The Teenager has been taller than me for about two years; granted, I am the shortest woman I know, but still . . . . She has been faster than me for much longer: her new PR in the 1 mile is now 5:47. I wonder what it feels like to be so fast, whether it feels like freedom. When she was 20 months old, we bought her a pair of shoes from a street vendor in China. She stumped around in those shoes for over a year — they were always a little loose because she went through a period when she did not grow at all. And now, look at her fly!
Until three years ago, I did not pay much attention to our landscaping. It was enough that when we bought the house, we hired Mother Earth LLC to install xeriscaping front and back. Silly us, we thought that would be the end of it — perennials, drought-tolerant grass, native plants. It was supposed to last forever . . . . Who knew that the “dwarf” mugo pines would grow into 6-foot tall monsters, or that the sumac would creep under the rocks and reappear on our neighbors’ lawns, or the pinyon pine would attract wasps by the hundreds, or the red twig dogwoods and spireas would send out shoots and multiply on the other side of the fence?
Three years ago, we hired another landscaping firm to take out everything Mother Earth had planted. We now have a front lawn with non-tufty non-fescue grass, the Teenager got a planting bed to grow vegetables for the guinea pig, and miracles of miracles, the wasps mostly disappeared. Life was good. But then, there was the backyard . . . .
We hired yet another landscaping firm, and got rid of more dogwoods and mugo pines, and this year, all the various shrubs got major haircuts. Unfortunately, that still leaves the horrendously ugly tufty dwarf tall fescue/bluegrass/? lawn, bare patches, bunny holes, ant hills and all. I keep trying, though, because three years ago I also discovered that yard clean up is a lot like cleaning the bathroom: it is one of the most therapeutic activities around. For the last three springs, my pet project has been the restoration of the original delineation between lawn and rocks. Today, after an hour of digging and pulling out grass, I found the rest of the original perimeter:
To fully appreciate this accomplishment, one must realize that this bit of edging (about 3 feet worth) has not been seen in probably 15 years or so. So yes, time for that glass of Jura single malt, and Happy Spring to me!
When feeling uninspired, craft away:
The fabric strips are mostly from Laura Gunn’s “Magnolia Lane” and “Poppy” collections (many purchased from Mama Said Sew), and were left over from a quilt top I just finished piecing. I sewed the strips onto a muslin backing, folded the whole thing over, and closed it with a single seam which runs length-wise down the middle of the inside of the strap. Very simple and colorful, and now I won’t feel like a walking advertisement for Canon!
“What I want to know is . . . .”
He doesn’t actually want to know anything; it is a completely meaningless phrase, much like a clearing of the throat, used right before he lobs something incendiary into the conversation. He is usually met with stony silence: my SIL has learned over the years not to react, and the parents are deaf — although if they were not, they would doubtless agree with him.
“Too many Indians,” he says, “time to move to Orange County.” He waits a beat. “South Orange County,” he amends. Like my SIL, I say nothing, and the one-sided conversation dies a mercifully quick death.
He sees no irony in his wish to be in well-to-do, upper middle-class, white neighborhood. Why should he? My brother wants to be as he is, but white. Not any sort of white, mind you, but white in the WASP sense. He believes in segregation — everyone contained within their own neighborhoods according to education, socioeconomic class, ethnicity, and race. He allows exceptions for crossing boundaries: those like him who are affluent, well-educated, and absorbed into the cultural and intellectual traditions of the West. They will not litter the landscape with reminders of previous lives and traditions.
He can justify anything: “I don’t see why I can’t call them Negroes,” he says. “It’s from the Latin for black.”
Try doing that in Watts and see where that gets you, I thought.
He is an angry man, and I don’t know why. It is as though at some point in his life, he believes he has been treated unjustly, as though affirmative action has personally affected him to his detriment. His kids’ failures are not their failures, and definitely are not his failures; there are always external circumstances. No acceptances to top echelon colleges? Why, it must have been because their potential places were given to all the various “colored” people. No jobs after college? Ditto. It is a very hostile world he lives in.
He is my brother, and I find the genetics of our relationship profoundly depressing.
Two days ago I began dipping into a new collection of short stories by Amanda Curtin. Definitely not a Red Chair Read, mainly because she is from the wrong century and she writes way too well, although it is also true that I had not heard of her before . . . . But I love a good short story (menopause shortens the attention span), and I am always on the lookout for new (to me, anyway) writers. Thus far I have read just the first three stories from Inherited, but I am already a fan. How amazing to be able to pack so much into such a brief tale as “Sarah’s ark,” a surreal take on acquisition and accumulation.
I collect many things, usually for utilitarian reasons (see story #3, “On the uses of the dead to the living“); for example, I have an endless supply of plastic grocery bags my neighbor gives me because she can’t be bothered to keep canvas bags in her car. I reuse her bags for the garbage, and she gets to feel environmentally friendly. And then there is the stash of gas station receipts I have been accumulating in my car. I did not remember when I had started holding on to those receipts, but I knew I started collecting them originally because I was curious about how much gas prices were going up and how often I filled up the car. Today, I cleared out the receipts, and discovered that I had been keeping them since 2007! I am not sure what this collection says about me, but I do know it took just 45 seconds to shred almost 5 years of history:
Snapshots of consumption:
5/21/2007 — 3.349/gallon
3/03/2008 — 3.049/gallon
3/27/2009 — 1.949/gallon
3/10/2010 — 2.629/gallon
3/10/2011 — 3.349/gallon
3/09/2012 — 3.299/gallon
Yet another obscure writer-with-three-names I have never heard of: Samuel Hopkins Adams! The mystery, The Secret of Lonesome Cove (1912), was actually rather entertaining. I read these works because I have this vague and somewhat romantic notion that if only one person reads just one work by these writers, they get to continue to exist.
The interesting thing about all these Red Chair Reads is that the writers, from a technical point of view, have all been pretty decent: I may not be crazy about the story lines or characters, but I cannot fault their handling of the English language. I assume that this ability to construct a proper sentence is the product of the middle-class educational system of the time, and I can see that a certain amount of creativity may be compromised. BUT, I also think the craft of writing is like playing the piano: Hanon may have written the most boring and restrictive finger exercises in the world, but they get the job done. I don’t care how many cool ideas a writer has if I itch to take a red pen to his prose — I am slogging through a couple of Saroyan Prize submissions right now, and let’s just say that it can be discouraging.
Right. Back to The Secret of Lonesome Cove, and the scientific detective so popular at the turn of the century. Professor Chester Kent is, of course, eccentric and brilliant (can a scientific detective be anything else?):
While I specialized on botany, entomology, and bacteriology, I picked up a working knowledge of other branches; chemistry, toxicology, geology, mineralogy, physiology, and most of the natural sciences, having been blessed with an eager and catholic curiosity about the world we live in.
Indeed! The professor then went on to demonstrate how all his areas of expertise came in handy in solving the case of the mysterious woman found dead on the beach of Lonesome Cove. Who killed her? How did she end up where she was found? What was the significance of the iron manacle on her wrist? And most important of all — who was she, and what did she have to do with the rich but edgy family that lived 14 miles away from the village? As has been the case for all the mysteries from this era, the female character (interestingly enough, there was just one) was annoying, and the romance silly, but luckily that part of the storyline was kept to a minimum. All in all, a fun read for a lazy afternoon.
Every once in a while, I break out of the 19th century and read something from the 20th century — or, in this case, something actually from the 21st century. I listened once to a BBC radio program on the possibilities of tracking word count as a marker or predictor for dementia. So, people who are interested in this sort of thing performed word count analysis on Agatha Christie — who was suspected of having Alzheimer’s –and she did in fact show a shrinking vocabulary in her later books. P. D. James, on the other hand, shows no such diminution — which is all good because at 92 years old, she channels Jane Austen!
The great thing about Death Comes to Pemberley is that P. D. James knows how to evoke Jane Austen without trying to be Jane Austen. This is Darcy’s book, which perhaps is not too surprising if one remembers that P. D. James never was all that good with her female characters. Thus, Jane is Jane, Lydia is Lydia, but Lizzie is surprisingly stressed and — dare I say it — dispirited. Perhaps I was surprised by the amount of angst displayed by Mr. Darcy — I have always fancied him as someone who makes up his mind and gets on with things. Thus, his persistent questioning of the wisdom of his marriage to the unsuitable Lizzie just doesn’t seem quite in character; after all, they have been happily married for a few years now and have an heir and spare to boot. But I suppose finding your hated brother-in-law hovering over a dead body on your estate might make anyone broody . . . .
Characters aside, the mystery starts out well with Mr Denny dead and Wickham, drunk and covered in blood, lamenting over his dead friend’s body. Unfortunately, the murder plot degenerates and eventually meanders to a close with a cheat of a twist. But, one does not read this book for the mystery, even if “death” is in the title. The mystery might be weak and not up to James’ usual standards, but who cares? I got to revisit Pemberley in the company of a master writer, and along the way, I remember just what it is that Jane Austen fans love about her books.