Friday Favorites 3

This song:

You know that song “Mirrors” by whats-his-name former *NSYNC lead?  The song that is played three times an hour on every radio station in the country, including those stations typically reserved for classical and/or talk?  That song has been stuck in my head for the past three days.  This afternoon I even invented an elaborate system which involved showering with the door partly open so that Mac could blast “Mirrors” without suffering steam damage.

Mystery critters:

Ruby–who has only just learned to whine when she has to use the outdoor facilities (before she simply followed one of us around with her ears perked)–and I discovered a mystery whilst patrolling the yard yesterday evening.  Sidenote: Ruby is a dog, not my human younger sister.  My real human younger sister only whines when I talk to her during Pretty Little Liars.  Anyway, some kind of animal was up in a tree clipping sizeable branches and letting them fall to the ground.  There was already a scattering of green-leaved sticks when Ruby and I arrived on site, and a few more fell as we peered up to catch a glimpse of the creature.  No luck.  The foliage was thick enough to hide it, and it quieted once it spotted us.  Was it a squirrel?  But I’ve never seen a squirrel prune branches like that, unless it’s beginning to build a nest for winter and planned to gather the clippings later?  Was it a bear?  I’ve seen a treed bear before.  For a split second I thought maybe a pet monkey had escaped from somewhere and was about to flash down at me, teeth bared.  But perhaps that’s not it either.  If any zoologists care to comment, particularly if you can support my monkey theory, I would be grateful.

This book:

cheaperbythedozen-book

I would like to dispel any rumors involving the feature film Cheaper by the Dozen, starring Steve Martin and Bonnie Hunt.  The movie is, in fact, based on a real-life family, but only so far as both the real and the fictional family had twelve children.  The real-life family, the Gilbreths, were quite different than Steve and Bonnie’s in every other way.  The parents, Frank Bunker Gilbreth, Sr. and Lillian Moller Gilbreth, were pioneers in the field of motion study around the turn of the century.  And the book–written by two of the children–details the uniqueness of a large family governed by notions of efficiency.  Think French and German language records played in the bathrooms.  The book is heartwarming and very funny:

“Dad himself used to tell a story about one time when Mother went off to fill a lecture engagement and left him in charge at home. When Mother returned, she asked him if everything had run smoothly.
Didn’t have any trouble except with that one over there,’ he replied. ‘But a spanking brought him into line.’
Mother could handle any crisis without losing her composure.
That’s not one of ours, dear,’ she said. ‘He belongs next door.”

Weddings:

my-big-fat-wedding-590kb032310

I’m attending my first tomorrow.  I mean, I was a flower girl for my aunt and uncle’s wedding when I was five, but all I remember about that is enjoying the swish of my beautiful dress.  Tomorrow two of my friends from college marry.  I will be wearing lipstick. I will likely cry.  I will likely make a fool of myself on the dance floor.  But I’m so excited that I doubt I’ll sleep well tonight.

This blog reader:

feedly-update-640x521

Okay, guys: this is cool and something you should look into if you, like me, keep tabs on about twelve different blogs.  To get set up, all you have to do is make a free account with Feedly, enter the URLs of the blogs you read, and then the day’s postings appear right on your Feedly.  No need to go to each individual website.  I use Feedly on Mac and as a mobile app, and both are user-friendly and frankly pretty slick.

This TV show:

Official-Office-Wallpaper-the-office-28us-29-34269_1024_768

When I was in high school and everyone else in the nation was watching The Office, I wasn’t.  What was I watching instead?  Survivor, House Hunters, probably some Disney Channel.  The commentaries on the Chronicles of Narnia DVD.  I don’t know what was wrong with me, either.  I’m on the bandwagon now, however, and happy to be here.  Kevin and his squinty-eyed one liners are my favorites.

Forget the Day

I thank the Lord for the nighttime.  As soon as it ticks past midnight, something in me clicks on.  It’s inspiration time around these parts.  It’s dark outside, it’s quiet, it’s perfectly acceptable for me to be on the couch swathed in blankets instead of doing something productive like shoveling snow or shimmying into my running tights for a jog.  My computer pulses silently, its white light hovering close to its metallic surface, and then pulling back again, dimming.

Ruby, our dear dog, who used to look like this, but who has now grown up somewhat (in stature, not in maturity),

DSCN0091

is lying next to me, her back curved against the couch.  She huffs every now and then, whips her tail a little in her sleep.  Ruby carries around the head of her Christmas stuffed raccoon—its body long lost—as if it is very precious, and has been taking great care lately to infuse it with slobber and stray fur to make up for its recent encounter with the washing machine.  She hardly stirs any more when I read a bit of paragraph aloud, or when I rouse myself for juice or phone charger.

This is my time, after all.  It has always been this way.  I no longer expect anyone—including the dog—to stay awake for it.

Paper Writing with Virginia

Writing this Virginia Woolf paper, I feel as though she and I are engaged in a battle of wills. I have to wrestle with her for every sentence of analysis; I have to put her in a headlock to obtain an entire paragraph.  Virginia (as you may have experienced, grappling with someone typically puts you on a first-name basis with them) is the most present of any author whose works I’ve read.  I’m not sure how to explain this, exactly.  I’m not seeing visions of her (our sparring is purely imaginative), but I feel her.  Sometimes when I’m frustrated over a contradiction I’ve just discovered in my thesis, or utterly unable to decipher a passage, I look up from Mac and say aloud, “I am not afraid of you.  Let me write this, please!”  Sometimes, Virginia seems to relent, but sometimes she crosses her lace-covered arms and looks down her nose at me.  She has a long nose, but the effect is still good.  She twitches an eyebrow (and I am terribly embarrassed to admit to myself that she looks like Nicole Kidman in The Hours).  I tremble and shed a few tears and flop back against my pillows and attempt to recover my dignity.  I think that’s what Virginia would have done to people in real life.  I think she quietly, sometimes humorously, floored people.

I’m going to get back to it now.  Virginia is eating the Sour Skittles I got on Halloween and pursing her lips in the most Victorian manner possible.  Oops, now she’s futzing with my electric hair dryer.  I may have to give her a book and make her sit in the corner until I’m through.  I highly doubt, however, that I’ll be able to prevent her from giving me that look and from calling out highly inappropriate quips every fifteen minutes or so.

I’m not seeing visions.  7.5 pages to go.

War Novels

1/2 cup oats, 1/2 cup skim, dash of vanilla (I don’t know that the vanilla adds much flavor, but it’s fun to put in), small spoon of brown sugar, and many, many frozen berries.  Nuke for 2.5 minutes, and then add a spoon of peanut butter on top.

The food bloggers tell me the peanut butter is for protein, but I mostly like the way it melts and puddles over the entire bowl.  And yes, this oatmeal does keep me full for a good four hours.  I could likely run a triathlon on this oatmeal (given I had teammates to do the swimming and biking (Mom??)).

I’m eating said bowl of power oatmeal on our front porch, watching the heat creep up in shimmering waves.  It never did storm last night, despite my dramatics.

Both of my grandfathers served in WWII, but I don’t personally know anyone who has died serving their country.  I know I’m lucky in that regard, and this fine Memorial Day, I’m feeling extremely grateful to all of the American men and women who have served and lost their lives as a result.  Sitting legs crossed, oatmeal bowl propped against Mac, it’s hard for me to imagine ever doing anything that brave.  Mostly, I suppose I like to read about acts of heroism, real or fictional.

Here’s a list of war books I’ve read and enjoyed (as much as one can enjoy such a book):

1.  The Book Thief.  Friends, I don’t know that you’ve been lucky enough to listen to one of my rants concerning this book.  It’s easily the book I most often recommend to other people.  The force of my recommendations have even tended toward the creepy.  Think slipping a copy into someone’s house via cat flap.  It’s that good.  It’s about a girl who steals books against a Nazi Germany backdrop.  Simple enough, but when you consider that the book is narrated by death, and that the format of the book is perhaps one of the most unusual and most poignant you’ve ever come across, you realize that the magnitude of the story is much greater than you initially thought.  Ignore the fact that the book is shelved under “young adult.”  It should be shelved under “everyone.”

2. All Quiet on the Western Front.  This was one of the books we discussed in my “Atrocity and Modernism” literature class.  I took the class while studying abroad in Salzburg last fall.  It’s the story of a group of German friends who are pushed to war by their parents, and by their schoolteacher because war is viewed as a glorious, noble venture.  The young men quickly realize that the glories of war are far overshadowed by the traumas, by the tragedies, and by one’s inability to ever go back to one’s prewar life.  This book was gathered and burned in Nazi Germany for depicting war in a negative fashion.

3. The Red Badge of Courage.  I hated this book when I was forced to read it in 8th grade.  The only thing I liked was that we got to choose scenes to act out and film.  I remember staggering about the schoolyard, pretending to be a shot and delirious Jim: “No-no-don’t tech me-leave me be-leave me be.”  As 8th graders will, we seemed to have more bloopers than actual solemn footage in our video.  It was shocking, when, three years later, I was assigned the book in an American literature class.  It was devastating when, saturated in the newness of college, I was assigned the same old book my freshman year.  Admittedly, I grew to like it a little bit, mostly because the protagonist, Henry, is so darned relatable.  He’s stuttering, he’s scared, he’s desperate for glory but not brave enough to grasp it.  He thinks, in short, the way I’m sure many, many Civil War soldiers thought.

4. For Whom the Bell Tolls.  This is the first (and last, at this point) Hemingway I ever picked up of my own power.  It was a struggle at times, but it’s difficult, as much as I sometimes want to, to dislike Hemingway.  He has an economy of words that is truly admirable.  And what’s even more admirable, the story doesn’t suffer for lack of telling.  Placed during the Spanish Civil War, For Whom the Bell Tolls depicts American dynamiter Robert Jordan’s quest to blow up an enemy bridge.

5. The English Patient.  I read this book long before seeing the movie, and although the two are entirely different in form, the basic feel is the same.  They are about a badly burned and dying man who is taken care of by a Canadian nurse in an Italian villa.  Also living in the villa is a mysterious thief who claims connection to the patient, and an Indian who’s job it is to defuse the hundreds of mines embedded in the surrounding countryside.  The story is a twisting series of flashbacks that reveal the characters’ roles on the Northern African World War II front.  It’s a lovely heartbreaking story, and for once, I think I can recommend both book and the film equally.

6. John Adams.  Another book I’ll recommend until I’m blue in the face.  Yes,  it’s technically a life-spanning biography, and not a war novel, but as John Adams played such a large role in the American Revolution (the instigation of, and the recovery from), and since so much of the book deals with said Revolution, I’m happily including it here.  Best biography I’ve ever read.  Hands down.  If you know who David McCullough is, I’m sure you know why: The extent of his research is enormous, and he arranges it masterfully so that the book reads not only as a chain of life-defining events, but as a thorough character study.  With this biography, I am converted; John Adams will forever remain my favorite Founding Father.  Because despite his  learning, his admirable sense of justice, and his ever-expanding ambition, Adams could be pompous, foolish, and stubborn.  He knew it, too.

7.  Gone With the Wind.  Everyone should read this at least once in their lives.  I think it’s expected that the novel is sentimental, telling of the terribly beautiful Scarlett O’Hara and her 1000-page-long pining for the married Ashley Wilkes (while all readers root for Rhett Butler instead).  What’s unexpected is how accurate a portrayal of the Civil War it is.  No history class I’ve ever taken has done better.  Battles are described in desperate fury, and even more memorably, the destruction of the South is depicted from a Southern point of view.

8.  Little Women.  I’ve read this book once a year since I was in third grade.  So I’m at about thirteen reads.  This is another novel that isn’t quite a war novel, but that concerns war enough for me to include it here. Little Women  is about four girls growing up during the Civil War: their struggles, their triumphs, their first dealings with wealth and love and adulthood.  Despite my thirteen readings, I seem to find some new bit of commentary every time I read through.

9.  Atonement.  I was really going to stop at 8, but then I remembered Atonement.  It’s about a lie told when one is a child, and how that lie comes to haunt people, and to impact their lives for years to come.  Written by the always good Ian McEwan, this book is on Time Magazine’s list of 100 Greatest Novels.  It deals with WWII, both the fighting and the nursing parts of it.  Warning: the ending will rip your heart out, but it’s very, very worth the read.

Storm Approaching

Looking up from Mac to see that the sky had turned suddenly, frighteningly dark, I just walked outside to stand on the front steps and survey the oncoming storm.

The wind had died down, and hardly a leaf stirred.  Instead, they seemed to curl into themselves, seeking shelter in fragile stems and thin branches.

Now, back on my bed inside, I can feel the storm changing the pressure in my ears, slowly creeping over the house; it will situate itself perfectly before it strikes.

In the meantime, I’ll be trading summer shorts and sandals for a sweatshirt and a blanket shawl.  I’ll be reading Tom Sawyer with a flashlight, and making a cup of tea in the microwave.

I’ll be constantly, obsessively, checking the online weather radar.

 

 

Life is Beautiful

Life is beautiful.

I’m a five job lady right now:  office work, research with prof., theatre volunteering, babysitting (or nannying I suppose, as it’s a regular schedule), and now, cat sitting.

Here’s what I love about living in Morris for the summer: I’m nannying for two philosophy professors, and cat sitting for a political science professor.  Furthermore, the political science professor told me she’s put in a good word for me to the Chancellor, who also has cats.  And a Rottweiler.

Here’s what else I love about Morris:  it’s ideal for bike travel.  I always suspected that cars are the ticket to freedom: they’re fast, they can go long distances without wearing out, and they’re safely enclosed.  I was wrong.  There’s just something about biking around, using your own steam to get to work or to the grocery store.  There’s something (forgive me) about the wind in your hair, the bugs in your nostrils, the burn in your calves that is utterly exhilerating.

Here’s the third thing I love about Morris: On my bike ride home, I was standing on the pedals, huffing up a hill, when two shadowed figures loomed in the twilight.  They were lurking in the middle of the sidewalk, and I didn’t have time to veer off.  Fearing that I was about to be mugged, and mentally clinging to Mac, who was sheltered in my backpack, I bravely hurtled forward.

And then I realized that the shadowed figures were two fellow juniors and English majors.

We spent the following twenty minutes discussing everything from Irish history, to street performing (look for us on YouTube.  Search “Yoko Ono Stomp”), to Natalie Portman.

Then I rode the rest of the way home, muttering “I think I can I think I can” all the way up the last big hill.  And I thought about the fact that I worked nine hours today (split between three jobs), and that somehow, the best endings always close the longest days.

Life is beautiful, friends.  Enjoy it.

So They Told Me

They told me it was addicting.  Once I began, they warned, I wouldn’t be able to stop.

They told me it was spreading; it was being discussed in every dark alley, every lamp-lit living room, every high school cafeteria.

They told me, looking furtively around, that I would enjoy it.  That, despite all I thought I knew about it, it would be unexpected.  And wonderful.

They told me, handing me an ominous black hard drive, that the choice was mine.

And so it came to be that I downloaded “Game of Thrones” (season one) onto Mac.

And so it came to be that I’ve watched five episodes in an embarrassingly short period of time.

And now, with the weight of finals almost upon us, I’m passing this magnificent show to you, with my best wishes.

Yes, it’s graphic and bloody (it is on HBO, after all).

But it’s also given me renewed faith in Sean Bean.  It’s made me realize that no matter how tough I like to think I am, I couldn’t survive one day in the Middle Ages (the general lack of personal hygiene would get me straight off).  Mostly, though, “Game of Thrones” has swept me up in a tangle of engrossing, fast-paced stories.

Tell your friends.