Els' Rabbit Trails, Westerns

No NaNoWriMo Update.

We’re slightly beyond the halfway point of November and it is painfully obvious to me that the goal of writing 30,000 words this month is on the fast track to being a failed effort. Life, in all its messiness and complexities, has thrown lob after lob, each one landing square in the middle of my ability to knuckle down and write.

My initial inclination is to resist the urge to absolve myself. I set a goal, I should have done whatever it took to reach it. That, however, is the antithesis of the life we are trying to live and model for our children. Rather than a slacking off due to minutiae masquerading as busyness, there were genuinely more pressing matters to attend to which made it nearly impossible for me to sit down and focus enough to write those 1000 words a day. That’s before I’ve paused to further put things in order to serve Thanksgiving dinner to my family five days from now.

Time for a revamped strategy which will, unfortunately, have to wait until after the New Year is underway. That’s a slightly disappointing prospect as I generally frown on using the New Year as the answer to beginning anew what should be easy enough to accomplish in at any time of the year.

One thing I will be trying to accomplish is devoting significant amounts of time to reading and research so that when I am ready to dive back into writing in a few weeks, I’ll be more prepared to power out some significant portions of writing. To that end, I’ll close with this prayer by Thomas Aquinas; Ante Studium. I will be drawing on its inspiration as I move forward with my project:

Ineffable Creator, Who out of the treasures of Your wisdom appointed treble hierarchies of Angels and set them in admirable order high above the heavens; Who disposed the diverse portions of the universe in such elegant array; Who are the true Fountain of Light and Wisdom, and the all-exceeding Source:  Be pleased to cast a beam of Your radiance upon the darkness of my mind, and dispel from me the double darkness of sin and ignorance in which I have been born.

You Who make eloquent the tongues of little children, instruct my tongue and pour upon my lips the grace of Your benediction.  Grant me penetration to understand, capacity to retain, method and ease in learning, subtlety in interpretation, and copious grace of expression.

Order the beginning, direct the progress, and perfect the conclusion of my work, You Who are true God and Man, Who live and reign forever and ever.  Amen.

Have a wonderful weekend! I hope to have a book review up early next week.

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Els' Rabbit Trails, the business of books

The Great 2018 Book Purge Update.

The purge is underway in earnest, and although I have given up counting exactly how many books were boxed and given away, I’d estimate roughly 75. Because I was more interested in freeing space and organization than acquiring new books to replace others, I simply transported the entire box to our nearest Goodwill donation center.

There are seasons when I am rich in both time and a desire for new book acquisitions. At those times I travel a little further to a quaint used bookstore that I enjoy, where they give me credit for my used books to be used towards books for sale in their inventory. This was not one of those seasons, so I didn’t do that today.

The thinning included a significant number of children’s books that our children have outgrown or lost interest in: Most of the Junie B. Jones collection, almost all of the Magic Treehouse series, and a stack of Little Golden Books as well. Because we do have young children here on occasion, I kept the children’s books which are undisputed classics, both for young visitors and for the children I hope our children will have some day in the not too distant future. Reading aloud to children is great fun, after all.

Among the children’s books with which I couldn’t part were Winnie the Pooh series, Goodnight Moon, a few Dr. Seuss classics, as well as a few beloved titles by Beatrix Potter. I often post C.S. Lewis’ quote regarding the timelessness of an engaging, well written story.

“No book is really worth reading at the age of ten which is not equally – and often far more – worth reading at the age of fifty and beyond.”

I agree heartily, as I have enjoyed numerous children’s books throughout my adult years, most recently Tom Sawyer.

The second group of books I purged rather ruthlessly were “theology” centered books which no longer dove tail with my understanding of faith the way they did back when I bought them. Fortunately, there weren’t many of those. Unfortunately, there were probably more than there should have been.

Then there were the homeschool books that I bought only to find they didn’t work for one reason or another. I considered saving them to sell at a couple of used curriculum sales in the spring, but that would mean keeping them until April or May. I might regret it later, but at this moment in time nothing less that removing these items from my sight would give me homemaking peace. So, out they went.

Lastly there were the books that I got rid of simply because I don’t anticipate I’ll ever re-read them. Many of those are books that I have reviewed in this space. Some of them I really enjoyed, but just don’t desire to read again. Others I never liked all that much, and some I finally had to accept that I was never going to read. I realized that I boxed up several books that have been reviewed here. Among them:

I had been getting into the habit lately of buying more books as our increasingly hectic schedule has made library runs less frequent. My goal as I enter the New Year is to reconnect with my habit of checking out most of the books I read from the library unless I can’t access them there.

The book purge is not 100% complete, but I am about 75% of the way there.

 

 

 

American history, coming from where I'm from, Els' Rabbit Trails, Florida History, politics

In which I wax political but not too much.

This is as political as I am willing to go here, but this tweet is both funny and true:

Given the current state of limbo surrounding the Florida senate race, I couldn’t help but laugh when I saw that. It seems as this is the normal course in every major race our state has voted in since the Great Electoral Fiasco of 2000.

What many of you may not realize is that we have a history of election upheaval here that reaches back much further.

Our illustrious electoral history started at least as far back as 1876, when Florida, via a back room deal, handed her electoral votes and the presidency to Rutherford B. Hayes.

Electoral shenannigans are as naturally Floridian as retention pond alligators and key lime pie.

children's books, fiction, genres, iconic characters, joys of reading, just for fun

Our love affair with magical nannies.

mary poppins

There was a nanny debate the other night in our house. No, we’re not considering getting a nanny! The debate centered upon which is the most magical magical Nanny. Is it Nanny McPhee  (originally Nurse Matilda) or Mary Poppins? After this post at Of Maria Antonia recently reminded me of the similarly delightful Mrs. Piggle Wiggle, I came away wondering about our love affair with magical nannies, and began Googling in an earnest search for others I may have forgotten.

Including the delightful dog Nanna in J.M. Barrie’s Peter Pan,  it was clear that the magical nanny trope extends beyond my original limited imagination of what a magical nanny is. She’s not only characterized by the possession of literal magical powers, but also has a magical effect on the entire family as she serves. The literary blog Slap Happy Larry outlines the general story arc of children’s books which employ the magical nanny trope:

  • The parents are colourless and unremarkable except for their utter cluelessness.
  • The nanny might be actually magic, or seems to work magic due to being a ‘child whisperer’
  • The children are highly spirited tricksters
  • The nanny sees right through the children and although she may have a harsh exterior, has a heart of gold
  • The children are at least upper middle class
  • Nanny stories of the old-fashioned kind, set in large houses, are probably from an earlier era such as the Edwardian
  • The plots tend to be episodic rather than dramatic, with each day bringing a new adventure which is over and solved by bedtime. But there is still a character arc whereby the children become better behaved (or more morally upstanding) by the end of the story.

Mrs. Piggle Wiggle, an American story, necessarily demands a slightly different twist on the notion than we find in the the other renown stories, typically written by British authors. In contrast to Nurse Matilda, Mary Poppins, or even Nanna, Mrs. Piggle Wiggle doesn’t live with her charges. Instead, she is a kindly neighborhood lady whom all the children love and all the parents trust to know just the trick to rectify their children’s bad or detrimental behavior.

This short exploration doesn’t even begin to address the numerous nannies and nursemaids to be found in adult literature, who are far more likely to have a significant effect than magical powers. The unrefined but devoted Mrs. Wix from Henry James’ What Maisie Knew springs to mind here. I’m not sure I could even exhaust the list in a short post as short as this one. This leads  me to the question:

What is it about the magical nannies that grabs hold of our imaginations and makes us enjoy them so? I have my own hypothesis, but I’d much rather hear yours first!

 

 

 

 

Els' Rabbit Trails, Uncategorized, writing

Stretching Creative Limits

As I embark on this nonfiction version of the NaNoWriMo challenge, thoughts about stretching my creative limits are floating to the surface. The thoughts are so vivid and constant that I was reminded of a conversation I had with my gifted composition teacher in high school. At that time, they called gifted students “gifted”, a statement of aptitude, rather than the more palatable “AP” which indicates that the placement is chosen rather than endowed.

That morning, I realized I’d forgotten to write a short essay that was due. In a mad rush, I wrote it on the school bus and before class, had a fellow gifted English student read over it and tell me what he thought. He said it was “really good. I never would have known you wrote this on the bus in 20 minutes if you hadn’t told  me so.” Confident that I had an A (or at least a B), well in hand, I submitted the essay to my teacher with relieved confidence. It was a confidence that she decidedly shook in a good way, although it would be years before I understood or appreciated it.

She returned the paper with a C, and I was moved to question her, which was very uncharacteristic of me. When I questioned her assessment of my work she said that the essay was good, and had another student written it,  she would have given it an ‘A’.

However, over the course of the school year, she’d read enough of my writing to know that that paper could have easily (I’m not kidding!) “been written on the bus on your way to school, so it’s not an A paper for you”.  I still felt I’d been done wrong, but the prophetic accuracy with which she’d nailed my lack of effort sucked all of the wind from the sails of my argument.

I was reminded of that moment last night as I slogged along trying to get the 1000 words I’d committed to on “paper”. We had a minor plumbing emergency in out house this week on top of our usual busy schedule, which has hindered my creative energy. I found that I was more concerned with meeting the word quota than writing something really worth reading. The effort wasn’t a total waste however, as there are some insightful thoughts waiting to be made readable with attentive editing.

What I have learned this week was that it’s important to remember not to coast while doing this. I need to give it the same level of care that I give would give while making my husband’s favorite recipes, or to anything else I would give extra thought and care. The fact that words come easy to me means I need to stretch myself in ways that produce better results. I should and I must, because I can.

I will say though, that creativity and enthusiasm in the kitchen which produces results in 2 hours or less is far easier and often more enjoyable.

NaNoWriMo 2018 continues…

Els' Rabbit Trails, family, nonfiction, writing

NaNoWriMo, but non-fiction?

It’s November, that month where many writers, would-be writers, never-will-be-writers, and bloggers who write about writing promote National Novel Writing Month. I enjoy good novels, and have been encouraged over the years that my gift for the written word should be shared in ways beyond online forums. Writing fiction however, has never interested me. My imagination just isn’t that great. When and if I ever accomplish my desire of publishing something others are willing to pay to read, it will have to be non-fiction.

My beloved, having supplied me with the tools  to transfer my “profound” ideas and insights to the written word, has once again encouraged me that anything I need, including time and space, he will make available so that I can fulfill this longing. The only thing comparable to being well-loved is being believed in. As an act of appreciation for his faith, I’m putting a  personal spin NaNoWriMo, committing to writing every day for next 30 days. Should all go according to plan 30,000 words will be transferred from my head, to the keyboard, and onto paper by years’ end.

Even as I type this, my mind is fighting: “You are hosting Thanksgiving for 20 people this year”, “You are teaching this semester and need to prep for the next”, and the perpetual nagging thought, “You have more important priorities to focus on as a wife and mother.”

The struggle of balancing duties with desires can be a never ending one. It’s so often why most people simply choose one or the other, duties or desires, and let the chips fall for better or worse. Because we really can’t do “it all”, but we can do some of it.

I have concluded that writing 1000 words a day is doable, and not an all-encompassing,  overly time consuming task. It is just enough to hone one’s craft, but not so much that it steals time best devoted to other things.

We’ll see how this goes.

 

Els' Rabbit Trails, joys of reading, Uncategorized

The Great 2018 Book Purge.

Great Book Purge a bit of an exaggeration, but there will be a thinning. When it’s done I’ll fill you readers in on the final tally. It is the time of year when I begin my year-end cleaning blitz. I suppose fall is when I tackle the equivalent of Spring Cleaning.

I am not much of a spring cleaner. In springtime, my energy is mostly directed towards end of school year activities both in my house and out of it. There are a few annual checklist items, such as calling HVAC companies, pest control, and sprucing up the yard after winter, such as winter is here. But deep spring cleaning? It’s just not my thing.

For me, fall cleaning is where it’s at!  Since we are finally getting a taste of fall (and by fall I mean daily highs below 85), my sudden itch to begin the New Year with an organized, deeply cleaned house is ready to be scratched. With that comes the dreaded task of figuring out which books to keep and which ones to toss.

As I noted in my review of The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up, as much as that process speaks to the rabid minimalist inside me, I don’t live alone. Ruthless purging would be an extremely challenging undertaking, fraught with family drama not worth the rewards. I purge little by little, one closet, cabinet and bureau at a time.

However, I am in charge of 90% our library. I could, theoretically, pare down to the 30 books Marie Kondo suggests. I won’t because it’s not a feasible solution for our family, but I could. This article from Lithub explores the emotional connection bibliophiles have to books and the angst that can comes with deciding which ones “spark joy” and which should be tossed on the pile. Some books really are one and done reads, or books we acquired knowing full well we might never get to them; not now or in the future. For the true book lover, however, it is not as simple as that. From the Lithub piece:

It occurred to me that part of the reason why tackling the “books” stage of the Full Kondo seems so daunting is that to many of us our books don’t really belong in the category she has assigned. They are not impersonal units of knowledge, interchangeable and replaceable, but rather receptacles for the moments of our lives, whose pages have sopped up morning hopes and late-night sorrows, carried in honeymoon suitcases or clutched to broken hearts. They are mementos, which she cautions readers not to even attempt to contemplate getting rid of until the very last.

To be fair, Kondo no longer thinks that ripping books to pieces is a good idea, but it’s telling to learn that she herself once did this to save space. Keeping parts of books might make sense if your entire library consisted of cooking or craft manuals, but sounds completely crazy when applied to novels or narrative nonfiction. Which chapters of Anna Karenina or In Cold Blood would you keep, for example? The picture Kondo paints is a bleak one, referring mostly to business books and textbooks, to “studying” and “necessary information.” The “classics” she refers to are not Dickens and Brontë but “authors like Drucker and Carnegie,” a management consultant and an industrialist, respectively. With no offense to those two illustrious professions, I am not very shocked that these didn’t “spark joy.”

None of this is to say that there aren’t books book lovers should be willing to dispose of. I suspect I will shed at least 30. That’s not even counting at least 20 on the shelves that were borrowed from or dropped off by friends and need to be returned. I have as many books floating around also. Either way, purging 50 books (well, maybe 40) is better than none.

I’m not sure how this round will end, but I am hopeful. Because I am currently gripped with the urge to purge nearly every space in the house that is within my domain, I think I’ll get rid of quite a few. I expect I’ll even lose a few that I never thought I’d part with, but there does come a point when you have to accept that you’re probably never going to pick up a certain books a finish it, and that there’s a reason for that.

Analyzing why certain books land on the pile might be a fun mental exercise, so stay tuned.