Summertime, and the livin' is easy

I hope you get a chance to do what we did yesterday:

Combine 1 cup water and 1.5 cups sugar in a small saucepan. Bring to a boil just until the sugar dissolves; remove from heat and set aside to cool.

Squeeze enough lemons to make 3 cups juice (10 large ones). Mix with 5 cups water and the sugar syrup. Pour off about 1.5 cups of the mixture into an ice cube tray. Put the rest in a 2-quart pitcher in the fridge.

When the mixture is good and cold, and the weather is good and hot, fill some tall glasses (don't forget the ice). Garnish with sprigs of mint.

Be prepared to do the whole thing over again tomorrow, because your homemade lemonade is not going to last through the day.

Rereading meme

I love to reread books every bit as much as I love to read new ones; sometimes, more. This is something I've thought a lot about. There are a bunch of different reasons why I love to reread. Here are some:

1. Necessity. I don't own very many books. I have never owned very many books. It has always felt wrong to me to buy books when there are free public libraries in the world. But I can't always get to the library when I need to, so there are times when my only reading choices are books I already own, and I've already read most of them. Not reading: not an option.

2. Comfort. Times when I'm tired, stressed, sick, unhappy. Reading a book I've read fifty times before is like visiting an old friend. There are no surprises. I know Jo isn't going to marry Laurie. This is the same reason why toddlers want to hear the same story over and over. They've mastered it, and it feels good to be in charge of it, especially when the rest of life is sometimes scary and unpredictable.

3. Because I didn't get it the first time. This is a huge reason to reread. I am a very fast reader. Too fast. Especially the first time around, I'm usually so desperate to know what's going to happen next that I miss the subtleties. Rereading, I can appreciate all that English major stuff like foreshadowing, symbolism, and so forth, that I just don't usually pick up on the first (or even second) time around. I also feel that the best gauge of a book's worth is the number of times it can be reread before it starts to pall. (The Secret History by Donna Tartt is one that comes to mind. I loved it so much the first time I read it, it was like she'd written it just for me. But I could barely finish it the second time. Toes-curlingly bad.)

4. Because I've changed. Sometimes I want to see if a book seems different now that I'm different. The first time I reread Little Women after becoming a mother, it felt like a whole new book.

Back to the meme. I'm not sure if I'm supposed to list books that I have reread or ones that I haven't but would like to. I think I've already mentioned the books I reread most obsessively in various posts, so I'll just list the latter. These are all titles I've thought about a lot over the years, but somehow never managed to reread.

Books by Otfried Preussler: The Robber Hotzenplotz, The Little Witch, The Little Water-sprite, and the first really scary book I ever read, The Satanic Mill. These, and the following, were books my dad the native German-speaker had read as a kid. I read them in translation, though. The Robber Hotzenplotz was one of the best books ever, with perfect illustrations, too. Very German, very Grimms-ish, but funny, too. I learned the word "gherkin" from this book.

The Little Man, by Eric Kästner, which I mentioned briefly in my post about Lisa and Lottie. There was this one scene that haunts me to this day. The little (2-inch tall) man dreams he is normal-sized. He's all excited until he realizes that his talents (he's a circus performer) would be meaningless in a normal-sized person, because everyone can do those things. He's only special because he's so tiny, but all he wants is to be big. SO poignant.

The Young Unicorns, by Madeleine L'Engle. Actually, I'd like to reread all the books about the Austin family, but that one particularly. I don't need to list the Wrinkle in Time series because I have reread them many times.

Swallows & Amazons, and all those other books about British kids and boats by Arthur Ransome. I believe these have been made into a tv show, but I haven't seen it. When I was in sixth grade our grumpy old school librarian who nevertheless had a soft spot for Youthful Bookworm turned me on to these. I didn't understand half of what they were talking about, but I loved them anyway. I don't understand Patrick O'Brian either, but I will never tire of his books. I just have a thing about sea stories, I guess. I learned the word "archipelago" from these books.

Skating Shoes by Noel Streatfeild. The library still has this one, and I've got it on hold. Circus Shoes would have been on this list, too, except that I just reread it, finally, a few days ago.

* * *

OK, so I finally reread Circus Shoes, and it was SO GOOD. I actually liked it quite a bit better than Ballet Shoes, which I had reread once or twice since childhood. For one thing, Circus Shoes really is about the circus, whereas Ballet Shoes is more about acting than it is dancing. You get very little actual detail about Posy and her special classes. Mostly you have to infer how good she is by her egoistic behavior. What I really liked about Circus Shoes is the way the kids, especially Peter, learn and grow through their experiences. They start out as these somewhat spoiled, naive, snobby kids who gradually, and the key word is gradually, learn to be strong and tolerant and worldly. Their growth is realistic. It takes a while. They don't just have one illuminating experience that suddenly changes them. And when you're reading you feel the time passing, too. This is a problem I have with a lot of kids books. Stuff happens too quickly. And I don't just mean number of pages. I mean also psychologically.

And I have to say, I disagree with Guusje, who commented that Streatfeild shows her very Victorian views about class in this particular book. If anything, the book struck me as the opposite. The kids start out with these very Victorian views they've inherited from their awful aunt. But practically all their preconceived notions get turned upside down. They're amazed that Uncle Gus cooks and cleans for himself. They learn that it's not so bad to be descended from a gardener and a maid. They learn to cast aside their snobbery and become confident, independent young adults. Sure, there's some mildly sexist stuff, but considering the time & place it was written, I think it's not too bad. Certainly no worse than what you find in my beloved Narnia books ("battles are ugly when women fight;" Caspian can't even consider marrying a princess who squints and has freckles; etc.).

Rereading this book after so many years was really cool. I was surprised how many "oh yeah, I remember this" moments I had. I am itching to read the other books on my list. I think I'll make that my goal for the summer, though some of them will be hard to track down. I'm also in the middle of Atonement, which I'm enjoying extremely.

Thanks, Melissa!

This is weird, and I don't like it

In the last two days I've deleted four comments. Two were from people whose own blogs were not in English. One was supposedly from the Pope. And one was an extremely unpleasant comment about my son's ponytail from someone describing himself as a drunken white guy.

Is this because I used the word trans-gendered?

Happy Birthday Mister Smushy!

Daniel is 2 today!!!

Among other things, we got him a potty. He talks a lot about pee pee and poo poo, and shows definite awareness of his bodily functions. However, he seems to have some misperceptions about proper potty usage.

proper potty usage

Something for my parents

Melissa the Book Nut tagged me with this re-reading meme (name five books you read as a teen that you'd like to re-read), which I'm not answering quite yet, although I will soon. First I have to have a conversation with my Dad. He once interviewed me for what, two solid hours, on the topic of why I love to re-read books. This was for a paper he was writing about why people choose to re-experience things (is that right, Dad?). Well, you know how much I love to talk about books, so that interview was two hours of pure joy for me. Anyway, re-reading is a rich topic, and I'll get into it when I have a little more time.

The reason why I'm mentioning this right now is because I'm just about to re-read something. I got notice this afternoon that my interlibrary loan request came through— Circus Shoes! I haven't read it since childhood, and I had such a hankering after reading Ballet Shoes. And yes, Mom, I'll bring it over as soon as I'm done!

Steve's grades are due tomorrow, so he'll be out this evening. The kids are fried, so they'll be in bed early. I have a stick of butter softening on the counter (not that that'll take long in this heat), soon to be incorporated into a bowl of fabulous oatmeal cookie dough. South Beach be d**ned! Nothing's gonna stop me from spending this evening with Circus Shoes and raw cookie dough.


Dengi dong ja

is Korean for "ponytail boy." Isn't that a great phrase? Say it out loud—I dare you!

We went out for dinner last Friday night, to celebrate the last day of school and two terrific report cards. When it was time to order, our waiter turned to my son and said, "And what would you like, young lady?" So I said, "He's a boy." Well, you wouldn't believe how effusively the waiter apologized. Joey was extremely embarrassed by it, though he took it with good grace. And when it was time to leave, the waiter apologized some more, and actually gave Joey a great big long bear hug, which Joey really didn't like, though again he took it with good grace.

What makes this anecdote at all interesting? Well, I referred to our server as the waiter, and indeed he introduced himself as Jeffrey, but really he was trans-gendered. Joey, who had not heard the introduction, had no clue that our waiter was not female. When we talked about it later, he understood right away why the waiter had reacted the way he did.

Dengi dong ja
Dengi dong ja

P.S. This post is dedicated to my pal Leslie, who dated a guy with a ponytail during the year she taught English in Korea.

Another old favorite

Now that I have a little bookworm I'm spending more time in the chapter book aisles at the library. I came across one of my old faves near the Junie B. Jones books: Lisa and Lottie, by Erich Kästner. He also wrote Emil and the Detectives and an amazing book called The Little Man. There's a scene from The Little Man that haunts me still.

Lisa and Lottie is the original book on which the movie The Parent Trap is based. You know the story: the twins meet at camp, trade places, and eventually get their separated parents back together again. However, this story takes place in post-war Europe (Lisa lives in Vienna; Lottie in Munich), and there are all sorts of charming details; you know, wiener schnitzel, etc. I had never heard of the movie when I first read the book, and I found it absolutely entrancing. Thirty years later, it's still entrancing.

I'm sure this bound-to-stay-bound volume that I'm holding in my hands right now is the very same one I read (several times) as a kid. The illustrations, too, were old friends.

Lisa and Lottie

Loitering with Intent

I meant to write about our last book group meeting earlier than this, but got distracted by missing keys, artwork for sale, etc. The book was Loitering with Intent, by Muriel Spark. Here's a very brief description: the main character, Fleur (great name!), has just gotten a job as secretary to a support group for a bunch of losers some people who are writing their autobiographies. Part of Fleur's job involves altering the memoirs to make them spicier, tee hee. At the same time, Fleur is writing her own first novel. Things happen (says Fleur: "I dearly love a turn of events"), and it becomes apparent that real life is beginning to resemble Fleur's novel. The lines between fact and fiction, cause and effect, get blurry . . . .

The interesting thing about Loitering is that while you have this theme of false/edited/spiced up autobiography, the novel itself is written in the form of Fleur's autobiography. In fact, I kept forgetting that it wasn't a true autobiography. The picture of Muriel Spark on the back—I searched the web for a copy to download, but couldn't find it, and I've already returned the book to the library so I can't scan it, but honestly, you'd love this picture and maybe I'll go back to the library just to get it, and sorry for this huge long run-on aside—anyway, the picture of Muriel Spark on the back shows this charmingly gamine, sly-looking woman who fits the character of Fleur perfectly. So perfectly that I'm crazy to read something else—anything—by Spark just to see how it compares to Loitering. How much of Fleur is really Muriel . . . or not?

John Henry Cardinal Newman
And another thing about the false autobiography theme: throughout the novel Fleur talks about two famous autobiographers: Benvenuto Cellini, and John Henry Cardinal Newman. I'd never heard of the latter, so of course I looked him up. Turns out he was an Anglican priest who converted to Catholicism, as did Muriel Spark. Fleur swears that his is the greatest autobiography ever written. And here's the really interesting thing: Father Newman wrote his entire autobiography, Apologia pro Vita Sua, as a response to an accusation that he believed that truth is not a virtue. Go figure!

I really enjoyed this book. Fleur is a wonderful character. She's a survivor, cynical, but with a marvelous sense of humor and joie de vivre. I especially loved her disgust with the kind of people we used to call "posers." She'd be so fun to hang out with.

Next month: Atonement by Ian McEwan.


Okay, I knew my son was artistically talented. But this is going too far.

Today he brought home this collage:

Let's be honest. It's nothing special. A typical 2nd grade art project. (But wait! He's in 3rd grade. This thing is a year old. Why's he bringing it home now?)

But look what was on the back:

Huh? Purchasing information? Insurance value? $75???

Joey's excited comment: "Mom, let's rip it up so we can get the $75!"

I am completely mystified.

Old favorites

Yesterday I had the great good fortune to have a copy of Ballet Shoes fall into my lap. It landed there after school; by bedtime I'd finished it. I hadn't re-read it since childhood, though it was one of my all-time favorites, with scenes that stayed with me ever since. Who could forget little Posy en pointe in her bare feet? Petrova with her aeroplanes and motor cars? Pauline getting her license?

I don't always enjoy coming back to books I loved as a child. Sometimes adult perspective reveals defects a child wouldn't notice. I've been burned before, though I can't think of a particular example at the moment. In any case, I had no trouble with this one. I was especially interested in Posy's attitude towards her dancing. She is a perfect example of the "egoist" that Robertson Davies talks about all through World of Wonders. He distinguishes between egoists and egotists, which my dictionary doesn't. Davies says that an egoist is someone who (properly) focuses on their art to the exclusion of all else, even good manners. That is, their egotism is appropriate. Anyway, that's Posy, all right. She is devastated when her teacher falls ill, but only because it means an interruption in her training. And somehow, coming from her, this sentiment feels proper.

Super-talent is so compelling to read about. Was anyone else besides me obsessed with those A Very Young . . . books? They were photo essays about real-life talented ten-year-olds. There was a ballerina, a gymnast, I forget what else. How I pored over those!

Lena, meanwhile, is deep into Betsy-Tacy. It's perfect for her right now: definitely challenging, but not enough to be discouraging. I'm so pleased to report that when she's reading you have to call her name at least three times to get her attention, bless her little bookworm heart!

Today Daniel and I will be off to the library whether he likes it or not. I need to pick up copies of Circus Shoes and Skating Shoes.