Readerly Rambles: 15 September 2014

readerly rambles

What I read: Earlier in the month I finished up The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson. This was a re-read for me, but frankly I don’t remember finding the book so creepy and fascinating during the first read. I’ll hold off on my analysis until the Estella Society has their Hill House read-along discussion on October 1st. For a teaser let me just say, HOLY COW THE BELL JAR!!!

What I’m reading: I’m about halfway through Kate Morton’s The Secret Keeper. The story centers around Laurel, an aging actress who is haunted by remembering a violent act concerning her mother. Almost s her mother is elderly and nearing death, Laurel feels pressure to discover the truth of what happened that day and to uncover her mother’s secretive past. The novel reminds me a bit of Sarah Water’s The Night Watch simply because it occurs during wartime and the timeline seems to move backwards and then forwards. I hope that makes sense. I’m really enjoying it for the plot and characters and but the crux of the novel focuses on the secret life of mothers and that is the most fascinating element. You know, the fact that we are completely human with passions, interests, faults, etc…. outside of being a mother even though society tends to sum up women based on their role as a mother (or lack of a role as a mother). Good Stuff.

I’m also dipping in to M R James’s Collected Ghost Stories on my Kindle. It is my lunch-break, waiting-in-line read. I adore M R James and he is a masterful storyteller. Thus far the most frightening story in the collect is “The Ash Tree” as it features my least favorite creature: SPIDERS.

What’s up Next: Once I’m done with The Secret Keeper I plan on cracking open Framley Parsonage by Anthony Trollope. I am completely determined to finish The Chronicles of Barsetshire series this year.

Reading Challenge Update: RIP IX is coming along marvelously. I’ll post more extensively on RIP at a later date, but suffice it to say that I am all over this challenge. I’ve read one book out of four (Hill House) and the James counts as my story collection. I also watched The Haunting, which is the film version of The Haunting of Hill House for the Peril of the Screen challenge. This is certainly my favorite challenge.

I’ll write extensively on my reading challenges as I wrap up the year in December / early January, but I did want to note how I’m doing on my goals:

Back to the Classics — 7 out of 10
Victorian Reading Challenge – 8 out of 2 (winning!!!!)
Chunksters – 5 out of 5 (yay!)

Bookshelf Issues: To wrap up this week’s Readerly Rambles I’d like to share my readerly conundrum — my books are still boxed up. We moved two weeks ago and I’ve yet to unpack my books because I don’t have shelves for them. I had two cheap-y Target bookshelves that pretty much fell apart during the move. With two little kids around and knowing these shelves will be full with books I didn’t want to risk cobbling particleboard back together. On one had I want to just buy more cheap shelves as we plan on buying a home in the next three years. I’d like to put built-in shelving when we buy OR make sure that our shelves go with the style of the house. On the other hand, it seems silly to waste money on items that will be used temporarily. And if I did buy some solid shelves they could probably go somewhere in our future home. So what’s it to be?

1). Cheap shelves for now

2). Pull a little savings and get sturdier shelves

I don’t know what to do; I just know I won’t be settled until the books are unpacked!

Weekend Cooking: Nana’s Banana Bread

Weekend Cooking: Potato Leek Soup, Apple Nut Bread Pudding, and Apple Cheddar Scones

The number one way to feel at home in a new place is to bake like a mofo. And brew coffee… lots and lots of coffee. Soon the smell of new paint, cleaning supplies, and empty apartment will dissipate and instead your abode will be filled with the smell of coffee and delicious sweets. I’ve been in a bit of baking kick since we moved (despite the small, apartment-sized electric stove… sob!) and I’ve made chocolate chip cookies, pumpkin pancakes, and various quick breads. Last night I decided to us up some bananas in the freezer and make my grandmother’s banana bread with a few alterations.

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Nana’s Banana Bread

Ingredients:

2 C sugar

4 C all purpose flour

2 tsp baking soda

1 tsp salt

1 C applesauce (the recipe called for oil, but I subbed applesauce)

4 eggs

6 overripe, mashed bananas

1/4 C milk

1 tsp vanilla

1 C chopped pecans

Directions:

1) Preheat oven to 350 degrees and grease and flour two bread pans.

2) Mix all the dry ingredients in one large bowl

3) In a medium bowl, mix applesauce, eggs, bananas, milk and vanilla.

4) Pour wet ingredients into dry ingredients and gently mix (some clumps are okay, don’t mix it to death or your bread will suck)

5) Fold in pecans

6) Divide batter into two bread pans and bake for 45 to 55 minutes

7) Cool for 30 minutes, remove from pan and then slice and enjoy!

 

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Keep a loaf for your family and the second one is great to share. It even freezes well. Before freezing let it cool completely, wrap it in aluminum foil, and the put it inside a large freezer bag.

I love this bread. Atticus woke up hungry at 5:30am this morning and enjoyed a piece while I sat bleary eyed at the table. He loved it!

 

Blog Malaise: A Remedy?

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I’ve got my thinking cat on.

Fig and Thistle has been a bit quiet — as expected — due to moving and getting everyone settled. I feel writing pulling me back and I expect things to be pretty busy over here for a bit. My journaling is going well and that is usally a sign that the blog juices are going to flow. At least that is how I feel right now. There is also this worry at the back of my mind that this space is a waste of time. I like blogging — most of the time — but sometimes I feel really out of the loop.  I’m not really a book blogger even though I talk about books a great deal. I’m not a mommy blogger because although I blog about my kids it lacks the depth of “mommy advice”. I don’t do enough cooking or crafts to have a DIY blog and I would certainly need something other than my Android phone to take pictures if wanted to “level up” in that area. What am I? What is Fig and Thistle? I’ve grown in followers from 200 to over 1,000, but it isn’t exciting when most of those followers have names like “super discount carpet emporium”. I had a slew of comments back in March, but I’m very conflicted about that. I seem to only garner loads of comments when I write about being fat or being raped. Trust me, I don’t intend for those to be regular themes. What am I doing here and how do I justify the time and thought I pump into this wee space?

I’m not alone in feeling like this. Two of my closest blog buddies, Andi and Heather, are feeling the same way. I’ve  read that other non-book blogs are shutting down. And some favorite blogs from several years ago are silent now. I’ve thought a lot about blogging the past few weeks and I’m thinking a change is in order. Not necessarily a change to this blog, but a mindset change.

My thought pattern is kinda in two parts:

1) I think this is a time to put on my academia strategic planning hat. Any time we do anything in the library we think about our purpose and mission statement, our audience, and what we hope to achieve. I have an about me page, but I think I also want to write a “mission statement” for my blog. What is my purpose, who do I want to reach, and what do I hope to achieve? If I blog something it needs to serve a purpose, reach my audience, and have the end result I want. For me this looks like it will be along the lines of: forming inspiring friendships (purpose) with people who are kindred spirits (audience) and who want to share their lives in creative and inspiring ways (goal). Churning out book reviews or writing about dieting or gender issues are NOT my purpose although those things may be useful in reaching my goal. Looking at things like this it changes how I want to write. For someone else it may be more bookish or business-oriented, but that isn’t Fig and Thistle.

My hope is that by defining my purpose, audience, and goal I will assuage some of my doubts and that will lead to less floundering when I try to draft posts. There is no correct answer or way to blog, but I can imagine that some of the blogs I enjoy may be different. For example, if your purpose is to review newly published books, your audience would be readers, authors, and publishers and your goal may be to obtain ARCs. That just isn’t me.

2) I’ve learned that life changes throw my bloggingand reading off completely. I know that moving, changing jobs, having a baby, etc…. halts everything. Partly this is because I create better when I have a schedule or ritual or habits. I make blogging (or really any writing) a priority and I hold a sacred time apart from others to fulfill this need to write.  This blog is not intended to make money, or push a product, or create the next viral something…. My goal is to keep this space as a creative outlet  for my writing and to form connections with kindred spirits.

But…. I am a woman and a Southern woman at that. I feel pressure to treat this as a hobby; some sort of scribbling woman afterthought when the dishes are done and the babies are in bed and work is chugging along smoothly. I’m prone to think that I need some sort of external reward to justify this time spent here. Money? ARCS? Folks wanting product reviews? Comments and hits?

ENOUGH…

I NEED TO TREAT MY BLOG AS LEGIT WRITING. What I do here is valid and important even if it is just for me. I should treat this time and space as important and this applies to other things I do for myself: crocheting, reading, exercising. It is important because even though my life is filled with beautiful souls I care for deeply, at the end of the day, at the end of my life, I’ve spent the most time with ME. When everything external is scraped away I’m left with myself, my thoughts, my words. I don’t want to coast. I don’t want to put my children to bed and spend every evening staring at a wall or watching Spongebob (although some Spongebob is totally fine). I want to do something, even though that something may be small like this blog, or unseen like my journal, or temporary and delicious like my scones.

How in Hades do I fire up the energy, thought, and creativity to blog and reap satisfaction from the experience? Finding my purpose, audience, and setting attainable goals is half the battle. The other half is honoring my need to write as valid and worthy. This means compartmentalizing my mama worries and my stress at work and making time to write because what I have to say is valid and I have a purpose. To help me carve out time I thought it would be inspiring to read a book about writers and artists who have a crazy range of different rituals and habits that help them create their works. I’ve decided to read Daily Rituals: How Artists Work by Mason Currey  to assist in thinking creatively about managing my, well, creative time. I’ll probably start this book in October and, yes, there will be a book review.

I think I have at least an inspiring to-do list: write up my mission, audience, and objective and make time for this blog by looking at my time creatively, shaking off the need to have external rewards, and finding inspiration in other creators.

Let me know in the comments, do you suffer from blog malaise? Did you give it up? Will you stick with it? How do you find the inspiration, the time?

Announcing: All In Autumn – A Celebration of All Things Autumn!

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Autumn has always been my favorite season. In large part because my most favorite things are associated with cooler, cozier months: thick books, lush yarn, jewel-toned scarves and sweaters, coffee, darker skies, soups simmering and bread baking. A friend commented a few days ago that at least this move to a new home happened on the cusp of my favorite season. I can use the upcoming months to celebrate my favorite season and make this apartment “home” in the process. I am all in for autumn and I’m thinking a few of you would like to go all in with me.

The goal is to do at least one autumnal thing a day starting September 5th and wrapping up on Thanksgiving Day. This can be a s simple as lighting a candle, noticing changing leaves, or putting on a scarf. Or you can go all out and bake a pumpkin pie, plan a Halloween party, or go apple picking. I drafted a list of my favorite “autumnal” activities and things from pumpkin spice lattes to leaf piles to spooky books. This is just a quick list jotted in my journal. It isn’t a hard and fast list; it is just what popped into my head when I was inspired. I will be doing a few big things (some craft projects and day trips, for example) and many small things!

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There are several ways to participate:

1. Blogging: You can blog daily, weekly monthly, or just do one big ole’ wrap-up post. I’m going to plan on posting about my All in Autumn activities about once a week (but then again, I am mighty fickle).

2. Instagram/Twitter: Snap a pic or send a Tweet detailing your autumn celebrations. Don’t forget to #AllInAutumn

3. Pinterest: I plan on constructing a pinboard of completed activities. All my participation won’t be here, but it will be nice to have a place to keep up with the more involved projects.

Lastly, I have to give mad props to the ladies who inspired this event:

1). The Very Merry Advent team: Heidi Kenney and Amanda Krueger put together a fabulous advent celebration last year. A Very Merry Advent truly made the Christmas season special. What I enjoyed most about the this 50 page guide chock full of recipes, holiday ideas, and crafts, was that each activity wasn’t too expensive. Also the activities ranged from holiday activities that take some planning — like a cookie exchange — to simple activities like making spiced nuts or coloring a holiday picture. I was able to shake off the pressure to have everything perfect and jolly. If I had a bad day, the house was a wreck, or I was flat broke it didn’t impact my holiday mood. Because I was focusing on simple, inexpensive celebrations of the season I could simply make some cocoa or address holiday cards and I was full of Christmas Cheer. The combination of simple activities mixed with larger projects and events is inspired by The Very Merry Advent project.

2). Trish! Trish used to host monthly challenges to “pin it and do it”. This was my first exposure to using Pinterest in a productive way (rather than just daydreaming) and it inspired me to actually DO something. The “getting it doneness” of this celebration is inspired by Trish.

So, who wants to join? Feel free to submit your signup post (not required, but it would be fun to read) in the comments or just jump right in on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook with #AllInAutumn.

List Love: Remembering 1223 Park Street

list love

Whelp. We’re moved. There are some repairs that need to be made at our new apartment, but on the whole we are unpacked and settled. All that’s left is to purchase new bookshelves (my flimsy Target ones didn’t survive) and hangup artwork/pictures and we will be done.

Our last few weeks at our old address were tumultuous to say the least. Dealing with our landlord’s son — he is basically the property manager for his mother — was anxiety inducing. He threatened to evict us after we turned in our notice, which makes no sense at all. He was in our yard at weird times “fixing” the lawn (the inside of the house is crumbling, but whatevs). This all culminated on Sunday. We told our landlady we could be out by the first. We paid August’s rent, which meant we were renters until 11:59 pm on Sunday, 08/31. At 4pm on Sunday they wanted to know why we weren’t out. Sam explained that he had to work and we were still moving, but he was coming over after the kids went to bed to remove the rest of our belongings and vacuum. When he arrived at our house — because it was still OUR house — all of our stuff was on the lawn. Sam thought about calling the police because the landlord should not have touched our belongings. He didn’t because we were just ready to be done. At the end of the night, the landlord spoke to Sam and made several comments not grounded in any sort of logic. Sam was told that the landlord “wasn’t a maintenance man.” He was told that houses are different from apartments in that we should have PAID for and made repairs. Then he back pedaled and said basically that this 65 year old house couldn’t be “nice.” I think of non-leaking roofs and basic plumbing as essential, not upgrades.

Anyways we are done. Done with the entire place. It about broke my heart. I’ve cried and cried and cried. I don’t know if it is because my parents lived in the same house from the time I was six years old until I was twenty-five, but I get strongly attached to locations. I didn’t go back to see the house empty. Sam handled all of it. I couldn’t bear to see hollow, empty rooms and garbage bags and that man touching my children’s toys.

I was excited to move, but I wanted to hold on to the positive aspects of our time at 1223 Park Street. Today I present my list of my favorite aspects of living at 1223 Park Street. When I start to dwell on the negative end to our time there, I pull out this list in my journal and focus on the positive.

1. Beginnings: We moved in late May of 2010 to 1223 Park Street. We had just passed our four month wedding anniversary and I was three months pregnant with Atticus. This home saw the beginnings of my marriage, Hope transitioning from a tween to a teen, and two pregnancies and births.

2. Location: The house is smack dab in the middle of the city. Less than a quarter mile from the University and less than a half-mile from the hospital. You wouldn’t know it because the house is on a little side road and surrounded by trees.

3. Wildlife: deer, rabbits, chipmunks, squirrels, wild turkey, raccoons, and turkey vultures lived on our “nature preserve.” The vultures were the coolest. They show up to roost late summer of every year. In fact, Sam and I rescued a fledgling vulture on year.

4. The mantel and fireplace: It held my owl knickknackery and looked so lovely at Christmas with all the stockings and lights.

5. Built in bookshelves: My Viragos lived here along with mounds of kiddie lit and toys.

6. Large windows. This home was full of light. There were large windows in the living room. We would sit and watch the deer wander by on early mornings.

7. My study: I had a place of my own. A little blue painted room lined with bookshelves across one wall. It was my own and I could retreat to the study for much needed solitude.

8. The sun room: My favorite room of the house. I put the dining room table in that room . We would east all of our meals with the light streaming in and in the winter the darkness was a blanket enveloping the warmth of our meal.

9. The pantry: I had shelf after shelf after shelf to store so many cans of green beans and boxes of pasta. I had room to stock up and I did.

10. My rosemary bush: I planted it when Atticus was born and it has grown every year. Atticus likes to crush the leaves in his hands to make his fingers smell like spaghetti.

We have some beautiful memories to cherish and we are ready to make our new apartment a home and fill it with new memories.

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Readerly Rambles: September TBR Pile and a Readalong

HillHouseReadalong

Heather has succeeded in making the creepiest button for a readalong. Hold me, I’m frightened.

I’m going to pretend that August never happened. By the time this is posted it will be the dawn of a new month, September. I can ignore the fact that I disposed of 400 books and didn’t complete a single book in August. In fact, I went most of the month WITHOUT READING. I’ve thought a great deal about reading and I miss it so much. So here it is Friday, 08/29 and I’m writing about books instead of finishing up all the packing and errands for the move tomorrow. I feel like I should point out that I’m only moving a 15 minute drive away, but the downsizing from a house to an apartment is exhausting.

But I digress…. books…. let’s talk about books.

September marks the start of my favorite challenge, Carl’s R.eader’s I.mbibing P.eril challenge (RIP) right now the challenge isn’t posted, but I know it is on the way. I’ll be choosing mostly “Gothic literature, horror, and all things that go bump in the night” in keeping with Carl’s challenge. I’ll also be participating in an Estella Society readalong of the Shirley Jackson horror classic The Haunting of Hill House. And then there’s Trollope…. I must catch up on Trollope.

Without further ado may I present to you my TBR for September:

Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier (audio)

The Collected Ghost Stories of M R James (Kindle)

The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson

The Secret Keeper by Kate Morton (my Classics Club spin!)

Framley Parsonage by Anthony Trollope

The Collected Poems of William Butler Yeats

 

September will be an exciting month: settling into the new home, an exciting Autumn project I will be sharing soon, and the start of autumn baking season.

And books…. many, many, many books!

Happy Reading!

Norman Strikes Again and Other Insanity

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The past few days have been insane. Literarlly insane, complete with yelling shenanagins. I just have to tell y’all how nutso things are at the moment. Before I begin, keep in mind that work has been insanely busy. I worked a 14.5 hour shift on Saturday, Sunday was church and visiting friends, and Monday I worked a 10 hour shift that was crazy because we had a library open house for the faculty and staff. I spent my day hauling chairs, answering questions, setting up displays, and I was the person in charge of the rare books room and I had to talk to at least 50 people about rare books. So know that things may seem more stressful than usual simply because I am tired and depleted.

Monday afternoon I receieved a call from the leasing office. Last week we toured a newly renovated apartment across the hall from the one we will be renting. The leasing agent said that the person who who intended to rent the apartment we toured decided to get a town home and the leasing agent asked if we wanted to go ahead and move in rather than wait until September 9th. I told her no, we gave a notice, work and school made us busy, and we were waiting on Sam’s financial aid to come through. 

A few minutes later I find out that Sam will be getting at least his Pell Grant on Friday the 22nd. Interesting.

After the library party I went home, had dinner, and noticed the sky getting dark. We normally bathe the kids at 7:30, but we decided to bathe them at 7:15 before the storm hit. As soon as their booties hit the water it started thundering. We washed the kids quickly and got them out. Then — the bottom fell out of the sky. Come to find out the winds in that 10-minute long storm got up to 40 miles an hour. Water blew under the front door, toys scootched across the yard, and then WHAM a giant limb from our tree outside fell on the power line attached to our house. Our power was only out for a few seconds. I should point out that while all of this is going on Atticus is still naked and dancing around. 

I call the power company and they said to call the fire department. Trucks were deployed all over town, but because the line was attached to our house the power company wanted to make sure it wasn’t a fire hazard. So I call the fire department.

About two minutes later the rain abated to a sprinkle, the winds died down, and here comes my landlord’s son — let’s call him Norman — running into the yard. He looked like he is freaking out over the tree so I poke my head outside and tell him that I called the power company and then called the fire department as instructed. 

Then he starts screaming, “WHY DID YOU CALL THE FIRE DEPARTMENT!!!! YOU NEED TO CALL THE POWER COMPANY.” I explain, a second time, why I called. He starts laughing, shakes his head, and yells you are an, “idiot.”

Gurl, hold my earrings.

I popped outside and told him to leave the property. I said, “just go” about a dozen times and then the redneck Georgia girl in me switched to, “get the fuck out of my yard.” He came up to the porch and told me I didn’t need to live in a house and I should be in an apartment because “this house is only worth 65,000 and y’all keep wanting it to be nice.” Okay, if by nice you mean no raw sewage, adequate plumbing, and absense of roof leaks, and repairs made then yes, I would like a nice place to live. I called him a slumlord, he called me stupid. Sam called Norman’s mom to tell her to call him off and that we were going to call the police. All this time he is grabbing branches we were told not to touch and yelling at the top of his lungs. I go inside.

Then Sam goes outside. I see the veins on Sam’s neck pop, I hear him bellowing for Norman to leave. I call the cops and Norman runs up the road. I tell police dispatch that he ran back to his mom’s house and ask what I should do. Police dispatch says that if he comes back yelling and aggressive we should call the cops. Excellent.

Fire department shows up and determines that there is no fire hazard and that the power company can take care of it. The hospital’s power was down and they were running on a generator so the emergency folks had to go. We go inside, get the kids in bed, and wait for the power company. 

The power company repairs the line — and takes down our power for a bit — around 9:30. Norman runs into the yard and yells orders at the repairman. Repair man ignores Norman and talks to Sam. The repairman tells Sam that the last down line is a cable line. it is cradling the tree branch. He tells Sam not to touch it, but to get our cable/internet provider out there to take care of the line.

We woke the next morning to water streaming in from the bathroom ceiling — again. 

After all was said and done we decided to take the leasing agent’s offer and get the hell out of this place. Tuesday morning we signed the lease, we pay our first month’s rent on Monday and take possession of the apartment. This weekend we are having a yard sale and we will move into our new digs on Labor Day weekend about 15 days sooner than planned.

I’d like to say that the rest of my stress is from taking off of work the rest of the week and sorting, organizing, packing, and planning. That accounts for my physical exhaustion and perhaps some mental fatigue, but what is really exausting are the antics pulled by Norman yesterday.

Let me back up for a minute. When we gave our notice, we knew that a condition of our lease was to give 30 days notice, but the that notice also had to embrace an entire rental month. Example, when we gave her our notice for September 15th, we knew we’d have to pay rent on the 1st for an entire month. That’s cool. We planned our finances to do that. Then yesterday happened.

Yesterday Sam went outside while the ATT repair guys were there fixing the cable/internet line. BTW — Norman had effed with the tree branch, knocked the entire line down, and took out our internet. SO, ATT are making repairs. Norman looks at Sam and asks him to move away from the repairmen so he can talk to him. Sam refuses and tells Norman he can talked to him in front of the repair men. Norman gets up in Sam’s face and tells Sam, “I’m gonna evict you, I’m going to evict you and you’ll go to magistrate court and pay $110.” What. the. Hell. Sam tells Norman to go ahead and evict us. I don’t really know how you can evict someone who is moving in less than two weeks and has paid rent on time for four years. But whatever, dude, evict us. Sam turns around and walks back in the house.

At this point in time — after Sam tells me what has transpired while I was at work, I make a decision. We are leaving by September first, she can keep the security deposit, but I’ll be damned if I’m going to give her another cent. I wrote another letter. I told her she can keep the security deposit, we would not pay another month’s rent, we would be out by the 1st, law enforcement must be present during the walkthrough, and if Norman is aggressive again we will call the police. She was angry and had excuses, but I don’t care. You’re already threatening to sue me for … what… using the “f” word? Having a tree fall in our yard? 

Sue me. Go ahead.

I’m exhausted and my nerves are raw. I have so much to do it freaks me out. The apartment is lovely and I cannot wait to move. I just need to focus on the good and not Norman. 

I’ll be on a blogcation until September. Wish me luck lovelies!