Over the Easter break, my older daughter and I spent a lovely day in Lake Geneva — breakfasting, shopping for antiques and books, walking, and later, just sitting by the water.
Christmas. Not my favorite. Never has been. Never will be. And for a while there… well, it appalled me.
When we adopted Rosemary in June 2014, it became clear in only a few days that she was one “crazy cat.” As the winter holiday approached, I cautioned that a tree might throw our somewhat calmed kitty back into a frenzy. My daughters reluctantly agreed, and I? Well, I thanked the universe for my offbeat new pet.
In the intervening 4.5 years, Rosemary has mellowed, so I guess I wasn’t surprised when my older daughter gently pined for a little tree this year. I’ve never been able to resist trying to grant my children’s wishes, which are usually so modest and doable; I love making them smile. So, about the tree in my house, I will say this: It made her happy, and when it comes down tomorrow morning, it will make me happy, too.
We visit the beautiful Lincoln Park Conservatory at least once a year, and for the past few years it seems that we have visited over our winter break. This time, we went before seeing A Q Brothers’ Christmas Carol at the Chicago Shakespeare Theater, a holiday show we’ve seen all but one winter holiday since 2013.
📚 Today I reached 121 books read this year. Twenty-six of those are non-fiction works, which means I am only four books from my goal of thirty.
Speaking of non-fiction… from Walden on Wheels: On the Open Road from Debt to Freedom (Ken Ilgunas):
It never failed: When I’d gaze at the stars and the aurora, I’d see my problems for what they were. I always told myself that I’d been under the control of other forces: parents, school, work. And I’d convinced myself that my debt was to blame for everything as if I had nothing to do with contracting the debt in the first place). I hated my job even though I worked for a wonderful company. And I told myself that, because of the debt, I couldn’t travel, couldn’t go back to school, and now couldn’t even leave my room.
Part of me liked being in debt. Part of me even wanted to stay in debt, to keep going on random and expensive three-week trips to places like Ecuador so I could spend my hard-earned dollars on halfhearted adventures, instead of staying focused on what should have remained my true goal: busting out of the great American debtors’ prison, steadily chipping away at its walls with each paycheck.
Part of me like being in that position of submission, tied up in leather, willfully cowering beneath a ruthless whip-wielding Sallie Mae. Life is simpler when we feel controlled. When we tell ourselves that we are controlled, we can shift the responsibility of freeing ourselves onto that which controls us. When we do that, we don’t have to bear the responsibility for our own unhappiness or shoulder the burden of self-ownership. We don’t have to do anything. And nothing will ever change.
Also on the subject of non-fiction… I loved Krimstein’s The Three Escapes of Hannah Arendt. What a fabulous introduction to the philosopher’s life and work! Good customer service story: My copy of Hannah Arendt: For Love of the World (Elisabeth Young-Bruehl), ordered not long after I finished The Three Escapes, arrived with a bent cover and chipped pages. Hoping for a modest discount, I wrote to customer service, and Amazon refunded the entire cost of the book.
🎭 Since my last post, I’ve seen two plays — Nell Gwynn at the Chicago Shakespeare Theater (meh) and Mansfield Park at Northlight (misguided, at best) — and one opera — Il trovatore at the Lyric (fabulous; review here).
☕️ On Thursday I was sick enough to call out from work for the first time. After dragging my tired, sniffling self in on Friday, though, I began a nine-day break, arriving home just a few hours before my younger daughter, who is here for Thanksgiving. (My husband and older daughter begin break on Wednesday.)
🍂 Autumn visited for about three days. Not kidding. A few of my neighbors were unable to finish leaf removal before the first snowfall. It snowed again this past Thursday. We were lucky: During a break in my fever last Sunday, we cleared many of the last leaves; and on Monday, in a scarf, earmuffs, and warm coat, I did the last mow of the season.
We haven’t carved a pumpkin in several years, so it’s sort of sweet to put one out again.
In the comments, someone asked if I am able to keep all of the books, or if I face “tough decisions.” I have not kept all of the books, but that did not involve tough decisions; after all, not every book is a keeper. We sold or donated more than a quarter of the library before our last move and nearly that much again when our home education adventure concluded; and my rate of acquisition since then has not yet outpaced the shelving space with which we outfitted the forever home.
The space is finite, though, something my husband and daughters, who often help me shelve and shift, regularly remind me.
About a third of the students in the first aid and CPR course we completed over the summer were, as my older daughter and I are, employed by schools. The instructor remarked that, like the certification we earned that afternoon, basic ASL skills are also a terrific asset to educators, both in emergency situations and in the classroom. Naturally, then, when the local college posted a fall course schedule that included a four-semester sequence of ASL classes, it seemed like one of those serendipity / synthesis / synchronicity moments, and we enrolled.
The required text for the class is A Basic Course in American Sign Language; I picked up the optional workbook and DVDs from the series, too. Knowing that we appreciate having several delivery options when we study, my younger daughter, who began learning ASL from a college friend last year, recommended Sign School (which her friend played a large role in developing) and the American Sign Language Dictionary app.
While my daughters use their skills regularly, the older in her work and the younger to communicate with her friend, my husband (who also decided to take the class) and I don’t have an immediate need for ASL. Both of us have been teaching fingerspelling, however: he to his colleagues and I to my students. I have also taught my students several signs, including AWESOME, SURPRISED, and INTERESTING.
Perhaps it goes without saying, but the fact that, even now, we are still engaged in a version of the family-centered learning project is so motivating. Bonus: My study group lives with me or is only a FaceTime call away!
Last night I finished reading Book 51 of the year, Thi Bui’s illustrated memoir, The Best We Could Do. Because I’m about halfway through The Perfect Mother (Aimee Molloy), a meh recent novel, and Janesville, an excellent non-fiction work, I expect to meet the goal of Robin’s 52 Books in 52 Weeks by Thursday.
On the topic of non-fiction, I’m well positioned to meet one of my own reading goals: to read thirty-six non-fiction tiles in 2018. I’ve read seventeen, so far. In fact, here are my commonplace book entries for the sixteenth, Sarah Perry’s haunting memoir about her mother’s murder, After the Eclipse:
As far back as I could remember, reading had been a perfect escape, an alternate universe where none of the problems were mine. When I was upset at home or school, I could always pull out a book, or know that one was waiting for me in the next quiet moment. In first grade, encouraged by my teacher, I began writing stories, and this was even better; I could create whatever escape I wanted, include whatever characters I wanted to spend time with. Writing gave me power.
Sometimes, the scary thing about suicide was that it seemed inevitable, the only logical end to everything that had happened.
Violence outpaced lab funding everywhere.
Our family book club is tackling The Aeneid this summer. We’ve already listened to the three introductory lectures in Elizabeth Vandiver’s course on the work and have decided to read one of The Aeneid’s twelve books each week, complemented by the appropriate lecture(s). The Girls Rule! Book Club has also tentatively scheduled Madame Bovary (Gustave Flaubert) and The Art of War (Sun Tzu), which may prove a bit ambitious with their commitments, but we’ll see.
The library’s reading program commences later this week, and frankly? My group enjoys some slightly lighter fare in the summer, too, so my assembled a pile of fiction includes Sometimes I Lie (Alice Feeney) and Red Clocks (Leni Zumas) — perfect, I think, for reading lakeside in the early morning between birdwatching and chillaxing.