decemberthirty: (tree swallow)
Tommy and Coco at the window

I drove Ms. E to school this morning and dropped her off so that she could chaperone a group of her students on a three-day trip to the state science fair. She will be home again on Tuesday; until then it's just me and the cats. And it's funny, isn't it, how habits of separation and togetherness become ingrained? She was away so much last summer that I got very used to being on my own. But as we talked about this last night, we counted it up and determined that we had only spent one night apart since last August. One! An extraordinary amount of togetherness, well above what is normal for us. So I am out of the habit of spending time alone like this, and it did feel a bit strange when I got back to the house this morning. But it's good, too: I will write and read, take care of the house and garden, and prepare myself for some longer separations that are coming in the next few weeks.

Clematis after the rain

I finished Ali Smith's The Accidental last night, and I found it disappointing. The book had so much potential to be...well, not great--I don't think it could have been great, but it could at least have been interestingly weird. And in the end it did not manage even that. The book tells the story of a rather ordinary English family and the mysterious woman named Amber who talks her way in amongst them while they're on holiday, manipulates them, lies to them, and pushes various buttons for each of the various family members for as long as she's allowed to stay in their midst. The story had a lot of momentum at first (there were a hundred pages or so in the middle of the book when it came as close to being a page-turner as anything I ever read), but this all fizzled as the book wound down to its rather empty ending. I wanted more from this book: I wanted Smith to go farther and darker and weirder, I wanted more connections, I wanted the story to have more meat.

Next I will read The Burgess Boys by Elizabeth Strout. I loved loved loved Olive Kitteridge a few years ago, which makes me fear that my expectations may be too high and I'll be disappointed by this one too. We shall see.

Cranesbill geranium

The garden is as imperfect as it always is, yet it is making me so happy these days. Clematis are blooming; coral bells are blooming; the hydrangea was not killed by its hard pruning just before a hard winter, but instead is growing back in compact and healthy and beautiful; tomato seedlings are becoming strong tomato plants; I am cooking with herbs from the herb garden. All of this, it seems, is enough to make me overlook the problems, the plants I am worried about, the ways in which I would like to invest time and money that I don't have at the moment.... So it is lovely right now and I will enjoy it.
decemberthirty: (Default)
Cool and damp today, the weather feels like true spring after the run of early summer days with which we began the week. I have had a type of quiet morning that I really enjoy: puttering around the house by myself, straightening and setting things right as I go, doing some light chores, folding a basket of laundry, refilling the bird feeder... And now I am about to go have a type of afternoon that I don't enjoy: working my way through the pile of grading that must get done before spring break. But before I consign myself to that fate, a couple of photos:

Camellia in bloom
An incredibly mild winter and an early spring mean that my camellia is in bloom about three weeks earlier than it was last year.

Camellia on the windowsill--first cut flower of the year.
Of course I could not resist bringing a blossom inside. I love having flowers in the house and this is the first one this year.
decemberthirty: (Default)
Neighbor's tree

What is it about spring that makes me want to do nothing but take photos? Perhaps it's the loveliness of these buds that appeared on my next door neighbor's tree, seemingly bursting into being sometime between last night and this morning. Our hawthorn tree has been slowly putting out leaves for weeks now, but the tree next door was utterly dormant until it was suddenly covered in these pink buds.

Or maybe it's the lightness of sitting around the house right now in bare feet and a linen t-shirt--finally free of all the winter layers. Or the lightness I feel knowing that tomorrow I will teach my last class of the semester. After that, I'll just have to wrap up the grading and then I'm done. Although I've been frustrated at times by the irregular schedule of this class, I've enjoyed it more than any other teaching gig I've had. I'll be glad to be done for the summer, sure, but I feel so much less end-of-semester burnout than I've ever felt before. But it will be good to be done--I've almost entirely shelved my own writing while I've been teaching, so it's time to start getting back to that.

New growth

Or maybe it's this little bit of loveliness: new leaves I spotted today on a plant I had given up for dead.

What else has been going on? )
decemberthirty: (Default)
Front of house - 4/11

One of the many new things that I gained when we bought our house was a pair of window boxes. Despite nearly ten years of apartment living, none of my apartments in either Philadelphia or State College ever had window boxes. I've always thought that they were cute, though, so I'm excited to have them.

Windowbox - 4/11

Right now, they don't look very different than they did when we bought the house: both the little round shrub and the pale green foliage plant (anyone know what it is?) were planted by the previous owners. The arrangement is a bit stiff and formal for my taste--I'm fond of sprawling, messy gardens--but everything about the previous owners' style was stiffer and more formal than ours. I stuck some pansies in for color and to loosen things up a bit, but I haven't quite been able to bring myself to pull out perfectly healthy plants and do away with them! I guess they may not change much for a while, then.

Nevertheless, I brought the camera with me while out walking through our neighborhood today, and took some photos of some of my favorite window boxes. I'm always interested in what other gardeners do in this highly urban environment, and often impressed by the creativity I see when I pay attention.

Philadelphia window boxes )

Do you have window boxes? If so, show me!
decemberthirty: (Default)

Grey and cool today, with the promise of rain in the afternoon. Promise or threat? We had an intense storm over the weekend; rain fell for hours, cycling back with renewed force after each brief slackening, turning to thunder and lightening in the evening. I was suddenly very aware of the age of this house, as though I could feel the water searching with prying fingers for any crack where it could enter. I don't think I've ever felt so strongly that a house was being put to the test by the weather. We passed the test, mainly--a few drips here and there, but otherwise dry.

Kitchen window

After the storm, I washed my kitchen windows, and I love how clear they are now. Even on a grey day I can see the difference. This is the sort of work I've been doing on the house lately: small projects, the sort I can finish in an afternoon. There are bigger project yet to be done, of course, but right now I like the feeling of completion I get from these tasks. Planting pansies in the window boxes, or doing a bit of deep cleaning, or painting a piece of furniture.

Read more... )
decemberthirty: (Default)
I finished Kazuo Ishiguro's Never Let Me Go recently, but I can't quite figure out my feelings about it. It was a quick read (or would have been, if I hadn't gotten interrupted halfway through by Ms. E's getting burned and my suddenly having to become her nursemaid), but I kept feeling like there was some key element missing from the book yet was never able to put my finger on what. Perhaps it was just because my expectations were very high based on my love of The Remains of the Day, and there are few books indeed that can stand up to that one, but I couldn't help feeling a bit disappointed in this book.

It's funny, but many of the characteristics that made The Remains of the Day so brilliant are also present in Never Let Me Go--I can't figure out why the same things that came together so perfectly in one book would fall so flat in another. Both books are told through reminiscence, both feature pinpoint control of tone and voice, both are narrated by characters who are careful observers of other people...the list could probably go on. Perhaps the thing that Remains of the Day has that this book lacks is intensity. That's an odd thing to think because Never Let Me Go has much more drama in its plot than a butler going for a drive, but the drama didn't seem to penetrate--it's like the two books are mirror images of each other: Remains of the Day still and quiet on the surface but smoldering below, and Never Let Me Go full of much more intensity on the surface and empty underneath.

But I shouldn't just compare this book to Remains of the Day; I should think about it as its own thing. My favorite character was Tommy--I liked the teenaged Tommy so much that I was disappointed that the adult version of Tommy wasn't developed more fully. I must confess, though, that it was a little strange to read the book because the character Tommy reminded me so strongly of my cat Tommy. And not just because of their names! Like my cat, the character seems developmentally behind his peers, slow to catch on to things, easy to laugh at... The book opens with a storyline about Tommy being mildly bullied at school, and I found it very hard to read because I kept thinking that those mean children were teasing my poor helpless kitty.

Kathy, the narrator, is a strange character. There's something about her that doesn't click, something artificial about her. Several times I found myself responding to her recollections by thinking that people just don't act like that. It reminded me of a friend I had in high school who, I learned, had a very different perspective from mine. Whenever he and I would talk about something that had occurred among our group of friends, our perceptions were so far removed from each other that I would find myself wondering if we were talking about the same people and the same event. Ishiguro does acknowledge this sort of subjectivity in his narrative--Kathy is forever mentioning that one of her friends had a different interpretation of a particular instance, or that someone else remembered a story in a different way than she did--but this acknowledgment doesn't seem to amount to much.

I think the thing that disappointed me most was the ending of the book. The conclusion is a bit foregone--we know the characters can't get the thing they want--but even so it seems to happen rather abruptly, with a great deal of mystery and suspense all dispelled at a stroke. I guess in the end my problem is that I can't seem to figure out why Ishiguro wrote this particular book. The book has some science fiction-ish elements, and some coming of age elements, and a great deal of interpersonal drama elements, but all of these various elements don't seem to gel with each other, and I'm left wondering what exactly he was trying to accomplish.

Sigh. I feel like I might be being a bit too harsh here. It's an engaging enough book, and there were a few moments of nicely managed tension. I don't know. Has anyone else read this one? I would very much like to hear others' thoughts.

In totally unrelated news, I harvested my first zucchini today! And when I say first, I mean that these are the first zucchini I've grown EVER, as in my whole life. Very exciting! Now I've just got to figure out how I'm going to use them.
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