What’s My Superpower?

This afternoon, we caught up on a couple episodes of Julie’s Library.

It’s been a favorite podcast of ours since early in the pandemic, and our Bug especially enjoys the stories picked out by Julie Andrews.

Today, we listened to the episode featuring What’s My Superpower by Inuit author Aviaq Johnston (link to an award-winning short story of hers–warning, it is about suicide).

The Bug is big into superpowers right now (though, being a realist, he has decided he no longer wants to grow up to be a superhero. He instead wants to be an astronaut.)

Before the Story

Before listening, we had discussed what superpowers we would like to have. The Bug said flying, super hearing and transforming into a dinosaur.

I said I’d like to have the superpower of being able to speak every language in the world.

(That’s been one of my three wishes since childhood–the other two being to read every language in the world and write every language in the world.)

Superpowers

While the story was a bit too obviously trying to teach a lesson, it was enjoyable. The author’s tone is playful and humorous, which softens the preachy nature of the narrative.

After listening, we talked about what superpowers we think we actually have.

The Bug wasn’t too engaged in this part of the activity. His idea of superpowers is still very much tied to Marvel and DC comics.

I think I know what his superpower is, though. It’s listening.

Super Listening

He said he wanted super hearing for a superpower, but he’s already got super listening.

The guy is an incredible listener. He’s inherited it both from his father and from my mother (it seems to have skipped me).

He also remembers. It has sometimes surprised me the things he retains and repeats.

For this reason, he’s merciless when it comes to inconsistencies. But he’ll also remember details of anecdotes, confidences and silly jokes.

Though sometimes it doesn’t seem like it, the kid really pays attention when you talk to him.

His great listening, combined with his innate kindness and empathy, make him a very thoughtful, sweet boy.

So What’s Mine?

Since he wasn’t super into the discussion, the Bug walked away without showing the least interest in discussing my superpower.

Sure, he’s a good listener, but he’s also five and sometimes just doesn’t give a crap.

I’ve been thinking about it, though. I think my superpower is communicating.

I’m gifted at being able to clearly communicate any message either face to face, over the phone, and in writing (and sometimes non-verbally with my comically expressive face). It has served me well over the years.

I’ve known about this gift for a long time. Hell, I speak four languages and can communicate effectively in all four of them (even German!).

The Question Is…

…What the heck do I DO with this superpower??

The Joy of a Used Bookstore

It’s been a while.

That is, a while since I walked into a bookstore (or any kind of store other than a grocery store!).

What to Read?

Today, my Bug and I pulled out my trusty edition of The Read Aloud Handbook by Jim Trelease to seek some inspiration on what to read next. We haven’t finished our current read yet, but we like to line up our next book.

After browsing around on our public library’s online catalogue and placing a couple of holds for some books that looked interesting, we got to thinking.

And we remembered this wonderful used bookstore we’d visited in Leesburg a long while ago, before the world fell apart.

Checking In

A quick Google search told me that Books and Other Found Things was open, but since I don’t always trust the hours posted on Google, I decided to give them a call.

The owner picked up the phone and when I asked, “Hello! Are you open?” he cheerfully responded: “Yes! I mean, I’m here!”

He informed me that masks were required in the store and that all visitors would be required to wear protective gloves. For these reasons, and others, we decided not to take our Bear along on the visit. He stayed home with Chico.

The Absolute Joy

It wasn’t entirely the same.

We were wearing plastic gloves (which were way too big for the Bug), and we didn’t feel like we could just relax into being there.

And yet…

It was just wonderful.

First of all, we were welcomed with a big smile and an invitation to come in from the rain, which is always nice.

And then we started browsing. Oooh the delight of browsing in a bookstore!

Careful to touch only when necessary, we poured over the shelves and shelves of books. Allen, the owner, very obligingly produced a pile of easy reader books when the Bug asked him if he had any books about the ocean.

Allen’s knowledge is vast, and he clearly knows his inventory very well. He found several books that the Bug was interested in, and I found several more on the young readers shelf that we could read together.

We didn’t linger long. Being in a mask and gloves isn’t really conducive to long-term browsing comfort. But we did walk out with a pile of books, including a boxed set of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings trilogy.

A Slice of Normalcy

Though it was an abbreviated visit, it felt something like normalcy. It made me realize how much I miss being able to pop into a bookstore, or visit a café.

I’m so thankful that Books and Other Found Things has weathered the storm so far, and I hope Allen continues to weather it. It would be such a shame for Leesburg to lose this business.

It seems that other businesses have not been so lucky. Not far from us is Comic Logic, a comic book store that we wanted to visit, too. Sadly, their hours are significantly reduced, and they’re only open three afternoons a week. I can only assume that means things aren’t going too well. We’ll try to get there during their opening hours.

Not There Yet

We’re not back to normal yet, but today’s visit felt like a little step towards it. Like the hope of light at the end of the tunnel. I just pray that when we do get through the tunnel, the small businesses we love will still be with us.

The Joy of Reading

It feels so decadent.

It almost feels sinful…

To sit down and pick up a book…

…In the middle of the day!

Early Pleasure

I’ve always been a reader. I don’t even remember learning to read. As far as I can remember, I’ve always been able to.

My happiest memories of childhood are of our family reading together.

We read about NIMH, Narnia, Middle Earth, the cupboard, the high seas, deep space, jungles… More places than I can remember.

When we outgrew family reading time, I started reading on my own. I was never as voracious a reader as my brothers, but I was always reading something.

Forgotten Pleasure

When I was studying I found it hard to read for pleasure, as I am a slow reader and spent so much time reading school materials.

But upon graduating from college, I moved back home and started working a job that had a 30 minute commute by public transport. Perfect. My love was rekindled.

After having children, though, my reading slowed way down.

And then, after my mother died, I nearly stopped reading altogether.

Shared Pleasure

Reading was something I shared with my mother. It was something we did together. Almost everything I read was a recommendation from her.

She had majored in English and was always a deep and thoughtful reader. By reading the same books, we could talk about them together, too. Long after I’d stopped writing papers for English class, I’d still be discussing and arguing them with my mother.

When she died, that font dried up. There was no one else I could really talk about books with.

Many of my friends and family read constantly. But either they restrict their discussion of books to their book groups, or their tastes and interests are very different from mine.

And sadly, many friends, like me, have drifted away from reading because they feel they don’t have time. Whether it’s because of kids or work.

Necessary Pleasure

Since moving back to the States where I have access to a wonderful public library system, my love of reading has rekindled.

Access to English-language books is helpful.

Developing the courage to make my own reading choices and branch out into the unknown is also helpful.

Suddenly, despite not having my reading guru–my literary guide–anymore, I have fallen in love with reading all over again.

Now, with the pandemic, struggles with mental health, small children at home, isolation and boredom pressing in–Now, more than ever, reading is a necessary pleasure.

The newspaper. Magazines. Children’s books. Nonfiction, history, social sciences… And yes, the novels I have always loved.

Reading Is Keeping Me Sane.

I’m currently reading Kate Atkinson’s latest in her Jackson Brodie series, Big Sky.

In between novels, I’m reading chapters of El infinito en un junco by Irene Vallejo. It’s a sweeping history of books themselves, the earliest written word and the first libraries.

What are you reading?

Find me on Goodreads!

Latest Brain Candy

It’s summer time, and that means summer reading!

This summer, the reading hasn’t been so super light. I’ve had a number of challenging reads on my list.

It’s time for a little break.

That’s when one of my sisters-in-law recommended Jasmine Guillory.

Like Drinking Champagne

It’s bubbly. It’s light. And it’s DELICIOUS.

I started with The Wedding Date and now I’m on The Proposal.

These books are just so much fun. They’re romantic and sexy, and I can’t put them down once I start.

The only annoyance is that her characters are sometimes frustratingly clueless for such intelligent people. But what would a romance novel be without any tension?

Nice For a Change

My brain candy usually consists of The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency series, or going back to an old and comforting favorite like Jane Austen or Tolkien.

Because my SIL is wonderful, she knew I was looking for reading that would be light, entertaining, but be something fresh and different for me.

Jasmine Guillory is Black, and she writes about women of color, men of color, white men, white women, and their love lives. Most of my life, my reading list has been shockingly white.

This summer has been about diversifying my reading list. While it’s important to read books that push and challenge, it’s also important to read authors of color for pleasure, too.

In the Meantime…

I have some reading to do. Reading that is seriously making me blush…

Reading for Change

29. Good Vibes: What makes you smile? What makes you happy?

https://thinkwritten.com/365-creative-writing-prompts/

You all know I’m a knitter. I’ve written about the joys of being a process knitter, and how much pleasure knitting brings me.

Right now, in these times of isolation, stress and turmoil, I’ve turned to knitting more than ever.

Reading to Escape

Reading is also one of my favorite activities. Mostly I read novels, but I also enjoy biographies and histories.

For me, reading is a way to escape. I’ve read challenging books, books that take me out of my comfort zone.

But, especially now, I’m reaching for more escapist literature, or comfort reading. Jane Austen, Alexander McCall Smith, lighter fiction, mystery novels…

Time for a New Reading List?

As the country seems to be coming apart around us, we’re all feeling anxious, stressed, angry and frightened. I feel helpless and powerless to make change.

Now is the time to take one of those activities that makes me happy (reading) and use it to become more informed.

Many people have published lists of recommended reading to learn about racism, white privilege, and how to become an ally. What has struck me, however, have been the lists of books for children.

Reading With the Kids

Reading is also one of our boys’ favorite activities, and seeing them read is one of my greatest sources of joy. Author Christine Taylor-Butler tweeted earlier this month that for every one book about racism you read to a child, please “provide 20 joyful books.”

But not just any joyful books. Books in which children of color are featured as the main characters, doing the same things that white children do, because all children do them.

One book like this that I grew up with was The Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats. Another that we recently listened to on the Julie’s Library podcast was Tía Isa Wants a Car by Meg Medina and illustrated by Claudio Munoz.

Some Resources

Here’s an article from the New York Times that lists some great books for kids—not just books on racism, but also books in which children of color are the protagonists.

On the Julie’s Library website there is also a link to a list of books to read to kids to help support conversations about race, racism and resistance.

Learning Together

While I delve into a new and challenging reading list, I can introduce more diverse literature to my children and help them grow into anti-racists.

We can learn together as a family. That makes me feel empowered.

That, and donating to organizations I believe in.

Reading READING reading

Hooray for public libraries! Hooray for living in a country where I speak the language!

Since I’m off the knitting AND since we now live in the US, my intake of reading has skyrocketed.

With all the stress and frustration of moving to a new place, my biggest joy and consolation has been the Loudoun County Public Library. I’ve done so much at the library! I’ve registered to vote (HOORAY!). I’ve volunteered to teach English. I’ve played with LEGO, made a bunny out of little melted plastic beads, and other fun kids’ activities with the boys. I’ve also attended a seminar on getting back into the work force after a gap in your career.

All this… FOR FREE!

And of course, I have borrowed books. Mountains of books! Cascades of books!

Okay so maybe not *that* many. But it feels like a whole world has been opened up to me that I was missing when we lived in Germany. While my German is pretty darn good, I could never read more than children’s story books in German.

Now, I’ve rekindled my love affair with the written word. And it feels soooo good. I’ve even branched out a bit! I’m a big reader of novels, but since joining the local library I’ve read one history book and now I’m reading Malcolm Gladwell’s Blink. It feels good to try new things.

I’ve also got a little idea for a business germinating, and I know where I’ll go for resources and books to help me develop it…

That’s right. The library.

Check out my Goodreads button in the right-hand menu to see what I’ve been reading.

lonely-in-the-playground

Lonely at the Playground

How often do you see parents reading at the playground anymore? Or chatting amongst themselves? Or even looking at their phones?

Not much, I’d guess.

I’ve spent a few months in the US, and the experience of going to the playground is entirely different here.

In Germany, parents would congregate in one area of the playground. Grownups would stand around chatting with each other, occasionally helping a child out, kissing a booboo or intervening when children’s interactions came to tears.

Otherwise, though, parents mainly talked amongst themselves, leaving the kids to do their thing.

Here, it’s completely different.

In the last few months of visiting various playgrounds in our new town, the only parents I have chatted with have been almost exclusively Germans. I’ve only had a nice conversation with one American Mom.

Most of the time I find myself sitting on a bench by myself, watching my kids play.

The other day, I realized what’s happening.

Parents aren’t interacting with each other because they’re too busy entertaining their kids.

Longing for playground socializing

As a newcomer to the area, I thought taking my kids to the playground would be a great way to meet other parents. Not so.

Small chats do happen, and people aren’t unfriendly. But most folks are so busy with their kids that they won’t stop long to talk.

At first it made me wonder if I was doing something wrong or somehow neglecting my children. Then I looked around and spotted my boys, one happily playing on the slides, another dangling upside-down from the monkey bars. They were fine.

They didn’t want or need me to entertain them. And frankly, I wasn’t much interested in the monkey bars.

So now I bring my book

Perhaps it makes me look antisocial, sitting there reading. I try to glance up regularly to look around and see if there are any other parents hankering for a good old-fashioned playground chat.

If you see me reading at the playground, don’t worry about interrupting. Chances are, I’d welcome the opportunity to meet someone new.

200th Anniversary of Pride & Prejudice

Okay, so the 200th anniversary of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice was actually back on January 28th.  However, as it is such an important novel I’m going to make it okay to celebrate the book and its author all throughout 2013.  Yes, I can do that.  (They’re doing it in the UK so it’s allowed, okay??)

“Oh no, another chick who is crazy about Jane Austen,” you say?

Yes.  Yes, I am crazy about Jane Austen.  My most prized possession is a 1975 London Folio Society box set of her complete works.  I have read them all at least once, and most I have read more than once.  Persuasion is my very favorite, though of course Pride and Prejudice is the acknowledged masterpiece.

As anyone who loves costume dramas knows, there have been numerous dramatizations of Pride and Prejudice (some better than others, I suspect).  Who could forget Bridget Jones’ Diary?  (Yes, in case you didn’t know, that is based on Pride and Prejudice like Clueless is based on Emma.)  The most recent film adaptation stars Keira Knightley and Matthew Macfadyen (not my favorite) and perhaps the most popular version (and what set off the latest Jane Austen craze) is the BBC’s 1995 TV adaptation starring Colin Firth and Jennifer Ehle.

Hey Girl Mr. Darcy
If this confuses you, look up Ryan Gosling and “hey girl”.

Over the past year (since April 9, 2012), the classic has inspired the online YouTube series The Lizzie Bennet Diaries.  I stumbled across this series via Facebook and spent almost an entire afternoon watching the 5-minute videos from the first episode.  The vlogging (that’s “video blogging”) setting gets old pretty quickly (especially when you watch them all in quick succession), but it’s a clever and fun way to bring Pride and Prejudice to life for a modern audience.

But what, you may ask, is it about this novel that makes it so enduringly popular?  Many like to say it’s the romance.  Even Henry James apparently complained at the end of the 19th century that people (read: women) were reading Austin for the romance.  I have to admit that I was disappointed to read the BBC’s emphasis on the romantic side of the story in their coverage of the 200th anniversary.

Austen’s novels, Pride and Prejudice especially, are more than romance novels or the origins of what naysayers call “chick lit”.  They are, in essence, comedies, which in the Shakespearian tradition end with a wedding.  They are far more subtle, though, than most comedies and chick lit.  They are written with an undercurrent of social commentary and with fabulous wit, intelligence and insight.

If you were to actually pick up Pride and Prejudice, you would immediately realize that Austen possessed an incredible understanding of human nature, and was blessed with the genius to convey her insights in engaging language.  Who cannot sympathize when Elizabeth Bennet says, “Till this moment, I never knew myself”?  Without being pedantic or preachy, Austen gives Elizabeth (and us) a lesson in self-understanding to which most readers can relate.

So if up to now you have rejected Pride and Prejudice as “chick lit” or a romance novel, I encourage you to try reading the first three chapters (they’re short).  Yes, the romantic story of love thwarted and then resolved is there, but it acts as a vehicle for so much more.  Read it for the wit (because it really is funny), and read it as a testament to the value of good, strong understanding of self and others.

 

And in case you were wondering, yes.  I am re-reading Pride and Prejudice right now.  Whee!

Book Review: Learning to Die in Miami

This weekend I finished Learning to Die in Miami, (2010) by Carlos Eire.

Learning to Die in MiamiThis is the follow up memoir to Waiting for Snow in Havana, published in 2003, which told the story of Eire’s childhood in Havana, Cuba.  Born there in 1950, Eire grew up with his older brother Tony and his parents, whom he refers to as Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette (due, apparently, to his father’s belief that he was the reincarnation of the beheaded king of France).  The book ends when he and his brother are evacuated from Cuba in 1962 as part of Operation Peter Pan.

After seven years, in Learning to Die in Miami Eire brings us back to that moment when he and his brother landed in Florida.  As you can probably imagine, this is not a light, easy read.  Already in Waiting for Snow in Havana, you know that the seeds of heartbreak are sewn in his family.  His father is distant and unable to express his affection.  He adopts Ernesto into the family, but is blind to his abusive behavior.

Learning to Die in Miami takes us through the many deaths of Carlos, Charles, Chuck and Charlie.  Eire writes with heart-wrenching eloquence about a young boy’s fear of total loneliness (the Void, as he calls it), and his desperate desire to let his past die and fully become an American boy.  We learn of his brother Tony’s distancing behind a wall of isolation and his descent into an unescapable abyss.  He examines his father’s motives behind his choices, and his mother’s unceasing efforts to follow her sons out of Cuba.

Though while he touches on the flaws and failures of his family, Eire does not spend his memoir witnessing for the sins of others.  Nor does he assign blame to anyone or write about them as anything other than entirely human.

What is most captivating to me about this memoir is how Eire seems to step outside of himself to look back in.  He uses language that makes him seem apart from his experiences in order to make us understand, but at the same time he does not remove his feelings, his reactions or his fears from them.

I am also fascinated by his clinging to spirituality, despite the horrors of an abusive foster home, and constant abandonment by people he comes to trust.  It is this spirituality, and his coming to believe in an unending source of grace, which give this memoir an edge of humor and of hope.

It would be dangerous to say more, for fear of giving too much away.  If you haven’t read Waiting for Snow in Havana, I highly recommend picking it up, especially as a vehicle towards Learning to Die in Miami.  Carlos Eire’s memoirs are heartbreaking yet life, faith, and family-affirming.

Reading them will take you out of your comfort zone and challenge you to see the world through the eyes of a boy whose life’s path has most likely been so unlike your own.  But it will not seem unfamiliar.

Brain Candy

I do love myself a little brain candy.  “Brain candy” is something enjoyable that doesn’t require much thought, effort or mental exertion.  It’s candy for the brain!

Everyone likes a little brain candy every now and then, right?  I mean, if we were to always read heavy, intellectual books, or always watch dark and challenging films and always have deep, harrowing conversations would we feel all warm and fuzzy inside?  It certainly never hurts to push the limits of our understanding and expand our education, but sometimes a girl just wants to relax a little and giggle.  While some like to get their brain candy by watching TV, romantic comedies or reading fashion magazines, I like to get mine by reading book series like the No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency by Alexander McCall Smith.

1-no-1-ladies-detective-agency-450hI love these books because, as an unnamed reviewer from the Daily Mail apparently wrote (according to the dustcover) “Tolerance and humanity underpin the whole of this wonderful, hilarious, totally addictive series.”  Well said, Daily Mail reviewer!  There is just enough tension to keep you hooked on the stories, and McCall Smith’s simple, straightforward prose catches you in its rhythm.  As you read of Mma Ramotswe and Mma Makutsi’s adventures, you can almost see the Botswana landscape and feel the hot African sun on your shoulders.

McCall Smith, a Scottish medical law professor, was born in what is now Zimbabwe and spent several years teaching law at the University of Botswana in Gaborone.  That must have been when his love affair with Botswana began; you can sense his love and respect for this peaceful southern African nation all throughout his series.  Never having been to Botswana myself, I cannot attest for how accurate his portrayal of local life and culture is, and he could very well be writing about an idealized place that exists only in his imagination.

Be that the case or not, I still love these books.  They’re hilarious!  And they don’t just paint a rosy picture of warm and fuzzy humanity.  These are, after all, detective stories involving theft, violence, jealousy and other examples of the evil of which we human beings are capable.  And they’re not always tied up in a neat little bow at the end.  There is always an acknowledgement that sometimes there is nothing we can do about some ignorance, irrational hatred, or close-mindedness.  Mma Ramotswe and Mr J. L. B. Matekoni show us that all we can do is our very best to love, understand, respect, forgive and listen.

I choose to enjoy this kind of brain candy, because it is candy with some substance.  It’s like a chocolate covered strawberry: there’s the sweet of the chocolate as well as the vitamins and healthy properties of the fruit!  And, to quote St. Paul “Whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.”