor little boy didn't get a single tale. I suppose being Susan's favourite isn't all it's cracked up to be.

Sister Pelagia and the Red Cockerel, by Boris Akunin
The end of the Sister Pelagia trilogy went in curious places among curious people: one character travels from city to city in Russia, stumbling upon government conspiracy and secret horrors while Pelagia is in Palestine, weaving through rebels and conmen in search for a heretical prophet straight out of Bulgakov's The Master and Margerita. There's still a mystery of sorts, and a brush with the paranormal that cannot be explained, but the odyssey's the thing.  Not nearly as fun as the first two, but thought provoking and very well written all the same.

Days of Splendor, Days of Sorrow, by Juliet Grey
It's been a long time since I read any historical fiction. Last library visit, I picked two off the shelf. This was the first. It's actually the second novel in a trilogy covering the life of the infamous Marie Antoinette. This instalment followed the doomed queen from her husband's rise to the throne to the storming of the Bastilles. The French Revolution is one of those famous European epochs of which I hold only a cursory knowledge; thanks to Juliet Grey, I'm now entirely hooked, and totally sympathetic to her heroine's plight. Sarah Crew's obsession makes sense to me now.

Keeping it short clearly isn't happening, but my morning's getting shorter by the minute. My last couple books will have to wait until next time. Do pop over to Modern Mrs. Darcy for more promptly submitted reviews.

Happy September.

Thursday, 3 September 2015

Summer lessons

I had to clean my desk before I attempted to write. I've been trying to curate a nook of sanity for myself - an oasis of tidy with little vignettes of lovely in the sea of kid mess and home decor projects pushed ever further down the to-do list. But the toddler is standing tall and reaching further, and sorting school supplies on the dining room table doesn't mix with serving supper. The pencils and duotangs are still squatting next to my knitting bag, but they're neatly stacked at last. And the dust, the dust is gone. As are the crumbs from my English-biscuit-dunking experiment inspired by "The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel;" they were Russian biscuits, not true British ones, but the union was blissful all the same, if one ignored the mess.

School starts next Tuesday for my third (!) grader. Kindergarten hits full swing the Monday after, and it will be just me and the babe five mornings a week. And today, I'm taking a break from pressing forward to look back on what I've learned from this summer of mothering three.

I'm linking up with Emily, along with many other life-long learners. For more lists of lessons, be they deep or mundane, pop over to Chatting at the Sky. Here's mine:

Summer vacation is a really great time to introduce the concept of chores. For the last few years, I've been trying to instil some sense in my children that running this household is a team effort. While they're often game to help out with exciting big projects (like making French toast, or packing for a trip), and we've occasionally exchanged housework for goodies beyond allowances, we've never managed to establish any daily responsibilities. Learning a new task takes time; between my daughter's long bus rides, homework, and early bedtimes, there never seemed to be enough of it. When summer hit, however, I no longer had to choose between giving my children time to play together or teaching them some self-sufficiency. Once a day, my eight-year-old now folds and puts away whatever kid laundry is dry and waiting. My five-year-old empties the dishwasher and puts away as he can manage. There isn't a set time of day to do these tasks, but they must be done before television.

I felt strange making my kids work harder during the season of relaxation, but they didn't actually make that particular objection. They made plenty of others, of course, but by the end of the first week or so they'd found a way to make it fun. My eldest enjoys announcing which coveted items are clean again, and cooing over the baby's cutest outfits. She often complains about the size the job before she begins but glows with accomplishment once it's completed. My son is getting better at squirrelling away the dishes whose homes are in his reach. Those that live too high are prime building material for "big bubble buildings." He usually asks to keep them standing to show off later. We settle for taking a picture before I dismantle them.

A big kid can make a big difference on a solo-parent road trip. As I mentioned last month last post, we embarked on our longest family adventure near the end of July. While we were gone, our yard was to undergo metamorphisis, from the land of concrete and rotting fence posts to a haven of good drainage: fenced, landscaped, and ready to sod. Unfortunately, a permit got missed and the job stalled until we returned to request it, and then paused while our contractor went on his own family vacation. My husband's holidays were up, but the yard was still a mess, and I hadn't seen my hometown since Christmas. So we packed up the van again, hugged my man goodbye and headed six hours east without him, forgetting that it had been nearly four years since we'd last tried it.

Unlike those trips of yesteryear, there were no hour-long cries or parking lot tantrums, just the odd call for snacks and a whole lot of Coldplay. Filling the van's six-CD-changer before we left helped a lot, as did the promise of DVD time after lunch, but the biggest boon was a child with a good head and long arms to hand snacks and books and toys to her car-seated siblings in the row ahead. My first baby is growing up. It's bittersweet, but also kind of wonderful.

Our crabapples usually ripen in mid-August - not September. It's been two years since I posted my recipe for crabapple butter, complete with complaints about my backyard harvest coming unseasonably early. Two years where the apples turned rosy just as early, even when the preceding summer weather wasn't nearly as strange. That leaves only one year with September apples, and that was our first autumn after moving in. The three years before that, we had a different house with a different species of apple tree; I'm wondering if that first year was the anomaly or if my memory's confused one fruit's time of ripeness with the other. Next August, I'll be ready.

That'd better be it, or I'll miss the link-up deadline. Sorry for the long and rambly post. It's been a dry summer for writing, and I'm a little rusty.

Happy September, friends. Enjoy the New Year!