Sunday, December 23, 2012

Learning Courage

Twelve years ago I would hardly leave the house after a snowfall. If snow fell, even flurries, when I was out and about I would rush home. I hated to leave the house with even a small amount of ice on roads. I had Jeff drive me to work for years on snowy days. I was scared. I lost sleep on nights snow was predicted. I worried endless over forecasts. I had the Weather Channel constantly up all winter. I was truly afraid of snow.

We had a blizzard this past week with 10 inches of snow and 40 to 50 mile an hour winds. I woke up Thursday morning, the height of the storm, and cleared off my car. I let it sit and warm. Then I drove to work. Slowly, ever so slowly, but I drove. I won't tell you that it was fun. Many of the streets hadn't been plowed at all. The ones that had were skating rinks of ice. When the wind it, the car skidded to the side. It was terrible. I was one of a dozen people who made it into work. It was announced at 7:30 that the state offices would be closed until noon, an unheard of thing (in 13 years we've only closed once).

The next day I also got up and drove to work. I've ingrained in myself that not going is not an option. The commute was far better than the day before but still slick. Still slow. As I sat at my desk I listened to people come in and talk about how terrible their drive in that day was. I listened and in the back of my head I thought "yeah but yesterday was worse". And I realized that I was now one of the brave ones in the office. I was one of the people who drove in terrible weather. It wasn't that I was not afraid, far from it. But I did it. And I started to think about the definition of courage. It's not being unafraid, as I always thought. It's about being afraid but doing what you're afraid of anyway.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Book Darts

I'm sure it will come as no surprise to anyone who reads this blog regularly but I am a pen and paper type of person. E-readers certainly have their place in society but it's not in my hands. I love the feel of a book well made, or an old book that has survived the decades. I love the weight of a book as it rests in my hands. I'm partial to fountain pens and well bound journals. I love the scritch-scratch of a nib across rough paper. And a couple years ago I discovered one of my favorite new book tools: the book dart.

 Stephen King's On Writing with about a dozen book darts to mark quotes.

Book darts are tiny strips of metal that fold over with a point on one end. Just that simple. They are used to mark a quote, an interesting point, or a unique fact in a book. I bought my first set about 10 years ago and quickly ran out. I bought more and ran out of those. I find a lot of interesting quotes and facts. So a couple years ago I decided that I would write down those points and reuse the darts. I bought a commonplace book (a book for keeping miscellaneous facts, quotes, bits of trivia...) and hand write all things I find into that journal so I can re-pull the darts. Each time I read a book I mark lines and quotes I like, then when the book is finished, I copy the quotes and pull the dart. I have the information I want but don't need to buy a lifetime supply of darts.

I own eight sets of darts now so I went out to find something to store them in. Something portable that I could carry with me constantly and have available when I read. I found this wonderful beat-up antique box in one of the antique stores in town. The Y&S company still makes licorice but they now make it under the trade name Twizzlers. I love the well-used look of the box. The same way I love the feeling of hand copying my quotes and facts into a beautiful wood covered journal. And to make all that seem more archaic and romantic, I use the fountain pens for a lot of my copying. I feel a bit like a Luddite but that's not the reason for it. I just love working with the books and the darts and the pens. There's something tactile about it. It makes me feel a bit like a scholar.

 A jumbled pile of book darts, ready for use. 

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

A Boy and a Bear In a Boat

 The American cover, the one I have

Only twice in my life have I finished a book, taken a big deep breath, and then reopened it at the first page to read again. The first book was Charlotte's Web and I was only nine or ten. I so badly wanted Charlotte to be alive again that I started the book over. And cried the second time. I almost restarted Kushiel's Dart when I finished it but regained my sanity as I stared at the 800 or 900 pages before me. On Sunday I read a book called A Boy and a Bear in a Boat. I put the book down, smiled, and instantly picked it back up to start rereading. The first reading had taken me 2 hours. The second one was shorter.

I'm not sure how to describe Dave Shelton's book. The plot, quite simply, is about a boy and a bear and the boat trip that they take together. The boy wants to cross to the other side and the bear is the captain of the boat. They set off on their journey but before long the boy realizes that they are lost. Hopelessly lost, unless you ask the Bear. He knows exactly where they are at. He even has a map (it looks like the image below). So they keep going. And from that, a number of adventures happen. They find sea monsters, The Last Sandwich, tide anomalies, and abandoned ships. It's a book with both a comic no one understands and a ukulele. It's an odd story (blissfully odd). But that's only part of it. It's a story about attitude, friendship, and the unwillingness to give up.

The UK cover, which is so perfect that I will need to find a copy, no matter what cost. 

The book Siddhartha by Herman Hesse always leaving me with an incredible feeling of peace whenever I finish it. I've read it many times over the course of my life. Always when I need to be mentally cleansed. It's a book that restarts my brain. A Boy and a Bear in a Boat might become my new cleansing book. The lessons that this book teaches are simple but I remember feeling completely changed after reading it. It's a bit story, a bit zen koan, and a bit magic. We never find out the boy's name or the bear's name. The boat is named but that's about the only character that has one. We learn what we need to know about the characters though. When I finished I loved Bear the same way I loved Charlotte all those years ago. He was a wonderful character. And the boy grew so much during the course of the book that I wanted to cheer for him. I closed this book (I won't tell you the ending) and I felt completely at peace. It's a magical book, even if I'm still trying to puzzle it out.

10 Things I Learned This Week

1. Puppy Chow (or Muddy Buddies) might be the easiest food in the world to make and one of the most addictive. I've been banned from bringing it back to the office.

2. Last minutes guests can often be the most fun. Thanks Josh for a fantastic weekend! I'm glad you took me up on my offer to visit.

3. No matter how many times I say "I have too many books" or "I have too much yarn", I don't seem to believe myself.

4. The mall sucks during holiday season. Sucks! It's pretty bad the rest of the time, but during the holiday season it makes me want to slit my wrists.

5. I am a series reader, no matter what I've said in the past.

6. A Song of Ice and Fire might be one of the best series I've ever read. Period. (There Jon, I said it.)

7. Apparently, given the right video game, I will gleefully club baby seals.

8. Even the thought of some meats makes me ill now. And although you won't believe me, I still haven't craved bacon, once.

9. Jim Carrey may have been the only bad part of Lemony Snicket's Series of Unfortunate Events (the film). The tone was right, the kids were cast perfectly, the guardians were wonderful, and Timothy Spall was an inspired choice. I enjoyed the film. Carrey as Olaf...not so much.

10. Some books are like calm waters for the mind. They reinvigorate you, they calm you, and they make you wonder. Those are the ones I keep to reread every couple of years. I've found another one (more on that in my next post).

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

You're a Mean One, Mr. Grinch

So I have a confession to make. It's kind of a big one, so you should probably sit down. Or if you're already sitting and are at work, be prepared to hold in that gasp. Here goes: Hi, I'm Cat, and I'm a grinch. Christmas is not my favorite holiday. In fact it's one of my least favorite. I don't find this time of year magical. It's more stressful for me. I don't dream of a white Christmas. And honestly I can't stand Christmas music. There I said it. I'm a grinch.

I love Christmas lights but I think they should go up the day after Thanksgiving and stay up until the end of February. I think they are the perfect bit of light in what is a terrible, dark, cold time of the year. But I don't put up a tree (gasp), I dislike the crowds at any shopping area, and I'm certainly not decking any halls. I make it a point to not make anyone else miserable at this time of year but honestly I'm really glad when it's done. I only feel a great relief the day after New Years.

I like wrapping presents but I like that any time of the year. I will watch Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer and Chuck Jones's The Grinch, but other than that I instantly change the channel whenever a Christmas show comes on. And the one radio station in town that started playing Christmas music 24/7 the day after Halloween was instantly banished from my pre-set stations.

I'm not sure why I dislike this holiday so much. Perhaps it's the fact that it happens in winter. I'm not a fan if you didn't know. But I don't honestly mind a good snow day, when I don't have to go anywhere. Or perhaps it's because Christmas is slowly eating away at Thanksgiving, my favorite holiday of the year. I hate that businesses are now opening on my favorite day. I liked at least one day of rest from our consumerism. Or perhaps my issue with Christmas is just that it has become unavoidable. I can't have a conversation lately without someone talking about their decorations, their most recent present buying trip, or their Christmas tree.

I feel a bit like a Scrooge but I just can't keep silent anymore. I have twenty more days of hearing nothing but Christmas. And I'll listen, and smile at your excitement. I like passion in any form. But don't look at me askance when I tell you that I don't have a tree up. That I haven't finished my shopping, or really started, and that I don't have my Pandora channel set to carols. I'll raise my glass of hot chocolate after the new year. Until then, I'll be the grinch in the corner, not liking Christmas a lot.

Saturday, December 1, 2012


My little sister got me started on a collection a couple of years ago. She mentioned that she keeps a book with quotes that she likes. I looked through her quote journal and instantly decided that I needed to do the same. So I hunt for bits of wisdom to add to my collection. I've gathered quite a few and they all hold a special place in my heart. I have a beautiful wood-covered journal that my mother bought me that I knew was too lovely to hold my own words. So I started using it as a "commonplace book". It's a journal for keeping all the interesting fact, quotes, and ideas that I have. I mostly use it for quotes I like. I thought I'd share a couple of them with you. I'll do this periodically. I can't be alone in my love of quotes.

"Be careful what you water your dreams with. Water them with worry and fear, and you will produce weeds that choke the life from your dreams. Water them with optimism and solutions, and you will cultivate success. Always be on the lookout for ways to turn a problem into an opportunity for success. Always be on the lookout for ways to nurture your dreams."   ~Lao Tzu

"The finiteness of a lifetime adds intensity to our search for truth, for beauty, for happiness, for love, for ourselves. I've begun to understand that death lends meaning to life, that it adds weight to the choices I make about how I want to live and who I want to be."    ~Jill Fredston

"I care not how humble your bookshelf may be, nor how lonely the room which it adorns. Close the door of that room behind you, shut off with it all the care of the outer world, plunge back into the soothing company of the great dead, and then you are through the magic portal into that fair land whither worry or vexation can follow you no more."     ~Arthur Conan Doyle

"The cure for boredom is curiosity. There is no cure for curiosity."    ~Dorothy Parker

"A master in the art of living draws no sharp distinctions between his work and his play, his labor and his leisure, his mind and his body, his education and his recreation. He hardly knows which is which. He simply pursues his vision of excellence through whatever he is doing and leaves others to determine whether he is working or playing. To himself he always seems to be doing both. It's enough for him that he does it well."     ~L.P. Jacks