Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Why is Austen still around?

A friend of mine challenged me with some questions pertaining to the end of Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen a few weeks ago.  In hindsight, I realized that it's been probably 10 years since I've read that one.  This sounded like a well-timed challenge to read it again!  (I'm sure I've written this before, but surely it bears repeating: having a newborn is truly wonderful in that it affords me a crazy amount of pure, unadulterated reading time.  It's fab!!)  So I did, and then (not at all apologetically) responded to her questions with a message about 10 times as long as the one she sent me that went off on a tangent at one point about what literary "ism" Austen is truly a part of.  Trivia question--does anyone know?

And, prior to sending me these questions about a true Austen work, the same friend had also recommended that I read Austenland by Shannon Hale, a current piece of fiction wherein the protagonist ends up going on an expenses-paid 3-week trip to "Austenland" where actors are hired to portray period characters, everyone dresses in Regency clothing, and specific rules of decorum are not only expected but required.  That protagonist is venturing there after a lifetime of romantic flops to figure out her obsession with Mr. Darcy/figure out what the problem is with her love life.  But while reading both this as well as Northanger Abbey for the past couple of days, I started to wonder again about why Jane Austen's works are so enduring that we continue to get all sorts of weird (and sometimes good) adaptations and spin-offs of her original works.  Why do we still read them, too? 

There are numerous books that are written as "sequels" to Pride and Prejudice by various authors.  There are multiple movie adaptations of all of Austen's most well-loved texts.  There's a Jane Austen society (probably a festival, too).  Austen herself (undoubtedly) even makes updates on my Facebook page.  So does Charles Dickens...a post for another day!  What's all this about? 

I don't know other than she's a) a genius of her time and b) just wrote romantic (not Romantic, mind you) commentaries on genteel British life that just hadn't been done before.  Any other ideas? 

Whatever the case may be, it's good stuff.

Monday, June 18, 2012


How to title this post?  "Things are different now"?  "Starting over again"?  or maybe "The hard work is over...yet it's just beginning"? 

How does one introduce the little bean?  It was a long, not at all arduous but rather monotonous day, but Audrey Harper finally joined us on Sunday, June 10th in the late afternoon to general expressions of delight and surprise as she weighed in a little over 9 lbs. (a bit bigger than both doctors predicted).  But in all honesty, and as a nice older lady at church pointed out and affirmed to me of her own volition, she doesn't look like a 9 lb. baby.  I agree. 

After getting to know her for a week now, I'd say that her delivery was much like her personality has been--relatively calm and relaxed with a lot of quiet time.  This bright eyed little girl demands little and is ever so content to just watch and look around her for a great amount of her awake time.  She falls asleep on her own pretty well, especially at night (what what??)  At least once a day, we've talked about what a refreshing change of pace she's been in comparison to what we remember about Abby, who had her fair share of inexplicable crying from the get-go. 

And speaking of #1 daughter, she's been in love with "my baby sister" from the first moment of seeing her--too adorable!  And, it has been a big sigh of relief to see how she's reacting and adjusting to this change of life that she didn't ask for and must choose to endure or embrace.  Thus far, she's totally embraced her new older sister status and dotes on Audrey a lot throughout the day.  And, she's quite the helper now with (so far) no complaints.  We're really trying to praise her compliance and play up her maturity; maybe it's working?  Audrey's birth, like Abby's, was timed fabulously at the beginning of the summer, so we're both home full-time through this big adjustment period, and that also means that right now, Abby has daddy home with her all of the time.  Our daughter is IN LOVE with her daddy, 100%.  He's the one that she usually calls for in the middle of the night if she happens to wake up for anything; he is the one that she demands comfort from at a doctor's office; and he is the one that she wants to do almost everything with.  So as far as the family dynamics go, it hasn't been as much of an upheaval for her having a new baby around because that simply "forces" her to be with daddy.  What a sacrifice! 

It is well with our household.  And that has been a blessing for which we've been thankful all week long.  And today, Ben and I celebrated our 7th anniversary in the quietest, most low-key fashion yet.  But in my head (as seems to happen every year), I've been replaying all sorts of sweet moments from our wedding day on some kind of random montage.  I came across our wedding album a couple of days ago (we have a good portion of our house packed up right now due to the non-moving that is taking place, so when I say "came across," it really is as random as it sounds) and had a moment to myself to look through it.  As inevitably happens now, I look at my favorite pictures of us and think a) how young we looked and b) wow, a lot has happened in the last 2557 days!  A lot has (rightfully so) happened to that innocent, fresh-out-of-college couple who had no clue about anything that was to come.  Somehow in these last 7 years, we've definitely transformed into adults, too.  And that, I think, is about the only thing that I envy that couple in my pictures. 

I remember what a clear state of mind we had on our honeymoon, how that summer was a blur of low stress days.  Since then, car loans, a mortgage, another degree, several jobs, retirement considerations, vacations, and 2 children have all combined to make every decision one that impacts a lot.  That, too often, is enough to get caught up in the "what's the right decision to make?" quagmire as if there is ever only one possibility that must be carefully realized.  Instead, there's a lot good happening for us, which I tend to ignore too often during the school year.  That's another reason why I'm ever so pleased that Audrey joined us in the summer; what better time for us to just chill out and enjoy this new little bundle with all of her little newborn expressions and stretches?  This post should definitely be titled as it is because there's just a lot of sweetness all around right now.

Friday, June 8, 2012

Sorting through boxes

In the past decade (oy vey, that's a loaded term!), I've realized that there are a few select events that happen in your life which inevitably demand organization and a re-evaluation of space, either mental or physical (or both).

1.  graduation
2.  marriage
3.  having a baby
4.  moving

I've participated in these 4 events a total of 9 times now, not including the perpetual flux of moving to and from college every school year.  We're in the midst of the biggest over-haul of our lives, and it's been a process that really began with our first baby and isn't over yet.  But it is noticeably pronounced seeing as how for the first time ever since we've had a 2-car garage, 6 years now, we are using 1/2 of our garage as storage.  That also puts some of the accumulation too much under my nose to ignore any further, and today, I took the time to sift through a very specific piece of the cardboard box jungle and freed up 2 totes that for much too long stored nothing but artifacts of my high school and college lives. 

When you're doing this sort of historical sifting and you're alone with your thoughts, not even any music to distract you, I think that you're forced to really address issues of keep/recycle/donate/throw away that you've kept putting off for ... a decade.  I'm pushing 30, waiting any day now to welcome the last addition to our small family, waiting semi-impatiently to have someone fall in love with our little cottage so that we can move firmly into the middle-class strata, and a lot of these keepsakes and memories are just not necessary to me any longer.  I've come across these often during these past 11 years, but I've always pulled a Scarlett O'Hara move, pushing the collection of stuff aside to "think about tomorrow," which before today has never come.  Today was it.  No more pussy-footing around the issue.  I'm tired of ignoring it, and what I realized is because of the time that has lapsed, I'm ready to get rid of what was inherently important to me before.  With that mindset, I found myself barely glancing at pictures before thinking "Eh, blurry..." or "Why would I even want to keep that shot?  You can't see anyone's faces in it."  I felt cold and a little calculating, impartially tossing aside dozens of point-and-shoot pictures that, honestly, were pretty badly taken. 

I still kept some pictures.  Enough. 

I found myself with the mindset of "Would my daughters care about _________ if they're looking through this in 20 years?" and "I want to keep this just so that I can show my kids."  And if the special memory that I was tangibly holding didn't qualify in either of those categories, if it was something that was important to me at one moment in my life but no longer and, frankly, who would care anyway? then off it went to the allotted pile. 

And it felt good. 

I'm definitely of the mindset now that if I'm going to accumulate more stuff, then I want it to be purposeful.  I'm not into random decorations with no purpose, for example.  I'm fairly annoying for this purpose when shopping because it's a battle in my mind: "Yeah, I like it now, but really, is it just going to take up space?  What's the point of owning this?  Will it really matter to me?"  Any time a gift-giving moment comes around on the calendar, my requests are inevitably the same now: gift cards.  For food, massages, pedicures, something expendable that won't wind up in the drawer of my nightstand. 

With that being said, I also think that the accumulation of stuff kinda has a bad rap.  If someone were to look in my garage right now, they might think, "Wow, that's just a lot of stuff."  But, really, that pile also includes that which I just went through this afternoon.  Some things you just don't throw away; you wait until your kids do it for you when they're sorting out your estate!  I'm never going to throw away my high school diploma, no matter how often I come across it in a box labeled "Amy's high school stuff" and think "Ugh, I still have this hanging around?"  Some things are just here to stay.  As long as we're able and willing to recognize the difference between that which should be stored and that which is immaterial, what does it matter?  I'll take along that cardboard box with me through the aforementioned 4 significant, stuff-shifting events through my forever.  And when that box gets pitched someday, that will be okay because it will have served it's purpose and someone else's little cardboard box will need to take it's place. 

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Non-fiction (and a stream of music)

I'm going to take a break from the strain of writing that has been coming out lately--i.e. not much about kids or kid-like matters!  Now there's a novel approach...!

Instead, it's the epitome of the type of morning that I thoroughly enjoy.  Beautiful sunny weather.  Cool, not humid with the windows/doors open.  Quiet.  Some music (I do love me some Pandora--Bruce Springsteen to kick off the day anyone?).  A place to spew forth ideas.  Keurig coffee maker.  And 2 books that are competing for my attention.  I haven't read a book simply for pleasure since Spring Break, about 2 months ago.  This has to be one of the heights of irony for the majority of English teachers; aren't we the ones who are supposed to crave reading?  Not many of us actually do much of it, I think.  Pity!

(Now it's Taylor Swift, one of my secret likes in Music!)

But the focus of this morning's posting: non-fiction.  (By the way, has anyone ever noticed that I utilize the spectrum of punctuation marks?  They're an absolute necessity, I've come to realize, to convey my stream of thought.  It's too bad they're so thoroughly abused by general writing because they actually take some thought about how to be used correctly.  Believe me; I have student writing samples to prove it.) 

(Today is heavy on the parenthetical thoughts, apparently.  We're up to Colbie Caillat now.  It took me an entire song to write that previous paragraph, which, look at it--1 sentence and some rambling.  If I were my teacher, wouldn't I object to that as a paragraph?  Absolutely not!  It's all about the tone and focus of the writing.  It works for me here, right?)

Digression aside, non-fiction.  I was talking to the spouse this morning (I'm enjoying this ability to have real adult conversations right now before the next bean comes and puts the kibosh on that for a while again.) about how I've come to realize that I often find myself reaching for non-fiction, editorial writing rather than fiction anymore.  That last book that I read prior to this week, the Spring Break one?  Non-fiction and fantastic--The Soloist by Steve Lopez.  I'm a definite fan of Anne Lamott and her writing about writing.  (Keith Urban now, a good one.  Am I the only one who finds him an odd coupling with Nicole Kidman?)  In fact, one of the first things that attracted me to the church we're members at when we first began attending nearly 7 years ago was that the pastor oft quoted Anne Lamott.  Granted, I was probably the only one in the congregation who understood who she was, and granted that pastor is no longer with our congregation, but still it was like some divine sign: "You belong here!"  My favorite part to read in the Indy Star besides the Food section on Fridays (and it seems like whenever our paper isn't delivered, which happens once in a while, it's Fridays...spite) is the sports columnist, Bob Kravitz.  Seriously, I even read this guy when he talks about open-wheel racing and the Pacers, neither of which I really follow.  But it makes for good Jeopardy information should there ever be a topic solely dedicated to "Sports closely tied to Central Indiana." 

I enjoy the slightly sarcastic, snarky, tongue-in-cheek, subtle intelligence humor that non-fiction editorial writing brings to the table.  You know how when you're a kid, you often go for kid's food choices (probably because adults think that kids only want certain things...seriously, my kid loves her veggie burgers and roasted broccoli and has never had a hot dog in her life) but discover that this kind of food, while sometimes satisfying is actually not that nourishing for you?  (Carly Rae Jepson...I think we're going to skip her.  Stupid advertisement, the only downfall of Pandora.  At least they're short.  Coldplay.  Satisfying!)  I shun Aunt Jemima in favor of real, grade-A maple syrup now.  Yeah, the good stuff is pricey, but it also actually has some good anti-oxidant properties to it.  I'm willing to pay a little more to savor a good hunk of parmigiano-reggiano rather than solely relying on the green plastic cylinder of Kraft parmesan, though that has a place in my fridge as well.  Likewise, if I'm going to be able to enjoy something to read just for fun, I'm going to make those time calories count and spend my precious minute allotment on the good stuff.  It might require a little more thinking (you know, it costs more), but that's just worth it for me right now. 

I sat through 2 graduation ceremonies in the last week, and one of the speakers referenced Anna Quindlen, whose name I'd heard of but whose writing I'd never approached before.  Fast-forward one day to a trip to the library with the intent of actually getting something for me to read rather than just loading up my card with Curious George and Rainbow Fish books.  When you're out of practice looking for books to read just because, I find that it's actually something of a daunting task that takes a bit of time to do, one that I can't do while also watching and controlling a 3-year old.  (Death Cab for Cutie--a group that I only listen to on Pandora but has it's moments of okay-ness.)  Since I had the spouse with me as well, we were able to tag-team and each take some time for our own personal browsing.  I quickly came across a new Anna Quindlen memoir in the new book/2-week check-out section, so hey, why not?  She used to write a column for the New York Times, and this is just a collection of thoughts strung together that seems to basically be about being a woman.  Granted, she's quite a bit older than me, which translates to "roughly my mom's age," but this one seemed to have some promise with things that appealed to me.  If nothing else, it's short and should be a quick read.  I'm only about 37 pages in to Lots of Candles, Plenty of Cake, but so far so good.  The promise of some good editorial writing are being upheld.  I don't find her style as clear as I'd like all of the time, and her vocabulary has twice challenged me (ergo, not a read that the average person is likely to enjoy...heaven forbid someone draws on the vast wealth of the English language and use words that aren't always "easy" and "good").  I like it.  I recommend it.  I don't always agree with it but really only in a mildly challenging kind of way, like "You've lived longer, so I'll take your word for it, but I don't really find myself in the same stereotype that you're proposing I should be in at this point in my life" kind of way.  But most of the time, yep, agreed.  There is something to be said for one day finding waking up (Oasis, but again, one of the only good ones that hasn't been over-played ad nauseum) and finding that you're at the place in your life where you have lots of cake because you have lots of candles.  Good things happen as we age, too!  And I also like the general tone of her memoir that essentially focuses, at least so far, on the positives of this aging process for women rather than regrets and longing for youth.  Frankly, there are lots of things that I'm looking forward to having someday that will only happen with aging--enjoying sleeping in on a weekend morning; leisurely drinking some coffee while reading the paper without having the play short order cook with cereal and fried eggs (guess what the tyke had this morning for breakfast?); spending more mornings like this, looking to downsize to a cute, cottage-y style house rather than upgrading to a house twice the size of what we currently have; going on a date with the boy without working around a babysitting schedule.  (U2--more often enjoyed than not)  But there are also career things that I'm looking to be done with at the point in my life when the previously mentioned list will also likely be in place: not being a slave to homework on weekends; not having to constantly make up new lesson plans because my schedule will be stable; having experience with lots of things. 

And now a quick shout-out to the other book that is drawing me in, one that I'm undoubtedly going to open up as soon as I get off of this technological beastie.  (Daughtry, usually not, but I don't feel like changing it right now since, like Oasis, it's not an over-played one right now.)  Gone with the Wind!  I haven't worked my way through this one for at least 10 years, probably closer to 12 or 13.  If you look back at the decade I've just gone through, that makes sense.  It takes some time dedication to attack a 1,000 page book just because, and strangely enough, I feel like I have some of that right now what with late-night feedings and baby cuddling coming up.  Three summers ago was the absolutely best stretch of pleasure reading that I've had in my 20s.  I'm hoping that I get back to some of that this summer, though it will undoubtedly be different now that we have the toddler, too.  (Wow, Daughtry was short.  Lifehouse now.  Yep, a keeper in my playlist.)  My goal whenever I read GwtW is to average 100 pages a day and work through the book in a respectable amount of time, a week and a half.  This is probably my 4th time reading this one, and this strategy worked for me in the past, but given that I haven't read this since I think I was in my late teens, there's a definite difference between "then" and the reality of "now."  But still, 2 days in and I've kept to my pace.  With little bean due any day, this undoubtedly will not continue, but I'm enjoying what it is right now.  And, it's a LOT of fun for me to read this one right now after going through an undergrad and graduate degree with a focus in literature; I very much enjoy the thought process behind unpacking a worthy text.  Now that I'm done with literature classes (hopefully not forever, but definitely for the foreseeable future), I'm not sure how well my skills will last, like language retention.  (Fuel, nope.  Skip.  Another dumb advertisement, argh.  OneRepublic.  Okay, now that works.)  But I'm reading through Margaret Mitchell's (only) classic, and I'm making all sorts of cool connections, which undoubtedly aren't that original, but are more depth-tual than surface reading, which to me, the literaturist, is all about what "good reading" is.  It does help that I know the story, so I see some of the cool things that Mitchell is doing in her work--Tara really mimics Scarlett in a lot of ways, the irony of how Scarlett thinks and acts at the beginning, her fixation on Ashley as doomed from the beginning, the thematic textuality of Ashley's letters and thoughts about war and the South, and so on.  Good stuff!  Satisfying, beautifully orchestrated and richly described, vivid and inter-connected.  All that a good read should be in "me own mind" (copping a bit of Gerald O'Hara's Irish brogue). 

On on that thought, I'll end this with Etta James and "At Last."  This post is dedicated to my students of years gone by who have asked me about what kind of music I listen to; you tell me.  How would you describe this mix of randomness?  I listen to what I like and I read what I like.  Sometimes, I even listen to what I like while I read what I like to read.  It's a decadent pleasure that I don't allow myself nearly often enough. 

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Red berries with yogurt--yum!

Unless something (likely) problematic and therefore unwanted occurs, I lost my bet about the d-day.  I had it pegged as June 3rd.  Positive!  Without a doubt!  Kismet (for a number of reasons)!  So I'm now going with my back-up of tomorrow.  I admit, I'm more than a little disappointed that it wasn't today JUST BECAUSE that was Abby's due date 3 years ago.  How perfect would that have been?  I guess I'll trust that she's not 100% ready yet--still needs just a touch more ripening.  I'd rather have her ready to come on her own time than mine when all's said and done.

The upside of her not coming today is that a) I've been able to go to all of the open houses that I've wanted to hit and have had the time to go to, and b) I made it through all of my obligations for the 2011-2012 school year.  Summer can now start officially!

And I was thinking about open houses and graduation trends in general this weekend.  I graduated just 11 years ago, and the way things work now are seemingly the same but in all actuality, much different.  My open house invites were printed by a friend of mine in the graphic arts class.  It had no pictures and was basically a small piece of cardstock with blue ink (school colors, you know?).  And, it was just like everyone else's.  NOW, everyone does some pretty awesome stuff with pictures, layout, colors, graphics, and such.  Really cool.  I'm pretty jealous.  High schoolers have sweet senior pictures now.  And the open houses--food has changed!  When I graduated, everyone had lunch meat trays, veggie trays, fruit trays, chips, pop and cake.  Everyone.  You were unique if you had Rice Krispie treats.  (This is my basic recollection...I really could be wrong.  Probably am.)  NOW, no one has cold cut trays.  There is a lot of BBQ pulled pork/beef though.  Nothing wrong with that!  I'm very much liking the upgrades.  Tacos!  Cupcakes!  Waffles!  Chocolate fountains!  Good stuff.

And while I'm sitting there eating my chocolately fountain goodness at one particular open house (and trying to keep Ab-tastic's fast fingers away from my angel food cake), the grandmother of the honored graduate came up to me with the opening remarks of how I "looked miserable."  I assure you (and her), I am not.  And then, Ben told me a story after we all got home tonight about how a lady at our church who also occassionally subs at our school was trying to tell him that I "looked miserable" a few days ago at school (about 2 weeks ago, actually).  He assured her, repeatedly, that I am not.  Her response: "Well, she just might not be telling you."  I'm glad that my spouse believes me even if acquaintances don't!  What's with people, strangers and friends alike, who peg you for misery just because of a round belly?  I never felt "miserable" with Abby, and I certainly don't now.  By no means!  Frankly, the most miserable that I've felt was when that butterball caught the corner of a decorative table at a student's open house yesterday, full on the tender belly button region.  That smarted!  So for the record, once again, yeah, I'm more tired and my back/legs become fatigued more easily, but I'm just not miserable.  At all.  What does that say about our society?  Are we a bunch of weaklings who can't handle a simple pregnancy?  (And one other thing while my soap box is smokin' hot right now, I'm just plain tired hearing the "I can't believe you're still working!" line.  Why not??  What else am I going to do?  Waste unnecessary sick/personal days so that I can sit at home and wait to deliver?  That makes N-O sense to me.)

And now, by this point, who's not thinking "What does any of this have to do with "red berries with yogurt--yum!"  I assure you, it really doesn't.  But I just had a big bowl full of this delish-ness, and it always makes me happy and healthy feeling.  If I remember correctly, I'm about 10 pounds lighter this time around, and that makes me happy.  On a middle class income, scads of berries out of season just isn't very financially feasible or reasonable.  It's nothing short of a luxury some weeks.  I can definitely go through an entire container of raspberries in one sitting, I assure you!  This has truly become one of my favorite treats, though.  On those weeks when berries are priced right at the store, I'm all about the RED BERRIES WITH YOGURT--YUM!  And so the title of this post is relatively random, just like the rest of this string of paragraphs.  Once again, it makes sense in my mind!