About alivingpencil

Hi, I'm Carol. My life is full of solid joys, deep sorrows, and aggressive hope. I search for truth, beauty, goodness, amusement, and comfort in books, music, worship, photos, conversation. I'm fond of the *idea* of gardening, writing, exercising and practicing scales. Cooking is the best fun with a friend. I like to talk, but it's harder to write.

Grief and Laughter

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 Tears are expected,
but sometimes laughter feels like the much more appropriate
— and the much more restorative, healing, even — response.
Laughter mixed with tears works, too.
And laughter takes the edge off those times
when tears are, in fact, unavoidable.
— MFS, personal blog

It occurred to me this morning that my thrifty sister would have heartily approved of the tax benefits related to the timing of her birth and death. We Harpers exult in saving money! Margo was born a few days before the end of the year, giving my folks a welcome tax exemption for that short week in 1948. She died at the beginning of January, giving her husband an exemption and joint filing for 2016. Way to win! Take that, IRS!! [Further, the airfare to travel back there was amazingly low. Who travels to Chicago in January?] Time sifts the pain and grief and gives us eyes to see the humor.

This may appear irreverent, but, my brother-in-law and I shared a good horsey laugh talking about it. I can hear Margo’s chuckle in my head and some pseudo-modest acknowledgment: Not bad for a bear with very little brain! [She had a brain tumor removed in 1980.]

Searching for Spring

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Something about the first of March unleashed a yearning in me for green. Our weather has been ricocheting between frozen and fair. I grabbed my camera and went on a quest, hoping to capture a crocus. One crocus.

I found heaps of ugly.
Black snow banks.
Mud.
Leaf-mold.
A litter-strewn vacant lot.
Dead stalks gawking.

Color, where are you?dsc_1600A tiny leaf hung on through this severe winter.

dsc_1604Yay, daffs!!

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Marvelous moss!!

dsc_1607Snow is sticking to the higher elevations. Side note: I am easily annoyed with the unimaginative street names in my town. A grid of the alphabet and numbers. But Penn Avenue follows O Avenue. Because no one wants to live on P Avenue!

dsc_1611Leftover red.

dsc_1613Now this is what I was searching for — that bright green that sings Spring!

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I always return to this turret. Turrets are terrific. I’m counting on turrets in heaven.

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Love the blue bench.

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A befitting front door.

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Voted Best Receptacle

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Of course I had to peruse the Little Free Library. I took home The Martian.

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I had given up on finding flowers. No crocus. But, three blocks from home, beauty interrupted my walk. I’m the worst at plant identification. If I called these Lily of the Valley would I be correct? I would be incorrect.  These are Snowdrops. They were an afternoon benediction.

How Can I Keep from Reading? Pt. 3

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Why I Read, Part 3

My third answer is: I read because I’m tired.

I went through a long spell (5+ years) of insomnia. It was impossible to turn my mind off and go to sleep; even more difficult to return to sleep after waking at 2:00 – 4:00 a.m.  All recommended remedies were futile. My jaw clenched in frustration. At least if I read, I didn’t feel like the time was a total waste. A favorite coping mechanism was to go into the living room and read. My object was to become chilled through. Then I slinked into the warm bed and back into that sweet unconscious state.

Sal knew that she would not sleep so she took Emma to bed with her, hoping that the well-known story would soothe her troubled spirit and dissipate her worried thoughts…
~ from The Four Graces by D.E. Stevenson

Since I was diagnosed with sleep apnea and now use a CPAP, I’m sleeping 7-8.5 hours straight, which is wealth untold.

But I still use books to soothe myself to sleep. The hour between going to bed and the book falling on my face is my primary reading time. Each evening my husband asks me, “What are you reading?” and I give a short recap, sometimes reading a sample.

There are two kinds of bedtime books: books that put you to sleep, and books that make you lose sleep. I usually choose the book whose deadline (library, friend-loans, book club, self-imposed) is most pressing. Too many times I’ve listed an unread book for sale or swap (cold logic insisting I’ll never read it); when the email “Sold. Ship Now.” arrives, I panic and decide to read it before I mail it. Even when it’s 400 pages. #fearofmissingout

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How Can I Keep from Reading? Pt 2

 

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My nightstand in 2011

Why I Read, Part 2

The second answer is short: because I’m hungry.

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I could respond to the Why do you read? question with Why do you eat?

I’m hungry to know, hungry to discover, hungry to learn. Hungry for story, hungry for wordsmithery, hungry for surprise. I’m hungry to see, hungry to really see my world, your world, their world over there. I thirst for books that establish my roots and for books that bend my thoughts. I don’t mind books that give me a needed smack-down. I want to laugh, I want my throat to constrict, I want to gasp, to nod, to stop reading and ponder. I want to recognize, to reform, and I dearly want to remember.

In my mind, I often classify my current read by a food equivalent. This is butternut soup: light, but nourishing. This is chocolate torte: rich and sweetThis is steel cut oats: not very exciting, but it gets the job done. This is burnt garlic: yuck! This is a cup of tea and a sit-down. This is an omelet: satisfying protein. This is flour and water: half-baked! This is a glorious main-dish salad: it took some time and effort, but so worth it.

A confession: I love cotton candy. It’s pure sugar, I know, but those yummy sticky pink wisps whisper joy, joy, joy…—until they are suddenly thoroughly revolting. Shoved in the garbage. You know that kind of book? Mediocre writing, but a catchy storyline. If you finish, you feel filmy and regret the hours you just wasted. I don’t like retching; better to avoid wretched things, even when they appear so seductively lovely.

There is a time for easy reading (fast food), reading magazines or online articles (snacks), and escape reading (ice cam from the carton). I have a few favorite comfort books, all British, which I admit are in the suburbs of sentimental. Excellent books for children are my first choice when fatigue and grief confound me.

 

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A page from my commonplace (quote-collecting) book.

 

 

 

How Can I Keep from Reading?

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Why I Read, 1

The first answer is easy: because I can’t not read.

I grew up in a book-filled house, the youngest of seven kids. We read in bed, we read in the bathroom (picture a child pounding on the door: “I really have to go. . . and I know  you’re reading!”), we read on the porch swing, we read on the front steps, we read on the couch (we called it the davenport), but we didn’t read at the dinner table. That was considered rude. In the same way people today sneak a look at their cell phone under the table, we all at least once tried to read a book on our laps. We always got caught.

After dinner, we grabbed RSV versions of the Bible and read a chapter of Jeremiah. I know we read other books, but I only remember Jeremiah. (Honestly, in second grade my teacher asked us to define rent. I threw my hand up and swirled it around until she called on me. To tear your clothes.)

We read at the same table while gulping down cold cereal. Every inch of the cereal boxes. Over and over and over. Riboflavin, B12, sold by weight not by volume. Battle Creek, Michigan. 49037.

My dad never left the house with less than four books. Because, you know, you never know.

We grew up without a television (my dad’s choice) so reading was the first avenue of diversion available.

Reading became a habit that followed me into my adulthood. It is my default.

a-day-without-reading

 

 

Oregon Hygge

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Hygge is that trendy Danish word that fathomaway describes as the art of creating intimacy: a sense of comradeship, conviviality, and contentment rolled into one. We’ve been snowed in recently, but aren’t snow days one of life’s delicious bonuses?

{Before any further rhapsodies, let me acknowledge we don’t have sick family members, stock (countryspeak for animals; think ‘livestock’), emergencies to respond to, or young children going bonkers.}

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Fresh herbs (this is mint) are an affordable splurge.

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My sister-in-law crochets these in small moments. They are a benediction.

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Mid-century house, old cabinets.
Curt and I worked together installing pull-out shelves.
Out with stale, in with organization.

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One of the most hygge activities we do is to  listen together to Harry Potter.
We’re in year five;  Harry is our tidy-up-after-dinner soundtrack.
And then we sit down and listen the way most people watch television.
I cut out stuff from catalogs to put into the small blank spots in my journal.

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The timing couldn’t have been more fortuitous!
A friend gave me a box of Blue Apron meals. (Thank you, Dana!)
We have everything  needed for a restaurant quality meal.
I supplied salt and pepper. Yum!

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The smell of bread baking in the oven has to be hygge!

dsc_0971One way we keep warm.

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Abacus gallery sells poster calendars with artwork by Dana Heacock.

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This is more OCD than hygge, but I’m indexing my journals.

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Candles seem a big piece of hygge. My husband is allergic to the scents.  I roast garlic each time I turn the oven on. The fragrance wafts through the house.

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Hygge.

Quotes I Copied in 2016

From this year’s journal, for the patient and curious reader:

GPS sets us in the center of the map and then makes the world circulate around us. In this miniature parody of the pre-Copernican universe…  —The Glass Cage

If your husband knows you love and want him, you empower him in every other area. —For the Love

We’re headed for Lost Wages —Southwest flight attendant

Grief is a strange thing. —A Man Called Ove

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What I always say is, God sends the weather and it’s not for us to grumble. —Shoulder the Sky

Without habit, the beauty of the world would overwhelm us. We’d pass out every time we saw—actually saw—a flower. —Four Seasons in Rome

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Alex now saw that his relationship with his father was the taproot of his character and temperament. —The Father’s Tale

Life is like a bog. If you stand still too long your feet begin to sink into the mud. —Anna and Her Daughters

I was learning that when you’re with someone who is dying, you may need to celebrate the past, live the present, and mourn the future all at the same time. —End of Your Life Book Club

Cilantro, Satan’s own herb (I disagree, but I laughed!) —The Pat Conroy Cookbook

There are no billboards in Iceland. — Iceland: Land of the Sagas

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In teaching your child, do not forget that suffering is good too. — A Tree Grows in Brooklyn

The disappearance of tools from our common education is the first step toward a wider ignorance of the world of artifacts we inhabit. — Shop Class as Soulcraft

…the small morsel of beard which he wore upon his chin … — The Golden Lion of Granpère

A French study released in 2013 even found a solid link between continued work and avoidance of dementia. — Get What’s Yours (Maxing out Social Security)

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…ecologies of attention… — The World Beyond Your Head

Today, a whole generation has grown up as a take-out culture. The food is convenient, and some of it is even good, but it has none of the ring of the familiar; it can never be personal enough to become part of our past. — Christopher Kimball

Talkers never write. They go on talking. — Parnassus on Wheels

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For poems are not words, after all, but fires for the cold, ropes let down to the lost, something as necessary as bread in the pockets of the hungry. Yes, indeed. — A Poetry Handbook

MARTIAL is an anagram for MARITAL. — The Spectator Bird

I’ve seen far too many people awash in genuine desire to change only to lose their mettle when they realized just how difficult change actually is. — Hillbilly Elegy

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Wisdom is long, violence is short. —  Benjamin Franklin

Time used to tumble for me. Time was narrow, then, and very fast. Now time has widened. — Letters from the Land of Cancer

Manage time less and pay attention more. — The Rest of God

Everything she did and loved, everything she was, required language. — Still Alice

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