Reading by Our Lake

lakereadingI think I have waxed poetic before about why I like backpacking.  It isn’t that I like doing a million miles of hiking.  I don’t like getting on top of things and looking out.  I certainly do not like living on dehydrated food for days on end!

I like it for these lovely moments where the whole world seems to drop into its correct place.  The day is long and quiet, or surprising in its simplicity.  Frogs in the pond.  Tadpoles getting ready to join the adult frog world.  Deer who are not afraid of us.

For the kids, it is magical too.  They accept the dirtiness with relish; (I try to follow along without too much complaint).  The entertainment is splashing in the lake, whittling sticks, catching frogs and listening to In a Glass Grimly by Adam Gidwitz each night.

By the way, if you have a child between about 5 and 13 in your family and like reading out loud to him or her (or them!), I HIGHLY recommend Gidwitz’s books.  Tale Dark and Grimm is good.  In a Glass Grimmly is better!  Can’t wait until The Grimm Conclusion is in paperback.  Gidwitz is the ultimate cheeky narrator, making jokes and raising his hand in faux horror over his mouth at the action in the story…..which is often gross and sort of bloody in a delightful way.  Really!

We’re back from our 5 nights in the Trinity Alps Wilderness of northern California.  It was wonderful.


Da Classics

Yeah, I studied literature in college.  I’m not ashamed to admit that I love reading and thought I could make a career of it.  Sure, at this point in life it seems that it would  have made more sense to study laundry or food science, but I still love my time devoted to literary criticism.

I read a lot.  Or rather, I read often.  If I say “a lot” that makes it sound like I read a great quantity of books, and that just ain’t so.  I am an incredibly slow reader.  My husband teased me unmercifully for reading The Brothers Karamazov for about a whole year.  “Why don’t you give up?” he said.  “Because I am READING this book whether it wants to be read or not!”  I responded.  So I am not fast, but I am determined.

And I like the classics.  I had the good fortune to stumble across one of those bookmarks at Powell’s that had a list of 100 most important novels of our time.  Right then and there I decided I was going to start reading them and weigh in.  Because surely people care what I think, right?

I don’t know why I have spent so much of my life not particularly wanting to read what others called classics.  It must be the rebel in me attempting to be contrarian about something sort of established long before my time.  I’m a little late to be a rebel though.  I guess that is it— I want to feel like I “discovered” an author, and that just won’t be happening with Henry James.  Two years ago I took Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness to Mexico with me.  It sounds stupid to admit this, but right away I thought WITH HONEST SURPRISE, “Hey, this dude can write!  This stuff is really good.”

“No really guys!  That Joseph Conrad guy is super amazing!”

This spring I finally picked up Aldous Huxley’s A Brave New World.  Wow.  Compelling.  I couldn’t find anyone to talk about it with me.  And D. H. Lawrence’s Lady Chatterley’s Lover?  Guess what?  There is lots of sex in it!  And I don’t mean that figuratively.

Even though I have been slow to come to most classics, I have read most of Dicken’s work.  I find him incredibly funny and his characters very true to life.  I just like a good, huge Dickensian mystery.  I read slowly so I can nurse the book out over a couple months.  I never have to deal with the jarring sadness of finishing a good book, or at least, I can put it off quite awhile.

Here is Modern Library’s list of 100 most influential novels.  I would love to hear from you what you have really enjoyed reading or were surprised at.  My top recommendation— Custom of the Country by Edith Wharton.  Evil incarnate.  You’ll like it.



Keee-razy Time

My darling Clementine finally tracked me down this evening and as we were catching up she asked what I’d been up to lately.  I took a big breath and…. well, I don’t really know.  I’ve been really busy with something.  I’ve been doing something, right?  I feel all stressed and crazy, but it is hard for me to quite grasp why that might be.

One of the big things that is taking up a lot of time is my new “volunteer of the year” teaching plan.  I don’t know who developed this one… it wasn’t necessarily good.  The thing is that our little school finally got a kiln.  I am somewhat responsible for that happening and I am proud of that.  Sometime around January I sent out an email to all the teachers saying that I would come into their classes and lead ceramics projects in the hopes that everyone would start to utilize this tool.  I didn’t hear much from them back then, but now that it is nearly the end of the year, everyone wants me and guess what?  It is a lot of work.  The classes themselves are not too time-consuming.  They usually take about an hour and a half.  It is the prep and the clean up that is the killer though.  Each class requires that I wedge the clay that is about to be used—- that’s 30 balls of clay.  I wedge fairly quickly, but that is still a good 45 minutes of work.  Hauling things hither and yon is time consuming too.  I have some supplies at school, some things in the art room or the kiln room, and those two places are nowhere near each other.  When the class finishes its work, there are 30 pieces of art to find room to store.  That sounds simple, but it is no small feat.  And then when the work is done there is loading and firing and checking on the kiln.  All these little things add up to a lot.

Okay, big segue here–

I did finish Brian Doyle’s Mink River lately.  Great book about a fictional town in Oregon that by my read of the local landscape is just about where Neskowin or maybe Neahkanie would be.  The town is almost right, although Brian Doyle not being from those parts tends to make it sound much prettier than it could possibly be.  No story about those rural parts of Oregon is complete without a lot of single-wide trailers.  And ugly houses barely hanging on with tons of cars and scrap metal in the yard.  And mean dogs.  And signs that say “Rabbets for sale: pet or meet”.  And the town had a “pub” which is wrong, wrong, wrong.  It would be a dark, windowless “tavern” and we all know it.  Why in Willamina, the tavern is called “Dillon’s”.  Poor guy can’t even spell his own name; he certainly wouldn’t work in something as European sounding as a “pub”.

Anyway, I loved the book and am very proud of Brian Doyle, Portland author made good.  Doyle likes lists… a lot.  So in order to organize my reflections of my business, I shall list what I’ve done this week.

Monday- run, shower, yell at kids, pack lunches, move ceramics around, haul 50 pounds of clay (on my bike!), drink coffee with neighbors, meet the assessor, oh-it’s-hot-out, go to school, fire the kiln, grab Francis, lunch with Inez and Francis, doctor’s appointments, shots-shots-shots, run to the library, pick up Zephyr, pick up clay for home, drink a beer with neighbor, help Francis make dinner, meet Anne, make art, put kids to bed.

Tuesday- why is my arm all hot and swelling up to twice its size, stupid bee sting from Sunday, put toothpaste on it, put lotion on it, put alcohol on it, put Queen Helene mint masque on it, what time is it anyway? (3am), go back to sleep, wake up, try to get kids off to school, nope—no bike train leader, okay, be the bike train leader, ride kids to school, ride them to “Safe Routes to Schools” event ’cause we heard there were donuts, eat donuts, yell at kids, now ride them to school, check kiln, still too hot, go home, haul rocks, work in yard, mow lawn, paint bat house with Inez, nap Inez, laundry, laundry, laundry, hang laundry, pick up Zephyr and Francis, play outside, harass Zephyr about violin, keep kids from dying on bikes in road, yell at kids, visit with neighbors, cook salmon, release chicken from raccoon trap, mess with broken shed door, move tools around, try to convince Zephyr to quit crying, try to convince Zephyr that he DOES NOT have a dance recital that night, try to comfort Zephyr, threaten to put Zephyr to bed instantly if he does not quit howling, talk to neighbors (“he didn’t have a dance recital, right?”—he didn’t), OH THANK GOD ALMIGHTY BRAD HAS RETURNED FROM HIS BUSINESS TRIP!  Take a benedryl for my arm which makes me so high that I can’t hold my eyes open.  Asleep by 9pm.

Wednesday- what is that racket?  Cat in raccoon trap ripping apart the thing, make breakfast, make coffee, late opening means kids are home 2 more hours, work outside, sweep walk, hose down walk, finally pick up bat house painting supplies, fill washtub with dirt, plant snap peas with kids, plant cucumbers, water, water, water, try to take kids to school–whoops too early, take kids to school, walk to cafe, meet Kendall, drink coffee and relax, walk home, babysit neighbor kid, plan curriculum for volunteer class at church, read disconnected story in The Sun magazine, look at neighbor’s photo albums, pick up kids, lose kids while talking too long to a teacher, talk to another teacher, talk to another teacher, plan ceramics classes for tomorrow, open kiln, distribute work, get impatient with crying children, walk home, finally make peanut butter sandwich for “lunch”, turn around for violin lesson, learn about wrist angles, come home irritated and exhausted, contemplate weird food in refrigerator, what can I do with celeriac cheese and beer?, babysitter shows up early (yes!), leave her with problem of dinner, go out to dinner with Brad, go to gospel choir….


I am tired of my lists.  I am going to bed.

What I am Reading Now

I have decided that I need to give up Elizabeth Berg.  I think I have read about 6 or 7 of her huge body of novels.  Her voice is comforting and clever, and yet I am finding her insubstantial somehow.  I think I have decided that she is entirely too sweet, and it strikes me as unbelievable somehow.

Recently I finished The Year of Pleasures, the story of a 50-something woman who finds herself widowed and grieving.  She has no close family or friends to help her in her grief process, so she uproots herself and sets off on an adventure to settle in a small town where she might reconnect with society around her, specifically a cast of eccentric (but always kind) people.  I had a few problems with this.  First of all, it is a little unbelievable that anyone might completely cut him or herself off from EVERYONE around him or her and yet still possess the social skills to form friendships.  This character though is funny and charming, adventurous and willing to bond with all sorts of new folks.  Although she has neglected all friendships since getting married, she is able to summon a full-on gaggle of old “best friends”, roommates whom she had cut it up with “back in the day”.  She is accepted back into the fold and it is a non-stop girl-fest once they find her vulnerable and in need.  The explanation for her cutting off her friends after college?  She was too in love, too involved with her husband.  That is it.  Too in love?  I don’t think so.  How about Too dependent?  How about Too Unhealthy?  How about Too Lame?

It is hard to imagine that the friends want her back, but more so, it is hard to believe that she is capable of offering much to the friendship.  Somewhere along the way, the main character is bemoaning the loss of her husband and a friend attempts to comfort her.  “You don’t know!” she whines.  The friend then quietly tells her about her daughter who died.  Hmmmm, I think.  Why would anyone want to be friends with someone that self-involved?  Someone who didn’t even ask or listen or notice that a friend had lost a child?

So Elizabeth Berg, you are not quite cutting it.  You are lovely and slightly cloying.  Sorry my dear.  Oprah may love you, but you seem like junk food to me.

In other news, I finished Louise Erdrich’s The Plague of Doves.  In contrast, Erdrich achieves an eerie sort of darkness that I find lush and compelling.  I always feel in a sort of trance reading Erdrich, and her newest is just as mystifying and ummmm—-erotic?  I am at a loss to describe this author sometimes.  She is such a beautiful writer, but strikes me as someone I DEFINITELY DO NOT WANT TO MEET.  She is creepy in that way; dangerous, changeable, divine.  I love her, I love that she writes so honestly about the uglier side of humans, but she freaks me out a bit.  (I will never forget her writing in her memoir of motherhood that when one of her babies was crying incessantly, she would swear at it in a sweet and loving voice.  “You fucking, goddamn baby!”  This idea is totally fascinating AND repellant to me.  I absolutely relate to the love/hate experiences of dealing with crying babies, but could never quite pull that off.  Subsiquently, I am fascinated with a woman who swears at her babies.)

When Michael Dorris was alive, it was sometimes suggested that he was the genius and she the one who brushed up and organize his brilliant crumbs.  Now that he has been gone for some time and she has churned out 5 or more novels, it is clear that SHE is a genius all by herself.  Well, at least it is clear to me.

Last month I was forwarded one of those “100 Great Books” lists where you are suppose to go through and mark off what you have read.  I’m not usually a fan of spammy e-mail, but this thing sort of focused me a bit and I went to seek out some books I have never read.  “Who is that Joseph Conrad guy?  And that James Joyce who everyone is always talking about!”.  The sad thing, (or maybe not?),  is that I was an English major in an early adoption time for multicultural literature.  By that I mean that I my university hadn’t worked out the kinks in their canon requirements and I managed to waltz through school never reading Hemingway, Conrad, or any other of a host of “dead white guys”.  If something was written by a lesbian or a person of color, well you can be sure that I read it!

This wasn’t much of a problem until I applied for grad school and realized that I really needed to be better versed in the literature taught in high schools and colleges.  Hence, much frenzied reading of “the classics”.  You can’t do that all at once however, so I am still hacking away at some of them.  Heart Of Darkness by Joseph Conrad was high up on my list.  This is getting too long, so I will say only that I thought it was totally awesome and totally not a book to waste on high schoolers.  People read this in high school?  My girlfriends agreed that they had read it in high school.  Needless to say, no one remembered what it was about.

In that vein, I am revisiting Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens.  I am a huge Dickens fan, but well on my way to running out of Dickens.  Maybe when I finish his body of work, I can start into biographies about him to get my fix.  Anyway, I read Tale of Two Cities in college, but—well, I think I was too dumb for it.  I wasn’t ready for it.  I didn’t understand his humor at the time.  I took it all at face value.  I think I missed a lot of the point of the book because I just wasn’t mature enough.  I was too young for Dickens.

This is sort of an interesting issue to have to think about in regards to my profession.  Aren’t I in the business (or won’t I eventually be back in the business) of having young people read literature for their betterment?  What if they aren’t ready for it?  Okay, gotta get off here.  You can weigh in though.  Is it good to be “forced” to read classics?  Does it improve us as humans?  Would we eventually find that quality literature if no one forced us to?

Cracking Down

Hi friends,

It is so nice that you have been regularly reading my silly little posts here.  I do so appreciate that.  I thought I might let you know though that I am turning the screws (on myself).  It is time to focus in on finishing my classes in order to retain my teaching license.

Let me take a break for a second to bitch about something.  Let’s say that you are a marketing executive.  You have been one for many years, successfully even.  If you decide to stay home for a few years and take care of children, does the American Association of Bankers make you go and take 9 credits of graduate level classes just to make sure that your head is still in the game?  And if you are a plumber, does a guy in a grey jumper charge you $1000 and make you take a class on installing a wax seal under a toilet? Hmmm.  I didn’t think so.  I got the master’s degree that was required, for God’s sake!  I spent the money.  Now let me just live in peace!

Teachers Standards and Practices would like me to read a little Gilgamesh and Ramayana just in case I have become stupid since staying home with children.  And now, I have so much of that to do before Thanksgiving that it is consuming my life.  How much can one parent get down while caring for three young children?  Not much let me tell you.  Interestingly enough, I have a totally different relationship with time now that I am doing this.  I divide each day up into these tiny increments.  I try to put something in the microwave WHILE running to the bathroom, because God forbid that I waste time watching the microwave and THEN running to the bathroom.  I am totally wringing minutes out of each day in efforts to do what really feels impossible.  You know when you have a lump of nervousness and despair up in your throat because you are so stressed out?  I have that.

And yet, fear not!  I will triumph in the end!  I have one credit done and only 8 to go!  I won’t be posting much for a while though.  I need to work, I fear, even though writing here is more fun.  Thanks for the love.  I’ll be back soon.

Gross Me Out

I finished one class needed to retain my teaching license.  It was pretty good, but the final project had me cracking myself  up.  The class was “Drawing to Increase Literacy” and the assignment was to take a piece of descriptive literature and illustrate it, breaking the process into various parts.  Without even thinking too much about it, I chose a Langston Hughes poem that Lorainne Hainsbury took the title of “Raisin in the Sun” from.  The images are great, and I often introduced the poem along with the play to high school students and had the DISTINCT impression that they had no idea what the poem was talking about.  What it is talking about is the sadness and despair of a dream that is set aside, the almost grotesque nature of how we can loose what we might cling to, or how what we might hope for can be snatched from us.

The funny thing is that as I drew these images, I made myself sick.  Really.  I grossed myself out.  Ha!  If the goal was to make the work more alive and immediate, I guess the assignment worked, right?


The Best Book!

33638834I know that I was writing about books I’ve been reading over there to the right, but I fear that maybe no one is checking that out, mostly because I haven’t seen any “Oh!  I read that!” comments.  So maybe I will try to mix my reviews in with my normal old posts.  I am way behind on books anyway and if those posts are not really being read, well THERE GOES MY MOTIVATION completely!

I just finished Brothers by Yu Hua.  It was a monster of a book, but truly I was so enraptured with it all the way through.  And I had to be as I had put the book on hold at the library, couldn’t finish it in the time I had it on loan and had to BUY it for stinking $30 at Powells.  I justified this thinking that this book represents 3 movies without paying for babysitting, and seeing as how this form of entertainment is actually something attainable, it was probably a good deal.  And here is the thing— It was SOOOOO worth it!  I have gotten so much more than $30 value out of this book.

Brothers follows two, well, brothers during the Cultural Revolution in a small Chinese village and then through the rash of communism to capitalism that follows.  One brother is quiet, intellectual and introspective; the other is brash, loud, and foul-mouthed.  Both brothers love each other, but struggle with a world that is changing right as they are growing up and the way that they conform to the world or make the world conform to their needs is the basis of the narrative.  A side note:  Baldy Li is such an awesome character!  He is so gross and so powerful all at the same time!  Song Gang is also an enjoyable character, but more because you feel so damn sorry for him.  Yu Hua is a foul boy.  If you remember 6th grade humor, you will feel right at home with this author’s comedic repetoire.

Hua’s book is described as a “black comedy”, which I suppose fits.  It reminded me somewhat of Gabriel Garcia Marquez in that ridiculous things happen throughout the story and slowly become fairly believable.  If you are a hoity-toity literature person you would say, “Ding, ding, ding!  Magical Realism!”.  The dings are because you got the answer right.  

The important point of noting that Hua’s book feels like magical realism is only in that the world of the two main characters is so wild and crazy and yet so rich.  Sometimes it is richly ugly, and sometimes it is movingly beautiful.  It is hard to call from page to page; which delighted me.  Even as I finished the book, I found myself taking a deep breath, being so moved by the lovely sentiment, and then gasping with surprise and bursting out in laughter on the final line.  Hua is something of a comedian and had to finish the 654 page book off with a big old punchline.

Go check it out from the library!  Better yet, borrow it from me and then I can get that much more value out of it!

Updates & Well Wishes


Wow, I’ve been really busy this week.  I can’t quite put my finger on what it is that I have been doing, but judging from the mountain of laundry that I folded last night, it was not house-keeping.  This week was fun (I think).  Zephyr and I went to a play at Oregon Children’s Theater.  “Click, Clack, Moo, Cows that Type” was pretty great.  It reminded me of The Muppets, the way that humor would work on multiple levels.  In case you haven’t checked out this children’s classic, it is about cows who go on strike after finding that their barn is cold.  They learn to type and in that way deliver their demands to the farmer.  One cow read “Animal Farm”, “The Communist Manifesto”,  and the biography of Malcolm X, so she would occasionally yell, “Down with the Oppressor!”.  Hilarious.  It occurred to me on the train coming back that in The Muppets, the “high humor” character was usually Gonzo.  Maybe that is why I liked him so much.

I’m going to sum up this week’s changes in bullet form.  That will be fun, right?


  • Inez is a new baby.  A better baby.  An improved baby.  The crying is over and this kid is so super sweet and mellow.  She doesn’t seem to cry hardly at all now, except when I totally neglect her and leave her in the swing too long.  She is excellent.  I am so glad that the colic has gone (back to hell where it came from!).
  • Beer.  We have a lot of it because of Dad’s 70th birthday party this last week.  We tried our best to empty the keg in our kitchen, but after being quite drunken last Sunday (or Saturday?  Monday?  Huh?), the beer is not as appealing.  It is hard to wake up to feed a baby at 3am if you are reeling around the room.  If you are my neighbor, you are getting mason jars full of beer on your porch today.  I need to empty this sucker and get it back to Widmer.
  • Mulch.  My obsession is paying off.  The front yard is looking pretty good where I dumped all the mulch from the fall.  I haven’t gotten out there as much as I want to, but the sun is peaking out around here and spring does look like it is on its way.  The weeds are smothering, but now I have to go pluck up the particularly determined ones.  Did REM do a song called “Night Gardening”?  Or was that “Night Swimming”?  Anyway, that is when I garden these days as that is when the kids manage to leave me alone.  I can’t wait for more time in the yard!  I want plants!  I want weeding!  I want life!
  •  Chickens.  I need to figure out how to keep them penned up more.  There was entirely too much chicken shit on the back lawn.  On the positive side, the grass sure looks healthy!  I did a walk through with the hose and sprayed all the turds, making the most potent fertilizer this side of the Dallas cow shit ponds.
  • Chinese media!  I am reading “Peony in Love” by Lisa See.  It is so engrossing.  I love it.  I am not getting enough sleep because I just want to read.  And I have “Tuya’s Marriage” from the library.  Technically it is a Mongolian movie, but it is close enough to a Chinese film to give me fits.  I can’t wait to watch it.  I love Chinese movies.  LOVE, I tell you.  If it has Gong Li in it, I swoon.  She is my girl-crush.
  • Music.  I have a bunch of stuff to practice for Saturday and Sunday.  I am doing music for Family Mass the third Saturday of every month.  This is great as it means I get my Sunday church obligation out of the way and can relax on Sunday morning.  Oh but wait!  I also sing in Gospel Choir the fourth Sunday of every month.  Do these sound like different weekends to you?  Not this month they aren’t.  They aren’t next month either.  Geeze!  I have a bunch of stuff to sing in Spanish on Saturday and then I return Sunday and have soloooooooooos to stress over.  It is all good, but requiring attention and effort.  I have a small headache thinking about it.


Okay y’all.  I wish you music, beer, great kids, fertile chickens and less weeds this week.  Oh yes, and awesome Chinese movies!