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 …

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Censorship VS Guidance

The Goosebumps books were at the entrance to the Children’s Room at the library growing up; you couldn’t help but see them whenever you went it. They were popular, too—very few of the books I loved were ever borrowed by anyone but me (this was back in the day when the patron’s name was written on the card in the back pocket, so you could see a book’s history whenever you picked it up. The nosy neighbor/author in me misses those days, when you could speculate about the other people whose names were on the card, especially if one name cropped up on several of the books you borrowed frequently. “I wonder who that person is,” you could muse. “I bet we’d be friends.” But I digress), but the Goosebumps books were always getting snatched up by kids about my age, and there were always gaping holes in the shelf.

“I don’t think so,” Mom said firmly when she saw me eying them speculatively. “Those are not a good idea with your nightmares.”

Saddened, but not wanting to mess with my nightmares—these were terrible, and plagued me well into my teens, and could be caused by nothing more than seeing a gruesome picture on a tabloid cover in the grocery store check-out line—I bypassed the Goosebumps books and went back to the delights of E. Nesbit, Edward Eager, Lloyd Alexander, and the like.

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An older friend of mine read and loved the Dark is Rising books, and lent them to me with a caveat that they might be scary in parts. So Dad read them first, and then handed them over to me saying that they did have some dark parts, but that he was pretty sure I could take it, and if I wanted to I could always talk to him about them. In fact, I loved them (as did he, and Susan Cooper remains one of our favorite authors to this day—I bought him King of Shadows for his birthday last year, in fact, and he was just as swept up as he’d ever been in one of her tales. But I digress again).

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My sister wasn’t much of a reader as a kid and teenager. While I would stay up late reading, she preferred to lull herself to sleep on logic problems. When she did read, she liked books such as Baby-Sitter’s Club, Sweet Valley Twins, and, as she got older, Sweet Valley High and Avalon romances. My parents called those “fluff” books—enjoyable but no substance to them—and the rule was you had to read a certain number of non-fluff books to the number of fluff books you were allowed. My sister grumbled a bit about this, more because she was the oldest and it was her job to complain about all of our parents’ rules than because she thought it was actually unfair, but she stuck with it. And a few years ago she was trying to convince me to give Dostoyevsky a try, because she’d read some of his books and thought they were awesome. She also still enjoys fluff books. And logic problems

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About a year ago, I was desperately trying to find books that Joy would want to read. Excited by her advanced abilities and unduly influenced by memories of the large tomes I enjoyed reading in kindergarten and first grade, I overdid a bit and overwhelmed her. While she was perfectly capable of reading the Little House books, she didn’t enjoy them, and her disillusionment with the “big” books I was giving her spread to reading in general.

Then we found the Rainbow Magic books at the library. Pumped out by computer, lame by any standards, they were nonetheless perfect for a six-year-old who enjoyed the thrill of reading “chapter books” but wasn’t ready mentally or emotionally for the themes in most MG writing. Despite the wrinkled noses of many of my friends, I cheerfully borrowed them by the armload each week for her, while at the same time giving her more picture books and other young readers (the Magic Tree House books were another big hit, which has worked out nicely with social studies, I must say—I never know when she’s going to pipe up over something we’re studying, “Oh! Jack and Annie went here.” Digressing again). I’m exceedingly thankful to have had them, especially now when I catch Joy happily curled up with any book from Ladybug Girl to the Frozen novelization to Winnie-the-Pooh to The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. On the other hand, when this winter the library didn’t have the next one in the series, I deliberately did not suggest ILL or skipping that one to move on to the next. Thus far, she has plenty of other reading material, and she hasn’t seem to miss the Rainbow Magic too badly.

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There’s a lot of justified complaints about censorship out there. Including and especially parents censoring what their children read. Or what other people’s children read. But sometimes parental guidance gets lost or unfairly shuffled into the same category as censorship, and I think that’s a shame. Because gentle guidance and help with reading—whether it be in limiting the number of certain types of books your kids read, or reading books before letting them read them, or telling them to wait until they are older, or even swallowing your pride to let—even encourage!—them read books that are frankly crap (and then move on when said books have served their purpose), is something that I wish more parents would do. And it’s a far cry from censorship. It is, to be blunt, simply part of what being a parent is all about.

Clearly, Joy is much more comfortable with reading these days

Clearly, Joy is much more comfortable with reading these days

Thanks to Maureen, whose tweets on this subject got me thinking about my parents, and how grateful I am to them for the way they encouraged my sister and me to be readers, and then prompted this post.

Also, in case anyone is interested, the Little House picture books are well-loved by both Joy and Grace, and went a long way toward piquing Joy’s interest in the real books once she got a little older.

Welcome to Stanbury

Hello! Welcome to Stanbury, ancestral home of the Whitney family. Come right in! Let’s use the side entrance; it seems more friendly, doesn’t it?

Maia used to swing on the gate when she was a child. It drove her mother mad, of course, but she loved the freedom of swinging combined with the ability to see the world passing by on the road. Even if “the world” were usually only a few stray escaped sheep.

Mind your step here. You wouldn’t want to trip on these stairs. Ouch!

Shall we pop into the kitchen a moment? Mrs Humphrey won’t mind. If we’re lucky, she’ll even give us a cup of tea (and possibly a slice of fresh-baked bread).

The sitting room gets marvelous light, wouldn’t you agree?

Mrs Whitney says it’s terribly draughty, though.

Yes, the bathroom is rather small. But so elegantly decorated! Ellie insisted on that.

The Whitneys are so very proud of this room, an addition the current Mr Whitney had built after he was married (but before the War, naturally. One doesn’t indulge in unnecessary expenditures in this day and age. Have you heard that they had to sell the London house? Terrible shame, but one can one do? Mr Whitney was only thankful to be able to hold onto Stanbury).

And here we are back onto the grounds! Sorry we couldn’t take more of a detailed tour, but really, it is terribly gauche to peek into people’s lives too much, don’t you agree? Besides, you wouldn’t have wanted to see Ellie or Merry’s bedrooms, believe me. They are a terrible mess, especially since Merry keeps chasing away all the maids with her Socialistic notions.

I hope you enjoyed the tour! Stanbury might not be the grandest showplace of the county, but the local folk are proud of it all the same. After all, as Maia says, it has character, and that’s even better than impressiveness.

All pictures are, in reality, of the Old Vicarage in Croxton Kerrial, Leicestershire. I love real estate websites for finding house inspirations.

My Strong Heritage

I have a love/hate relationship with Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, Valentine’s Day, and the like. I don’t like how exclusive they are. For Mother’s Day especially, I don’t like how a culture that usually treats women, mothers in particular, as “less than,” takes one day to say “Oh yeah, moms are great,” and then goes back to sneering at them.

On the other hand, I also like any opportunity I get to show the people I love how thankful I am for them. So I’m usually torn, these sorts of holidays.

But today, I’m not torn at all. I want to sing praise not just to my mother, but to all the women in my family who have contributed to make me the person I am today. It’s the day after Mother’s Day, and the day I choose to celebrate these amazing women.

My mom. She’s getting her Master’s degree on Saturday. Her granddaughters get to watch their Oma get a degree, how amazing is that? She taught me everything I know about sewing, cooking, teaching, and more importantly, how to use my brain (OK, Dad contributed to that part as well. Don’t worry, Dad, your post will come after Father’s Day!). She taught me about sacrifice and hard work, and the importance of having dreams while keeping your practicality. She’s the best mom I could imagine.

Gram, Mom’s mother. Just as my girls get to watch their grandmother earn her degree, I can still remember going to Grammie’s college graduation. She’s tackled every challenge that comes her way with zest and determination, and her energy puts me to shame. She’d do anything for her family, except let them get away with doing less than they are capable of.

Grandma, Dad’s mom. Raised eight children and had a hand in the raising of many of her grandchildren. Kept a sense of humor up to the very end. Faced a hard life with laughter and courage. Also went to college, to become a teacher. Instilled a love for reading and love for music in all her family.

My great-grandmothers. Some of them I only really know through stories. Some of them I knew well. One of them got to meet my Joy right after she was born. One of them had a name I am proud to now carry as my own. All of them strong, independent, courageous women.

My sister. My best friend, one of the smartest people I know, with the kindest heart to match her keen wits. She’s going to get to hold her first baby this fall, and I am so excited to see her become a mom. She’s going to be as spectacular at that as she is at everything else, I know.

My aunts, great-aunts, cousins … really, the list is too long to go on. And if I get started on the women who aren’t in my family who have influenced me and contributed to the person I am today, we’d be here all day. I am so thankful for all of them. I rejoice that my daughters have such a strong heritage – and one of equally brave, smart, loving women from their dad’s side – behind them.

Not just Mother’s Day, but every day I thank God for them!

Gram meeting our Joy for the first time.

Gram meeting our Joy for the first time.

Grandma

Breaking my post-once-a-week pattern for a particular reason …

One year ago today, my grandmother ended her battle with Alzheimer’s after twelve years. She had spent almost the entire previous week in the hospital with pneumonia, and all her family was told form the beginning that this was it; she wasn’t going to be leaving. After many days spent by her bedside, in laughter and tears, she died surrounded by her children and grandchildren, gone but never forgotten, though her own memory went so many years ago.

I’ve been thinking this week about Grandma’s legacy, about how her love, her faith, her hope, and her humor have passed down now to three generations, with who knows how many more to come. Whenever I am tempted to think that my sphere of influence is too small to make a difference, that my presence in this world doesn’t really matter, I remember this wonderful women who lived in a tiny corner of the world, raising her children and planting her gardens, and whose life touched so many and continues to do so even now. No person is too small or too insignificant to make a difference. We never know how far the ripples of our life may travel.

I’m including here in this post the tribute I wrote to Grandma last year, the day after her death. And at some point today, I will sit down with my girls, show them some pictures on their uncle’s Facebook wall of their grandmother, and tell them some of the stories I remember best.

She is gone, but her love and her humor live on.

She went out accompanied by a blaze of northern lights, some of the most brilliant seen around here in ages. Heaven welcoming a gallant soul home with fanfare.

Even after her breathing had slowed drastically, her heart remained strong until the end. We always knew her heart was bigger and stronger than most.

Her humor was one of the last things to go when the Alzheimer’s took over. Even when she was in the nursing home and couldn’t even recognize Grandpa, she would try to tease the nurses and aids. They all loved her.

They were married for sixty years. Two days before she finally died, I sat and watched him hold her hand as he told us the only reason he underwent chemo and fought so hard for life through the blood clots last year was so that he could take care of her, make sure her ending was peaceful and dignified, so that he could take care of her to the end. None of his kids could speak at that point, so I managed to choke out that he had done a wonderful job of it. They were an example to us all.

Of eight kids, six managed to make it home to say goodbye, only the one in Australia and the one in Arizona not able to get back. Fully half of the grandkids were able to come. No one fought, no one argued, no one tried to make things difficult for anyone else. Everyone acted as selflessly as human beings can act. Another testimony to the love and respect everyone had for her.

The hospital nurses teared up when their weekend shift ended, knowing they wouldn’t see her again alive.

There was as much laughter as tears around her bedside, as stories were shared and memories were dredged up and old jokes revived. Her fifteen-year-old grandson played his guitar, everyone sang, and her last days were filled with the music and laughter she loved so well.

She has been gone for a long time. Twelve years ago was when she was finally diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, at that point too far advanced to do anything but watch and pray as it slowly disintegrated the woman we all knew. The pneumonia that took her tonight was a release from that living death (twelve years is phenomenally long for Alzheimer’s sufferers – most don’t live more than five years), and our tears were as much joy for her as sorrow.

She is whole again now. She is free. She is rejoicing and laughing with her Lord.

It hurts, still, but this is a clean hurt, one that will heal. The pain of the Alzheimer’s never went away; it would lie dormant for a time, but it was always there lurking in the background. This – already there is a peace growing from the sorrow.

We will miss her. We have missed her for years. But her legacy – the love, the laughter, the strength and faith and joy – she passed that on, not only to her children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren, but to all who knew her. I am proud to call myself her granddaughter, and you can be sure my girls will grow up knowing about what an amazing woman their great-grandmother was.

Rest in Peace? Maybe. Personally, I suspect she is singing and dancing right now.

And laughing.

Grandma as a girl                                                                        Senior portrait

Grandma and Grandpa’s wedding day

Take a Hike!

We went on a family hike this past weekend – one of our favorite activities, but one that, between swelteringly hot weather and long hours at Carl’s job, we haven’t been able to indulge in at all this summer. It was the perfect day for it – sunny and warm, but the air was crisp enough that we wanted sweatshirts at first. 
Carl showing the girls how to read the map and follow the trail markers

Can you spot the toad?

Two happy hikers!

I saw this stump and thought: “It looks like the gaping jaws of some giant mythological beast!” Then I thought: “I’m not even going to mention that to my family; they’ll think I’m crazy.” THEN I thought: “Well, I’ll at least take a picture of it for my blog; my readers get my kind of craziness.”

Sisters!

Feeling like a big shot because she hiked the entire thing (this was her first major hike having outgrown her backpack carrier)

I LOVE that Joy is photo-bombing this shot of Grace and Carl

Tired little chickie, snuggling with Dad

“Hey, maybe we’ll end up in Narnia if we walk through this arch!” (We didn’t)

Not only was it an awesome day just as a family, I felt creativity bubbling up in me like crazy. Nothing specific, no great story plots or characters, just general creativeness. It was so, so needed. Even though we all came home exhausted and sore (my legs are still aching today – scrambling up and down steep, rocky mountains while helping a small child requires some serious muscle work), we were laughing and chattering and just absolutely refreshed.
Where do you go to get revitalized?

Making Bread

I often say that there is only one thing that comes naturally to me (aside from sleeping), and that is writing. Everything else that I attempt in my life I have to work hard at if I want to gain any kind of accomplishment at/with it. Not that I don’t work hard with writing, too, but it is an instinctive kind of hard work – it flows pretty naturally from me.

I have learned in the last few years, however, that the above statement isn’t entirely accurate. Cooking and baking is something else that is fairly natural for me. Again, I have to work at it – I’m a much better cook now than I was seven and a half years ago, just ask my husband – but there is an instinct underneath the work that helps it smoothly along. In fact, most of my cooking failures in the last few years have come from going against my instinct to follow the recipe more exactly. Much of what I’ve learned in the last almost-decade has been to trust my gut when it comes to cooking, not to second-guess myself and doubt myself so much. I am by nature a pretty reserved and cautious person, especially when it comes to my own abilities, so it’s been a long, slow process to come to a place of trusting myself when it comes to anything besides writing!

I love trying new recipes, changing things and adapting them, making them my own. I love discovering food blogs and seeing how the preparation of creation of food entwines in others’ daily lives. Most of all, I love making bread.

Yeast after it has proofed. Watching this process never ceases to amaze me.

My mother made bread. My grandmother made bread. One of my uncles even wrote a song about my grandmother’s bread. Bread-making is one of those things that connects me back to past generations. I don’t know that I’ll ever get over missing my grandmother, but every time I knead a batch of bread dough, I remember her as she was when I was a kid, making bread and setting aside the small loaves as “breadies” just for the kids.

All kneaded, ready for the first rising.

My breadie pans, four little loaves ready for the oven.

We eat homemade bread almost exclusively, except for those weeks when I’m too tired or too busy to make it. It’s not a quick process, certainly, not with two risings at the very least. It’s not for the faint of heart, with the muscles and patience required for kneading the dough. But the rewards are so worth it.

Fresh out of the oven, ready for immediate nomming.

The recipe for the pictured batch of bread (which included two full-size loaves as well as the breadies) is here; the only change I made was to replace two cups of bread flour with two cups of wheat, just because I prefer a greater wheat-to-white ratio. I’ve also, in the past, replaced 1/3 c. of honey with an equal amount of maple syrup, but we’re running low on syrup right now and I don’t want to run out before we make it to a sugarhouse, so I did all honey this time. It makes the most delicious and soft bread ever; a household favorite!