First Month

Somehow the second half of January has seemed to last much longer than the first. I look at my last post and think, “wow, was that really only two weeks ago?” And yet … I’m not sure we really did that much. I think more it’s been interior stuff, lots of thinking and pondering and feeling. Life as an HSP can get exhausting sometimes, even when everything seems calm on the surface. Plus, all the turmoil in this country right now is draining. Trying to keep my candle glowing against the darkness gets harder some days than others.

We have had some lovely moments. Carl’s sister came and spent a weekend with us. She spent one afternoon playing games with the kids while he and I snuck off on a date, and the next afternoon the three of them made supper (from the kids’ cookbooks) while Carl and I went for (decaf) coffee. The rest of the time we just hung out and enjoyed being together. A lovely family time.

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Wine tasting date! It was lovely. (The wine was good, too.)

We went to public skating this past Friday, and the kids did great and had a blast. Especially impressive considering Joy hasn’t been on the ice since we lived in Albany, and Grace hated (with a fiery passion) her skating lessons the first winter we lived here. They’ve come a long way. And then, as we were getting ready to leave, another mom and her daughter came to skate, and it took me a few minutes, but then I recognized her from my home club. Back in Canton, NY, when we were both teens. We both live here on the North Shore now and we didn’t even know it! It was great fun to reconnect, especially since it was so unexpected.

It was also fun going out for doughnuts and hot chocolate afterward. Skating is definitely going to be a weekly activity for the rest of the season. (doughnuts, maybe not every single week.) Even Carl is thinking about getting in on the action–for the first time ever he’s contemplating getting skates so we can do this as a whole-family activity! I am delighted.

I got very excited, as usual, over the US Figure Skating Championships. This year there was a little more to get excited about than usual–Nathan Chen made history by landing FIVE QUADS in the men’s free skate. And Karen Chen (no relation) was brilliant in the ladies’. Overall, figure skating looks stronger in the US than it has in at least ten years (except for ice dance, which has been strong all along and is merely continuing the tradition of greatness). In a country racked by division and suspicion, it’s beautiful to me to see the diversity, inclusivity, and joy represented by the world of figure skating.

We had our first Family Meeting this weekend, figuring out chore allotment and allowances and basically cementing the fact that we are so not in the little kid stage of life anymore. It was surprisingly fun.

I have been continuing with my French lessons on Duolingo, finding more things about the app that frustrate me no end, but at the same time I’m progressing and getting better, so it is working. I still would hate to have gone into this without at least some prior knowledge of the language, however far back in my past. And I AM getting a proper French grammar book at some point, because Duolingo never explains the rules. As my mother and any other teacher I ever had could tell you, I need explanations.

My fountain pen arrived and I promptly fell in love and never want to use any other kind of pen, and also want to write all my stories by hand again, like I did in the ancient times of my youth before computers were a thing. Even getting my grandmother’s old electric typewriter was a red-letter day when I was younger! But yes, this pen is a joy to write with, and now Carl wants one too.

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Finished Madeleine L’Engle’s The Irrational Season and found it, as usual with her books, a blend of immensely frustrating and immensely uplifting and encouraging. One thing I will say, she always makes me think. Ultimately, it has helped me recognize some of my difficulties with having a still mind, and I was able to come up with a few strategies for minimizing the constant noise in my own head, so very worth it. I’m now in the middle of re-reading Agatha Christie’s autobiography (Christmas present from my in-laws), and finding that bracing, encouraging, laugh-out-loud funny, and just wonderful. My fiction reading has been less memorable. I dutifully recorded each book, but none of them are worthy of repeating here.

Oh, and I taught the kids to knit.

And now we see what February has in store. Fingers crossed it will bring some snow …

Two Weeks In

We are (almost) halfway through January! How is the month looking for everyone else?

Here, we’ve had:

Rearranged our living room and can’t figure out why we waited 3.5 years to set it up like this.

Trip to Grandma’s house to finish off our holiday traveling/festivities.

We had snow this past weekend, enough for sledding, and by Wednesday it had all vanished. No one in this household is particularly pleased about this. I want to use my cross-country skis; the kids want to play in the snow; Carl, believe it or not, wants to shovel. Plus we all just prefer winter to be winter. Hmph.

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but the sledding was fun while it lasted. as was throwing snowballs at daddy.

Kids are enthusiastically participating in the Read-Aloud Revival 31 Days Challenge–they have only missed a few days of reading out loud for at least 15 minutes. Gracie, at least, usually goes longer. Joy is more these-are-the-rules-so-we-should-follow-them and so even if she’s at a really good place, she stops as soon as the timer beeps. It’s great for Gracie in building her confidence (she’s a fantastic reader but thinks she can only handle easy books) and for Joy in forcing her to slow down and process what she’s reading (she reads SO FAST that I’m certain she only takes in about 80% maximum of whatever she reads).

I finally passed the halfway point on my current draft of Magic in Disguise, the next Maia and Len book. Technically this is the first book in the Whitney & Davies series, as this is the one that really starts them off on their detecting careers together, but it is the second book about them–Magic Most Deadly, I’ve decided, really works best as a prequel when compared to how I want the rest of the series to go. Is that over-complicated? Sorry. At any rate, every step of the way with this book has been a slog, but the fog is starting to lift. I had it ready to send to my critique partner (which is when I consider a story done the same way a cake is done–all the editing and polishing I do after that is icing and decorating, but the heart of it is finished) last May, and ever since she sent it back to me I’ve been crawling on it. But I’m getting there, and it’s going to be ready for beta-ing by the end of the month, barring any unforeseen accidents like spraining an ankle or some such nonsense (rap wood).

We got back to Classical Conversations (the kids’ homeschool co-op) and back to school in general. We aren’t quite where I’d like to be yet–our morning time keeps getting started late, so we haven’t been able to work in our Shakespeare memorization this semester yet, and schoolwork keeps spilling into our free time in the afternoons–but we’re getting there. It’s always tricky settling back into our routine after winter break.

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working on their nature journals. sunny but windy today!

I am taking a break from refined sugar and wheat for January, in an attempt to break my body of its dependency on both. I know from experience that a little is fine, a lot wrecks me, and thanks to the holidays, I’ve been having a LOT of both. I’ve also started exercising again, something that slid away when I sprained my ankle last May (see above) and never got picked back up. So far, I’m grumpy and sad because of the diet change, but the exercising is going well.

I’ve managed to catalog each of the books I’ve read so far this month in a book journal. Whether that means I’m reading more mindfully is still up in the air.

Getting prepared for the Bible Study I’m co-leading this semester for the women in our apartment building. We’re going to be going through Philippians this semester, which should be great. I’ve discovered somewhat to my surprise that I really enjoy teaching and leading a study, and thanks to Carl, I have commentaries a-plenty at my fingertips. And I can always ask him if there’s any particularly tricky translation issues!

The only other really interesting thing that’s happened this month is that Carl finally convinced me to give Duolingo a try, and I’m diving back into French. Parts of the app really frustrate me (like when you fail a lesson because they expect you to know something they haven’t yet taught you), but overall it’s been fun. I thoroughly enjoyed taking French back in college and have always wanted to get back to it, and so now I am! I’m already wondering what language I should tackle next after this, Russian or Welsh. I desperately wanted to learn both of them in high school, and now I have a chance!

Oh, and I also got to do an impromptu mini-presentation at CC this week–all the kids have to give an oral presentation each week, and this week they got to pick a topic out of a hat. One of the drawn topics was “why are books so important,” and the tutor laughed and asked me if I wanted to take that one, so I said sure. It wasn’t anywhere near as dramatic as my library presentation last March, but it was a lot of fun and made me think how much I’d love to give a proper, adapted version of my “why stories matter” speech at a school or children’s library sometime. Add that one to my dream list!

And that is my mid-January report. Nothing tremendously spectacular, but I don’t want to look back in December and not remember anything about this month, so I’m writing it down even if it seems simple and small. It’s the little moments that add up to a life anyway.

Underrated Books

I saw this theme floating around today, and I was intrigued. The stated limit is “books with under 2,000 ratings on Goodreads,” and I cheated a little by including one with 2,039 ratings. I was pleased to see how many of my favorite books were not as underrated as I always suspected–Emily of Deep Valley, for example, had too many ratings to make it onto the list, as did several of Lloyd Alexander’s books. I still managed to find ten, though, and probably could have kept going did not supper interrupt!

Seaward, Susan Cooper. I love The Dark is Rising series, but this book of hers is little known, and deserves better. It is haunting and mysterious, hope-filled with a hint of terror behind it, and it’s the sort of book that stays with you for days afterward. Lovely, lovely writing. More people should read it.

The Rope Trick, Lloyd Alexander. Much as I love Lloyd, I did not love this book the first time I read it. The second (because even an unloved Lloyd warrants at least a second read), I realized it was one of the more powerful books he’d written, and that the very aspects that turned me off at first were its strengths. By the third time I read it, it had become one of my favorites. Again, it’s the sort of book that seeps into your soul and stays with you for a long time after you’ve closed it.

Clover, Susan Coolidge. More confessions: I don’t really like What Katy Did. The next two books in the Carr family series are better (What Katy Did At School will always be cherished by me if for no other reason than it introduces the always-delightful Rose Red), and this one’s my favorite. Unfortunately, I think a lot of people give up before they get to this point. Don’t. As with Louisa May Alcott and LM Montgomery, and Maud Hart Lovelace, these books are more revolutionary and progressive for their era than they appear at first. Plus, this one has some of the most gorgeous descriptions of Colorado I’ve read anywhere in it. I’ve never been further west than Minneapolis, but boy does this book make me want to.

The Keeper of the Mist, Rachel Neumeier. I haven’t come across a Neumeier book I dislike yet, but this one is my favorite of them all. Dreamy, fairy-tale-ish, with a strong edge of practicality, with fabulous characters and beautiful prose. My review on Goodreads itself says it all!

The Gate of Ivory, Doris Egan. Sci-fi that is sheer fun, with some more serious matters snuck in around the edges. Can you say tailor-made for me? It’s delightful.

The Runaway Princess, Kate Coombs. This is the book that goes 39 ratings above the limit, but I don’t care. It’s so much fun, and it’s shamefully under-read. Plus it’s the book that introduced me to one of my best internet friends (hi, Amy!)–after reading it, I looked up the author online, discovered her blog, started commenting on her blog, discovered another blogger who shared my love for Henry Tilney also commenting on her blog, and the rest was history.

Resistance, Laura Josephsen. Laura is one of the first indie authors I ever discovered, and the one who proved to me that independently-published fiction could in fact be brilliant, gripping, and well-written/edited. Sadly, this book and its sequel are now out of print, but I believe you can read them, broken into four parts instead of two, on Wattpad.

The Grass Widow’s Tale, Ellis Peters. I love Peters’ Brother Cadfael books, but I also thoroughly enjoy her lesser-known Inspector Felse books. The Grass-Widow’s Tale focuses on Bunty, Inspector Felse’s wife, and it is another one of those books that makes me want to shout with joyous strength by the time I finish.

The Castle Behind Thorns, Merrie Haskell. A Sleeping Beauty retelling that is really well done, something hard to find for that particular fairy tale. Cinderella, Snow White, even Rapunzel … those all seem easy enough to put a spin on that remains true to the original intent while still making it engaging for readers. Sleeping Beauty, not so much. Which is understandable, given that the heroine of it has pretty much zero agency throughout her entire story, and in order to give her agency one has to twist said story into something else entirely. Haskell manages to avoid both pitfalls, and create an engaging story to boot. It’s lovely.

Seventh Son, A.M. Offenwanger. I am the lucky beta reader who gets to see each tale in this series before publication, and have watched this world and these characters grow from the first. Offenwanger is another of my dear internet friends, and her books are always a joy to read. Seventh Son is especially fun, combining fairy tale elements with everyday life, and introducing some truly lovely characters. I would love to see these books get more appreciation!

As an author who has yet to break double digits for Goodreads reviews myself, I know how hard it is when your books continually fly under the radar–especially when self promotion is so hard to do without being tacky*. So, give some of them a chance and try one or two from my list, and see what you think!

*granted, for the dead authors on my list self promotion is well nigh impossible, and they aren’t exactly weeping into their morning coffee over lack of reviews, but I’m sure their heirs would appreciate the attention.

January Snippets

Joy is learning about atoms and molecules in science right now, and hardly a day passes when Carl and I don’t look at each other and say, “Huh. I didn’t know that.” Homeschooling can be pretty awesome, folks.

Gracie is finally starting to get the hang of sounding words out properly instead of looking at them as a collection of random letters and wildly guessing at how they’re supposed to go together. Which is also pretty awesome. I suspect, when she finally “gets” it down pat, she will be a reader exceeding even her sister. She loves stories, this girl.

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I printed out From the Shadows a couple days ago to begin proper edits on it – all 161 pages. Granted, it’s still sitting on my bedside table, waiting for me to begin, but it’s nice having it there, at least. Makes me feel a little more like a proper author.

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Carl’s classes begin on Monday. This semester is going to be a bit tougher than the last – isn’t that the way of all spring semesters? – but he’s looking forward to it, and I am as well. To be perfectly honest, I’m just eager to get through this semester. Because then we’ll be halfway through, and that is tremendously exciting.

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I had suggested, back when we started reading through the Chronicles of Narnia, stopping after Voyage of the Dawn Treader (quick note: we read in published order, not chronological order, because both of us feel like you lose half the wonder of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe upon first read if you’ve already read The Magician’s Nephew, and once you start in published order, you might as well continue). I remembered The Silver Chair, The Magician’s Nephew, and The Last Battle all being slightly dark/heavy/creepy in places. It might not be a problem for Joy, but Gracie tends to have problems with nightmares as is, and she is, after all, only five.

Carl was not convinced, and by the time they’d made it through Prince Caspian all three were gung-ho to go through the entire series all at once. I subsided. They are now almost finished with The Silver Chair, and Carl has decided that after The Horse and His Boy, they will wait a few months to a year to finish the series.

I only said “I told you so” once, which I think shows great restrain on my part.

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I am not doing so great on my goal of reading one non-fiction book a month, but I have started reading a commentary on 1 Peter, which even if it takes me six months to finish will be well worth six shorter books. I also have the first collection of Dorothy L Sayers’ letters now sitting on my shelf, and I can’t wait to start perusing those (my parents gave me an Amazon gift card for Christmas, and that was top of my list to buy with it). The last few days, though, I confess to re-reading Tey, Marsh, and Christie. My brain’s been too worn out from school with the kids to tackle anything new, even light fiction. I’m starting to get annoyed with all the detectives, though – Grant, Alleyn, and Poirot alike – so it might be time to give them a break.

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I have been getting in a good-ish walk once a week the last couple weeks, thanks to Joy’s violin lessons. We walk the 1/4 mile to her teacher’s apartment and then back, going at a good brisk clip. It’s lovely, and it’s encouraging me to try to get out more than just once a week for a walk. The tricky thing is finding the time, between school and housework and cooking and writing and simply needing to make sure the children don’t take a hundred years to do their basic chores. Ah well. I’ll get it figured out at some point. I’m just thankful for being forced to walk at least once a week. It’s so much better than nothing.

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Also better than nothing is blogging little snippets here and there. If I go too long on here without writing anything, I start to get lonely. Even if the majority of my social media interactions are done on Twitter these days.

Happy approaching-the-end-of-January, friends!

Speaking of exploring Narnia ...

Speaking of exploring Narnia …

Narnia, Redux

We took a little break after finishing Voyage of the Dawn Treader, to read some picture books, some Christmas books, and Children of the Noisy Village, but now the holidays are over and we have finished traveling, and we have picked the Chronicles of Narnia back up with The Silver Chair.

Even as I type, sitting in my comfy grey recliner (“This is my silver chair,” I said smugly), Carl and the girls are curled up on the couch across from me, the girls utterly engrossed as Carl reads aloud. They are on the chapter where Caspian sails away and Eustace and Jill miss their chance to greet him. This is one of my favorite chapters, what with Glimfeather and Trumpkin and “If he’s useless, we don’t want him here!” (paraphrase) which is a favorite line in my family, and used often.

Joy especially is enthralled with Narnia. She wants to read other books like them (alas, there are few of those indeed, darling daughter!); she informed her grandmother that if she had a magic wand her first wish would be that Narnia was real; and when Carl read the description of Aslan’s Country in the first chapter of this book she had the most incredibly dreamy expression on her face, picturing it in her head. It’s the most delightful thing in the world, seeing her imagination so completely captured.

Gracie incorporates Narnia into all her play. Her stuffed moose become a reindeer, her rag doll made of white cloth becomes the White Witch, a doll stroller turned on its back becomes a sledge, and voila, all she needs is a dwarf driver (usually portrayed by one of her baby dolls). This is also a delight to observe. I have to be careful not to chortle too loudly, or she gets self-conscious and quits playing.

They loved Anne of Green Gables when I read it to Joy for school, and that was wonderful. Seeing them love Narnia so much, though … that goes beyond joy. Narnia was – is – such an integral part of my life, of my very identity. The Narnia books were some of Carl’s sole interest in reading as a child. For both of us, they helped to shape how we view the world, our ideas of heroes and sacrifice and love and friendship and adventure. It is wondrous to see our own children take fire with these very same stories.

I wonder if CS Lewis had any idea, when he wrote these books, of how deeply they would affect children of every generation ever since. I am so, so thankful for them, and for him.

New Year, New-ish Goals

Friends, it is 2015, and I don’t know about you, but I couldn’t be more pleased.

Not that 2014 was a bad year. Not at all. We did a lot of learning and growing and stretching in it, and also took plenty of trips to the beach. Can’t really complain.

But a new year is here, and I am ready to put into action the results of all that learning and growing and stretching. And some more beach trips.

I signed Joy up for violin lessons with someone here on campus who teaches (EXCITEMENT ABOUNDS) and realized that this means she will be taking ballet lessons, art lessons, piano lessons, and violin lessons this semester; Gracie will be taking art and ballet (possibly starting piano in the fall, we’ll see); and of course we’ll be continuing with our Friday homeschool group. Guess there’s no question but that I’m a mom of kids instead of littles now, with all these activities. How am I supposed to be a proper hermit with all this running them around hither and yon?

I have a few goals for 2015. Learn and practice more self-discipline is the big one. I’m way too prone to flutter frantically around, getting overwhelmed by life and all that I need/want to do, and not get any of it done. This is an old tale, I’m sung it before here and elsewhere, and I am well aware that the kind of self-discipline I am after will likely take me the rest of my life to master. That’s okay. I’ll just keep plugging away at it.

Another familiar goal: read less, savor more, get deeper into what I read instead of charging through books so quickly that I can’t even remember them two months later without checking Goodreads. I’m working on this one already. I started Trollope’s Can You Forgive Her (I tried reading it once a few years back and never made it all the way through) and am stopping to jot down notes whenever something strikes me, re-reading certain passages if I feel the need or desire, trying to consciously slow myself down to enjoy the book instead of plowing through it like a bull in a china shop.

I’ve specifically set the goal of reading 12 non-fiction books this year. I find non-fiction incredibly rewarding, and yet incredibly hard to get through, so I figure if I plan to read one per month, by December, I might find it’s a bit easier to do.

For writing: I’m learning to slow down there, too (noticing a pattern, anyone? I told you 2014 was a year of growing). Not push, push, push to GET PUBLISHED GET OUT THERE OR ELSE YOU ARE DOOMED, DOOMED I TELL YOU. Enjoy writing. Dig deeper into it. Be more honest. Polish it up again, even after I think it’s perfect (because six months later, I’ll realize that it’s not). Explore new genres, new ways of sharing stories, new ways even of writing. Don’t be afraid of going off the path.

But at the same time, while holding this loosely, I have set myself a few goals, because how can you go off the path if you haven’t established what the path is? So, I would like to finish the first draft of of the serial story, with the goal of polishing and publishing through a newsletter one chapter a month. I would like to get From the Shadows polished and ready to publish. And I would like to start over again with Magic in Disguise – I am almost finished outlining the new version, so that’s exciting.

I’ve got a few more personal goals/hopes for this year – but I’m holding those close to me for right now. They’re fragile; I don’t want to expose them too much or they might disintegrate.

And speaking of self-discipline … I just remembered that I need to pack today for our almost-week-long jaunt to visit family which starts tomorrow, so I guess I’d better sign off from here and get to that.

After I finish my tea, naturally. Priorities.

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Most Memorable Reads of the Past Three Years

… Which would be the past five years except I didn’t start keeping track of my reading list until 2012. Oh well! I saw this idea on someone else’s blog, and really liked it, the idea of going beyond just the year about to end, and seeing what books have stuck with you for the long haul.

2012:

Seraphina, by Rachel Hartman. And the sequel is coming out in 2015! I can’t wait.

The Wee Free Men, by Terry Pratchett. Meeting Tiffany Aching for the first time was a never-to-be-forgotten experience.

Paladin of Souls (and Curse of Chalion, but especially Paladin), by Lois McMaster Bujold. The joy of reading an intelligent, engaging fantasy with a middle-aged woman as a heroine. We need more of those!

2013:

The Perilous Gard, by Elizabeth Marie Pope. Oh, what a beautiful tale this was.

Code Name Verity, by Elizabeth Wein. I don’t know that I’ll ever re-read this one, but it was so, so powerful and moving.

The Grass-Widow’s Tale, by Ellis Peters. Proving that sometimes a book doesn’t have to be deep to stir one.

2013 was also my year to read heaps of writing memoirs/collections of essays. All of them were wonderful, but the highlight of them all was The Wand in the Word.

2014:

Ultraviolet (and Quicksilver, but mostly Ultraviolet), by RJ Anderson. Gahhhh, this book.

84, Charing Cross Road, by Helene Hanff. Oh, how I adore this one! I keep looking for a used copy to buy for my very own – somehow a new one just wouldn’t feel right.

Bread and Wine, by Shauna Niequist. Not necessarily the best spiritual memoir book I’ve ever read, but definitely one that made me ponder, and gave me great encouragement in my constant struggle between being hospitable and being a deeply private introvert.

Cruel Beauty, by Rosamond Hodge. The closest any other book has ever come to conjuring up the sense of awe and beauty I got from CS Lewis’ Till We Have Faces.

I read plenty more books, in the last few years, that I enjoyed and even loved, but these are the ones that went beyond that in one way or another, to really stick with me. I read so much, so quickly, that for a book experience to stand out in my memory, it has to have something about it that separates it from “ordinary” great books.

My reading goals for 2015 are to read fewer books (my desire as always, to soak in good literature instead of tearing through it at my usual blink-and-you-miss-it pace), to read some good long ones (Bleak House is sitting suggestively on my nightstand), and to read at least 12 non-fiction books. Non-fiction is so rewarding for me, and yet such a struggle for me to get through. I really want to improve in that regard.

I hope your past few years have been excellent reading ones, and that 2015 proves even better!