Category Archives: Musings

Reading and Empathy

I heard a quote by George R. R. Martin this morning that got me thinking about a certain person I know who never reads.

“A reader lives a thousand lives before he dies… The man who never reads lives only one.”

I wonder if people who don’t read have less empathy for people who are not a part of their circle then people who read a lot. It seems reasonable to think that if you are exposed to others, even with only words you develop more empathy with people you don’t know, people who are not like you.

I know for a fact that after reading Five Smooth Stones I became a different person. I’d not known anything about the civil rights movement other than what family members had to say.

End of the year wrap-up 2017

2017 has not been a very good year for me. Nothing outrageous has happened. Work’s fine. No one close to me has died [1]. The kids are doing well.

But I have been smoldering all year long and I have been getting angry or hurt about small things. Of course I know why I am angry. I am angry that I don’t feel like I know the country I live in any more. It has become ugly. It is one huge Ugly American.

I’ve fought the ugly American label for so long, but now it doesn’t seem to matter what I do or how I act. I am from the United States, therefore an ugly American. I am from the country that voted a racist, misogynistic, xenophobic reality TV actor as our leader. I live in a country whose leaders are turning back progressive laws. It doesn’t matter that I didn’t vote for this man, it only matters that I have a U. S. passport.

I’ve spent this year eating too much, drinking too much and sleeping too much. Buying too much crap. I have likely been depressed since November 2016. I have let myself “go” in a number of ways and this has got to stop.

That’s why 2018 is going to be the year of hope for me. The year of setting priorities. The year of not being angry anymore.

I still have lots to do, so the Declutter series will continue.

Also, there is a new 365 challenge beginning on January 1. Follow along here.

Notes:
  1. Well, not counting Leo []

The Life Cycle Library for Young People

As mentioned in the previous post, I partially learned about the birds and the bees from a set of books my mother gave me after being unwilling (embarrassed?) to answer a legitimate question about sperm and eggs.

The Life Cycle Library for Young People is a set of four books whose “Note to Readers” includes:

The story told on the following pages is one of the most fascinating and important ones in the life of every human being. Doctors … are still trying to discover the details of the process by which a tiny cell no larger than a speck of dust grows to be a growing, eating, crying, laughing, loving baby.

It was published in 1969 by The Parent and Child Institute of Chicago.

As I mentioned in that other post, I was not ready to read a set of books about sex. I didn’t open them until one afternoon when my friend, Cindy, was over. I doubt we read the glossary that talked about such topics as “going steady” or “sophistication.”

We probably didn’t think the drawings were dated, since they were what we saw in newspapers and magazines every day.

No, I remember we skipped to Book 3, page 133 and read the section on “Sexual Intercourse” which begins:

The most intimate way for a husband and wife to express their love is through sexual intercourse. Sexual intercourse is the act which enables the male sperm and female egg to unite to begin the life of a new human being. The primary purpose of sexual intercourse for all other living things is reproduction of the species. For a husband and wife it is also an emotional and physical expression of love.

It goes on to discuss foreplay, erogenous zones, arousal and orgasm [1], then discusses conception.

I’m pretty sure I only ever read that section of the books and maybe the parts about childbirth.

Really, it is not surprising I equated sex with conception after all, is it?

 

Notes:
  1. even the woman’s! []

Ruminations on fairies I have known

TL;DR: I love fairies and I thoroughly enjoyed the book The Cottingley Secret by Hazel Gaynor. Possible spoilers in the review which is much farther down the page. Sorry — I have a backstory…

When I was young — maybe 10 — I had an invisible friend. My invisible friend was not your average invisible friend; she was a fairy. I was not very original because I called her Tinkerbell, apparently she was descended from the original Tinkerbell. I am not talking about Disney’s Tinkerbell here, but the actual Tinkerbell from the Peter Pan story. My favorite character was Tinkerbell and at some point I decided that Tinkerbell’s granddaughter or great-granddaughter decided to live in my house and be my best friend. She eventually brought a friend for my brother. He named her Daisy. He’s holding her in his left hand in the picture to the right.

In grade school I wrote a very bad story about Fairyland.

However, as much as I loved fairies (and as much time I spent in West Riding Yorkshire) I didn’t hear about the Cottingley Fairies until the late 1980s. A few years later I bought and read Photographing Fairies when I saw a review about it in the Washington Post. I also saw the film version of the book. A few years after that I took the kids to see A Fairy Tale: The True Story.

In 2002 we visited England and stopped to spend some time with my old pal Jeremy and his family who remarked that the village of Cottingley was not far from one of the stops on a day-trip we were planning, so we spent a couple hours in the village, looking for fairies. I’d not put two and two together to realize that Cottingley was very close to the town of Horsforth where I’d spent several weeks over a few summers as a teen and young adult. It annoys me that I didn’t know about the Cottingley fairies at the time because I know that Jeremy’s dad would have taken me there — I think it was even closer to where some of Jeremy’s relatives lived, folks we visited at least once.

Clare and I have made two fairy gardens and I’ve got a pair of fairies among the ivy on an old maple tree in the back yard. In 2008 we visited a real fairyland in Ireland. I won’t even begin talking about the gnomes.

Anyway — that’s the background. Here’s the rest of the story (or not, at least up to now):

On Facebook one day, I saw an advertisement for a book by an author I’d never heard of. I normally ignore advertisements, but this one was for a book called The Cottingley Secret. Of course I clicked on the advertisement and of course I immediately purchased and downloaded the book.

I was still reading The Keeper of Lost Things so it was a few days before I got to The Cottingley Secret. I liked the book a lot — at first I was disappointed that it was not 100% about the cousins in Cottingley, but then I really got to like the present-time story. That one of the “characters” in the book was a bookstore made it even better!

Books that unfold slowly, showing connections between people from different places or times intrigue me. The Cottingley Secret is one of those books and Ms Gaynor does it well. She also developed her main characters, present and past, well — except for her grandmother, but perhaps that was intentional since the grandmother was stricken with Alzheimer’s*.

The book enchanted me and firmly held my attention from the first page to the last, and ended up reading far into the wee hours of the morning to finish. I feel that this book has added to my love of the Cottingley fairy story — given it depth. Someone in the book said something about people that heard the story and wanted to believe it, shaped it the way they wanted it (or something like that). For me, everything I have read about it, including Arthur Conan Doyle’s account, is slightly different, yet all familiar. So the story I carry in my heart about the Cottingley fairies is different from the one someone else might carry because of what I have read and my personal history with fairies.

I have to wonder though, why Mrs. Hogan, who believed her daughter was carried off by fairies, was not more worried about Frances spending so much time at a known fairy hangout.


Spoiler (and the only criticism) below

*The account of Olivia’s grandmother’s death was not realistic to me. Having gone through my mother’s death of Alzheimer’s just last year, the memory is still very vivid. In the book the grandmother was well enough to talk coherently just before Olivia’s trip, but suddenly got worse when Olivia was on her trip and died shortly after Olivia rushed back to Ireland. In my mother’s case the time from being able to talk and make sense to death took months. I realize that the disease does not always follow the same path and for the story the longer path would have not made sense.

 

 

Silence

Again, I thought I’d blogged about this subject, but apparently not since it did not show up in a search result. I found something else, though, that made me happy and a little sad — but that’s a post for another day.

There are many kinds of people in the world but today I want to discuss two kinds. Those who like to go through life without background noise and those who like to have music or other sounds playing during their waking (and sometimes sleeping) hours.

I am the former kind of person. While I appreciate some music, I prefer to listen to it when I want to listen to it and not constantly. My husband is the other kind of person. He seems to need (although he may disagree with the verb, need) to have music or some other noise (I am using noise here in a general sense, not in a negative sense) in the background of his life at all times. In fact, when we first met, he used to have a radio playing softly when he slept. The only time my husband does not have music playing over the speakers in the house, or through headphones seems to be when he first wakes up, drinks his coffee and reads the paper. That, I think, is out of consideration to me since I usually sleep later than he does.

My husband nearly always tells our kitchen Echo to “play NPR” when he sits down to eat — breakfast, lunch, and dinner. I usually tell Alexa to stop when I join him at the table, but sometimes she talks on through our meals. My husband has even started to listening to podcasts when he goes to bed at night.

My kids are the same way — they both play music from their phones when we are in the car together and my son, at least, often hooks up his phone to our Bluetooth system and plays music — mostly music he wants me to hear because he thinks I will like it (I often do, but since I don’t much listen to music I rarely go back to it).

Other people I know like to have a television on in the background. My folks were like that to some extent. Some of my in-laws are like that. My brother often has the television playing when no one is actively watching it.

I love silence*. I love silence when I wake up in the morning and have my morning beverage. I love silence when I get ready for my day. I love silence when I work (unless it is a mindless and boring task where I sometimes watch Netflix). I usually love silence when I am driving, but often listen to NPR when I am running errands or audiobooks when I am driving long distances. I love silence when I cook dinner  (although sometimes I listen to an audiobook when I am puttering around in the kitchen). I love silence (except for conversation) when I eat dinner. I love silence when I read. I love silence when I blog. I love silence when I am falling asleep.

I know I have a hard time concentrating when there is background noise, even wordless music so that explains why I need silence when I am working or reading or blogging. But why do I like silence when I am just sitting around thinking or when I am eating?

This makes me wonder why the difference? What makes some crave silence and others crave sound? I think I am in the minority. What do you like: silence, noise or something in between?


*My silence is not like everyone’s silence because I have a bit of tinnitus. I might be one of the only people that do not consider it a burden — I figure that I always have crickets singing in my ears.

Creepy Dolls

My mom had a soft spot for ugly dolls. She liked going to antique shops and occasionally purchased the ugliest doll there because she was afraid that doll would never be loved.

A few years ago she gave me two of these dolls “for Clare” but Clare really didn’t want them. I often have them sitting on the back of my office sofa staring at the back of my head while I work.

The first looks like she’s dressed up to go on a trip. Her clothes are elaborate, handmade for sure. She’s wearing pantaloons and a petticoat under a traveling skirt and coat. The undergarments are finished with lace and the skirt and coat are lined. I thought this was a very old doll, but I am now thinking it is not so old, maybe from the 1970s or later. The rear has a stitched name and probably company name: “Meg Jandolls.” What’s creepy about her is her expression. Eyes that bore right into you and a small, slightly askew mouth.

Meg the traveling doll

The other doll is, I think, much older. I call her the strict nanny. Her graying hair is in a messy bun, Her face is stern (or shyly smiling depending on the angle). She’s wearing a pink gingham dress over a petticoat. Over her dress is an apron. Barely visible in the photo below are her black (removable!) boots.Her hands snap together so she can hold a baby. The baby wears what looks like a baptismal gown and a pink knit shawl. I think both the nanny and the baby had bonnets, but they’ve been misplaced.

Strict Nanny Doll

The baby, now that I look at her without her bonnet reminds me a lot of young Karen from the BBC series, Outnumbered.

Okay, maybe not, but to be fair Karen’s hair often looked like the doll’s hair in the early episodes.

All three of these dolls will continue to sit in my office unless I decide to put them on the guest beds. I am pretty sure someone could write a Shirley Jackson-type short story about each of these dolls.

And they are not as creepy as this creepy doll:

No soap radio

My dad was a funny guy and had witty stories and jokes ready for any occasion. I don’t really remember too many of the stories and only remember one of his jokes. Maybe two.

The joke I definitely remember made no sense to me when I was a kid. When I grew up I figured it was funny to someone who was in the “know” about the “golden days of radio” because it sure made my dad laugh. It was not until this afternoon that I realized that my dad was not telling me a joke as much as pranking me.

“Momma Bear and Poppa Bear were taking a bath.

Momma Bear said, “Poppa Bear, pass me the soap, dear.”

Poppa Bear said, “No soap, radio.”

After telling the joke my dad would laugh and laugh and laugh. I’d say I didn’t get it. He’d say, “No soap, radio! No soap radio!” I’d tell him I still didn’t get it. I’d ask what it meant, but he could never seem to explain it to me and said, “never mind” when I bugged him about it.

I told other people the joke and no one else understood it either. How could my father laugh so heartily at a joke that no one understood?

When I grew up I’d think back to the joke and try to understand it. I finally came to the conclusion that it must have had something to do with the olden days and radio programs. That maybe the people that grew up listening to soap operas on the radio understood the joke and that since I hadn’t I’d never hope to understand the joke.

This afternoon I brought the joke up with Dean. He remembered me telling him about it years ago. I told him my theory and he suggested that I consult Professor Internet. I did and what I found out kind of made me sad.

It turns out that the “No soap radio” joke was a prank that may have started in the 1950s. A group of friends would be in on the joke, one person would tell it (or a variation of it) and all the friends would laugh. If the person being pranked laughed, the others would laugh and ask what was funny.

So when my father told it and I didn’t laugh but asked what it meant, how did that make him feel? Was he disappointed that I didn’t do what was expected? Would I have laughed if other people were also laughing? Should I be upset that he was trying to prank me? Does it really matter? Should I stop obsessing on this?

Dad at the Wonder Spot in Wisconsin Dells, Wisconsin 1954

Recipe Blog Pet Peeve

I have an issue with recipe blogs that make you read the entire blog post before giving you the recipe. I am not talking about blogs like The Pioneer Woman who usually has photos of how to make something, then a printable recipe at the end. I am talking about blogs that promise a recipe in the title and briefly mention it in the first paragraph but then post photo after photo of unrelated things before actually posting anything substantial about the recipe. Kind of like this:

Grandma’s Split Pea Soup Recipe

Grandma made a really wonderful split pea soup that we all loved. I asked her how to make it and she gave me the recipe!

The little girl and little boy and DH and I went to a store yesterday. We really had fun. Little Girl was so cute. She said something really cute. So did Little Boy. Then he sat on a chair with his cousin.

After that it was Christmas and here’s Little Girl in front of the tree. She is so cute with the bow in her hair.

Oh, then it snowed! What a snow it was. Little Girl and Little Boy had fun!

After the snow Little Boy played with his two sooty pets. Puff and Jacques.

Grandma’s Pea Soup*
2 1/4 cups dried split peas
2 quarts cold water
1 1/2 pounds ham bone
2 onions, thinly sliced
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 pinch dried marjoram
3 stalks celery, chopped
3 carrots, chopped
1 potato, diced

In a large stock pot, cover peas with 2 quarts cold water and soak overnight. If you need a faster method, simmer the peas gently for 2 minutes, and then soak for l hour.
Once peas are soaked, add ham bone, onion, salt, pepper and marjoram. Cover, bring to boil and then simmer for 1 1/2 hours, stirring occasionally.
Remove bone; cut off meat, dice and return meat to soup. Add celery, carrots and potatoes. Cook slowly, uncovered for 30 to 40 minutes, or until vegetables are tender.

*not really Grandma’s Pea soup. I just stole this from the Internet

New Year Resolutions v.2017

I always make resolutions — usually privately — and never actually accomplish anything. One year I was going to learn Danish. Nope, didn’t happen. (nope, skete ikke). One year I was going to stop procrastinating. Again, nope, didn’t happen). Exercise? Nope.

This year I’m doing something different. I simply want to learn a new thing each month. New things like how to parallel park, how to make gnocchi, and more about our personal finances. I also want to take this year to finally organize the house — declutter, I suppose — by tackling a different part of the house each month. This month it is the basement since we are halfway there anyway with the remodel.

That’s it. I am not making any other resolutions.

We’ll see how it goes.