Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Infinite Joys

I desire to be a mother--if only to give food to the craving activity of my soul...Maternity is an enterprise in which I have opened an enormous stake...Motherhood will develop my energy, enlarge my heart, and compensate me for all things by infinite joys!
Honore de Balzac, Memoirs of Two Young Married Women, 1894

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Forming a Book Club

A friend asked if I would explain how my book club was formed, as she is interested in starting one of her own. (This one's for you, Trish!)

If you want an 'official' word on the subject, try here, or maybe here, but the following is 'our story.'

A friend and I were enjoying chocolate desserts at a restaurant together. She mentioned that nothing would be better than a book club where everyone ate chocolate while talking about books. Because I am an organizer/planner, letters were typed up to a small group of ladies, and we had ourselves a planning meeting within a month or so.

I would suggest choosing a few ladies (or couples, or mixed group...) and setting up a time to meet and discuss your options.

Here are a few things to consider:

1. Who will be included in your group? How many members do you want to have? How will you invite new members?

For us, we started with a group of about 8 ladies. A few members invited family or friends, and after 2 or 3 years, we were up to 15. It has been our experience that 10-12 members is about right for us. We are now at 13 and don't plan on adding any new members unless we get down to 10, or so. I would also suggest that any prospective new member be invited as a guest for a few months to see if they fit in with your group before formally adding them. It is amazing how one personality 'mismatch' can throw off the group dynamic. Also, I would talk about commitment expectations. Not every member will be able to make it to every meeting or read every book, but you want some level of commitment to the group. Ask each person to be realistic about what kind of time and effort they can put in.

2. What will you read? How will you choose books? How many books would you like to read?

We are a fairly conservative group, so our book choices reflect that, but we don't have a specific type of book we read. I actually prefer a varied selection of classics, mystery, humor, non-fiction, Christian, and modern literature. Previously, we have just given out suggestions randomly and made up a schedule from there (usually trying to alternate 'heavy' books with lighter reading). This year we are being more specific. Each member has specifically suggested one book. We read one book a month.

3. Where will you meet? How often?

We meet in a different home each month. Having 13 members means that each person can host once a year, with one member opting out, or we can schedule more than a year out. This is another consideration when choosing the number of members in the group. 8-12 members fit fairly well in a living room. More, and it's tough to arrange everyone for an intimate discussion.
For the first few years, we scheduled specific days. We are now meeting on the last Thursday of every month. In November and December we will meet on the second Thursday.

4. Will there be food?

Now, I think this is one of the most important questions. Grin. We, of course, are the ChocLit Guild, where chocolate is as important as reading a book. Again, a different member brings dessert each month (not the same month as hostessing). Sometimes it is fancy, sometimes it is just brownies and ice cream. In December we have a cookie exchange. The hostess is responsible for providing dishes and beverages (usually tea or coffee, juice, and water).

5. What kind of book discussions would you like to have? Will there be a specific leader?

Our discussions have been spontaneous and laid back. With fewer members, this works fairly well. As the group has gotten larger, we have needed more structure. This year, the member who suggested the book we've read will lead the discussion. Hopefully each individual will have more 'voice.' We meet at 7 P.M. and the first half hour or more is mostly small talk. Our book discussions last an hour or two, and then we usually end up chatting until 10 or later.

Another consideration: A handful of the ladies in the group have young children. Not much would be accomplished at book club if children were there, however, in 3 1/2 years, seven babies have been born!! This means that nursing babies under a year old have been a delightful presence at our meetings. Also, because we are meeting past bedtime in the homes of these children, they usually make a short appearance at some point in the evening.

I would strongly encourage you to start your own club. It has truly been one of the shining joys in my life for the past few years. ChocLit Guild is one of the only things that I do for myself in this season of young children. It has encouraged me to read when I felt that I had other things I should be doing. It has gotten me out of the house and into the company of adults. It has given me something to look forward to when I felt mired down by soggy Cheerios and dirty diapers.

The pleasure of all reading is doubled when one lives [or talks] with another who shares the same books. --Katherine Mansfield

Monday, February 26, 2007

Spring Reading Challenge

Joining the Spring Reading Challenge put forth by Seasonal Soundings :

For ChocLit Guild:
Mere Christianity (C. S. Lewis)
North and South (Elizabeth Gaskell)
I Dared to Call Him Father (Bilquis Sheikh)

Just For Me:
To Say Nothing of the Dog (Connie Willis)
The Catcher in the Rye (J. D. Salinger)
Much Ado About Nothing (Shakespeare--multiple children's versions)
Hotel Pastis (Peter Mayle)
A Tale of Two Cities (Charles Dickens)

A Year with C. S. Lewis
Lord Bless My Child (William & Nancie Carmichael)

With Levi:
The Wind in the Willows (Kenneth Grahame)--get this one finished, finally!
The Cricket in Times Square (George Selden)
The Twenty-One Balloons (William Pene du Bois)
Pippi Longstocking (Astrid Lindgren)
The Saturdays (Elizabeth Enright)

My lists are a bit shorter than I would like, but I have to be realistic. This just isn't the season of my life for hours of reading by the warm fire. However, I am trying to be more deliberate about my time and what I want to accomplish. Reading is an investment that has lasting value.

Care to join us?

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Let It Go

It's a truth I just can't get through my head sometimes: Everything doesn't depend on me--and everything doesn't have to happen just the way I planned it. I could save myself a lot of frustration and anger if I could just get a better sense of what I really can control. Julie Ann Barnhill in She's Gonna Blow

This is exactly my struggle. I plan the day around the baby's nap schedule. Baby wakes up too early, takes a morning nap sooner than expected, and sleeps less than usual. Suddenly the whole day is off kilter. It's like setting up the dominoes. One goes down and the rest follow. Julie shares a motto for mothers like me: Let it go. I now have that motto posted on my bulletin board. Let it go. Breathe in. Exhale. The world will go on turning. Struggling with something you can't control? Let it go.

He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together. Colossians 1:17

Friday, February 23, 2007

ChocLit Guild

Chocolate is a perfect food, as wholesome as it is delicious, a beneficent restorer of exhausted power. It is the best friend of those engaged in literary pursuits. --Baron Justus von Liebig, German chemist (1803-1873)

Nothing goes together like books and chocolate. At least, that's what a friend and I decided when we started our book and chocolate club, The ChocLit Guild. Each member takes a turn hostessing, bringing a chocolate dessert, and recommending a book (all in separate months). After a short break, we met to plan the line-up for the next 14 months. I can't wait to dig in!

On the Literary Buffet:

Mere Christianity (C. S. Lewis)
North and South (Elizabeth Gaskell)
I Dared to Call Him Father (Bilquis Sheikh)
The Pilgrim’s Progress (John Bunyon)
Down the Garden Path (Beverly Nichols)
Uncle Tom’s Cabin (Harriet Beecher Stowe)
The Richest Man in Babylon (George S. Clason)
The Robe (Lloyd C. Douglas)
(Ben Hur (Lew Wallace))
(The Silver Chalice (Thomas B. Costain))
The Little French Girl (Anne Douglas Sedgwick)
Belles on Their Toes (Frank B. Gilbreth and Ernestine Gilbreth Carey)
Biography (reader’s choice)
From Jest to Earnest (E. P. Roe)
Watership Down (Richard Adams)
Murder Mystery (reader’s choice)

Read 'em and Eat!

Thursday, February 22, 2007

On the Menu

Today's Menu: Mashed Avocado, Yams, and Rice Cereal

Literary Buffet

“Some books are to be tasted, others to be swallowed, and some few to be chewed and digested.” Francis Bacon

On today's buffet:

Three Men in a Boat (To Say Nothing of the Dog!) by Jerome K. Jerome

pg. 102
How good one feels when one is full--how satisfied with ourselves and with the world! People who have tried it, tell me that a clear conscience makes you very happy and contented; but a full stomach does the business quite as well, and is cheaper, and more easily obtained. One feels so forgiving and generous after a substantial and well-digested meal--so noble-minded, so kindly hearted.

It is very strange, this domination of our intellect by our digestive organs. We cannot work, we cannot think, unless our stomachs will so. It dictates to us our emotions, our passions. After eggs and bacon it says "Work!" After beefsteak and porter it says "Sleep!" After a cup of tea..., it says to the brain, "Now rise and show your strength. Be eloquent, and deep, and tender, see with a clear eye, into nature and into life; spread your white wings of quivering thought, and soar, a godlike spirit, over the whirling world beneath you, up through long lanes of flaming stars to the gates of eternity!"

pg. 163
It always does seem to me that I am doing more work than I should do. It is not that I object to the work, mind you; I like work; it fascinates me. I can sit and look at it for hours. I love to keep it by me; the idea of getting rid of it nearly breaks my heart.

You cannot give me too much work; to accumulate work has almost become a passion with me; my study is so full of it now that there is hardly an inch of room for any more. I shall have to throw out a wing soon.

And I am careful of my work, too. Why, some of the work that I have by me now has been in my possession for years and years, and there isn't a finger mark on it. I take a great pride in my work; I take it down now and then and dust it. No man keeps his work in a better state of preservation than I do.

But though I crave for work, I still like to be fair. I do not ask for more than my proper share.

But I get it without asking for it--at least, so it appears to me--and this worries me.

I would say Three Men in a Boat (To Say Nothing of the Dog!) is well-worth the taste. Now, to go brew myself a strong cup of tea...

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Oh, the Mud!

Boys need mud to survive. I'm sure of it. That is why we moved out to the country. I grew up in the country and spent countless hours outside with my sisters getting dirty. Why, oh, why is it now so hard to let go of my adult-like aversion to dirt...especially in mud form? The boys stomp up to the porch covered from head to toe in mud-puddle water, and I start Lamaze breathing. Then I remind myself that mud-wallowing is essential to childhood. Let it go. That is my new motto. Just let it go. Laugh with them. Enjoy the moment. Take a picture. Fill the bathtub with warm water and bubbles. Cleaning up can be as much fun as getting filthy.

(Levi has discovered that, if his bike is resting on his training wheels, the rear wheel spins in place--creating a water fountain. The faster he peddles, the higher the water sprays. Luke has discovered that, if he stands behind Levi, he can enjoy the shower.)

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

On the Menu

Gnocchi with Sausage and Spinach

2 9-ounce packages refrigerated gnocchi or one 17.5-ounce package shelf-stable gnocchi
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 medium yellow onion, finely chopped
1 pound Italian sausage, casings removed
1 clove garlic, finely chopped
1 5-ounce bag baby spinach
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
3/4 cup (3 ounces) grated Parmesan, plus more for garnishing

Cook the gnocchi according to the package directions, reserving 1/4 cup of the cooking liquid. Meanwhile, heat the oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the oinion and cook until softened, about 5 minutes. Add the sausage and cook, crumbling it with a spoon, until browned, 5 to 7 minutes. Add the garlic, spinach, salt, and pepper and cook, tossing frequently, until the spinach wilts, about 3 minutes. Add the drained gnocchi, the reserved cooking liquid, and the Parmesan and toss. Divide among individual bowls and sprinkle with additional Parmesan.

I decided to give this recipe a try after spying it in my latest issue of Real Simple magazine. It is very easy, has only a few ingredients, is quick to make, and has lots of flavor. I think next time it is "on the menu" I shall add a bit more spinach (I didn't add the full amount) and not let it get as wilted. The dish was fairly spicy compared to my recent "nursing a fussy baby" diet, but a nice change! Delicious.

Levitical Sayings

My Grandfather coined the phrase as it applies to the crazy things Levi comes up with. 'Levitical Sayings' can be strange vocabulary words (from a four, now five, year old), or anything else of note that springs out of his mouth from his overactive imagination.

Levi and I are polar opposites when it comes to personality. I am an 'in-the-box' thinker. He is, most decidedly, an 'out-of-the-box' thinker just like his father. Teaching him will be an education all it's own for me. It is important that I appreciate his gift instead of struggling against it.

After working through part of our phonics book, we began to use sight words flash cards to introduce him to words he would encounter frequently in his reading. One single word on a card. Apparently he prefers to use this as a 'jumping-off point.' If he can focus long enough to read the word (which is asking quite a bit), I usually also get a handful of rhyming words or a sentence using the word. If the word is a verb, it is often acted out as well. Not a problem. (Although it can take a very long time to read 5 words.) Where it gets interesting, is when an easy, two-letter word is not exciting enough. His imagination chooses to see something other than (or beyond) what is written on the card. For example:

The word on the card is "we."
Levi: " dress!!"

The word on the card is "come."
Levi: "!!"

The word on the card is "all."
Levi: (no attempt to sound it out) "parallel!!"

Maybe I'll make my own set of flashcards with words such as peculiar or fascinating and skip the words the and and. Now that I think of it, that's not a bad idea. We would probably both enjoy ourselves.

Monday, February 19, 2007

Abraham Lincoln

Abraham Lincoln

On Wisdom:
I don’t think much of a man who is not wiser today than he was yesterday.

On Women:
Others have been made fools of by the girls, but this can never with truth be said of me. I most emphatically, in this instance, made a fool of myself.

On Policy:
I have never had a policy. I have simply tried to do what seemed best each day, as each day came.

On God:
I never behold them [the heavens filled with stars] that I do not feel I am looking in the face of God. I can see how it might be possible for a man to look down upon the earth and be an atheist, but I cannot conceive how he could look up into the heavens and say there is no God.

On Work:
I am always for the man who wishes to work.

And Finally:
All that I am, or hope to be, I owe to my angel mother. I remember her prayers, and they have always followed me. They have clung to me all my life.

Profound thoughts.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Sweet Pea

6 Months. Half of a year. How did that happen? You make me smile even on the roughest of days. That giggle. That wide-eyed wonder. I want to spend all of my time kissing your sweet cheeks. And toes. And fuzzy head. And all 21 pounds of you. Thank you for being so joyful. Thank you for falling asleep on your own and taking long naps. Thank you for making your daddy light up after a hard day at work.
A babe in a house is a well-spring of pleasure, a messenger of peace and love, a resting-place for innocence on earth; a link between angels and men. M.F. Tupper

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Our Forever Home

A move to the country was on the "to-do in the future" list.

Last year was an overwhelming year with 2 small boys, pregnancy, job changes and out of state business meetings for hubby, and baby #3. By October I had a couple months of sleepless nights under my belt. Leif was darling and loved. He also took 5 minute naps , nursed constantly, and fussed unless I was holding him and in motion. Now, I am blessed with healthy boys. And by that I mean weighty. My back thinks it is 80 years old. My point is (there is one, I promise) that I was tired. Mind-numbingly so.

We were out for a Sunday drive one fateful day. Hubby's eagle-eyes spied a For Sale sign on our frequented route. He stops. He takes the little info sheet. Monday he calls. Monday we look at the house and property. Monday we decide that destiny is calling our names. Tuesday morning the realtor looks at our house and asks, "How soon can we put it on the market?" Tuesday afternoon I have an emotional breakdown.

I don't do change. I only plan. Years in advance. I spent my whole childhood in one house. I've spent the majority of my adult life in one house. They want me to sell it. Tomorrow.

The house is full. It's little. Three boys, a chaotic hubby, and myself. The one that is so exhausted she can barely stand. Clean? Well. Um. Nope, not really. And, oh, the stuff! Where would it all go (and who would put it there)? How do you show a house with three kids, 4 and under?

We decided to put an offer on the new place and worry about selling our house after moving. We closed early in December, spent the next few weeks cleaning and painting, and moved the day after Christmas. Let me say this once: I will not move again. Not ever.

Now that the dust has settled (and already coated each and every surface), I feel like I've come home. This is it. Our little piece of earth.