the birthday edition

Here I am, 35. Weaning my fourth daughter, thinking about buying a lamb. Saying “last baby,” in the way that people who believe in last babies say, because they want to see it coming and say goodbye.

Baking bread, simmering beans. Wish I cared less about messy corners.

Once I believed in no shampoo. Once I believed in all shampoo. Now I believe your body changes what it needs and you should look in the mirror and decide then.

Did I ask for anything for my birthday? yes. I asked for new slippers because I wore mine nearly every day last year and they simply gave up on day 360. I asked for oysters and a cake by mail. I received a handwritten book (“My Story” by Lux Ringenberg), a cherry wood platter sanded to gentleness by Joan, and a small box for my drawer of chaos crafted from wood and glue by Alma. There was also a sawdust cake topped with real candles and sprinkles (ferried away from the kitchen without my noticing), with frosting made from flour and water.

This week the girls learned about valkyries and watched The Ring Cycle opera which is available on the Metropolitan Opera’s streaming service. The fact that the Met has a streaming service is a thing I never would have bothered to google if not for this being week six of family quarantine. Thanks to Ronia (Netflix/Astrid Lindgren) the girls already love harpies. The valkyries seem to be an even fiercer inspiration for them to contemplate.

I did not watch it with them but I listened from the other room and overheard the selective reading aloud of subtitles. “Giant. I think that’s a giant? ‘Unless you are honest and keep your word. A simple minded giant tells you this–wise woman, heed what he says.'”

I came in to watch a few minutes. “Mom, you’ll love this, it’s so cool. It’s freezing cool.” said the four-year-old who cannot read subtitles.

If you can’t make a list of what you love in life on your birthday, when can you? A few things:

I’m in love with the anti-fragility of google forms right now. I feel like everything wonderful has migrated to a google form of one sort or another. Sign up. Volunteer. Spread the news. Let me know.

example: This farmer in Southern Vermont grows the most beautiful and obscure flowering plants of all sorts in her greenhouse, and then sells them from her front yard. She has a google spreadsheet order form posted up for spring orders. Place the order, drive and get your plants sometime in May. Bunker Farm Plants (click the link in her instagram profile for the order form.)

Bon Tucson: such a classy shop that seems to carry only the most lovely things presented in the gentlest way. I so admire their style.

The cookbooks story on Tonke’s instagram account. What a pretty collection she has, and her reviews are wonderfully precise. It’s the most recent story listed.

Our monthly coffee subscription from my hometown coffeeshop Madcap (Grand Rapids, Michigan). It is the best most delicious coffee I’ve ever had, they strive to pay more than fair trade prices to their growers, they are obsessed with quality, and they ship three bags once a month. It’s been perfect for the last year and I’m so thankful for it.

Speaking of cookbooks, Tim of Lottie and Doof told me about Midnight Chicken and it’s one of the books I happened to have with me during quarantine. My quaran-team. A thoughtful reflective cookbook filled with short memory-essays and encouraging ideas. Extremely British. It is the single reason I buy more expensive butter for toast now (strictly for slathering) than I did before.

Papers of All Sorts

We are in day two of deep engagement with scantily clad golden age Greek paper dolls. Scraps of paper are blowing hither and thither around the house, but the girls are loving cutting and coloring these detailed creatures and as previously mentioned, I have zero better ideas. They are using ones copied out of the Story of the World Activity book, which I unfortunately can’t find scans of online. But the blog Practical Pages has fun detailed ones which you may print off for free.

I’m feeling disinterested in making meals right now. I think perhaps I’ve parceled them off too much? Taken the glamour out of the evening meal? It might be the gradually more meager supplies at the store influencing me too. Simplicity feels smart. I only want to eat pesto, bread, pink pickled onions, and cheese on repeat.

I finished my book this morning and I miss it already. Girl, Woman, Other. A collection of chapters each about a different human, often related to each other as friend, child, mother, grandmother. The writing was lovely and poetic and the chapter style made it easy to pick up and put back down. The characters were so interesting and most of their stories had quiet endings as if of course, isn’t life itself interesting enough?

I’m codependent on books right now so I’ve already ordered another. The local bookstore is offering porch drop offs (lovely!). I ordered Weather by Jenny Offill. Went for the hardcopy, because maybe Joe will want to read it too.

Aloud, I am reading the Railway Children to the girls. We love it. The writing is fabulous, and the family is isolated and self-entertaining like the rest of us.

In a rare moment of prescience I bought the supplies for egg nests back in February and saved them until now. These are so easy to make but the girls turned them into a really lengthy project this time–spooning the sugar into the bowl by spoonfuls, trying different designs of nests. I typically expect projects of being 1:1:1–equal ratios of time spent setting up and cleaning up, to the time the project was actually engaging. It’s unexpected when it turns into something longer. The girls each selected one nest to save for Easter morning.

numbers person

Do the categories word person and numbers person truly exist? Are they separate kingdoms as in the genially absurd classic novel Phantom Tollbooth?

I always liked math in school and never questioned my competence in it. In particular I remember delighting in the requirement to circle your answer, lest it got lost amid the scribbled equations. There was this sense of the question–what if you had the right answer, but then you wandered away, and ended up circling the wrong one? The mysterious revolution–you were right, then you were wrong, but then you were right after all. It felt intimate, and I loved that part.

But I feel like a natural words person. Was this feeling assisted by simplistic duality of a printed piece of paper carrying my ACT score in which I scored higher on English than Math? Perhaps.

But there is too the fact that I do not think in numbers, nor do I puzzle over them, nor do they seem to call to me. Not in the morning, or the night, or the middle of the night. I do not so much miss them, but I do think it would be incredible to encounter numbers so familiarly that they had essence and color, as autistic savant Daniel Tammet recounted in his book years ago, Born on a Blue DayWhen I make a list of human experiences I hope to have in heaven, that is top five on mine, absolutely.

Anyway, as a result of some of these things, I often puzzle over how to invite numbers generously into my children’s world. My approach to this is to read about it (ha). Basically I’m hoping to get inside the head of a numbers person so I can properly convey that magic to the girls. Lately I’ve read several books by the mathematically inclined, like A Mind for Numbersand Surely You’re Joking, Mr. Feynman

So when my friend Katharine recommended the new The Weil Conjectures about math and the genius siblings Simone and André Weil (pronounced “vey”), I immediately asked my library to order it.

The book is one part reminisce of the author Karen Olsson’s own brief love affair with math, a sprinkling of the writings of various mathematicians (all delightful!), and one part biography of the Weil siblings—Simone, known among Christians and philosophers for her spiritual writing, and André, unknown to me, but a brilliant mathematician.

About one of the historical mathematicians, she writes:

Poincaré characterizes math as practically a form of spontaneous combustion, “the activity in which the human mind seems to take the least from the outside world.” As such, he says, it ought to tell us something about the essence of thinking.

It is very much a genre-bending book, with historical notes blended with personal ones, and fictitious scenes recreated based on fact. I particularly enjoyed Olsson’s reflections on her emotional experience with math…

But after more than two decades, if anything my dalliance with math seems just that, a past love, one I remember with nostalgia and the kind of echo feeling that adheres to the memory of an old romance.

 

Also, at nineteen, so much is up in the air, open to question, unreliable. I think part of what I like about math was simply that it seemed like a sure thing, as sure as a thing could be, a solid mass of true and rigorous and irreproachable knowledge that I could grab like a pole on the bus.

Because I previously only knew of Simone Weil as a Christian spiritualist, I was initially surprised by how lightly Olsson dealt with her spiritualism in the book. But as she reveals the intensely complex and troubled character of Simone, I began to understand why encountering her spiritual writing revealed only a fraction of this woman.

One thing I’ve taken away from my reading is the sheer delight that mathematicians take in the question. Never mind the answer. It’s the question, and the possible solution, and routes to the possible solution, that are most delightful. The Weil Conjectures is most engaging when recounting Simone and André’s letters wherein Simone asks again and again for him to explain the work he does, the math he puzzles over, and he finally does. She does not understand the explanation, and she knew she wouldn’t, but his answer has been recorded for history, for us, nonetheless.

ann patchett’s book club

Eight months in, I’m so glad I joined Ann Patchett’s book club. The Signed First Edition Club ships a book to you each month, signed by the author. It arrives in a small cotton bag with a note from the book buyer about why she loved it. Sometimes it has a note from Ann instead, like April’s amazing galactic-friendship fiction, Lost and Wanted by Nell Freudenberger.

I once read a remark along the lines of: If you want people to buy your book, you better be buying their book. As in, if you believe in books, buy books.

And after thinking about it for a while I decided I could commit to buying a new book each month. It is a bigger commitment than one would think. Somewhere in the frame of $30 a month puts it just under our daily coffee bill (we also prefer to get beans by mail subscription. Ah, the country life.).

It’s run out of the bookstore Ann owns in Nashville. Each month the new book shows up in my post office box. Our town gives us this post office box for free because the Postal Service doesn’t come up our road. Initially, I resented this NEGLECT on the Post’s part, but soon I realized it was an enormous advantage, to not have to see your mail every day. Or only seeing it when you wanted to: as an occasion. It doesn’t make the bills less bill-y but at least it makes a stack of them to be looked through with some formality and attention. Ah the mail, I say to myself looking through them with magnanimous cheer. The magazines pile up too. And the notes. All in all, the haul is often satisfying.

Or it could be just the click of the tiny door, the dark key that the girls take turns using, and the chatting of pleasantries with the postmistress that feels nice.

Ann has a funny story on the store’s blog about getting the book club going. She used her power as a famous author-interviewer to get Tom Hanks to sign his books for the First Edition Club’s subscribers. She asked for signed J.K. Rowling copies for her members in lieu of getting paid an interview honorarium. I was very impressed by these stories. I can imagine Tom gently sighing as he signed the 600 copies she requested. Circle of publishing celebrity life, he perhaps muttered.

A few other perks: the idea of reading the book very first thing, a book you will likely end up reading eventually so you can participate with the reviews and accolades that pop up later. Maybe you’ll even notice in advance when the author comes to your town on their book tour. And you have supreme gracious lending rights: you can let a friend borrow it and almost guarantee they haven’t read the book yet.

Parnassus Signed First Edition Club

 

Spring

Hi! May I begin with a photo from yesterday morning: coffee and the startling snow? I messaged a friend, worried about her flowers, and she responded, they are shocked, as am I, but we’ll pull through. I loved that. Today the snow was gone and everything was greener for it.

I admit I’m having trouble getting back into the swing–the wooden tree swing–of writing here. The time constriction of life right now is very good for productivity in general, my official to-do list gets done because I only have about 60 minutes every day to do it. But other things that take and generate creative energy have been replaced by holding Esme and gazing at the ceiling, or holding Esme and reading a book, a Barbie Early Reader no doubt, that I really wish Alma hadn’t managed to slip into the library bag. And so on.

I’ve been thinking about this interview with the enchanting Katherine Paterson, author of many books including Bridge to Terabithia. Sometimes with reading to kids, I’m so eager for them to meet books that I fear pull them out too soon. Is there a ‘too soon’ though? What if you meet a character at age seven, and revisit her again at 12? Anyway, on that topic I was I intrigued to hear her say…

I do get worried when I hear parents bragging about their kid is so smart and reads so well that she’s reading Bridge to Terabithia when she’s 6 years old or 7 years old and I think, ‘No, no, no. You need happily ever after when you’re that age. You don’t need Bridge to Terabithia. There’s an emotional readiness as well as an intellectual readiness and you need to make sure that your kid is ready emotionally for the death of another child.

To be honest, the idea of “happily ever after” and children is becoming more and more foreign in today’s culture. We seem to be in a hurry to introduce every social challenge, every world socio-political issue as soon as possible, even as our children are raised with fewer personal responsibilities or chores and with less independence than what would have been allowed in previous generations. Thoughts on this? It’s something I think about a lot.

Another gem from KP on discussing books with kids: “If you know the answer to a question, then it’s not a question.” I love how that affirms talking over books with your children after they age into reading titles that you haven’t, and likely will never, read. The whole thing is worth a listen, I enjoyed it.

till next time xo

Bookshelf Godmothers

My friend Jenny has been homeschooling her five children from the beginning. From afar I’ve watched as her confidence and spirit have flourished in her approach. I know her as a deep thinker and researcher, so I knew she must have a heavy bookshelf of guidance and encouragement in this journey (in particular I liked imagining her on her porch, deep North Carolina summer, glass of iced tea, notepad, and books at her side).

I asked her to share the top titles with us, the bookshelf-godmothers of her approach, and she did! There is so much wisdom here. Thank you Jenny! Illustration by Joe. 

by Jenny DeGeyter Haller

Homeschooling sort of stumbled into my lap. I never planned to be here, and I don’t know much about what the future holds. We just do the next right thing. We’ve settled now into a classical, Charlotte-Mason, history-loving, nature-school hybrid that I’ve dreamt up with my husband of 11 years. We have 5 children, a handful of chickens, 1 dog, 2 cats on 4 acres in the woods near Charlotte, NC. My husband is a financial advisor by day, homesteading park-ranger by night. We love nature and books, food and bonfires.

We have a mixed bag of influencers. Being an analytical mind and extensive researcher, I feel the need to read all the books. I enjoy the overwhelming feeling of so much good. All these women, going before us; leading the way and training us with their wisdom.

  • Our first influencer, the Headmaster, Susan Wise Bauer of The Well-Trained Mind
    • This is the comprehensive guide to classical education outlining the history of the methodology as well as implementation. The three stages of classical education are then thoroughly discussed by grade and subject. The book-lists alone are worth copying down. The last section discusses how to implement classical education at home, managing the records, tests and schedules, etc. No coddling. She gets right to it. Her way is strict, demanding, specific, and extensive. I open this book every summer when I’m planning my year and re-read each section for my specific child’s needs. I order most of her recommendations and haven’t been disappointed once. The Bauers and the Well Trained Mind have a large presence in our home. We’ve used:
      • Story of the Worldall four volumes and workbooks. Elementary history chronologically and geographically written so well.
      • The Ordinary Parent’s Guide to Teaching Reading– an open-and-go phonics program. Simple and straightforward. We’ve used it for years.
      • First Language Lessons– An open-and-go classical grammar and language arts program for the early elementary years.
  • Charlotte Mason, specifically, Home Education Vol 1 and A Philosophy of Education Vol 6
    • Here we have our wise, wordy grandmother. Using her philosophy, she led schools and trained teachers in England (in the early 1900’s).  Her basic premise is best summed up in the phrase, “Education is an atmosphere, a discipline, a life.” Some of my favorite topics covered in these two volumes: living books, habits, whole living ideas, nature study, a child’s mind as an organism, a full and well-rounded curriculum full of the ‘riches,’ using short lessons to encourage interest and eliminate boredom, and how stories build character. Anyone who is interested in not doing ‘school at home’ but real and vibrant homeschool, opposite of brick-and-mortar school should consider reading both of these volumes (or all 6!). Our students are spirits to be kindled, after all.
  • Sally Clarkson The Mission of Motherhood and Educating the Wholehearted Child

    • If I had to choose a fairy godmother, I would choose Sally Clarkson. She has the tender loving, sweet-talking, supportive air about her. She has written a myriad of books and they range from topics of motherhood in general, homeschooling, homemaking and more. These two are my favorites. The first is an affirming, spiritually-rich encouragement for the calling of motherhood. It reminds us that our primary role as parents is the development and molding of our children’s hearts for God. Teaching them (even if we don’t school them) to tend their passions, habits, words and actions towards being faithful to God is our ultimate destiny for these short years we have them at home. The book is a yearly must-read for me, even if I just skim or read my underlining. After I close the book, I have a renewed sense as a mother. I’m more patient, calm and hopefully, more aware of being with my children instead of just managing them.
    • Educating the Wholehearted Child is a homeschooling-rich resource. It outlines how the Clarksons homeschooled and how they used living books and various curricula. They discuss discipleship and use that as a term that is a good reminder for creating life-long learners modeled after Jesus’ teachings. The book reads like a textbook and is an aid for beginners as it details various homeschooling methods, curriculum and resource lists.
    • Other books by Sally that I’ve read and recommend: Desperate (encouragement for the weary mom), The Lifegiving Home (yearly ways to make your home unique, inviting and traditions to uphold), and Seasons of a Mother’s Heart (a gentle reminder to take care of yourself and that certain season are more difficult than others).
  • Sarah Mackenzie Teaching from Rest
    • Sarah Mackenzie would also be a fairy godmother if we’re allowed two. Or a fairy aunt. She is young and still in the trenches with toddlers and students afoot. Her book is a short but concise view of the mental challenge of teaching from rest and from a space of low-anxiety. She gently reminds us who it is we are working for (God) and what is required of us (faithfulness). “The heart of this book is about remembering what our true task really is and then throwing ourselves in completely. Giving our all. The raising of children, the teaching of truth, the sharing of life, the nourishing of imagination, and the cultivating of wisdom: these are all his anyway, we are merely His servants.” This is a must-read for any new or harried homeschooler. (Her website/podcast is also full of book list nuggets and interviews with some popular authors www.readaloudrevival.com; She also has a new book out called The Read Aloud Family.)
  • Kathleen Norris Quotidian Mysteries
    • This one won’t show up on many homeschoolers’ radars but I consider it a yearly must-read. Kathleen Norris could be our spiritual mother and mentor. The subtitle of this very short but thoughtful read is Laundry, Liturgy and ‘Women’s Work’, and it enables us to recognize our quotidian (or daily tasks) as holy work. The repetition, the mundane and the potential acedia that takes years to overcome is all discussed in a poetic and personal tone. Dishes, laundry, mopping, brushing out tangles, all of these can be worthy as worship if done in the right spirit. This is not a homeschool book.  Most days, though, the actual schooling is easy and the living is what drains me. This book convicts me to my core making me evaluate my heart and motivation. Our homes can be our monasteries. Liturgy, reading, housekeeping and constant prayer- as the Benedictines do, so do the mothers.
  • Susan Schaeffer Macaulay For the Children’s Sake
    • Susan Schaeffer Macaulay- a gently reminding sister. When I first came into the homeschooling arena, this book was recommended over and over to me. It is a biblically framed reminder to remove ourselves from the culture of schools and create an atmosphere of education in our home. It is a great read for the beginner, especially one who has littles at home. The pressure to start sometimes itches at us but our children need to be relieved of this. She’d say “Remember this: nourish our children’s lives and cultivate their souls.”
  • Other notable recommendations: Leigh Bortins-The Core, Karen Glass- Consider This, Cindy Rollins- Mere Motherhood.

We can’t forget the men.  Here are some notable Godfathers:

  • C.S. Lewis- Abolition of Man
  • David Hicks- Norms and Nobility
  • Anthony Esolen- Ten Ways to Destroy the Imagination of your Child
  • Oliver DeMille- A Thomas Jefferson Education
  • Richard Louv- Last Child in the Woods

I’ve been wanting to read/currently reading: Stratford Caldecott- Beauty in the Word (amazing!), and Julie Bogart, The Brave Learner.  Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time, we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. Cheers to you on this long obedience; may your years reap a great harvest.

review // Home Grown: Adventures in Parenting off the Beaten Path

I just finished a forest school book that was so nice I’d like to read it twice. Maybe I will. It was one of those wonderful reads where you get to live in someone else’s life and soak up their lessons and foibles, their mistakes and ambitions, all from the sequestered comfort of your home that looks nothing like theirs. Here’s how I came upon the book…

A few years a guy by the name of Ben Hewitt wrote an article for Outside Magazine about unschooling. I read it through a couple times and deemed it a steaming cup of bone broth from the unschooling movement. Here’s just a paragraph or two…

By 6:30, with the first rays of sun burning through the ground-level fog, the boys are outside. At some point in the next hour, a yellow school bus will rumble past the end of the driveway that connects the farm to the town road. The bus will be full of children the boys’ age, their foreheads pressed against the glass, gazing at the unfurling landscape, the fields and hills and forests of the small working-class community they call home.

The boys will pay the bus no heed. This could be because they will be seated at the kitchen table, eating breakfast with their parents. Or it might be because they are already deep in the woods below the house, where a prolific brook trout stream sluices through a stand of balsam fir; there is an old stone bridge abutment at the stream’s edge, and the boys enjoy standing atop it, dangling fresh-dug worms into the water. Perhaps they won’t notice the bus because they are already immersed in some other project: tillering a longbow of black locust, or starting a fire over which to cook the quartet of brookies they’ve caught. They heat a flat rock at the fire’s edge, and the hot stone turns the fishes’ flesh milky white and flaky.

I immediately googled what else this guy had written, and requested his book Home Grown. It is a quieter read than the article. While the article is edited to entice, and also, yes, to provoke, the book is a thoughtful read on the endearing attempts of unschooling parents to guide and provide for their children, to be patient, to believe in themselves and their child, and their children’s recent habit of skinning skunks in the front yard. It reminded me of Wendell Berry–written in a softly humble tone by a man who is grateful and astonished to find himself supporting his family above the poverty line as a writer and farmer.

Though we may now live surrounded by trees, rest assured my children are not (yet) hunting squirrels with handmade bows or building their own maple sugaring fires. They do not wake at dawn, dress appropriately for the weather and leave the house for hours at a time. And we aren’t unschooling. We are decidedly full of workbooks and curriculum and goals. But in reading something like Home Grown I can learn a lot from his attitude, the reminder to take the extra time to let them learn alongside you, the power of wait-and-see.

It has also been on my mind to seek out a tutor of sorts who could wander the woods with the girls, so I was delighted to find this same idea working well for Ben’s family. There are loads of wonderful camps around us, but I don’t need a week of intense activity framed by long drives and packed lunches. I would love something regular in our backyard with someone who can evolve into a mentor and friend.

What about you? Any good education reads lately?

The Gospel of Trees

The hallelujah chorus that I woke to every morning was symphony sung by roosters and herons, backed by the beat of the clicking cicadas and the low whirring tick of the fan. Kicking aside thin sheets, I scratched fresh welts on my ankles and watched as a lizard flicked his tongue, then crept on padded toes toward the blood-drowsy mosquito. From the kitchen, the smell of pancakes with imitation maple syrup, carefully rationed to compensate for the sharp tang of Haitian honey. And after breakfast? An unending parade of distractions.

I’m staying up way too late enjoying the missionary kid’s memoir The Gospel of Trees. Set in Haiti and northern California, it perfectly balances the heroism and deep disappointment twined around being the child of parents who believed they could change the world.

a book in context

gingerbread_2016

I started the The Good Earth, published 1931 by Pearl S. Buck, mid-December in the two weeks after Joe’s brother died; wretched strange weeks when the girls and I were sick with one morphing virus, a flu-cold, flights were delayed, our planes home sat on the tarmac then skid into airports hours late, we seemed to tuck them into bed, fall asleep listening to them cough, and then drag them out again before the sun even bothered to wink awake.

At the memorial service for their uncle the girls crumpled with me in a back row in grumpy feverish moods, wiping their snotty noses over and over, hiding their flushed faces in their elbows as old friends of the family stopped to say hello. The service was beautiful but our children weren’t, a fact that both prickled our pride and seemed fitting. One family member dead and well remembered, the rest alive and hard to look at. Each morning I woke up expecting our hack-coughs to be emptied overnight, no. Meanwhile our hero Wang Lung gratefully accepted his morning bowl of hot water, in bed, served by his new wife just after she carefully stoked the fire and served another bowl to his father. 

Naturally there was no mention of Christmas on the pages of The Good Earth–though there is occasionally a fearful and fitful devotion to various gods, grabbing an incense stick when things seemed worrisome, cursing them loudly when things fell apart. Wang Lung’s marriage to O-lan is pragmatic, met with unexpected kismet and peace, yet there is still the unerasable impact of O-lan’s deprived childhood–the details of which are eluded to only vaguely. Wang Lung made no move, ever, to fix or soothe what had happened to her. Meanwhile I chased the girls with ointments of various types, devoting fifteen minutes to cajoling a smear on their red skin that was raw from their furtive side-wiping. The girls seemed to collectively give up eating, their proud young playground muscles almost immediately disappearing into knobby knees. At a certain point all three began to watch me as nothing but a kleenex threatening an attack on them. I fell into the role, really, it was almost impossible for me not track their snuffles and new symptoms with a graph chart.

Steadily I closed my senses to the american christmas hoopla around us that did not frame our Christmas this year at all. The sweet heaven-bound songs of the memorial service rang instead of carols, toast and soup replaced hot cocoa, sleeping late and watching movies, often oblivious to the accomplishment of festive traditions around us. Joe and I mostly looked at the girls, but when we managed to look at each other it was difficult to avoid the topic of missing Ross or preemptively imagining how sad this or that were going to be without Ross. Steadily Wang Lung remained devoted to his land, wholly disinterested in political events in his country and often oblivious to anything beyond the demands of his social structure. The narrative pours out like hot tea, the irony-free meditations faintly fragrant and soothing. Pearl Buck was the child of American missionaries, she held the duality of American and Chinese worlds in her mind, but she loved the Chinese one most, I think. Her flattering sketch of the countryside, the affectionate description of the “loaf of bread wrapped around a stick of garlic,” the laboring, planting, harvesting, well-earned resting that framed Wang Lung’s noble year. The pre-revolution farmer peasant world was harsh indeed, but you can tell she loved it. The GOOD earth. 

Cold Weather Reads

what_we're_reading

It’s dark in the morning and dark over dinner, there are cranberries at the farmer’s market and foggy blue squashes on my neighbor’s steps–it must be autumn on the east coast! It feels like everyone in this little family is reaching for a book these days. Between my own book, and the pile of books Joan carts over to me every morning, I seem to spend most of my day reading–which is ideal!

Here’s what everyone is enjoying right now…

Joan, 3yrs old, friendly Halloween books and cozy stories, best read by the stack: The Soup Bone, Halloween Pie, Treasure Hunt, Each Peach Pear Plum.

Lux, 5yrs old: Lux is going to be Medusa for Halloween, a character she fell for after we read Athena. She is so intrigued by all the Greek Gods right now so I was happy to order other books from this illustrated and historically-accurate Olympians series for her. Please note: these are violent and selfish characters, and though I feel comfortable introducing these themes (I vastly prefer them to the same themes introduced in Marvel comic-types), you may not!

Rachael: I just finished Barbarian Days, a surfing memoir by a New Yorker staff writer. The first part and the last part of the book are the best. In the first part, he is a middle school outcast in Hawaii, who grabs his surfboard first thing in the morning. In the last part, he’s in his forties, fifties, and sixties–a successful writer settled in New York, still chasing waves. I had to skim a lot of the wave-description parts throughout, but I loved his humble storytelling style, his affection for the characters in his life, his wry theories about the surf obsessed. You will never look at a surfer the same way again.

Next: I think I’ll try The Everlasting Meal again. I couldn’t get into last time I tried, but a friend argued that it was best read in cold weather as it’s all about roasting, grocery shopping with economy, and planning ahead. Yes please.

Joe: Joe is finishing Substitute, Nicholson Baker’s somewhat dreary nonfiction chronicle of substitute teaching in a Maine public school.

If you’ve never read Nicholson Baker, his fiction title A Box of Matches is absolutely the best cold-weather read! It’s a love letter to fireplaces and thoughtful dark mornings.

What are you reading?