Thursday, November 30, 2006

Books read in November

The Fellowship of the Ring by J.R.R. Tolkien--This is a reread. I don't know how many times I've read these books--15 or 20 is a good guess--but I've seen the films a few times in the last year and I felt that they were overshadowing the book story in my mind. I need to reread the whole Lord of the Rings trilogy again, so that Tolkien, not Peter Jackson, is the predominant storyteller in my head.

Shadow of the Giant and First Meetings by Orson Scott Card--These are the most recent books in the Ender's Game series. I read the first seven books of the series last year in the states, and recently found these two books at the "American Bookstore" in our new mall. Science Fiction is not a genre that I love (although I went through the obligatory phase when I was a teenager), but I was enticed by the philosophical aspects of the books to keep reading and reading. If I can justify yet another literature post next month, I'll write more about Shadow of the Giant because Mr. Card made some extremely strong and pertinent statements about Islam in the story.

Sanditon by Jane Austen and Another Lady--I already wrote about this one, and I enjoyed it very much.

A Right to Die by Rex Stout--This was finally the Nero Wolfe mystery I wanted to read. I can't even remember now which blogger recommended these, but I was pleased. The mystery wasn't that exciting, but I enjoyed the style of writing, and Nero Wolfe was reading a book by Jacques Barzun! One of those weird book coincidences...

Methuselah's Children by Robert Heinlein--another reread! I pulled this off the shelves to list it on Bookmooch, so it happened to be lying around while I was sick and needed something light and simple to read.

The House of Exile by Nora Waln--I'm on the last third of the book and finding it much harder going than the earlier part. This is a factual history, not fiction, and what was happening to China in the mid-1920's was violent and frightening to foreigners. I'll write more about that part of the book when I'm finished with it.

The History of Henry Esmond by William Thackery--I'm only about 1/4 of the way through this one and I'll have more to say about it later. This is a library book and I'll have to renew it for sure.

War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy--Yes, yes, still working on this. I read at least another 150 pages this month, but there are still some 300 to go. I will finish by January 31st!

It looks as if I've read a lot of fantasy and science fiction this month, but the time spent on them was fairly minimal. I read Orson Scott Card's books across just two days, and the Heinlein in about two hours (it's not one of his long ones). I read Tolkien in bits and pieces of time when I didn't have much time to read, because it's always easier to set aside something that I'm rereading, rather than a new story in which I'm engrossed.

Sad to say, I didn't make any progress on my Polish book at all this month. I really have to devote more time to that, and as soon as I finish The House of Exile, I'm going to focus more on that one. It's better if I schedule time to read it in the morning if I can, because my mind is much more alert then!

I have a niggling suspicion that I've missed something--that I read something else I forgot to list here--but that happens sometimes. I did read bits and pieces from other things, but it's too much trouble to list those.

Happy Birthday

I've been meaning to make this post for a week or more, and it occurred to me today to be glad that I've put it off, because today is the perfect day to do it.

Today is Jacques Barzun's 99th birthday, and he is alive to celebrate it. I am ashamed to admit it, but the truth is I never really knew who Jacques Barzun was until this year, when I read Teacher in America, a book I picked up by "chance" at a flea market. Before I'd even finished reading that book, I had acquired two more books by Mr. Barzun, and created a "books to read" list based on books mentioned in his book. One of the books I acquired was Dawn to Decadence, which is subtitled "500 Years of Western Cultural Life." I read the first five pages or so, which thoroughly whet my appetite for the rest of it, but it wasn't a good time to start an 800-page nonfiction book, so I put it aside.

I've decided that 2007 will be the year that I read this book, and I'm giving myself the entire year to do it. If I spread the 800 pages across 50 weeks, I only need to read about 16 pages per week, which isn't daunting at all. I don't expect to like or agree with everything I read, but I do expect to be given much material to think about. I expect to learn about a few people I probably don't know existed, to have a few more titles added to my "to be read" list, and to gain some historical perspective on the trends of our current culture. It will definitely be worth the time and effort to read this book.

So...would anyone care to join me? If you've been thinking about reading it, now is the chance to do so with a plan, a schedule, and perhaps a few companions. If even one or two would be interested in sharing ideas, thoughts, bewilderment, enlightenment, or amusement (I thought the very first page was funny--there ought to be something to smile about in an 800-page book), it would make the entire process even more delightful than I expect it to be. There is plenty of time to acquire the book if you don't have it, and you needn't pay much, as there are dozens of used copies available from the link above.

Happy Birthday, Jacques Barzun. By this time next year, I hope to be nearly finished with this tome, and I hope to wish you a happy 100th as well.

Sunday, November 26, 2006


This is my first completed book from the From the Stacks challenge. It takes a lot of courage to read the eleven chapters which Jane Austen wrote for this book and then write 19 more chapters and finish the story. The heroine, Charlotte Heywood, reminds me most of Anne Elliot--a sensible, no-nonsense kind of girl who doesn't allow her head to be turned by extravagant compliments or much of anything else, either.

She is invited to visit a seaside town for a few weeks during the summer, and there she meets four young eligible gentleman--Sidney and Arthur Parker, the younger brothers of her host, Sir Edward Denham, heir to a title but not a fortune, and Henry Brudenall, who has been recently jilted by his cousin.

I wouldn't want to spoil the story for anyone who cares to read it, and it is worth reading if you've read and reread all six of Jane Austen's completed novels and have been consoling yourself with far-fetched sequels and "fan fic." This is definitely a cut above any of those that I've read, but if you haven't read the books Jane finished, I'd put this one on the back burner for now and read those first.

Sensible Charlotte has to sort out Sidney Parker's officiousness, Sir Edward's poetic misquotes, young Arthur Parker's solicitous concern for his own health, and Henry Brudenall's taciturn brooding. Naturally the book ends with Jane Austen's typical neat pairing of the young lady with the correct young gentleman. Plenty other typical Janisms are present. There is the requisite surprise pairing of two characters you never realize are interested, a formidable personage reminiscent of Lady Catherine or Sir Thomas, and a handful of caricatures for us to laugh at. Conspicuously missing is a clergyman. I don't think Jane ever neglected to include a clergyman in her books, but she didn't introduce one in the first eleven chapters, and "Another Lady" did not add one.

This book probably has literature's most laughable attempt at an abduction by a character who has taken Mr. Lovelace as his example and pattern to follow. Jane Austen says that about him in her part of the book, and her collaborator follows it through in the best style.

In more than one of her novels, Austen shares her opinions about books and literature, and there is a bit of that in her part of this book. Who but Jane Austen would write:
"The novels which I approve are such as display human nature with grandeur; such as show her in the sublimities of intense feeling; such as exhibit the progress of strong passion from the first germ of incipient susceptibility to the utmost energies of reason half-dethroned; where we see the strong spark of woman's captivations elicit such fire in the soul of man as leads him--though at the risk of some aberration from the strict line of primitive obligations--to hazard all, dare all, achieve all to obtain her. Such are the works which I peruse with delight and, I hope I may say, with amelioration. They hold forth the most splendid portraitures of high conceptions, unbounded views, illimitable ardour, indomitable decision. And even when the event is mainly anti-prosperous to the high-toned machinations of the prime character--the potent, pervading hero of the story--it leaves us full of generous emotions for him; our hearts are paralysed. It would be pseudo-philosophy to assert that we do not feel more enwrapped by the brilliancy of his career than by the tranquil and morbid virtues of any opposing character. Our approbation of the latter is but eleemosynary. These are the novels which enlarge the primitive capabilities of the heart; and it cannot impugn the sense or be any dereliction of the character of the most anti-puerile man, to be conversant with them."

"If I understand you right, "said Charlotte, "our taste in novels is not at all the same."

I presume that Jane's opinion is closer to Charlotte's in this case, rather than to the poetic Sir Edward's, who, in the words of Catherine Moreland, definitely speaks well enough to be unintelligible.

So, this is the first book completed of the five I've determined to read. Three of the others are underway at the moment, and if I don't get distracted (which can never be taken for granted), I should be finishing another book or two soon.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

I'd like you know...

As this is the time of year that many folks like to share with those less fortunate, I'd like to make you aware of an opportunity to share both Christmas love and the gospel with some needy Polish children.

Let me say at the outset that this is not my project. Some of our colleagues in the northern part of Poland collect money for Christmas gifts which they give to children. Some live in children's homes (like an orphanage, though not all are orphans), some are in juvenile detention, and some are simply the children of very poor families. Their family does a Christmas presentation or short program, then distributes gifts and candy bags. The younger children receive toys, while the teens may be given clothing (hats, gloves, underwear, nylons or socks), toiletries, or jewelry.

They spend many, many hours on this project, buying the gifts, sorting, and packing them. They allow $15 per child--$10 for a gift and $5 for candy. That may seem like a lot of candy, but they have found that the candy is such a rare treat for these kids that it is the best part of the event.

Last year, they were able to distribute gifts to 350 children, and so far this year they have collected enough money for about 215 gifts. Take a look at some of the Christmas parties from last year! If you are interested in sponsoring a child (or more than one), you can send your gift via Paypal at the email address: (There is another way to send money through the mail--leave a comment linked to your email address if you want that information.)

As I said before, this is not my project, but it is a great one. Whether the Lord leads you to donate financially or not, won't you pray that the seeds of the gospel will be sown in the hearts of some very lonely Polish children this Christmas?

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Save me a piece of pie

Four American families celebrating an American holiday in a foreign country--that's what's on the agenda for tomorrow. Unfortunately for me, the best laid plans, etc, etc, not always work out. K. abruptly and inexplicably came down with something today. When a nine year old announces at 2:30 in the afternoon that she doesn't feel well and wants to go to bed, you know you are in trouble. When she sleeps for several hours and wakes up with a cough and a fever, you are not surprised, only disappointed.

Unless a miraculous recovery occurs between now and tomorrow morning, I suspect she and I will have to stay home. I've made my contributions to the meal today by baking apple pies and a fabulous southern sweet-potato casserole (with walnuts instead of pecans!). I also made cinnamon rolls for our traditional Thanksgiving breakfast, and I'll be doing a turkey. I'll still get to eat lots of fabulous food, but I'll miss the company. Kind of a reminder that "in everything give thanks" means sometimes we have to be thankful for things that aren't "good" by any usual method of defining the word.

Still lots to be thankful for!

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Thanks...I think!

When I had my Ladies' Tea in October, one of the ladies who came brought me a small bag of books, which was extremely kind of her. She is a reader, and although she reads Polish and Russian well, she has not had much success with reading English. She was clearing off her shelves, and brought me some English books she had acquired over time, none of which she ever read. It's an extremely eclectic little pile, and reflects neither her taste nor her reading ability, probably, but only the availability of English books during the communist era. Some of these books are quite old.

1. A couple of brochures about Wawel Castle (I'll take you there if you visit me in Poland) and a book of less-commonly known legends about Krakow.

2. The Widow Jones by Mollie Chappel--an extremely abridged romance story published in (small) magazine format. It cost 40p (British pence) in 1986.

3. A 1970 paperback copy of Love Story by Erich Segal. The original price was 95 cents, and someone wrote "10 cents" on the front with a black marker.

4. The Story of My Psychoanalysis by John Knight. This was printed in 1953, with an original price of 25 cents. There is warm praise by Sterling North printed at the front of the book.

5. The House of Exile by Nora Waln. This, I think is the plum of the pile. It's a 1938 Penguin paperback. (To think--when this was published in England, Hitler was ruling Germany and Neville Chamberlain was preaching appeasement!) I've already blogged about this, and I think this is the only book from the pile that I'm likely to read.

Although I have to confess...the psychoanalysis book has piqued my curiosity.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

The Blue Book

Of my four children, only one was born in Poland--two-and-one-half-year-old C. When she was born, she was issued a blue-covered booklet titled Książeczka Zdrowia Dziecka or "Booklet of the Child's Health."

Inside, the details of her birth were recorded including Apgar scores, weight and measurements, and even my blood type. Later, when she was transferred to a neo-natal hospital, the tests she was given were recorded along with her results. The booklet belongs to the child (so it states inside the front cover), and whenever the child has well-baby check-ups or vaccinations, the doctor will update the booklet (if you remember to bring it to the appointment). There are growth charts inside, and a check-list of physical and mental milestones for the first couple of years that the parent can update to have a record of when the child begins to sit or crawl, when the first tooth appears, and so on.

If the child is hospitalized at any time, the booklet includes the details of that treatment. There are pages to make notes of home visits from the doctor, eye exams, and dental check-ups. There are pages showing specific tests (sometimes psychological ones!) that are supposed to be made at age four, age six, age eleven, and so on. In short, all records of the child's healthcare are contained in this one booklet (if you keep it current), and it belongs to the family, not any doctor or hospital.

There are a lot of things I don't like about the healthcare system here in Poland, but this is one thing I do appreciate. I experienced the same thing when I was expecting C. When I had blood work done, the results were given to me. My doctor wanted me to bring them and show them to her, of course, but I kept them. When we've had x-rays done, either dental or otherwise, the prints were given to us to keep. No doctor's office retains any of these things--they always belong to the individual, and it is the responsibility of the individual to keep them and produce them when they are relevant. (I've got the results somewhere of an EKG I had this summer.)

Whenever we pay a visit to a doctor's or dentist's office, I always see patients waiting with their blue books in hand, or thick folders with their health records. When C. was released from the hospital, they did not write in her book (the old method), but they did issue us a computer printout with details of all the treatment she had received (including tests and their results), the length of her stay, and their recommendations for continued treatment. We are supposed to keep this paper with her booklet, of course.

So far as I know, none of this is required. If you don't have all the exams listed in the book, or you don't keep records, or paste in pictures at the ages indicated (ages 1, 7, and 14), you aren't going to be in any trouble. I don't think. For us, at least, it's just a way of keeping medical records in one place and we're not obligated either to be up to date with the book or show it to anyone. It is possible that children under the state healthcare system may be required to use these books, but I'm just speculating. I really think the book is for the parents and child, and it is an effort to provide a guideline for healthcare, as well as a place to record vaccinations, allergies, diseases, test results (hearing and eye exams, for example), and so on. Maybe it's too bad that C. is the only one who has one!

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Why penguins, I wonder?

Rather than sensibly working on the books already in progress for my "From the Stacks" challenge, I decided to sample the single book on my list that I didn't actually choose and purchase myself: House of Exile by Nora Waln.

My copy of this is a Penguin book--a very old Penguin. Did you know that Penguin paperbooks first came out in 1935? They were color-coded according to genre. Fiction books had orange covers (A Farewell to Arms); crime fiction sported green covers (The Mysterious Affair at Styles). Biographies had dark blue covers, Drama had red, and Travel and Adventure books had cerise covers. My book, published in 1938, has one of the cerise covers.

The House of Exile is the true account of an American young woman who went to China and became deeply involved in the life of an ancient Chinese family. It's really astonishing how it came about. In 1804 (George Washington had died only five years previously), there are records showing commerce between a Pennsylvania merchant named Waln and a Chinese trader from this family. The family kept records and letters of their business even after trade with westerners was stopped. Over 100 years later, a member of the Chinese family was traveling in the US, and made a special point of seeking out the Waln family and inviting this young American woman to visit them as if she were a long-lost, treasured friend.

She want to China, and traveled deep into its interior to live with this family. They essentially adopted her, and she participated in all the household routines and celebrations, as well as submitting to their cultural customs. When the women of the house were forbidden to attend a carnival in the village, she submitted to the same regulations. She took turns doing the household tasks, wore Chinese attire (including the appropriate hairstyle for an unmarried woman), and learned the language.

The book offers a first-hand look at Chinese culture and customs of the early 20th century. The title, House of Exile, refers to the Chinese family. They were one branch of a well-known family, who had been established when the heir of the house had traveled to another region, taken a mistress, and settled there with her rather than returning to his ancestral home. This had taken place 650 years prior to the events in the book (during the rule of Mongol Kublai Kahn!!!!), but the families were still connected, and this particular branch of the family was considered to be in "exile." It staggers the mind. Chinese families practiced a type of ancestor-worship, and so they had records of their ancestors that went back for centuries.

I have no idea how much of that China is left, but the book is fascinating because of its accurate portrayal of Chinese life and customs as they were. It's sort of sad to read about the centuries of history during which the family had remained essentially the same, because their days are definitely numbered at the point the book was written. China was in turmoil, and the Japanese were poised to occupy the country. The living members of the quiet farming family were the last ones to experience the peace and harmony of generations. But the author didn't know all that when the book was written, so the story itself does not have that wistful tone. I'm bringing that to the reading myself because of what I know, nearly 70 years after the book was written.

I do keep wondering, however, why they picked penguins to identify this line of books, and who chose those colors?

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

New Books or Old?

I've been thinking over some things I've read on blogs recently, such as these thoughts from Mama Squirrel on the reading of "Great Books," by which we usually understand "old books" or "classics."

C.S. Lewis said something similar in an introduction he wrote:
There is a strange idea abroad that in every subject the ancient books should be read only by the professionals, and that the amateur should content himself with the modern books. Thus I have found as a tutor in English Literature that if the average student wants to find out something about Platonism, the very last thing he thinks of doing is to take a translation of Plato off the library shelf and read the Symposium. He would rather read some dreary modern book ten times as long, all about "isms" and influences and only once in twelve pages telling him what Plato actually said. The error is rather an amiable one, for it springs from humility. The student is half afraid to meet one of the great philosophers face to face. He feels himself inadequate and thinks he will not understand him. But if he only knew, the great man, just because of his greatness, is much more intelligible than his modern commentator. The simplest student will be able to understand, if not all, yet a very great deal of what Plato said; but hardly anyone can understand some modern books on Platonism. It has always therefore been one of my main endeavours as a teacher to persuade the young that firsthand knowledge is not only more worth acquiring than secondhand knowledge, but is usually much easier and more delightful to acquire.

(Read the whole thing here.)

I could not agree more whole-heartedly with Lewis about firsthand knowledge. It has always been my habit to look for original sources. When I read For the Children's Sake by Susan Schaeffer Macaulay, which summarizes some of the educational principles of Charotte Mason, I had to read Charlotte Mason's original writings for myself. When someone told me that the elements of the Trivium (grammar, logic, and rhetoric) matched up with the Biblical words knowledge, understanding, and wisdom, I did a comprehensive study on those words in the Bible to check it out for myself. When I read a book and find an excerpt or quote from another author, I try to track down the original source. Sometimes those original sources are a little harder reading than the average modern best-seller, but not always. Great writers weren't writing for professors or academics--they were writing for their fellow-citizens. They were writing for us.

Later in his essay, Lewis compares reading only modern books to joining, at eleven o'clock in the evening, a conversation that has been going on since eight o'clock in the morning. We can understand only part of what we hear, because we lack the context and references to earlier discussion that the other participants have. What Lewis failed to realize, perhaps, was that a time might come when the only folks discussing, at least publicly and loudly, were the late-comers who disdained to take the time to consider any prior discussion--postmodern culture at its finest.

No one has to choose exclusively one or the other, but taken as a whole, the "classics" will yield greater depth and insight than an equal amount of reading in modern writing. History has already done the sifting, and those unworthy books from long ago have sunk into oblivion, leaving us the best of the best. Modern books wait upon history to do that (how many books published in 2006, prize-winners and all, will still be on the shelves to be read in 2106?). Book for book, or page for page, proven classics are a safer gamble than the New York Times best-seller list.

But in addition to those timeless classics, there are timely books--books that speak to us today, now, in these circumstances. They may not endure as classics, but they mean something right now, and they add something to our culture and understanding that old books will not give us.

I'm glad it's not an either-or proposition. I love to read old books. But I could not entirely give up reading new ones, either.

Monday, November 13, 2006

An impromptu visit to...Auschwitz

We live about an hour's drive from Auschwitz. Visiting the site of one of the most horrific atrocities of the 20th centuries is not exactly a pleasure. Most Americans will never have the opportunity to do so anyway. However, most of the people who come to visit us or our colleagues here in Poland feel a duty to visit Auschwitz and witness the evidence that mocks the modern assertion (lie) that the Holocaust never happened.

Naturally, such visitors have to be accompanied. My husband long ago lost count of the number of times he has been to Auschwitz, but I know how many time I have been there. Once. And that was about seven years ago, but I've never had a desire to go back. I always figured I'd go again when my children were old enough to visit, and since J. will be studying 20th century history next year, I've had a vague idea in the back of my mind that we'd go then.

However, one of those visitors was here this week, and he was going today with our colleague. At the last minute, Krakovian decided to join them, and he took J. along. Because I wasn't with them, I spent some time this evening discussing the visit with J. He knows what the Holocaust was, but he has not yet read any first-hand accounts by survivors, nor has he viewed any films with accurate representations. As we talked about some of the things he had seen, I shared what I had experienced while I was there.

I have ready many survivors' accounts, as well as historically accurate literature about concentration camps, and Auschwitz in particular. One or two books remain vividly in my memory, especially this one, and the voices and stories echoed through my mind as I looked at the very bunks and barracks and barbed wire that had been their prison.

J. did not have that experience, but he told me that when he saw the room containing mountains of personal belongings--shoes, eyeglasses, hair and toothbrushes, and the shorn hair of thousands of victims--he just thought, "This couldn't have happened."

Which is precisely why anyone who has the opportunity to do so should visit a concentration camp, or perhaps the Holocaust Museum in the United States.

It happened. We don't want to remember. But we have to.

Not many Holocaust survivors are still living, and even their children are now growing old--children who often never heard the details of their parents' experience in the first place because they didn't want to talk about it. My children are three generations removed from those who lived during World War II. It's no use saying that we have to remember because we must never allow such things to happen again. Such things are happening in the world today, and we don't have the power to stop the evil that men do to other men.

But we still have to remember, because to forget is to join the Nazis in believing that those people didn't matter--that they were a blot on the earth that needed to be exterminated and forgotten. If we forget...if we allow history to be rewritten so that the Holocaust is viewed as a myth...then Hitler won something after all.

Millions of people visit Auschwitz every year and so I think it should memory of the millions who "visited" against their wills and never went home again.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

The Challenge and The Box

I enjoy reading book blogs or lit blogs. The book bloggers like to have challenges to read so many books during a certain period, or so many books on a topic or genre, or sometimes a bunch will read the same book together and have a discussion about it. Lots of fun all around, although I rarely join in.

However, I decided to join this challenge to read five books that I already own by January 30th. I don't know if it's cheating to include books I've already started, but I am because I need to finish them. These are my selections:

1. War and Peace, by Leo Tolstoy -- I've been working on this since June and it would be nice to complete it before the year's end.

2. W pustyni i w puszczy, by Henryk Sienkiewicz -- It's probably risky to put a time-table on my Polish book, but I might be able to do it if I work at it consistently.

3. Sanditon, by Jane Austen and Another Lady -- I've just barely started this, and I want to read it and see if it compares favorably to the rest of Austen's books, even though only the first 11 chapters were written by her.

4. Nathan Coulter, by Wendell Berry -- I've been wanting to read something by this author for several months, and although this particular book is not one of the ones that I've heard recommended, it is the one that was available to me, so I'm going to sample it first.

5. The House of Exile, by Nora Waln -- This was given to me by a Polish friend who has collected a few English books over the years in the hopes that she might read them to improve her English. She gave her whole collection to me recently when she was organizing and cleaning at home, because she says they are too hard for her to read. This is a very old Penguin travel book, published in the 1930's, about China.

And after I selected those five, and posted them at the challenge, I got The Box.

All of the books in the The Box were selected and collected by me when I was in the States last year. I collected them during the summer while I was in Florida, left them with a friend while I traveled for a few months, and returned to Florida in October with plans to bring them to our temporary home in Pennsylvania. There were simply too many to take (and I already had a lot of books stashed in Pennsylvania), so I mailed The Box to Poland, to a colleague who also enjoys reading. I told her The Box was coming, and that she should open it and read anything that looked interesting to her.

When we returned to Poland in February of this year, I brought a lot of books with me, and I asked my colleague to keep The Box a bit longer (she didn't mind!) It was returned to me this week, and only after I selected those five books to read and finish by January 30th did I open it.

It may have been a mistake to choose my five books before I opened The Box! I haven't seen these books since I packed them up and mailed them over a year ago. I've already read some of them, and a few of them were intended for my kids, but mostly they are books I chose for myself because I wanted to read them, but I saved them to read in Poland. There are four or five titles in The Box that I'd like to jump right into, but I'm trying to restrain myself.

I certainly am not going to lack reading material for the next year or two. The Box, alone, probably has 20 books in it, although I didn't take the time to count them.

Friday, November 10, 2006

For bibliophiles (not maniacs!) everywhere

This poem was included in the introduction to Eugene Field's last book. I borrowed it from So Many Books, and I'm copying it here in honor of The Deputy Headmistress and her posts like this one.

The Bibliomaniac's Prayer

But if, O Lord, it pleaseth Thee
To keep me in temptation's way,
I humbly ask that I may be
Most notably beset to-day;
Let my temptation be a book,
Which I shall purchase, hold and keep,
Whereon, when other men shall look,
They'll wail to know I got it cheap.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

American Nuts

And no, I am not talking about silly tourists snapping pictures left and right and speaking three times louder than usual to people, as if they believe volume will aid the listener in understanding English.

What I'm talking about, actually, are pecans. Semicolon has declared November to be the month of the pecan (pronounced peh-CAHN). I don't remember noticing or paying attention to pecans much as I was growing up in Pennsylvania. I collected hazel nuts, and we bought bags of mixed nuts at Christmas, but pecans did not feature largely in any traditions or recipes of my childhood.

As an adult, I lived many years in northwest Florida (the panhandle part), where pecans grow prolifically. I learned to love them and enjoy pecan-based recipes, and I don't believe I ever paid for any of them. Everyone in those parts knows someone with a pecan tree or three, and they give them away by the brown-grocery-bag-full.

There was an enormous and productive pecan tree behind our church, and it supplied our entire church family with as many pecans as you wanted. Kids picked them up for you, too, before and after church, for a dollar or two, which most of them put in the offering anyway (nice kids!). You could take your nuts to the local producers and have the shells cracked in their machines for about 25 cents a pound, making the whole shelling process less painful, too. All you had to worry about, really, was finding enough recipes to make use of the pecan bounty.

After a few years, you tend to take that sort of thing for granted. Pecans? Yeah, sure, no big deal.

As Semicolon has pointed out on her blog, pecans are not grown commercially very many places, and especially not in Europe. I actually can go into the larger stores here and find imported pecans for sale. They call them "American nuts" (we do this, too--think of Brazil nuts or English walnuts), which seems appropriate. And the the price? Do you really want to know? About $8 per pound. In the shell. I don't really like pecans enough to pay that kind of money for them. I mean, steak, boneless pork loin, and dried pineapple slices (mmm) cost less than half of that.

So I don't buy them, and if I'm honest, I don't miss them, either. There are compensations.

You know how expensive walnuts are the States? Well, those are grown right here in Poland (although they call them Italian nuts for some inexplicable reason), and when they are in season (right now), they cost about 60 cents per pound. So, there's no contest.

Although I do miss those nice shell-cracking machines.

Monday, November 06, 2006

Currently reading...

I'm always currently reading something, of course. This rather short little book fell under my hands last week, and I started into it. It is so short, I'd read a third of it before I realized I'd gone so far, and today I read another third or so.

I acquired this book through Zooba, thanks to this blurb. I admit it was the mention of C.S. Lewis that swayed me in favor of this book. Having read two-thirds of the book, I think I was most certainly taken in.

The allegory in this book is rather clever, but the writing is pretty mundane. Imagine a prosaic re-telling of Pilgrim's Progress, peopled with modern characters such as real-estate agents, lawyers, and political activists. It's an allegory, which isn't the easist thing to work with, but it has potential. Unfortunately, so far the story has not been compelling. Sometimes it borders on the ridiculous, which is not so desirable when you aim at the sublime.

I'll update my thoughts later, when I've finished

Friday, November 03, 2006

The little engine that could...

One of my children is a terrible dawdler. This child dawdles over schoolwork, over chores, even over games. Said child even dawdles while watching a video, rewinding to watch the same bits and pieces over. This is a terrible habit, and we have addressed it at many levels, but this child literally believes that the situation is not a matter of personal discipline or control, but an actual innate inability to stay on task and complete work in a reasonable amount of time.

Kitchen clean-up is a nightmare when this child has a turn, and the job takes more than twice as long as it should sometimes. One night, I offered a tempting bonus if the child could complete the job in one hour.

It didn't happen.

The next time this child's turn rolled around, a request was made for the same bonus offer, and I refused. Nevertheless, the child was motivated to watch the clock and see if it was possible to finish in an hour.

It was close.

Tonight, I concocted an even more tempting reward and struck a bargain--if the job were completed in one hour, I would do something special with the child.

Guess what? Mission accomplished (but only just).

Now we both know that the child has the ability to get the job done in a timely fashion if the will is engaged.

The motto of the Parent's National Education Union in England was "I am, I can, I ought I will." This child truly did not believe in "I can," but now that we've established that, it's a much shorter step to "I will."

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Now what?

I was recently blessed to acquire a sewing machine. I have been without one for...oh, ten years at least. Maybe more. I've never had one during the time we've been in Poland. In the past few years, the conviction that I wanted one has been growing upon me, and in due time...

A missionary family in Slovakia was leaving Europe to work in the western hemisphere. There was no need for them to take appliances that run on 220 current with them, and they needed money for the move, so they sold as much as they could. I was happy to purchase the sewing machine and looked forward to it for weeks. I have plans and projects! I even have fabric!

The machine is a Bernette 680 made by Bernina. That's a good label, although it is one of the bottom-end machines. Which is fine. I don't need fancy or electronic. I'm strictly mediocre in my sewing ability, and my thoughts tend toward cushions, curtains and maybe a simple skirt on a good day. Electronic embroidery, computerized patterns, and programmed sewing don't even enter on the horizon. So I was more than happy to acquire a simple, basic machine.

However, even a simple, basic machine needs instructions. Okay, I need instructions. Winding a bobbin and threading a machine are not things I can figure out without help. Remember, I haven't had a sewing machine for ten years, and each one is unique, anyway. The good news is, my machine came with instructions. The bad news is, the instructions are in German, Italian, French, and Slovakian.

I went to the Bernina website and found pdf versions of the manuals for the higher model machines just above mine, and for a couple of lower ones. But no manual for my Bernette 680. I wrote to the company a month ago, but they didn't answer. I wrote another company which deals in out-of-print manuals, and they informed me bluntly that this one is not available.

So now what?

Many of the parts for this machine are identical to the parts for the higher models. I downloaded the pdf file for those machines and printed the pages dealing with threading the machine. I considered myself fortunate that a loaded bobbin was already in my machine, so I got to skip that part (for now). Reading the instructions (for a different, but similar machine) in English, I tried to follow the diagrams in my Slovakian manual. Miracles really do happen, because I managed to thread the machine correctly enough to sew a seam.

Next time maybe I'll be brave enough to remove the bobbin and attempt to thread it with a color that will match the sewing thread.

I'm sure I'll get it figured out before another ten years elapse.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

All Saint's Day

November 1st is a serious holiday in Poland. For the most part in America, we are vaguely aware that Halloween, or "All Hallow's Eve," precedes All Saint's Day. But who celebrates November 1st?

Poles do.

I've been told that this is a bigger "family" holiday than Christmas. People travel to be with families so that they can enjoy the rituals of the day, which do center around the cemetary.
Here in Krakow, for weeks beforehand, glass-covered candles called znicze are sold everywhere, from the grocery store, to newspaper kiosks, to florists. They come in every shape and size you can imagine. Fall floral arrangements, wreaths, and greenery are collected.

On November 1st, the family goes to the cemetary, cleans the grave area, and decorates with flowers. Many, many candles are lit on each gravestone. Of course, everyone else is there doing the same thing. Stores everywhere are closed on this day, and traffic is blocked from the area around the cemetary (to make room for the peope). Every tram and bus is rerouted to carry people to and from the cemetaries, and by the time the sun goes down in the evening, the candle-lights make the cemetary as bright as day.

Many of the traditional Halloween themes are mockeries of these traditions--skeletons, ghosts, cemetaries with spooky gravestones. It occurred to me recently that even Jack-o'-Lanterns may be a take-off of these enclosed candles.

We don't celebrate this day ourselves, but we know pretty well what everyone else is doing today.

The work of her hands...

I've aways enjoyed making things. In different seasons, different types of crafts have caught my attention, but the one thing I always come back to, in one form or another, is thread. I love that stuff.
While I was crocheting bookmarks, I was also seized with an urge to tat, and in keeping with my theme, I tatted this bookmark with size 10 variegated green thread. The pattern includes a tag and tail, but with size 10 thread, it was big enough this way.
I also bought a lot of inexpensive colored threads recently, thinking they might be good for tatting. They aren't--they are much too fuzzy--but they are fine for crocheting. I played around with color schemes, and finally made this mat in autumn colors. I've been pretty traditional with my crocheted lace, nearly always using white or ecru thread (recent bookmarks notwithstanding), so this was a complete departure from my norm. I have to say, I'm very, very pleased with the results, and I suspect color will be creeping into future projects as well.
All of the paraphenalia associated with these projects is messy and cluttered. No matter how hard you try, it's difficult to keep an assortment of threads, shuttles, crochet hooks, and spare bobbins neat. Not long ago, I found these cute little leather boxes in an Indian shop. These shops, which sell clothes jewelry, knick-knacks, scarves, and purses from India are quite popular. These inexpensive little cases are intended to hold lipsticks. I had a better idea.
Tatting shuttles and bobbins fit into the cases quite nicely. They are protected from damage, and also from tangled-thread syndrome. I can toss the cases into my workbag, too, and find them more easily this way.

I've got several Christmas presents underway at the moment, which I'll probably share later. I'm trying to encourage my girls to keep busy with their crafts as well. E. prefers drawing to everything else, and we've discussed ways she could use that to make gifts. K. has recently developed an interest in beading and macrame. We always have more ideas than we have time to execute. Doesn't everyone?