30 June 2010

Book report

One of my favorite things about summer is how much reading I get to do. I will often read for an hour or more in bed at night, sometimes much more if the book is especially captivating. I'd say reading at bedtime has been a ritual of mine for as long as I can remember, long before I grew up and became an English teacher, and now even during the school year, when I have that 6 a.m. wakeup looming, I still need to read before I fall asleep and often stay up much later than I should. But one of the luxuries of summertime for a teacher, or at least this teacher, is that I can pick up a book in the middle of the afternoon if I feel like it. Or, as I did this morning, I can lie in bed for a while when I first wake up and dive back into the book on my nightstand.

Since school let out on 2 June, I guess I've read 5 books, the best of which has been The Help by Kathryn Stockett. My mother loaned me her hardback copy and gave it glowing reviews. I've always been drawn to stories about and by African-American women (The Color Purple being my all-time favorite book, one I've read several times), so I knew I would also appreciate Stockett's story about "colored" maids in 1960s Jackson, Mississippi. The writing is clear and true and the experiences of these women gave me a lot to think about, much to feel. I won't give too much away, but the plot largely revolves around finding a voice through writing, another concept I've always found comforting and emotional and powerful. I've given a lot of thought to the different mothering styles in the book, the ways what your mother tells you when you're little can build you up to be more than you ever thought, provide you a safety and security that comes with being loved and delighted in unconditionally, or how a mother can cut you down and hold you back and leave you feeling discounted, ignored, misunderstood. How black women could mother white children only up until the point their parents' prejudices and hatred became their own. Almost everything about maid Aibileen makes me cry:

"She turn from the birdbath and smile and holler, 'Hi, Aibee. I love you, Aibee," and I feel a tickly feeling, soft like the flap a butterfly wings, watching her play out there. The way I used to feel watching Treelore. And that makes me kind a sad, memoring. After while, Mae Mobley come over and press her cheek up to mine, and she just hold it there, like she know I be hurting. I hold her tight, whisper, 'You a smart girl. You a kind girl, Mae Mobley. You hear me?' And I keep saying it till she repeat it back to me."

There's also an exploration of how friendships evolve over time, how sometimes you realize things about people you've always known that you wish you hadn't, that sometimes you have to cut ties. Alternately, there are friends who guard your secrets, watch out for and over you, friends who will sit at your kitchen table with you late at night and sort out whatever needs sorting with you. I didn't want this one to end... (I'm thinking now about how Aibileen was a reader just like me, how getting books smuggled to her from the "white" library gave her the same joy, the same open mind, the same depth of feeling, which again makes me cry.)

I've otherwise been stuck on a theme in my reading, World War 2, starting back with The Book Thief, then Sarah's Key and The Diplomat's Wife, all centered on the Germans and the Holocaust. Then The Piano Teacher which, like Shanghai Girls, focused on the war in the Pacific. Maybe I'm drawn to these stories because both of my grandfathers fought in the war, one against the Germans, the other in the Pacific. I know just reading historical fiction can't even begin to adequately show me their experiences, but somehow reading about that time period gives me a little glimpse, a little more understanding, I guess. Such a fascinating and horrifying and poignant time in history. Not so long ago really, but also a world away from my own life today.

Today I finished Elizabeth Berg's Dream When You're Feeling Blue, a book I found at the thrift store a couple of weeks ago. This story follows 3 beautiful sisters and the various soldiers they correspond with during the war. Wouldn't I love to have all the letters to and from my grandfathers? Who wrote to them? I especially noted a passage summing up what one soldier had written to oldest sister Kitty:

"He thought times like this could galvanize people into a certain kind of unity but could also make for unexpected changes in the individual, for strange contradictions. He said he himself had begun to feel the need to be alone most of the time. And yet he also felt a kind of love and compassion for humanity far greater than what he'd ever felt before. He found it hard to blame the war on any one person. He thought that, despite witnessing--and taking part in--such unimaginable violence, most soldiers would come home from the war wanting never to hurt anything again.

"He told her about boys who came back from the battle vacant-eyed, their hands shaking, who in a few hours' time were ready to smile and joke again and then eager to rejoin those at the front. He said that extinguishing life in another seemed to make you unspeakably grateful for your own, indeed for life in general. For a few hours after a battle, Hank said, everything the men looked at seemed caressed by their eyes. They were such young boys. They were such old men."

I'll be thinking of William Archie Curtis and Julian Jasper Cowan when we celebrate the 4th this weekend, as I do on any holiday or moment with a patriotic slant. I'll never really know what those two went through, and I'll never be able to really define how I feel about what they did, the young boys they were, the old men I watched them become. But I'll think of them kindly and generously, as Hank described, as men who saw and felt so much pain that they never wanted to hurt anything again. My whole life they've been so very kind, so very generous, to me.

29 June 2010

Where the Buffalo becomes the Buffalo

We had an exciting canoe and camping trip on the Buffalo River in Arkansas this past weekend. We left our house around 8 a.m., rendezvoused with the Turners south of Ozark, then drove to the Buffalo River Outfitters about half an hour south of Harrison. We met the Swan Family there, ponied up the $50 for our canoe, loaded a bus with graffiti on the ceiling (Macauley zeroed right in on one person's note to "Ask Jon about explosive diarrhea"). I think we started the 6-mile float at the Hasty drop a little before noon.

Macauley was a genuine river rat. He repeatedly jumped out of the canoe to paddle along in the water beside it, and for some reason (don't know where he got this line or what it means) he'd call out, "This is where the Buffalo becomes the Buffalo!" before every dismount.

The Buffalo flows along beautiful bluffs, some of which people were jumping from. We stopped several times to swim and let the kids play, and on one of our last stops Macauley and Ryan joined several other people jumping off this smaller rock. Still big, but not a cliff like Jen Swan's college-age cousin Charlie jumped from the top of. Charlie brought his own canoe and helped with the kids a lot. He had just done a 100-mile float of the entire Buffalo the week before.
About 30 minutes from the end of the trip, we saw dark storm clouds rolling in and braced ourselves for a shower. What ended up plowing over us was the most torrential rainstorm I have ever been outside in. The wind was blowing so hard, and there was so much rain, even some hail, that we couldn't even look up to see where to go or what to do. We were separated from our friends, but later found out that all the girls except 10-year-old Ellie bawled as hard as Macauley did through the entire ordeal. His voice was completely hoarse the whole next day. The wind blew our canoe onto a gravel bar, where we left it and waded over to the steep bank for a little shelter from the trees. I had a hard time getting over there as my feet kept sinking into the gravel and one of my flipflops blew out. We huddled there while Macauley cried and cursed the day he was ever born. Really. At one point he wailed, "I wish I had never been born!" What is now very funny is that for a while prior to the storm Macauley had been complaining that he needed to use the bathroom (he is very regular and 5:00 is his usual sit-down time). At the height of the drama on the bank, he finally just had to "go" and did so right there. Not an ideal situation, but what do you do? The rain finally relented and we made it safely to the pick-up point and reunited with our friends. Soaked. Back at the Outfitters we made the call to go ahead and camp for the night despite the chance of more rain. We set up the tents while it sprinkled, but by the time we had taken the kids to shower and sat down for a dinner of (thanks, Yvonne and Ray!) carne asada tacos, cheesy jalapeno rice and mango salsa, the skies were dry. The rain cooled things off enough that sleeping that night wasn't too bad other than that I forgot to pack our pillows. We were up early the next morning, had a hearty breakfast prepared by the Swans then loaded up and headed for home. We all agreed that despite the storm it was a trip we'll have to do again. The facilities were nice and clean and quiet and the river is beautiful and not too wild. I saw several antique stores and flea markets near Harrison that I'd like to go back and check out myself...

25 June 2010

All set...

...I think. We're headed to the beautiful Buffalo River in Arkansas early tomorrow morning for a float and camping trip with some old friends and their families. I haven't been down there since college, but I remember the beautiful bluffs and clear water and I'm excited for Macauley to see it all and go on his 2nd canoe trip. I've got the 4Runner mostly packed, all the provisions organized in the kitchen ready to compile in the morning, swimsuits laid out, even clean clothes and shower stuff for when we finish on the river and get ready to set up camp. Ray and Yvonne are bringing the makings for carne asada tacos for our dinner, and I'm in charge of hot dogs for the kids and some fresh guacamole. I made a huge batch of chicken salad this afternoon to take out on the canoe for lunch. We've been roasting at 90+ degree temps all week around here, so I am bracing for a balmy night in the family tent. But away we go!

24 June 2010

What a dive

We had a great time at the very busy Aquatic Center in nearby Republic yesterday. We had lunch at McAlister's with my friend from school, Amy, and her two little boys, Brendan, 4, and Dylan, 1. There was lots to do in the shallow end of the pool, but Macauley headed for the more adventurous end and I didn't get to visit with Amy as much as we'd hoped. But the kids had fun.

The big event of the day was that Macauley, with no hesitation, jumped right off the high dive--many times! (The picture above is him on the low dive, but you can see how much higher the other board is in the picture above it, behind the ropes.) I attempted to attach a video (I am the worst camerawoman, so shaky!) below if it works. Macauley has really gotten comfortable in the water this summer, and I think swimming will be a lifelong hobby of his...

Summer look

I think I'll be changing the look in my dining room this weekend, adding some patriotic decor I have, so I thought I'd capture the look we've had so far this summer. Pay no mind to the fur-covered leopard kitty bed where my skittish Avrie can usually be found.

Those springs I found in the woods behind my house have stuck around after all...

I moved my sweet statues in from the flowerbed out front and popped in plants from the nursery...they haven't flourished but were pretty while they lasted...

23 June 2010

Toad Abode

The flowerbeds around the front of our house are home to a number of hopping frogs, some teeny and some average size. We'd always talked about getting a little "toad abode" for them and Macauley and I happened on one yesterday at TJMaxx. I put it near the smaller porch, adjacent to the water hose, sheltered a bit.

Maybe my wave petunias are the only hiding spot they really need...Regardless, they are welcome here. I hope they consider the detached lizard tail lying on the step fair warning about the blood-thirsty cats...

I'm off with my little water frog now to meet some friends at the Aquatic Center in Republic.

22 June 2010

Flea fun

Macauley and I stopped by a relatively new flea market, Mike's Uniques, one day last week just to see what we could see. We found several good things...an ironstone platter, a cute little silver spoon (pretty beat up), another mini S & P (I have a few of these little sets) and a flour sifter that I plan to use.

A few items for my laundry room, including this petite Daisy washboard, an old wooden hanger and clothes pins. The muffin tin is for organizing my scrapbook notions, which I started yesterday. I've been sorting out supplies to put in my booth and trying to figure out a way to arrange what I want to use so that I'll actually remember what I have.

I got a few other little things, including an adorable mini wrought iron gate that I sent to my sister Lane for her fairy garden she recently planted and this pretty little cup with the rose inside for a gift I'm putting together for another friend.

Macauley and I both fell in love with this umbrella bird feeder and decided we needed it. We set up a little bird cafe in the backyard but so far we haven't seen much traffic. Macauley also scored a horse trailer to hook to the toy Jeep he got when we were in Rogers.

This was only my second visit to this market, and I'm glad to know there is good stuff to be had there since it's not too far from our house. Some things I also liked but left behind:
I can't see how anyone could NOT like the original diva, Miss Piggy...this button made me smile. Clearly Kermie is her 1st favorite thing...

There were 2 of these vintage tissue puffs...I could see them as great 4th of July decor. Same with the wooden flag. Kind of primitive but it could be cute somewhere. My parents will be visiting on July 3rd, and so will Lane, so perhaps I need to go back for these and use them to kick off some pretty vignettes for my guests?
I loved the colors in this old quilt, in such good shape. I hauled a big pile of old quilts up from under the house to wash and put in a safe place. I believe I brought most of them home with me when my Grandpa Cowan was moving out of his old house, but I don't guess I really know the story on them for sure. More on those later...

Family date night

We had a nice Father's Day weekend (this man above is such a good daddy), starting with a night on the town for the 3 of us Friday night. We took Macauley to dinner downtown at Bijan's then we went to see the highly-anticipated Toy Story 3. Excellent movie. So poignant. So clever. Funny, too.

My favorite character has always been the anxious T-Rex. I love how he nervously wrings his little palms together and asks all sorts of questions. Macauley likes the little aliens and has been saying "The Claw!" like they do since. The plot centers around the toys' boy Andy leaving for college and figuring out what to do with his beloved childhood toys. This, of course, hit a soft spot with me, thinking about my own sweet boy taking off someday, too. What will become of his bunny Kenny and his Blankie? What will I do when I don't know he is snuggled up with them upstairs in his bed each night, when I know I won't know where he is at all times? I tried to hold in my tears during the most emotional scene in the movie, but they puffed out in one big, ugly, audible sob and everyone nearby turned to look at me.

I went through with the haircut. It's much shorter than I anticipated and I'm having a little trouble adjusting to seeing a bob when I look down at my shadow. But I suppose change is good. Everyone says it's "cute." Do I want to be "cute" at 33? Would I rather be "pretty" or "chic" or something more grown up and sophisticated? I don't know... At least it's blonde, and that has always felt like home to me. Macauley asked me why I did it. He doesn't adapt that well to change sometimes. But he later told me it looked pretty. He's just as tan as can be from all the hours he's already spent at our neighborhood pool. He's a confident and capable swimmer this summer, which is awesome. He got home from a swimming date with Megan yesterday and got up on the kitchen island to make sugar cookies with me. We were talking about him being 7 and how many days 7 years is (2,555) and he kind of sighed and raised his eyebrows and said, "I've done a lot of things in my life." I suppose he has. He's a lucky boy who's had some cool opportunities. But he's got so much ahead of him...good, so good, and, inevitably, bad. I want to keep him with me as long as possible. Keep him little.

"A happy childhood can't be cured. Mine'll hang around my neck
like a rainbow, that's all, instead of a noose."
~Hortense Calisher


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