January 3, 2016
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"A woman who writes her own stories has no fear of demons." --Laurel Thatcher Ulrich
We have so many books at home. Books in every room, many bookshelves full of books. Every person has their own personal library. I love books. My kids know that if they ask me to buy them a book that is of reasonable quality, I have a hard time refusing. But, I keep telling myself "Don't buy more books." It's so hard to stick to that though.
The last little while has been particularly bad. These are the books I have purchased in the last month or so:
Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir, purchased from Amazon. My intent with this one was to give it to Maren as a way to celebrate the end of middle school and to launch her into summer. Instead, I read it over Memorial Day vacation and then immediately pressed it into her hands with a strong recommendation to read. This might be the next Hunger Games series. When she said she was excited to tell her friends about it, and be the one to spread the news, I told her to had to give me credit for discovering it!
The Mother of our Lord, Volume 1: The Lady in the Temple by Margaret Barker. I ordered this one from an independent seller on Amazon. This has been on my to-read list since Fiona Givens referenced it over and over at last year's Midwest Pilgrims. I was a little intimidated by it, but after Maxine Hanks also strongly recommended it at this year's Pilgrims, I decided it was worth taking the time to start to read it. It's an academic book looking into the tradition of the feminine divine in the Old Testament.
More Wives than One: Tranformation of the Mormon Marriage System, 1840-1910. I bought it used from an independent seller on Amazon. I decided it was time for me to really look into Mormon polygamy. I've been listening to pieces of the Year of Polygamy podcast for a while now, and wanted a good and not too overwhelming overview. When I saw that this made Rational Faith's top ten books on Mormon history, that pushed me over the edge.
Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge, and the Teaching of Plants by Robin Wall Kimmerer. I got this one over Memorial Day weekend at the beautiful little Apostle Island Booksellers in Bayfield Wisconsin on the south shore of Lake Superior. On recent vacations, I have loved stopping by local bookstores and buying books that are tied to the area or that are recommended to me by the booksellers there. (That is how I discovered Shotgun Lovesongs by Nickolas Butler, in a little bookstore on Washington Island, on our trip to Door County last summer. Set in rural Wisconsin, I devoured it before we returned it home, then pressed it into the hands of Andy and my dear friend who has been living in rural Wisconsin for the last 9 years.) I picked up three books and asked the bookseller if she could personally recommend any of them to me. She pointed to Braiding Sweetgrass and told me that she had read it, loved it, and heard the author speak. That was enough for me. I purchased it on the spot. It is a winner of the Sigurd Olson Nature Writing Award, and is described as "a unique combination of science, Native American teachings, and memoir. [Kimmerer] shows us in the most subtle of ways how plants are our indigenous teachers, ultimately revealing a path toward healing the rift that grows between people and nature."
While there, I also picked up The Nature Connection: An Outdoor Workbook for Kids, Families and Classrooms. One of my greatest joys is seeing my kids enjoy the glories of the outdoors. I want to use this to encourage them and inspire them. I also thought it would be fun for Activity Days.
Our 16th anniversary was last week, and to celebrate we went to a wonderful dinner in Uptown on Saturday night. After dinner, we wandered over to Magers and Quinn, just to look around. I love looking at all their stacks in the front--the staff recommendations. They had Rececca Solnit's The Faraway Nearby there, which I read a year and a half ago. She is also a beautiful nature writer, and this is a combination of essay and memoir. In it, she recounts the story of deciding on the spur of a moment to take a trip down the Colorado River at the bottom of the Grand Canyon. What she learned by making that decision, with literally 60 minutes to spare, is that you should never say no to adventure unless you have a very good reason for it. I love that and it's something I want to try to embrace more and more as I try to distance myself from my overly pragmatic and utterly responsible and predictable self of my youth. Standing in Magers and Quinn, I reread that section, basking in her poetic writing and great insights, and decided to take it home with me.
And this list doesn't even count my Mother's Day present of All the Wild that Remains: Edward Abbey, Wallace Stegner, and the American West. (Love both of those writers so much!) Also, on a recent work trip, Andy also got me the very perfect and thoughtful present of Mary Oliver's collection of poetry A Thousand Mornings that I have been savoring and loving this spring.
Now, I need to resist the urge to buy more new books, and read all the things I have sitting on the bookshelf in my room at home!
I have found, though, that time and time again, books bring me back to myself. When I'm cranky or angry or depressed or wrung out, sitting with a book, talking about books, listening to authors, or just dreaming about the books I want to read will reengage my mind and enliven my spirit.
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Today is a perfect spring day. I am sitting on my porch looking out at the new leafy green and listening to the birds. I love this whimsical poem by Billy Collins.
I have spent the last few days devouring podcasts and articles about the best books of 2014. I haven't heard of many of the books discussed, but that doesn't stop me from greedily marking off new books to read and nodding with satisfaction at some of the choices.
I got a little thrill of delight to discover that I had read 4 of the New York Times Top 10 list for the year, and that there were among my favorite books of the year. They included:
All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr: I think this one may be on every single roundup of the year that I've seen--definitely a general audience pleaser. I read it on my trip to Seattle for my grandmother's funeral in September. And I just got it to give to my mom for Christmas. Set mostly in Brittany, France, and a mining town in Germany, Doerr masterfully shifts between two stories. Werner lives with his sister in an orphanage, and is destined to become a mine worker until he discovers his talent for constructing and repairing radios. He is recruited to become part of the Hitler Youth, where he develops a way to track down Allied forces who surreptitiously broadcast low frequency radio messages. Marie-Laure is a blind French girl who is forced to flee with her father to a great uncle's home in Brittany during the invasion of Paris. Her father has devoted his career to working as the lockmaster at the Natural History Museuem. In order to nurture his blind daughter independence, he builds her scale replicas of their neighborhoods that provide her with the visual map necessary to navigate on her own. Eventually, their paths meet up. The writing is gorgeous and the characters shimmer in front of you. Wonderful.
Dept. of Speculation by Jenny Offill: I read this one twice in quick succession when AJ was out of
town with the boys and MJ was at band camp. I had biked around the lake and over to Chipotle and then brought my food to the neighboring park to sit and eat and read. The narrator is an unnamed woman who gets married, has a baby, struggles to maintain a writing career, and then to understand her failing marriage. The narration has a scattershot feel, a deliberate choice by Offill to help us understand her anxieties, frustrations, and anger. There are a few neat narrative tricks that were quite satisfying. And I liked this from the Amazon review: the novel "shimmers with rage and longing and wit." I also really enjoyed listening to the Slate book discussion about it.
This week, we went to Door County, Wisconsin, a little spit of land that juts up into Lake Michigan. We had spent a wonderful 4th of July holiday with our dearest of friends in Shawano, and then decided to continue on to Door County on our own.
We stayed at a wonderful little place in Fish Creek called Julie's, which backed right on to Peninsula State Park. A peninsula on a peninsula. We could literally roll out of bed and onto the bike trail in the park.
The first morning, we all biked together. The morning was filled with a few small annoyances, though. Maren's bike tire was flat and would not hold air. So we switched bikes and I rode Andy's, with Zane trailing behind, Maren took mine, and Andy headed to the bike shop across the street, not open for another hour. The trail was full of mosquitoes, and for every small stop, we were swarmed. Maren took a bad spill, scraping up her palm and twisting her ankle. We stopped at the light house and then made it to Nicolet Beach to wait for Andy to join us, where Zane and Toby quickly got soaked. All in all, it was a good morning together and we enjoyed the ride.
Unsteady hand while riding
The next morning, however, it was chilly and drizzly and Andy had a work call, so I went out on the trail by myself, leaving the kids to watch TV. I hadn't brought a sweatshirt, but luckily I was able to fit into a boy's size 10-12 (snug, but warm). It felt exhilarating to fly down the trail all by myself, with no one to wait for, no kids jockeying for first position on the trail. It might have been the weather, but the trail was virtually deserted. The gray day only accentuated the leafy green cloaked forest, and I felt joyful and peaceful to be out.
When I got to the end of the peninsula, the beach was deserted. A white stone walkway extended into the water on Nicolet Bay, and I biked right down onto it, then threw my bike down and lay prostrate on the white stone, starting to process all the sensations my body was taking in. The sounds of the shrieking gulls, the trilling song birds, and wind brushed leaves. The gray clouds with light bursting through in spots, the tall green oaks, birches, and maples, the steely waves, the islands in the distance. Then I closed my eyes to see what I could feel. The wind blowing on my face, the coolness and solidity of the rocks underneath my legs and back. And then I noticed the pounding of my heart. And in that instant, a rush of awe, delight, and joy. My own self, my body, me. I was in a lush, alive, beautiful corner of the world, and I was part of it. I was united with something much bigger and more majestic than just myself. And I felt so lucky to be there and to have that moment.
Looking out over the bay
It's been a challenging few weeks for me with sad and divisive news coming from inside my church. I want my church to be a place where the Kates and other questioners have a home and don't feel stifled and bullied into silence or disengagement. I feel a little at sea, wondering where and how I fit in. Being out there, on the bay in Peninsula State Park, was a glory and a grace. I have no answers, but I have my beating heart, re-centered so often by the trees and the flowers, the sky and the stars, the wind and the waves.
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"I love all beginnings, despite their anxiousness and their uncertainty, which belong to every commencement. If I have earned a pleasure or a reward, or if I wish that something had not happened; if I doubt the worth of an experience and remain in my past—then I choose to begin at this very second. Begin what? I begin. I have already thus begun a thousand lives."
- Rainer Maria Rilke, Early Journals
I choose to write again. Yes.
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