Tag Archives: Charles Dickens

until then, we’ll have to muddle through somehow

There was an unsettled feeling to this Christmas, a kind of betwixt and between sense of things. Or, perhaps more accurately, the feeling of being on the precipice of a new, still unsettling normal in our lives. I mean, sometimes one’s new normal descends quickly; it’s here, deal with it, like it or not. Then there are times when the change is more gradual yet still palpable — you see it and you feel it and you know in your heart that everything from here on out will be different.

None of this probably makes much sense, does it? I’m not sure it makes sense to me, despite rewriting that paragraph dozens of times, over several days. I should probably state that the kids are fine. The Husband and I are fine. We’re muddling through some issues (obviously), some of which I’ve discussed here (my father-in-law’s dementia) and some which I haven’t. It was just a reminder of how much has changed, the absence of certain people, and the uncertainty that the future brings.

We spent a few days in Philly for Christmas. It was mostly fine, but there were a lot of reminders and memories of what once was and what is missing. My father-in-law racing around collecting all the wrapping paper as soon as the gifts were opened. My mother-in-law baking cookies. Getting together with several of our longtime friends. For various reasons, none of those things happened this year and I missed all of it. I tried really hard to “get out of my head” and focus on the here and now, to enjoy the holidays. I was semi-successful.

Here are some photo highlights:

Winter solstice sunrise. I happened to catch this in the parking lot of the hospital where I had to get some routine bloodwork done and I was glad I did.

On Christmas Eve, my mom was looking for some things in a closet when some papers fell out. Among them was this Christmas list of gifts for me and The Husband, written in my Mom-Mom’s handwriting. We never saw this list before. Christmas was a big deal for my Mom-Mom.  Her house was always beautifully decorated and she always went overboard with the presents (she shopped for Christmas year round). She has been gone almost 14 years now, and I chose to look at this as her way of wishing us a Merry Christmas.

(Also? The fact that this is written on an investment advisor’s notepad is laughable because my grandmother spent every dime she had (and the dimes she didn’t) on her grandchildren. We were the bonds she chose to invest in. At 48, I can tell you it paid off bigtime.)

I like going back to our former Unitarian Universalist church for Christmas Eve services. The service is generally the same and many of the congregants are familiar faces from when we first attended 17 years ago. It’s a time for me to slow down and reflect on the season. During trips like these that have so much change, it’s a place and a routine that remains constant for me and I love that.

Philly didn’t get a white Christmas this year (completely fine by me) but rather a sunny and extremely windy one. This was a quiet moment at my mom and stepfather’s house on Christmas morning.

We kept the gifts for The Boy and The Girl to a minimum this year — only three per kid, including a bag of small stocking stuffer items.   Some popular gifts, from left to right: For The Boy, Wii Survivor (he’s an expert on all things Survivor — he absolutely loves anything and everything having to do with the show and can talk strategy and eliminations for days); for The Girl, an issue of Teen Vogue guest-edited by Hillary Rodham Clinton; also for The Girl, a Litograph of Throne of Glass by Sarah J. Maas, her absolute favorite author.

My mother-in-law’s traditional Christmas morning breakfast of French toast casserole (on left) and an egg casserole. We all look forward to this every year. As we did for Thanksgiving, we arranged to bring the meal to my father-in-law at the long-term care facility where he is living (The Place) and we were able to eat together. We also had fruit, coffee (which we picked up at Dunkin Donuts beforehand), and juice. For Christmas dinner we did Chinese.

The Girl and I attempted a Scrabble game. It didn’t go well. As soon as I started winning, she wanted nothing to do with the game. (I don’t believe in letting kids win, especially when they’re 16.) So much for trying to start a new tradition.

 

I’ve been off from work since last Wednesday, thanks to having a bunch of vacation days to burn. This week between Christmas and New Year’s is my favorite time of the year. As usual, I had grand plans to accomplish ALL THE THINGS — decluttering the house, collecting certain receipts for tax purposes, organizing my overflowing bookshelves, cleaning out my closet, reading my January review books (and writing the reviews), prepping some blog posts, revamping the blog, going to yoga ….

I wound up doing some of those things. A corner of the kitchen is in the process of being decluttered. I have the majority of the receipts in one place. I prepped some blog posts. I also watched a movie (“National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation”) and did a “Glee” marathon with The Girl. I cooked some homemade freezer dinners (minestrone soup, chicken breasts with mashed sweet potatoes and vegetables) to take to my mother-in-law and, once in Philly, we took her grocery shopping. I got my required bloodwork done (thyroid level monitoring). I finished one book (H is for Hawk by Helen MacDonald) and am almost finished with a second (Autism Adulthood by Susan Senator), putting me within one book of my 2017 Goodreads goal of 50 books. I’ll have some bookish wrap up posts throughout the next few days.

“And I do come home at Christmas. We all do, or we all should. We all come home, or ought to come home, for a short holiday–the longer, the better–from the great boarding-school, where we are for ever working at our arithmetical slates, to take, and give a rest. As to going a visiting, where can we not go, if we will; where have we not been, when we would; starting our fancy from our Christmas Tree!”  ~ Charles Dickens

“After so long an absence
At last we meet agin:
Does the meeting give us pleasure,
Or does it give us pain?

The tree of life has been shaken,
And but few of us linger now,
Like the prophets two or three berries
In the top of the uppermost bough.

We cordially greet each other
In the old, familiar tone;
And we think, though we do not say it,
How old and gray he is grown!

We speak of a Merry Christmas
And many a Happy New Year;
But each in his heart is thinking
Of those that are not here.

We speak of friends and their fortunes,
And of what they did and said,
Till the dead alone seem living,
And the living alone seem dead.

And at last we hardly distinguish
Between the ghosts and the guests;
And a mist and shadow of sadness
Steals over our merriest jests.”
“The Meeting” ~ Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

 

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currently … wrapping up christmas

Christmas Eve - presents

Christmas Eve, 2015

Currently
It’s our last night of our Christmas vacation in Philly. We’ve been here just shy of a week, enjoying a nice balance of seeing family and friends (usually over brunch or dinner) while also having some downtime (usually spent reading or writing).  It’s always impossible to fit in everyone who we’d like to see and all we’d like to do, but I think it worked out well this time.

Tomorrow’s a travel day back to the “Burgh, then I’m off on Tuesday. Whenever possible, I try to give myself a “re-entry day” on the tail end of these trips. It’s back to work on Wednesday — along with one final dentist appointment this year to use up some insurance dollars — before another few remaining vacation days segue into a long weekend.

Christmas Reading

Like FamilyRDear Mr. You

I admit, I’m scrambling to meet my goal of 52 books read in 2015.  Right now, my tally is 47 (much lower than previous years).  This may be attainable if I stick to shorter books, but I’m not sure.

Reading short books was my strategy for this trip.  So far on this vacation, I’ve read one —Like Family by Paolo Giordano. I was so excited to see this one at the library because I loved (but, sadly, didn’t review) his previous novel, The Solitude of Prime Numbers.  I really liked this new one, which I breezed through in a few hours (if that). Told in flashback and set in Italy, it’s about a couple who hire a housekeeper, Mrs. A., to help out during a difficult pregnancy and who stays on as a nanny for several years. After Mrs. A. is diagnosed with cancer, she decides to leave the household abruptly. The book, then, is about how she has changed the course of the couple’s marriage and their lives.

Right now I’m reading Dear Mr. You by Mary-Louise Parker, which is incredibly well-written and very likely to be on my favorites list. This exactly the reason why I usually don’t post my best-of lists before year’s end; this time of year often brings more opportunities than usual to read and more often than not, something I read while we finish up this trip around the sun surprises and delights me.  Dear Mr. You is going to be that book. The concept is fantastic: it’s structured as a collection of letters that Ms. Parker has written to each of the significant men in her life.

Christmas Not Reading …
For the past few years, I’ve enjoyed spending part of Christmas week with a holiday-themed story. The timing of this needs to be carefully considered and calibrated; I don’t like to start this particular book much before Christmas Eve and I like to be finished by the day after Christmas. This started in 2011 when I reviewed A Clockwork Christmas, a collection of four steampunk tales.

A Christmas Carol was my 2012 selection, followed by The Chimes last year. (I’m not sure what happened in 2013. Maybe A Christmas Carol again, I don’t know.)  I wasn’t impressed with The Chimes, and I was even less enamored with this year’s selection, The Cricket on the Hearth. Slightly less than halfway through this one, there was still no sign of Christmas in Dickens’ long-winded and discombobulated narrative.  This happened to be one of my Classics Club selections, too (although not the one for this most recent spin), so I’ll probably replace it with something.

Christmas Listening …
Between wrapping gifts and a few bouts of insomnia, I’ve been listening to more podcasts than usual. Here are some of the best:

The Writer’s Almanac: “The Meeting” by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (12/25/2015)
Such a perfect poem for Christmas when you’re missing someone special.

Burnt Toast: “Someone Put a Diaper on the Turkey” (12/17/2015)
Listeners’ stories of hilarious holiday disasters involving food.

New Yorker Poetry: Ellen Bass Reads Adam Zagajewski (12/16/2015)
Adam Zagajewski’s poem “Try to Praise the Mutilated World” resonated with me.

On Being: Martin Sheen: Spirituality of Imagination (12/16/2015)
Fantastic interview with actor and activist Martin Sheen about his spirituality.

“Yeah, the love that I longed for, and I think all of us really long for, is knowing that we are loved. A knowingness about our being that unites us to all of humanity, to all of the universe. That despite ourselves, we are loved. And when you realize that, and you embrace that, you begin to look at everyone else and you can see very clearly who in your vision knows they’re loved and who does not. And that makes all the difference. And I began to give thanks and praise for that love. You know how, so often, people say they go on this journey — and I said it, too — that “I’m looking for God.” But God has already found us, really. We have to look in the spot where we’re least likely to look, and that is within ourselves. And when we find that love, that presence, deep within our own personal being — and it’s not something that you can earn, or something that you can work towards. It’s just a realization of being human, of being alive, of being conscious. And that love is overwhelming. And that is the basic foundation of joy. And we become enviable joyful. And then we see it in others, and we seek to ignite that love in others. You can’t do it. You can’t force someone to realize they’re loved, but you can show them.” – Martin Sheen

The Moth Podcast: Eve Plumb and The Pittsburgh StorySLAM (12/15/2015) 
Eve Plumb (you know her as Jan Brady) is hilarious in this episode of The Moth where she shares stories about her childhood on and off the set of The Brady Bunch, and her relationship with her mother. In another story (not involving Eve Plumb or Jan Brady), a slideshow of photos intended for an audience of two winds up being shown at a family gathering.

Christmas Shopping …
The Husband, The Girl, and I all received some great books for Christmas — and The Girl and I went on a little bit of a shopping spree (thanks to her Christmas cash burning a hole in her pocket) at two local independent bookstores.  I need to wrap up this post, though, and get to bed, so I’ll plan on doing that recap separately.

Anticipating … 
I can’t believe this is the last Sunday Salon/Currently for 2015!  I really like doing these posts (even though they tend to take me forever) and in looking back over my blogging this year, oftentimes they’ve been the only posts I’ve written in a particular week.  I’m hoping to remedy that in 2016.

In addition to the book haul from this week, I have a few other fun posts planned.  Hope your holidays were good ones and that you have a great last week of 2015!

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The Sunday Salon: Holiday Reading

The Sunday Salon

We’re back in the ‘Burgh after spending some time in our hometown of Philadelphia celebrating Christmas with family and friends. I always have grandiose plans for these trips. There are always more people to see than there is time. I tell The Girl that perhaps this will be the year we’ll take that day trip to New York City. Didn’t happen (much to her disappointment, especially when she figured out that the boys of One Direction were there).

Instead, the focus this year was not to plan too much. This was more about recharging and relaxing than anything else. I didn’t want to be over-scheduled or constantly on the go.

Still, our time in Philly went so quickly, as it always does. I managed to finish a few books, which puts my goal of reading 75 books for 2014 within reach if things go according to plan.  (I’m currently at 70, which ties last year and is my highest number of books read in a year ever.)

Here’s what I read during Christmas week. Reviews to follow later, probably in 2015.

The Glad Hand of God Points Backwards

The Glad Hand of God Points Backwards, Poems by Rachel Mennies
Rachel is among the authors (along with Jeff Oaks and myself) who will be doing a reading at the literary series Acquired Taste: Holiday Recovery on January 10.  I’ve had this – her first collection of poems – on my to-read list since she signed it for me at a writing conference in October. These are poems about coming of age in America as a Jewish woman, and how one’s personal history intertwines with one’s present. I gave this as a gift to my sister-in-law, who celebrates both Hanukkah and Christmas.

Women in Bed

Women in Bed: Nine Stories, by Jessica Keener
True confession: I started this collection earlier this year, also while on vacation, but for some reason I set it aside. I picked it up again to read while we drove to Philadelphia. (The drive takes us slightly more than five hours – which includes a quick rest stop lunch – so I was thrilled when I discovered I could read on my Kindle in the car. Reading a print book makes me carsick, but for some reason, the Kindle doesn’t have that effect.)

These are what I would describe as quiet stories; as the title intimates, all involve women in bed in some context or another. They’re not what you might think. They’re much more reflective.

The Chimes

The Chimes, by Charles Dickens
I have a new tradition of spending the quiet hours of Christmas Eve and Christmas Day night reading a holiday story. Last year was Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, so it seemed fitting that this year should be The Chimes, which apparently was published in 1844 as The Chimes: A Goblin Story of Some Bells that Rang an Old Year Out and a New Year In.

It’s the second of Dickens’ Christmas stories, and this is actually more apropos for this week rather than Christmas. It is more of a New Years story, one with familiar Dickensian themes of taking care of the poor and doing good.

We Live in Water

We Live in Water, by Jess Walter
I think Jess Walter is an incredibly talented writer (I loved The Financial Lives of the Poets and Beautiful Ruins) and this short story collection showcases him at his best. He’s a razor-sharp observer of people and situations, and it shows in these fantastic stories.

I needed an audiobook during Christmas vacation for a drive I took one night to meet a friend for dinner. I remembered I had started this but needed to return it to the library before I had finished it, so I downloaded it on my phone. This is going to be one of the last-minute entries on my Best Books Read in 2014 list because this will be getting five stars from me.

(In regards to that, I’ve already tipped my hand a bit with my Best Books I Read That Were Published in 2014 post from several weeks ago – I couldn’t help myself. I plan to have my Best Books Read in 2014 post up very soon after the New Year.)

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Weekend Cooking: Drood Food

Several bloggers – myself among them – are participating in a Readalong of Dan Simmons’ mammoth novel Drood which is being hosted by Trish at Love, Laughter, and Insanity. At 775 pages, this one more than meets the qualifications for a chunkster of a book.

I’ve been listening to the audio version and when I got to this passage, I absolutely cracked up. Fellow novelist Wilkie Collins is the narrator of Drood and a good friend of Charles Dickens’; in this scene, Collins is having “supper at a club to which [he] did not belong but at which [he] had guest privileges.”

“I settled down to my solitary meal. I enjoyed coming to this club because of how the chef here prepared lark pudding, which I considered one of the four great works produced by my present age. Tonight I decided to dine relatively lightly and ordered two types of pate, soup, some sweet lobsters, a bottle of dry champagne, a leg of mutton stuffed with oysters and minced onions, two orders of asparagus, some braised beef, a bit of dressed crab, and a side of eggs.” (pg. 56-57)

Wilkie considers this to be a “modest repast.”

He then goes on about the culinary skills of Catherine Dickens, Charles’ wife.

Book Blogger Convention 2011 - NYC (86)

Cheese display at Eataly, New York City, NY May 2011

“…one of the few things I had ever liked about Dickens’s wife was her cooking – or at least the cooking she oversaw at Tavistock House, since I had never seen the woman actually don an apron or lift a ladle. Years ago Catherine Dickens had (under the name Lady Maria Chatterbuck) brought out a volume of recipes, based on what she served regularly at their home at Devonshire Terrace, in a book called What Shall We Have For Dinner? Most of her choices were visible on my table here this evening, although not in such plentitude or with an equal glory of gravies (I consider most cooking as simply a prelude to gravies) – as her tastes had also run towards lobsters, large legs of mutton, heavy beefs, and elaborate desserts. There were so many variations of toasted cheese in Catherine’s volume of recipes that one reviewer commented –

“No man could possibly survive the consumption of such frequent toasted cheese.” (pg. 57)

Half a page later, and with Collins still at the table eating the same supper:

“This night, I could not decide between two desserts, so – Solomon-like – I chose both the lark pudding and the well-cooked apple pudding. And a bottle of port. And coffees.”  (pg. 57)

Book Blogger Convention 2011 - NYC (108)

Meat display at Eataly, New York City, NY May 2011

Even though I was fairly certain I wouldn’t be trying this at home in my vegetarian/gluten-free kitchen, I couldn’t resist finding out what consisted of lark pudding. According to this post from the blog Victorian Gems, this delicacy includes “one pound of rump steak, three sheeps kidneys, one dozen larks, nicely picked and drawn, and all well seasoned with two of salt and one of pepper, and one dozen oysters blanched.” 

Yum. Save room for dessert, indeed.

No wonder Wilkie Collins had troubles with gout. I mean, obviously we know a hell of a lot more than our Victorian friends about the connection between food and health but … still.

Wow.

WeekenWeekend Cooking - Newd Cooking is hosted by Beth Fish Reads and is open to anyone who has any kind of food-related post to share: Book (novel, nonfiction) reviews, cookbook reviews, movie reviews, recipes, random thoughts, gadgets, quotations, photographs. If your post is even vaguely foodie, feel free to grab the button and link up anytime over the weekend. You do not have to post on the weekend. Please link to your specific post, not your blog’s home page. For more information, see the welcome post.

 

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The Sunday Salon: Spring 2014 Readathon Wrap Up

The Sunday SalonReadathon - Day and NightAlong with more than 800 other bloggers, I spent yesterday participating in Dewey’s 24 Hour Read-a-thon. Well … six hours of yesterday, if we’re keeping track (which I was). With 156 pages read, that’s an average Readathon for me, so I’m pleased with those results.

Oliver TwistI’m especially glad to be done with Oliver Twist.  Oh my God, this book. Just tortuous. Seriously. The only reason I was reading it (and definitely the only reason I stuck with it, especially during a Readathon) was because my son was reading it for school. As many of you know, my son is a very, very reluctant reader. It’s something I’ve been trying to work with him on for years now, to no avail, it seems. Reading is just not his thing. So, not only did he choose Oliver Twist on his own to read for a school project, but he actually seemed to enjoy it. There’s more to this which I’ll write about later, but suffice it to say a 6th grade reading assignment is why I didn’t abandon Oliver long ago. (We weren’t required to read along with our kids. It’s just … well, it’s kind of an involved story.)

The Storied Life of A.J. FikryToday I took my daughter down to the library where I work because she wanted to participate in a teen writing workshop we were hosting. While she was busy with that, I started The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin. This is getting a lot of buzz on the book blogs and elsewhere, so I’m curious to see how this unfolds. Plus, any book that manages to find a way to involve books is usually one that I tend to enjoy. So far, I am … it’s a cute story that is making me nostalgic for Martha’s Vineyard, where The Husband and I honeymooned for nine days, once upon a time. I’m waiting for a plot development that’s supposedly gonna knock my socks off.

(I’m also betting this becomes a movie in 3 … 2 … 1.)

 

 

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